After our first loss in the season before the Christmas break against Thornbury, our rivals Redland & Horfield B managed to win their match against North Bristol A finally taking the lead in the league which we had been battling for. They were now ahead by a single point as it was 11 to 10. This match-up would be our most important one in the entire season thus far, as a loss would put the possibility of winning the league into question, if things were to continue the way they are…
The match began with Redland & Horfield B fielding one of their strongest team yet! Last time we faced them, only their top two boards rated above 1900 and we managed to get away with a draw. This time their top four boards were all rated above 1900! We unfortunately were not able to field our strongest team, however that would not deter us from playing at our best.
We were extremely optimistic when the first to finish was Freddie on Board 5 with Black, and not only did he win, his game was a true masterclass in aggressive piece play. Although Stockfish considers the choice of the first move of this attack a blunder, it is not easy to see why and the complications that ensued quickly threw the advantage for white away, which then turned into a massive advantage for black even quicker.
In this position Freddie began with 17. … Na5. A pawn sacrifice with the idea to sacrifice the bishop right after (although as mentioned, Stockfish prefers 17. … Qe7 first). 18. Qxd5 Bxa3 19. bxa3 Qe7 20. Qa2 Rxc3 21. Bd5 Rxa3 22. Qb2 Ra4 23. Re3??. The only move that maintained White’s advantage was 23. Kc2. A couple moves later a nasty little forking took place:
What is impressive is the display of correct understanding that the Knight is actually worth more than the Rook in this position, even if Black is down material by Freddie. Indeed, the Rook stood hanging for three more turns: 24. … Nc4 25. Qc3 O-O 26. Rc1 Rc8 27. Qd3 g6 28. Re2. The game finished soon after.
I was next to finish on Board 4 with White. The game itself was not that interesting, however I did go for an imbalance where I got the bishop pair, but Black had quick development and activity as compensation. We both understood that, when going into the position, and now it was a matter of whose evaluation was more accurate. I was so focused on finding a way to catch up in development that when I saw an opportunity to do so, I went for it. I forced a series of moves which allowed me to develop my bishop with tempo:
Blinded by this opportunity to achieve what I was aiming for – to finish my development, maintaining the bishop pair and an open centre – I completely missed Black’s response: 16. … Qg5… This move alone determined the outcome of the game as Black’s threats of mate, forcing to weaken the pawn structure, and infiltration on the d-file lead to winning of material. The fact that my opponent played at 98% accuracy did not help, however a major oversight on my part cost me the game.
It was now even and tension was rising as the rest of the games were entering rapid time controls. Although Conor’s game on Board 6 finished next, we shall leave it for the end for dramatic effect (for those of you who do not know the outcome of this match).
The top three boards soon after, entered blitz time controls. Time would prove to be an important factor for a great number of boards in this match. A prime example would be Sam’s game on Board 2 with White. After some prep against his opponent, Sam managed to get his opponent to an endgame in 16 moves where he was up a pawn. Unfortunately, after working hard to push his pawns, time was ticking low and an unfortunate self-mate transpired… As Sam pointed out himself, this season has been rough for him as he has been throwing away winning positions under time pressure in Sicilians over and over. To be fair to him though, he has been playing top boards and has been getting great positions throughout, so the number of loses doesn’t fairly reflect his play. Hopefully, all that is missing is slightly better time management, which is always a hard thing to improve. We shall say no more about this game, other than one can imagine how good the position looked like a couple of moves ago, before the game swiftly ended…
Next to finish was Julien on Board 3 with Black. I will admit, when I saw Julien’s game out of the opening, I was a bit worried as White seemed to have achieved what can only be described as a dream set-up.
Although, this is not to say that Black’s position is bad. Indeed, Julien displayed fantastic play this game achieving a whopping 97% accuracy and defending until a completely drawn bishop endgame.
Not only that, but he then proceeded to display truly Magnesian play. He kept asking his opponent questions, trying to make use of White’s absentminded shuffling after having declined 3 draw offers. On the 60th move of the game, White finally made a mistake in a critical position, which as a puzzle, you can try to find the only move for white to draw:
White played 60. Ke3??. Black then puts White in zugzwang with 60. … Bd1!. White is forced to either push their pawns and allow a passer, move the King and allow Black’s King to come in, or to trade bishops, after which, the Black King still gets in. In the end, White ended up losing on time in a position which was mate in 11 for Black. Naturally, King Julien had already calculated it out and was just waiting for his opponent to make a move.
As you can see even without knowing the result on Board 6 yet, the result of Board 1 could still determine the outcome of the match. And so we come to Fergus Mr. Couple Tactics and Win with Black and his nemesis this season – Phillip Nendick. Last time, Fergus’ chess spoke for itself, and Phill had taken his revenge since then in Pub Chess. Their rivalry had reached it’s peak and to settle it in such an important match had us all excited. So much so that Julien and I had spent some time in Paris collaborating with two Czech players, Adam and Adam, to equip Fergus with dubious prep against his rival. I will not comment on this further except that at least one of us ended up with a horse’s testicles on our head, but that is a story one must hear directly from us.
Unfortunately, Fergus forgot the prep by move 7 and tried to do what he does best. Both players played extremely accurately which led to white slowly building up an advantage due to the inaccuracy by Black on move 7. However, the culminated advantage of +10 was blundered away in a time scramble:
37. Rb1?? was played instead of 37. Rc7, which was best. At this point both players were living off of the increment and I even had to start noting down the moves for them. In the end the players agreed to a draw. It appears that the rivalry will have to be settled another time.
Finally, we will reveal the tragedy that occurred on Board 6. Conor was playing with White and after more than 25 moves of equality, an endgame was reached in which White managed to win a piece and was completely winning. The sad truth…. Conor was living off of the increment for a long while having spent the time to reach such a winning position. And on one of the moves, Conor was about to make a move and hesitated a fraction of a second too long, he hit the clock, but his clock already showed the flag. This is as painful for Conor as it is for the whole team, as this meant we lost the match 2.5 – 3.5. These things do happen and none of us are angry or upset at Conor, quite the contrary – he played a fantastic game and almost won us the match. We all wish him a speedy recovery after this one.
Although, this was an our most important match thus far, and we lost, I am proud of our players. We were severely outmatched in terms of rating and yet still lost the match by only a fraction of a second. Also, this by no means makes winning the league impossible! We just need to focus, win as many of our other matches as we can and have a bit of luck on our side to climb back up to first. Furthermore, I want to remind the Bristol University B team players reading this, that our goal this season is to finish top two, winning would be just a bonus. That being said, now that we have suffered two defeats in a row, the next match-up against Downend & Fishponds C might determine whether we stay in second place or not, so let us give it our all!