Who invented board count anyway
At the start of the season, on paper at least, Downend A and Horfield A were favourites for the league title. I've written at length about our A-team's disappointing title defence though with a team of risk-taking players (and Jerry) you have to take the lows with the highs. Horfield's squad are much more consistent and play more solid chess which be seen in the results; Horfield A drew half their boards this season while Downend A drew little over a third. In case it wasn't clear, I was procrastinating as I wrote this report. Of course some fine play from Clifton A saw them take home the title. Therefore it was a knockout final where both teams were highly motivated to win some silverware.
Horfield arrived in force with at least 12 strong players while Downend arrived with 7. Unfortunately Lewis had been caught in traffic (or simply got lost) and arrived 5 minutes after Mike Brigden volunteered to take his place. Graciously, Alex offered to reset the clocks, but Mike insisted that it was only fair to leave black's 15 minute deficit. As Lewis said in the bar, "As long as it doesn't come down to board 3, it's ok".
On board 1 Henry and Derek entered a line that GM Simon Williams describes as "spicy" though it is actually quite playable. Black shows utter contempt for his pawn structure for good attacking opportunities right from the start. It was something of a surprise to see the highest graded player of the night on board 2 though I'm sure there was a good reason.
Chris entered a cheeky 4. Qh5 sideline that is one of the few openings to contain the word "hack" in its name but appeared to be have been thoroughly out-prepared as Daniel churned out a strong refutation. Mike Brigden played his opening quickly to regain some time on the clock but appeared to be conceding a space advantage. On board 4, Stephen also seemed to be gaining a space advantage against Javier but with the black pieces. Nigel equalised very quickly against Peter and offered a draw but Peter chose to continue. Jerry erected a monster centre against Kajetan with pawns on c4, e4 and f4 and enjoyed his control of the d5-square. My game with Mike Levene had started as a Dutch, but black gained a strong centre at the cost of poor development and a potentially airy king. Martin and John had, I am pleased to report, an Accelerated Dragon and Martin assumed a bind on John's position.
After a flurry of exchanges, Nigel and Peter had reached a same-coloured-bishop and pawn ending where white's advantage was symbolic at best, but Peter spent some time trying to find a breakthrough before agreeing to a draw. Not too long afterwards Martin and John were also exchanging pieces along an open b-file and second draw was agreed. Henry was making the most of his positional edge and Chris was still defending but appeared to be finding a way to not hang his extended e-pawn. Mike Brigden appeared to be defending against white's now impressive space advantage and Javier was defending against a mighty kingside attack where black didn't quite have enough pieces around white's king. Jerry was attempting to convert his space advantage but without taking any risks (pushing his f-pawn once is quite enough). On the other hand, I launched into a wild and tremendously risky tactical affair that I would like to call an attack but could be at best termed "a wild and tremendously risky tactical affair" (pushing my f-pawn twice wasn't quite enough).
Mike Levene found a forcing line that initiated a number of scary-looking exchanges but took one piece too many and allowed a counter attack that won an exchange for a pawn. Despite being back in the game, I was unable to come up with a plan to make the most of my position and a draw by repetition ensued. Jerry had also been unable to find a way to make the most of his position and with Kajetan reaching a more level position the game was agreed a draw. Clocks were now starting to reach time scramble territory and there were still four matches left to finish with the score tied at 2-2. The crowd of spectators didn't know where they should be looking.
Daniel had invaded into white's position but Chris had kept his position solid and offered a draw which was accepted. (That draw gives Chris an undefeated season in both the Bristol league and knockout, which is hard to believe if you saw this game.) Derek offered a draw in a slightly worse position and Henry chose to play on, but a move or two later the offer was returned and the sixth point was split. He then spent the rest of the evening and drive back moaning about offering a draw.
Javier's play appeared to rely on attacking a pawn of Stephen's as a tactical defence for his own weak d3-pawn. In the scramble however white's pawn dropped off and Stephen offered a draw. Despite the time pressure and material shortage, Javier blitzed on. He won back the pawn and then in a time-related blunder Stephen lost a knight and resigned on the spot. If Mike could hang on in his game the title would go to Downend, but if it was a loss, Horfield would win the knockout on board count. Despite some good defending Alex managed to invade and won a weak pawn that held the position together. After some blitzing Alex reached a won position though Mike lost on time with Alex having only 10 seconds left. Even though the match finished 4-4, Horfield won the knockout on board count.
Congratulations to Horfield for their first knockout win in 8 years! They played well beating Clevedon 5½-2½ and Bath 4½-3½ on the way to the final. Fingers crossed we can win it next year!
Update: The games from the evening have been published on our games page.