Team A: Division 2, Final Weekend, Hinckley Island Hotel, 2-4 May 2015 by John Carleton




Hinckley Island Hotel


In the weeks leading up to the season's previous weekend and this the final showdown we, as relative novices in the higher echelons of the 4NCL, received massive help from thoughtful rivals who advised us that all we needed to do to obtain promotion was to finish above at least two teams [i.e. not necessarily in the top 4 overall] from Grantham Sharks 2, White Rose 2, Cambridge University 2, Sussex Martlets and 3Cs since the other two teams, Guildford 3 and Barbican Youth, are 3rd teams of their clubs and if their first division teams survived the drop they would not be eligible for promotion [since each club may have a maximum of two teams only in the first division]. Thus I, as captain, was pretty confident of promotion to the giddy heights of division 1. In particular it appeared that we could lose all three games and still be promoted with reasonably likely outcomes of the remaining fixtures. This, it seemed to me, was a desirable state of affairs since we could well lose all three against the very strong Guildford 3, the even stronger 3Cs and the strong Sussex Martlets. I got a rude awakening when the draw was published since the powerful Barbican Youth team with whom we had had a creditable draw were defaulting at least one board in each of the last 3 rounds and the rest of their team was much weakened. In short they would have two unexpected [by me] defeats and we needed a win in one of our three remaining games.





Spirit of Atticus A (Round 9)


Captain: John Carleton

First up in round 9 were Guildford 3 who had beaten us over 6 boards last season and had run away with the third division title. We thus approached this match with some trepidation but ready for the fight. There were two early wins, one for each side: firstly Dave Robertson board 8 was quick to spot the combination which netted him the exchange and a pawn and speedy transition to a won ending. David Phillips on board 5 blundered a piece away in a position that was already difficult. Just to keep it interesting there was an evacuation of the building because of a possible fire as the tension rose over the boards. On our return it was not long before Roy Ellames on board 7 crashed through on the king-side having reduced opponent Marcus Osborne's Benko style King's Indian to extreme passivity.Board 6 saw Peter Ackley next to finish: having come under some pressure Peter sacrificed a pawn and his activity was enough to transfer into a drawn ending and that result was duly agreed. Sheila Jackson on board 4 produced a typically truculent performance against Russell Granat who despite having sacrificed the exchange to open a route to the black king, had to recognise that a draw was the limit of his ambition since the king's habitat remained draughty but not in real danger, and the draw was duly agreed.



This left us 3-2 ahead with the top three boards in play. Nick on board 2 was playing Gavin Wall and took on a line that is a speciality of Gavin's. This went well for a good while but with problems mounting Nick had to jettison a piece for a pawn, but with the opposing king far away Nick was able to sacrifice further to reach a drawn king and pawn v king and rook finale. My game had seen me acquire rather fortuitously, against Guildford supremo Roger Emerson, a bishop ending which offered grinding possibilities. These were realised without discovering the truth of the position when, as is so frequently the situation in these cases the defender played an inferior defence.


We had already won the match but there was still entertainment for the spectators on top board in the encounter between Brett Lund and Nigel Povah. Brett was on top from the opening but thereafter the prospects fluctuated wildly with a draw finally agreed with time slipping away for both players. We had thus won 5-3, the result of our dreams, and once the other results were in we could see that promotion was assured. Understandably, we were in high spirits as we set off for the evening meal.


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


This was the final 4NCL weekend at Hinckley Island, a fact not met with total dismay by most people but it was to be our final visit to Rossini's in Hinckley. Grubmeister Dave was visibly moved as he ordered wine for the last time [for as he observed "They do have a lovely, thoughtful and changing list of quality Italian regional wines"]. His selections were, with abridged comments by Dave in brackets: Red: Schioppettino [Predicted by some experts to be the next big fashion in wine, this wine is from the area around Venice. It is made from a very rare and ancient, 13th C, grape which was almost extinct but recultivated in the last 20 years].


White: Falanghina [This is grown near Naples on the slopes of Vesuvius and is another rising star of the discerning oenophile]. {Editor's note for all those from our Northern heartland, this is posh talk for "wine snob"}. Somehow we made it through the meal and nightcap in the hotel without the Grubmeister breaking down and retired for a well earned rest.



Spirit of Atticus A (Rounds 10 & 11)




Our revised target was to gain promotion "on merit", i.e. by finishing in the top four places, which could be achieved by avoiding large defeats in rounds 10 and 11. And so Sunday afternoon saw us positively into play against 3Cs, and an early glance down the boards gave us cause for optimism. The early pressure by our ranks gradually saw a slight shift in power as the results came in. Board 6 saw an afternoon off for Peter Ackley and opponent Jamie Horton and a draw followed on board 5 between David Phillips and Alan Walton with David holding two bishops against rook and knight. Some caution here was understandable.



The first decisive result arrived in my game when, feeling I had been outplayed and my defensive burdens were too great, I gave in but as Stephen was quick to point out I should have fought on. [ so I was partly correct, I had been outplayed but my defensive problems were not yet too great]. We appeared close to victory in Sheila's game on board 4 against Daniel Abbas and on board 7 in Dave Robertson's against Graham Burton but in each case the 3Cs' player was able to scramble a draw. David Latham on board 8, making his seasonal debut for the A team, pressurised opponent Jacob Manton right into the ending, arriving at a position in Jonathan Hawkins' highly recommended "Amateur to I.M.". [pp 273-275]. Unzicker played the amazing winning manoeuvre in a game in 1954. Roger Emerson pointed out the reference and that if you have not seen it you are extremely unlikely to think of it.


A quick survey of our team indicated that only Nick Ivell knew this piece of theory. Thus we know why 7 of the team are amateurs but don't why Nick and Roger are not I.M.s. David and Jacob duly drew!







Talking of Nick he was next to finish, having gradually built up pressure against Andrew Horton's position on board 3, Nick patiently exploited the material advantage that arose from his pressure. So we were all square with Brett in play against G.M. Christian Bauer, playing his first weekend for 3Cs. After obtaining a cramped opening Brett gradually built up some activity and soon both players were down to a minute or less for a sustained period. To the big crowd watching the 3Cs' player seemed most likely to prevail but this was not a foregone conclusion; at one point Christian was down to 2 seconds. Eventually the extremely cool French player exploited an attempt by Brett to open up another attacking front and victory had gone to our opponents by a single point.


The evening saw one of the highlights of the social calendar, a joint meal including the A and B teams this time in Rugby conveniently situated for access from both Daventry and Hinckley. The Grubmeister took control of proceedings to make his annual awards and the much prized mugs went to Michael Johnson, Dave Latham, Andy Smith and John Hall. The toast to the Spirit of Atticus concluded the formal business and resonated loud and clear reflecting the camaraderie of the group but maybe also because the top four placing for the A team was now confirmed. After the traditional conviviality and some excellent sustenance the teams went their separate ways to, in our case, pause for a "last night at Hinckley Island" drink.

And so to round 11 where we were to play Sussex Martlets who were guaranteed 2nd place but we were striving to "get a result" and achieve our latest target of 3rd place. The famous quote of Alan Hansen sprang to mind as we chatted with our young rivals before play commenced , namely, " You can't win anything with kids". Just as with the original quote, such a sentiment was clearly inapplicable to this fine, predominantly young, team who had already won 8 out of 10 matches this season and were assured of promotion for the second year running. The super solid duo of Peter Ackley and Sheila Jackson provided draws with the black pieces but the early decisive action came on the bottom boards. After suffering some discomfort in the opening Dave Robertson overcame Callum Brewer on board 7 when the game sprang into life and Callum missed an important detail. Board 8 attracted a good deal of attention from the spectators as Dave Latham and William Graham set about trying to put each other's lights out. Dave succeeded in style.


Final Table 2c

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 3Cs   6-2 4½-3½ 6-2 5-3 4-4 7-0 4½-3½ 37 13
2 Sussex Martlets 1 2-6   2½-5½ 4½-3½ 5-3 5½-2½ 5½-2½ 6-2 31 10
3 Spirit of Atticus A 3½-4½ 5½-2½   5-3 4½-3½ 5½-2½ 4-4 3½-4½ 31½


4 Guildford 3 2-6 3½-4½ 3-5   3-5 5½-2½ 5-3 8-0 30 6
5 White Rose 2 3-5 3-5 3½-4½ 5-3   5½-2½ 3-5 4½-3½ 27½ 6
6 Cambridge University 2 4-4 2½-5½ 2½-5½ 2½-5½ 2½-5½   5½-2 5-3 24½ 5
7 Barbican 4NCL Youth 0-7 2½-5½ 4-4 3-5 5-3 2-5½   5-3 21½ 5
8 Grantham Sharks 2 3½-4½ 2-6 4½-3½ 0-8 3½-4½ 3-5 3-5   19½ 2


David Phillips on board 5 was surely winning until around the 30th move when David Grant engineered some great swindling play just as he had in our drawn 6 board match last year and our lead was back to one point. If you feel this comment is the pot calling the kettle black, well yes I did manage a swindle last year and as for this year..... read on. Nick Ivell and Rhys Cumming on board 3 produced a sharp battle ending in perpetual check. This left Brett and I in play on the top boards against David Graham and Grant Bucher respectively. I equalised fairly quickly with black but drifted close to danger before I felt I had restored the balance around the 40 move mark. Given the state of the match my draw offer was declined but in his eagerness to move in for the kill Grant allowed a knockout blow out of character with the position [AKA a swindle]. Brett had played one of his imperious white openings and it looked like an early bath for opponent David Graham, who had inflicted Brett's only defeat of last season on him. However David dug in, obtained a scattered and motley looking 3 pawn collection for a piece and got as active as he could in the resulting minor piece ending. The assembled spectators were not too sure if Brett was actually going to win but win he did when after some six and three quarter hours of play. Brett and David completed the final 4NCL game to be played at Hinckley Island. The match score saw us win by 5.5-2.5 for a gratifying end to our fantastic season.



In reflecting on the season we have much for which to be thankful. The 4NCL itself continues to be the jewel in the crown of English chess and we are proud to be a part of it. We are proud of our Northern League background and this season particularly proud to be the first team from the Northern League to reach the first division. At this stage last year we reckoned we had only a 50% chance of staying in the 2nd division; what has happened was not on the agenda and we are aware that our prospects of remaining in division 1 are minuscule. We do however have plenty of players willing to have a go and that is what we will do.





As usual at this time of year I have to say that if you are a team based in the North or Midlands, give the Northern League a try and you will not be disappointed: next year's venues are fantastic, the playing areas will be spacious and you will get stiff competition and some great places to relax after the fray. One final message on this topic is to say congratulations to North East England on winning division 3: don't get relegated, we want to resume combat in 2016-17.


This year was a testing time for the 4NCL Management given the lackadaisical and unhelpful approach of our hoteliers. Thanks in particular are due to our Finance Director the awesome Mike Truran for his continued vision, commitment to the consultative process, indefatigableness and for applying his energies to get us out of the pickle we were in and securing the future. Behind him is a great team; thanks to each and everyone of that team for their efforts and patience over the long and gruelling season. We look forward to renewing friendships and rivalries in 6 short months.




Team B: Division 3, Final Weekend, Daventry Court Hotel, 2-4 May 2015 by Andy Mort



Daventry Court Hotel

How quickly the final weekend arrives! After a few scares in finalising our teams, we arrived at Daventry Court – probably for the last time – established in a position roughly in mid-table. Will we miss the venue, I wonder? Although the hotel staff were, as ever, unfailingly helpful and courteous, other aspects of general management seemed less efficient than usual this weekend.


Our Saturday match was against Ashfield/Breadsall, in 4NCL terms a local derby, as most of the assembled players compete in Midlands leagues. On paper we looked evenly matched, and, indeed, the first four games to finish were drawn, fairly tamely in two cases but after energetic struggles in the others. John found himself matched against an old school friend of some 60 years’ standing, and a draw was quickly agreed in an unusually open Closed Sicilian(!) after multiple minor piece exchanges. I found myself sitting opposite an opponent who is now a Chesterfield club-mate (with whom I have a long history of draws), and, as Black, Steve Burke easily neutralised any advantage I might have aspired to.


On Board 6, ‘Supersub’ David Hulme, having supported us in person at Buxton and throughout the season from a distance, made his first appearance of the season. Although his game was ultimately drawn, it was far from tame. After some middle-game sparring, he emerged in a heavy piece ending with advanced connected pawns on the kingside against his opponent’s similar queenside phalanx, but his king was exposed, and both players considered pushing for a win too risky.



Spirit of Atticus B (Rounds 9, 10 & 11) 

Windmill pub grub

On Board 2, Mike McDonagh’s draw was also far from dull. Watching him attack his opponent’s kingside as White against a Modern Defence, I had him marked down for a win from early on, but his opponent’s stout defence led to a rook and pawn endgame in which Mike’s extra pawns were too immobile to force a win.


On Board 2, Mike Johnson faced a difficult but possibly tenable defence of an isolated pawn established in the opening, and after a long battle succumbed in a knight versus bishop ending after allowing his kingside pawns to be split. Fortunately, our Board 1, Dave Latham, is currently in a rich vein of form. He carefully nurtured a space advantage, weaving his way through middle-game complications, and shepherded his queenside majority home to secure a drawn match, a very fair result.


Our evening meal at a favourite venue, The Windmill at Badby, was a little disappointing this year, but at least our Grubmeister was not with us to lament the absence of anything recognisable as a wine list; I doubt whether he would have coped with the trauma.


On Sunday our opponents were The Rookies, a locally based team. Making his debut on Board 6 was Colm Buckley, another in a long line of Chester players, drafted into the team in our hour of need, who had driven over and back in the day to ensure that no default was incurred. He played his Queen’s Pawn opening quietly, but gradually mounted a relentless kingside attack which eventually overcame his young opponent’s resistance. On Board 1, Mike McDonagh solidly blockaded his opponent’s isolated queen’s pawn, but his position suddenly imploded following a tactic directed at f7, and he lost a piece. Mike Johnson could make no headway against his opponent’s Tarrasch Defence, Black’s advanced queen’s pawn proving to be a constricting wedge. John attacked his opponent’s French Defence energetically, but Black’s un-castled king found an effective pawn shield. Wood was exchanged, and the minor piece ending looked likely to be drawn, but the conversion to a pawn ending left John with a lost position.



The Windmill Restaurant in Badby


Critics of my allegedly wild gambit against the Dutch Defence on Weekend 4 would do well to study my opponent’s gambit approach to the Stonewall, alongside which my approach looks positively pedestrian; you could be forgiven for thinking White had been fed on raw meat. However, after the early exchange of two sets of minor pieces and the queens, he was saddled with positional weaknesses which also delayed his development, and my control of the e-file was ultimately decisive.


And so it was one game to go and the match score level. On the black side of an English Botvinnik System, Steve had looked ‘under the cosh’ for much of his game, but, after marshalling his knights to blockade a passed queen’s pawn, he opened the f-file, was able to double rooks, and forced the win of a piece to ensure victory in the match. “Houdini-like” was Steve’s description of his performance, though “resilient” might have been equally appropriate. His Monday game would suggest that this is an image he has begun to cultivate!




The highlight of the weekend was our joint meal with the A Team at The Dilruba in Rugby, one of the consequences of the A Team’s success last year having been the social separation of old pals at different venues this year - a success which pales into insignificance alongside their astonishing feat in gaining promotion to the First Division this year. Modestly deflecting attention from the A Team, Master of Ceremonies Mr. David Robertson praised the success of the B Team, a guarantee if ever there was one that the’ wheels would come off’ on the morrow and, indeed, we suffered our heaviest defeat since succumbing to the might of North East England in our opening match last year.



Chess Photos © Steve Connor


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