Team A: Division 2, Fourth Weekend, Holiday Inn, Birmingham, 28-29 Mar 2015 by John Carleton




Holiday Inn, Birmingham Airport

We had finished weekend 3 in high spirits knowing that a draw in round 7 would guarantee us a place in the Championship Pool and probably only an overwhelming defeat would see us in the Demotion Pool. Our opponents BCM Dragons were firmly ensconced in the last chance hotel knowing that the Demotion Pool option could be avoided for sure only by a victory and a draw would leave them in with some chance but precariously placed awaiting the efforts of teams below them in the league.


These matches for weekend 4 had been a long time coming and our appetites had been whetted by the tough games of our B team in division 3 the previous weekend, as the fixtures, due to circumstances beyond our control, had spread over two weekends. This contest was keenly contested in the early stages with no major advantages emerging for either team; our opponents were surely ready to have a go and although not afraid of draws we were also keen to test our aggressive potential.



Captain: John Carleton

Gradually the results trickled in: on board 8 Dave Robertson's youthful opponent, Jagdeep Dhemrait, was able to force a repetition but no more and this heralded further draws on boards 5 and 4.




Spirit of Atticus A (Round 7)


On board 5 Peter Ackley and opponent Colin Purdon had played only 18 moves but had used plenty of time so agreed the draw in the rather murky position that had arisen. Sheila's position on board 4 seemed balanced and neither she nor opponent Alan Scrimgour wished to risk unbalancing matters.


We took the lead when, after a somewhat inept opening by me, the central pawns were cleared away and it gradually dawned on Chris Fegan and myself that his position was extremely dicey. There were with no obvious anchorage points for his bishops and my pieces were pointing menacingly at his king; the finish was not long arriving. Boards 2 and 7 saw a win apiece with Tom Farrand on board 2 showing a better feel for the intricacies of the complex position than Nick Ivell following an approximately level opening.



Roy Ellames, on debut for the A team played a coherent and impressive game: he virtually forced John Foley to sacrifice the exchange but gave it back for a pawn and despite messy looking pawns his activity ensured that he was able to move into an easily won rook and pawn endgame. David Phillips on board 6, playing Justin Hadi was perhaps rather pessimistic of his chances but agreed a draw having confidence in Brett Lund in the remaining game to at least maintain our lead. Brett on board 1 justified the confidence: a complex opening saw both he and Clive Frostick having problems completing their development. The resulting middlegame seemed fairly level but Brett increased the pressure and broke through with a neat finishing combination to bring in, by 5-3, the victory that ensured our progress into the Promotion Pool.









2b after round 7


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 Barbican 4NCL Youth   4-4 5-3 5-3 2-6 5-3 5-3 5½-2½ 31½ 11
2 Spirit of Atticus A 4-4   4½-3½ 3½-4½ 6½-1 5-3 3½-4½ 5-3 32 9
3 White Rose 2 3-5 3½-4½   4½-3½ 5-3 4-4 5½-2½ 5-3 30½ 9
4 Grantham Sharks 2 3-5 4½-3½ 3½-4½   4½-3½ 3½-4½ 4-4 5½-2½ 28½ 7
5 Kings Head 6-2 1-6½ 3-5 3½-4½   4½-3½ 7-1 3-5 28 6
6 BCM Dragons [1] 3-5 3-5 4-4 4½-3½ 3½-4½   4-4 4½-3½ 26½ 6
7 Wessex 3-5 4½-3½ 2½-5½ 4-4 1-7 4-4   4-4 23 5
8 MK Phoenix 1 2½-5½ 3-5 3-5 2½-5½ 5-3 3½-4½ 4-4   23½ 3



Whereas the meeting up and travel to Solihull's finest Chinese Chinese and Thai restaurant left something to be desired, once we had assembled inside, a range of fine food and drink was consumed in bulk with gusto. We were, and remain, very proud of our historic achievement: In our 5th year of existence and at the third attempt we had made it into the 2nd Division Championship Pool. Five of the six who had played in the first ever match for Spirit of Atticus at Darlington in November 2010 played over the two weekends for rounds 7 and 8.



Spirit of Atticus A (Round 8)


At this meal were four of the five: Dave Robertson, Peter Ackley, Steve Connor [present as half 4NCL webmaster and half non-playing vice captain of our team] and myself. Of the five only B team captain Andy Mort was not at the meal and we are assured he had celebrated all eventualities in depth the weekend before.




Everbright Thai & Chinese Restaurant

As we reminisced I was sure I saw a tear in Grubmeister Dave's eye but equally it may have been a glint of anticipation for further challenges.


The casual reader may feel that, within the framework of chess history this is not such a big deal. However, we must refer you our esteemed colleagues and fellow competitors from Grantham Sharks who also celebrated on Saturday evening [in the hotel bar]. Admittedly they had two teams making the appropriate Championship Pool but on learning of their hotel champagne bill, our noble Grubmeister sagely observed [with admiration of course], "These Sharks can certainly put it away".


The loss of the hour sacrificed to bring in summertime did not disturb our traditional routine of a leisurely sojourn in the Hotel bar before retiring to bed. Thus Sunday saw us arise refreshed for what was to be, and I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, our first contest in the new mini-league that will ultimately decide the honours in the Second Division [Editor's note: That's enough of that, thank-you].


This match against Cambridge University 2 saw generally sharper openings than on Saturday and the early action saw our opponents establish a strong foothold in the match. They could claim a reasonable advantage on boards 1, 5 and 6 [probably, this was Basman territory so it was hard to be 100% sure of anything] and a potentially winning advantage on board 3 where Nick Ivell had been caught in a sharp gambit variation by Chris Beckett. Board 4 saw us welcome back Andy Smith into the team following his heroics in the recent Bunratty tournament but his opponent Stuart Robertson was trading blows in a long opening variation and had grabbed a pawn to boot, generally giving us cause for concern.

On board 8 Dave Robertson was meeting another young opponent, Atreya Mandnikov, who was content to generate activity with a view to simplifying the conflict. Board 7 was a tough game to call with both David Phillips and his adversary Ian Gooding showing aggressive intent. Only board 2 was progressing smoothly from our point of view, as Brett serenely conducted another master class in simple chess and his which had seemed inevitable from an early stage was the first result on the board. Almost immediately the nature of the struggle changed when Dave Robertson won on board 8 after a blunder by his opponent in only a slightly worse position. Nick by now had threaded his way out of the opening complications and his bishop proved far superior to his opponent's pawns in the ending. 3-0 became 3-1 when on board 6 Alexander Gordon-Brown proved to have a calm approach through the mess and Peter Ackley's position just crumbled.


2c after round 8


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 3Cs   6-2     6-2 4½-3½   4-4 20½ 7
2 Sussex Martlets 1 2-6       4½-3½   5-3 5½-2½ 17 6
3 Spirit of Atticus A       4-4   3½-4½ 4½-3½ 5½-2½ 17½ 5
4 Barbican 4NCL Youth     4-4   3-5 5-3 5-3   17 5
5 Guildford 3 2-6 3½-4½   5-3       5½-2½ 16 4
6 Grantham Sharks 2 3½-4½   4½-3½ 3-5     3½-4½   14½ 2
7 White Rose 2   3-5 3½-4½ 3-5   4½-3½     14 2
8 Cambridge University 2 4-4 2½-5½ 2½-5½   2½-5½       11½ 1



Then a real match changer arrived in our lap: Sheila on board 5 had appeared in grave danger of taking an early K.O. as Adrian Somerfield's opening edge just grew and grew. Sheila dug in and fought tooth and nail giving up her queen for rook and minor piece. Although Sheila was theoretically lost at the end, she had lots of play and the position was difficult for both players when Sheila won on time at move 30!





My game had seen Alistair Hill maintain an opening edge into the middlegame but when we arrived in a bishop v knight endgame my knight and ragbag of isolated and doubled pawns proved far superior to the bishop and "tidy" pawns.


So 5-1 and an important victory even though in the remaining two games we seemed doomed. Andy duly lost on board 4 after entertaining play but David Phillips on board 7 battled and meandered through a variety of lost rook and pawn endings before against all the odds arriving at a drawn one after 6 hours play. Bravo! A 5½-2½ victory seems unjust in the cool light of day but we will enjoy the moment, since we, just like all chess players the world over, will have plenty of opportunities to beat ourselves up when things swing against us.




Team B: Division 3, Fourth Weekend, Daventry, 21-22 Mar 2015 by Andy Mort



Daventry Court Hotel with 155 bedrooms, free WiFi and parking.

For the first combined North and South Divisions weekend, our team was similar to that which competed at Pott Shrigley on Weekend 2 - i.e. none too youthful. Our motivator from the A Team, Mr. David Robertson, complacent in the knowledge that the A Team’s next challenge had been postponed for a week, had provided early encouragement by informing us gleefully that in Round 7 we were to be confronted by KJCA Knights, a team of “under-graded juniors”.


By Saturday morning, firing the troops up looked a challenging task, given Mike’s potential demoralisation after spending Friday evening watching Derby County lose a crucial match, and considering that other members of the team would doubtless have preferred to be watching the rugby.


Full of trepidation, we sat down to face a team whose combined age was less than a third of our own. Which would prevail – the sharp-witted vigour of youth or the stolid accumulation of experience?


First to finish was John on the black side of a Sicilian, having exchanged a number of minor pieces to relieve his slightly cramped position and equalise before accepting the draw offered by our only adult opponent. Steve, our self-appointed coach, had earlier advised that the way to beat juniors was to play slow positional chess; he was dismayed to watch me venture into a dubious gambit against the Dutch which my young opponent defended accurately, avoiding all pitfalls; I was outplayed. More was said about my choice of opening in the pub, and for the first time I sensed signs of rebellion from the more subversive members of the team; but it wasn’t fair - I don’t often have much fun in the opening.


OCH's Hanging Kebab

Spirit of Atticus B (Rounds 7&8) 

Prospects of salvaging even a point from the match looked dire when Richard, facing a Modern Benoni Defence, exchanged his black-squared bishop for a hostile knight and subsequently surrendered crucial black squares. His opponent infiltrated the queenside and netted a piece to enter a won ending. It was not obvious at this point where wins might come from in the remaining games. Mike agreed a draw in an unclear but ‘balanced’ position, having shown great resilience in defending a Grunfeld after his opponent had established a powerful centre which Mike succeeded in undermining via the queenside.


A feature of the games was how quickly and aggressively our opponents played, putting us under considerable time-pressure. The young can be impulsive, however, and over-confidence by our opponents played a part in the two wins we achieved on the remaining boards to ensure that age ultimately matched youth in the 3-all draw. Steve’s game had looked pretty much equal throughout, perhaps slightly better for him when he took over the a-file, but the endgame might well have been drawn had an impulsive pawn-grabbing foray not lost the KJCA player a piece. Lloyd had faced an aggressive version of the Leningrad Dutch in which his opponent decided that the whole kitchen sink should be thrown. Marching all his kingside pawns to his 4th rank, however, left his king potentially vulnerable. Lloyd utilised the classical strategy of defeating a flank attack by reacting in the centre, doubling rooks on the d-file, taking over the 7th rank, and winning a couple of pawns before, with little time on his clock, converting to a clearly won bishop, rook and pawn ending.



The Olde Coach House Inn, Country Pub and Restaurant

The fare at The Old Coach House, including the popular Lion Ale, was enjoyed by all, and Lloyd and I had our culinary horizons expanded when we ordered Espedata, or “hanging kebabs”, which arrived in what looked like instruments of medieval torture - and which were hazards to the numerous glasses of alcohol on the table. Served horizontally, I’m sure that the kebabs would have been much less tasty, however.



On Sunday we faced Barnet Knights, a replica of the KJCA Knights team, except that the five juniors were even younger; I swear that, in my day, they’d still have been in short trousers – but we now had experience of this particular brand of opponent, had we not?


The impetus of Sunday’s match was completely different from Saturday’s. Mike’s opponent played quickly but with scant regard for his pawn structure, and our man “got us off to a flier” by demolishing his opponent’s two sets of isolated pawns. It was his shortest game in the 4NCL by a country mile, and he was able to avail himself of the opportunity to watch how football is played in the Premiership. Richard drew quite quickly after neutralising his opponent’s kingside play in a Bird’s Opening to reach a lifeless double rook ending. Steve had followed his impassioned coaching advice of the previous day too closely, perhaps, in that his King’s Indian Attack led to completely locked pawn chains, indicating quite early on that no progress was likely by either side. My opponent blundered away the exchange for a pawn in the opening, but chanced on significant compensation in the form of active and harmonious minor piece play.

Having quickly achieved a lost position, I was fortunate in that my opponent carelessly enabled me to take over the d-file and exploit his vulnerable back rank. The crude tactics I then employed to confuse him left me the exchange to a pawn up but with little time on the clock. As it had been clear for some time that John would win his game following an overwhelming kingside attack in an English Opening, I was more than happy to offer a draw which I was confident would win us the match. When John won shortly after, Lloyd immediately resigned a lost ending; he had won a pawn in the middle-game only to have an aggressively posted bishop trapped in an unusual manner.



A very satisfactory weekend, then - ‘upstarts’ pretty much repulsed! Robbo, stick to your Grubmeister role in future. It is hoped that we can recapture something like this form in Weekend 5.


Unfortunately, John, who has scored heavily for us on the top boards, will not be able to join us. He has played consistently the best chess of any of the team, tempering aggression with sound judgement. Nonetheless we look forward to the challenge.


Chess Photos © Steve Connor

© 4NCL

Four Nations Chess League

top ^