The final match of the season and, like last year, another game against Downend to decide which club wins the division. However, unlike last year, we were facing their A team themselves rather than their B team trying to do them a favour. The game was held at Downend’s new club which had already been a successful stomping ground scoring a useful win a four-match streak to catch up. Could University A overtake them at with the last game?
The encounter was a match of two halves with the top three boards looking good for the University while the bottom three going the way of Downend. Starting with the “fun” half, my own game was first to finish after going out of my preparation on move 2; a sign that their team was stacked if Nigel Hosken is playing on Board 5. Trying my best Ding impression after only having one Nimzo-Indian game as a reference point, I was grateful for a draw offer in a position where Black still had lots of pressure. An understandable offer given the state of Dorian’s game next-door. After losing a piece in the opening, he had managed to put up annoying resistance and White felt obliged to return the piece to break through. It hadn’t worked. Tom was less fortunate and lost but finished the season as a key contributor to the University’s board points over the season. Not the best start but the University were perhaps lucky to escape with two draws.
As mentioned above, it was the top boards where University seemed to shine this night. On Board 3, Dan defeated Aron Saunders picking up an important pawn in the centre after a one move oversight. Aron put up a fight and Dan was forced to play a winning bishop sacrifice to completely shatter the king’s defences, which can be difficult to commit to when you feel you already have a winning advantage.
On Board 1, James had a very promising position almost from start-to-finish from a Philidor opening. He had to keep his wits about him though as at one point his opponent had set a very devious idea.
Black had just played 23…Rc5 hoping to give up an exchange to get rid of a dangerous attacker but it appears that the queen is trapped. 24.Bd4? Rxd5! 25.exd5 (25.Bxe5? Rxd1 mate) Qxd4! 26.Rxd4 Re1+ mating. James very wisely decided to avoid all these tactics and played the calm 24.Be2 keeping everything nice and safe on the back rank.
Last to finish was Zachary when a draw was all that was required to win the match and league, but he had found a nice continuation earlier and was pressing for the win.
Things appear calm but the knight on h3 is a long way from the action on the queenside. 26…a5! Even if all the pawns on the queenside get traded, Black will have huge pressure on the d4 pawn. There is no way for White to save material. 27.b5 a4 This is the only move that justifies Black’s idea. 28.bxc6 axb3 29.cxb7 Rb8 30.Rb1 Rxb7 and Black won the league!
A great season in a tight division with the top teams all taking match points off each other, and three teams all with three wins at the bottom. Not the most straightforward manner, but back-to-back victories in Division 1 is a great achievement especially since it was not that long ago that the team was relegated from the top tier. Well done to everybody that helped make it happen again.