A Team: Division 2, First Weekend, Hinckley Island Hotel, 15-16 Nov 2014 by John Carleton



Hinckley Island Hotel


Each new season brings new challenges but the inner buzz of anticipation is unchanging. As we set out the traditional sunshine that greets the start of each 4NCL shone down on our Northern stomping ground but on arrival for play Hinckley was shrouded in mist. This year we were faced with another situation new to us, but well known to our Northern soul mates from Bradford and Cheddleton and that is the separation of teams from the same club between "up North" and "down South".


With 7 of the 8 who fulfilled our fixtures in our inaugural season of 2010-11 on duty for our teams [3 in the A team and 4 in the B team] it felt strange to think of our previously constant companions settling down to do battle some 160 miles to the North. Transport to Hinckley Island proved pretty straight forward for the team, with me, in my role of captain, receiving just one slightly worrying call from two of the team assuring me that they expected to be on time and anticipated leaving the Cape of Good Hope just as soon as they could. I think I was reassured to find that this particular Cape of Good Hope is a pub in Warwick.



Captain: John Carleton

Saturday saw us paired with Division 2 stalwarts White Rose 2 and a comparison of ECF grades saw a near perfect match-up on each board. Thus an anticipated close encounter got under way. First to finish was board 2 where Nick Ivell and David Adams created an exceedingly messy position. A draw was agreed! As David explained after the game, "The difference between us was that Nick thought he could well lose if we played on whereas I knew I would lose if we played on".



Spirit of Atticus A (Round 1)


Sheila Jackson and opponent Kieran O'Driscoll played a steady draw on board 6 and Jean-Luc Weller and I joined the peaceful throng after a game which only veered away from roughly level for a single move [I missed my opportunity after which the door was firmly closed]. Peter Ackley gave us the lead with a snap combination and energetic follow-up on board 7.


Brett Lund on board 1 withstood heavy pressure from the opening to gradually free his position and establish the draw. We were thus 1 up with 3 in play. For those who like an out of the ordinary game may I heartily recommend the encounter between Andy Smith and Jim Burnett on board 4; as mayhem broke on the board out they were the coolest customers in the room and perhaps against all the odds, since both sides looked totally lost in most positions, [I know that is impossible but you look at the game!] a drawn position was reached.


Our newcomer Mike McDonagh drew on board 8 in a game that stayed level throughout; Mike did have to keep his wits about him as his young opponent, Theo Wade, made him prove his competence.




This left Martin Mitchell in play on board 5 against Peter Shaw. Martin had lost a pawn but maintained activity in the semi-ending and then forced the win of the exchange. After sustained probing by Martin the draw was agreed in this simplified position and the final result of 1-0 to the Atticus, echoing the epithet of the not too distant past of, "1-0 to the Arsenal", was fittingly delivered by Arsenal supporter Peter Ackley. We were delighted to have won a match in our third start in the Second Division having previously lost all four first weekend matches in this division.


The evening gathering at a local restaurant was slightly disturbed by a collective sigh as the wine was ordered and attacked with the usual gusto but without the traditional tasting by the Grubmeister Dave Robertson [who was in the North]. A pleasant meal and lively company was enjoyed by the squad with most sidetracked to the hotel bar for a nightcap.


The new day saw us playing MK Phoenix 1 who had achieved promotion along with us last season after we each slid through a hectic last few rounds although we avoided each other in the tense final stages of competition. They too had won in the first round and had beefed up their team with a couple of overnight additions. Once again a tough battle was expected and we were not disappointed in this expectation. This match saw steady draws early on for Peter and Sheila on boards 7 and 6 respectively. Nick on board 2 played a lively opening with an isolated pawn as black and gained a promising initiative. However, when he allowed his opponent Charles Tippleston the chance for activity, this was taken and Nick slipped to defeat.


Spirit of Atticus - WGM Sheila Jackson (board 6) - result ½-½


Andy Smith and opponent Paul Habershon had "gone for it" but this game did subside to a draw. I managed to gain a decent opening advantage on board 1 against Gary Kenworthy but the position spiraled out of our control as my attempt to move in for the kill met spirited resistance. I was very happy to emerge with victory and aware that, to adapt a phrase from Geoff Boycott, Chess's corridor of uncertainty is much wider than Cricket's and that fortune had smiled on me on this occasion.





Looking at Brett's game on board 3 brought to mind a comment by B.H.Wood annotating a game in Chess magazine many years ago to the effect that, " some players do not necessarily regard giving up a rook and knight to obtain two bishops as an exchange sacrifice" and I thought that maybe Brett had held that thought in his subconscious for that sacrifice is exactly what he produced. Brett followed up with clarity of vision to produce an impressive victory and give us the lead.


Martin Mitchell on board 5 held his opening advantage right through to the ending and showed in this instance at least that the Nimzo knight could not match the dark squared bishop as Martin ushered his h pawn down the board. This put us two points up with just board 8 in play. Mike had declined an early draw offer and sharp play arose in a double rook ending. A repeated checking sequence signalled the peaceful end to a game enjoyed by both players and completed our 5-3 victory.


As usual we can hardly wait for the next bout of action but it will still require time to get used to half our players being "missing" in the North.



B Team: Division 3n, First Weekend, Redworth Hall, 15-16 Nov 2014 by Andy Mort



Redworth Hall, a 17th-century country house. Now a listed building.

Separated from its sibling, the B Team, a neat combination of three Chester and three Chesterfield players, travelled to Darlington to open its campaign. Four of them arrived early in order to be well rested for the challenges ahead – or in some cases to squeeze in an extra dining experience. As the Chesterfield contingent had not been in sparkling form, the captain had been heartened by news of impressive form from the Chester camp, only to be dismayed on arrival to hear horror stories of more recent disasters by those same individuals. However, we embraced the mysteries of the triangular match against Jorvik and Holmes Chapel with confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that we would have to wait until Sunday evening for both match outcomes.


On Saturday we got off to a good start when Dave Stuttard won, following up a speculative piece sacrifice with further sacrifices which left his opponent with a lot of extra material watching from the side-lines. There followed two solid draws with black on boards 5 and 6. My opponent returned the gambit pawn to achieve a fairly equal queenless middle-game. Steve’s game was more complicated, both sides having strong knight outposts, but with the locked pawn structure limiting either side’s potential progress. Dave Latham’s game was hard-fought and looked pretty balanced throughout; he reached queen and bishop v queen and knight ending where the insecurity of both sides’ kings made pursuing a win very risky. Scores were levelled when Mike went down in a long ending after going astray in the sort of position he is pretty familiar with – fairly locked symmetrical pawns with an open d-file, but rooks and queens exchanged. This left Robbo in a situation he was to find himself in on the Sunday, battling to achieve parity in a very long game. Following a complex strategic battle in which Dave seemed to be ahead, his opponent developed pressure on the kingside and fended off Dave’s dangerous counter-threats to secure the full point.



Redworth Hall Restaurant


Spirit of Atticus B (Round 2)

And so we ended the first round slightly below par, but with everything to play for on the morrow, fortified by our usual gastronomic preparation, this time at The Oaktree Inn, a gastropub of some repute with a wine list approved by our established grubmeister. Sadly, however, we are unable to report on the quality of this establishment, as this much anticipated excursion had to be aborted following long games and naively booked meal and taxi times; we ate at the hotel, which was, nevertheless the usual convivial experience.


On Sunday our hopes were dealt a blow when Dave Stuttard went down quickly after an inferior opening, but recovered when Steve rounded up his opponent’s over-extended queen’s pawn in the middle-game - which followed a fairly wild opening - and he converted comfortably in the ensuing knight versus bishop ending.


I was dismayed to see my opening development and space advantage slowly dissipated by my opponent’s energetic play and to reach a heavy piece ending where my Achilles heel on f2 rendered further attack difficult. I must have had better options. Dave Latham survived a difficult opening with material equality but an isolated pawn which could not be utilised to secure the usual knight outposts owing to white’s development and piece harmony. His position held for a while, but the conversion to a two bishops v rook endgame in his opponent’s favour proved indefensible.













We now found ourselves in a similar position to Saturday’s with our most resilient team members in play. The match positions were now very clear: wins on boards one and two would secure us two draws. Mike managed to sacrifice a piece for three pawns to avoid being ‘steamrollered’ by his opponent’s queenside majority, but both sides considered the bishop and pawns v pawns ending too risky to attempt to force a win. So, one match narrowly lost, but Robbo was again battling heroically against Jos Woolley and achieved a won, but not easily won position. Jos liquidated the position to one in which neither side could win by clever pawn advances on both flanks, and hands were shaken.


Two narrow defeats against tough opponents left us disappointed but encouraged in thinking that better times lie ahead, albeit with a probably very different team at the next weekend. And, as ever, taste buds and the appetite for banter were fully satisfied.




Chess Photos © Steve Connor | John Saunders (Sheila Jackson)

© 4NCL

Four Nations Chess League

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