An amazing thing happened last night - Paul won a game of chess and it was, incredibly, his first standard play win of the season! Surely, you're kidding, I hear you say. Well, no, I'm not. And don't call me Shirley. Which neatly brings me on to last night's match in which, thanks in no small measure to Paul's heroics, we somehow scraped a 2.5-1.5 away win over fellow title challengers Shirley to put ourselves level on points with them and Olton at the top of the table.
This was a brutal encounter in which there were no more than 6 grading points separating the opposing players on three of the boards. And then there was my board, where I had a 24 point edge. So no prizes for guessing who really needed to win to give us a chance of victory!
In a 4 board match, its generally not a good idea to go one point down, as the margin for error disappears to almost nothing. But that's what we did. And it was our normally reliable points machine Andrew P who bit the dust, losing to his 4NCL Warwickshire Select team-mate Phil Purcell on Board 2 after a Dutch that went horribly wrong. He lost a pawn; tried an exchange sac to try and get his queen and bishop lined up against the White king; and then resigned at the time control when it didn't happen.
I then brought the scores level with a win from a very slow Ruy Lopez against my 4NCL Warwickshire Select team-mate and long-time friend, Keith Ingram. I wasn't too happy with my opening play, but things started to get a bit better for me when I managed to get in b4 and c4 pawn thrusts which brought my Spanish bishop to glorious life from b3. However, this came at the cost of allowing the Black rooks to gang up on my king on the f and g files. I'd like to say I had everything under control, but I'm not sure if I did. Anyway, I stormed down the c file with my rooks and then found a nice combo which seemed to open up my own king, but gained enough time for my queen to get to f8 for an unstoppable mate.
But let's get back to the main dish of the evening - Paul's victory on Board 1 against his 4NCL Warwickshire Select team-mate and long-time friend Jeremy Fallowfield. (BTW, are you spotting a theme here?) Now we all know that Paul hasn't been playing much this season, either for us or for anyone, because of his other commitments, and that when he does play, the opposition tends to be seriously good, but even so ..... Can it really be that he hadn't won a long play game until March 6th?? And if you had seen the game, you'd be amazed that his unfortunate record isn't still intact. Because this was Paul Max; Paul Ultra and Uber Paul all rolled into one as far as his time trouble habit is concerned. (Even he admitted afterwards that this was his worst ever!!) He had an agonisingly long think on about move 4 and didn't really speed up much after that. He had to stop writing the moves down due to lack of time on about move 15 - yes with 20 moves to the time control! - and by the time his clock showed 1 minute he still had 12 moves to make. I had to leave the room, especially as his opponent had seemingly engineered a big invasion of Paul's kingside with a queen and bishop. But minutes later it was all over. Paul had had it pretty much under control all the time. He nabbed a pawn with a neat tactic (how did he see that with no time to think??) and then rushed his queen back to defend along the second rank at the crucial moment, and almost as soon as the time control was reached Black had to resign And did I mention that this was another Dutch Defence? So 0/2 for our friends from the Netherlands so far.
And now everyone left the room to leave Carl in play against Jonathan Dale on Bd 4. While neither player is in the Warwickshire Select 4NCL team, they didn't want to feel completely left out, so they also played another Dutch. Three in one night!! (Plus the Spanish in my game, so take that you Brexiteers - KCC has seemingly nailed its colours firmly to the European mast.) Thankfully for us, this turned out to be the one game where Black didn't lose, though it certainly looked nasty for Carl at a number of stages. Carl's problem wasn't so much time trouble, as time zone trouble, as he had only got back from a 2 week business trip to the US a couple of days earlier. He defended well for most of the game, retaining enough counterplay to offset a weak, backward e pawn, and in fact his structure was better as he had inflicted doubled e pawns on White. But close to the time control he allowed White to make a breakthrough from absolutely nowhere, which ended up with a White pawn on h7 defended by a white rook on the seventh rank and Black's king on h8. White just needed to engineer a check from his dark squared bishop and it would have been Goodnight Vienna, but Carl's defences held firm and he was able to simplify down to a draw to win the match. Quite an achievement with his brain still on Pacific Standard Time!
Phew, that was a hell of a match and one where we just made it over the line thanks to some tremendous fighting chess against very strong opponents. If it's really true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then we should have a team of Supermen this morning! Olton remain in pole position for the title with their games in hand, but they still have to play Shirley, so its not cut and dried yet. In the meantime all we can do is try to keep on keeping on!