A turn up for the books
It was a busy night as sixteen boards were in action. Five of the University A-team arrived uncharacteristically early which means that something must have gone terribly wrong with the club. Time was a University team would show up late and then proceed to thrash our B-team. Unfortunately, one of the difficulties for the University is the availability of drivers. Their sixth board was left to rely on the bus and was running late. I know I certainly never squeezed six players into my car during my university days, much to the disgust of the four in the back.
Lewis began with a defensive Sicilian and Bogdan went for rapid kingside expansion. Javier's game shaped up with a relatively closed position with white aiming to control the centre and black expanding on the queenside. Andrew and Mark began with a very early queen exchange and a relatively dry position. Xuchao also offered an early queen exchange to head for an endgame with Stephen. I found myself in difficulties in the opening when I responded to a tricky sideline with a mainline response. As a result my dark-squared bishop once again found itself trapped behind the e7-pawn. Mike began by starting his clock.
Denis arrived just before the default time and blitzed out an unexpected variation of Damiano's Defence, though it did mean Mike was playing as a 1.e4 player.
After a gruelling forty minutes of play, Andrew offered a draw. Mark decided that 14 moves was more than enough chess for one evening and the two split the point. Mike, despite starting well after everyone else, then converted his game after the exposed e8-h5 diagonal proved too dangerous for black's king. As I've always said, early f-pawn moves are always punished. As a gentleman, I won't report that Mike finished by grabbing a rook rather than a mate in 2.
Considering that we had 1½/2 from 28 moves, the rest of the boards looked less comfortable. Lewis wasn't worse in my opinion, but Bogdan had a freer position. Despite a Maroczy-style bind Philipp was able to break out against Javier with d5 push and a lot of exchanges ensued, though white no longer seemed to be pressing for an advantage. Stephen had a better pawn structure but his bishop was on the verge of being kicked out of play, while black's d and e-pawns were rolling down the board. I had finally found a way to play e6 with the hope of freeing my bishop only to be checked into playing Ke7. After the match, the unanimous opinion here had been that we were surely dropping our first points this season and the University would gain their first. Bizarrely, every game took a surprising swing to the good.
David was attacking naturally but one knight check too many started a tactical sequence that left him with a rook for two bishops. I recall thinking that if I could get my king to safety, untangle my bishops, and finally complete my rook development, I might be doing alright. Once Stephen had got his bishop back into the fray it became his best piece, pinning Xuchao's bishop to the king, while his rooks tied up black's with additional pressure. This allowed Stephen to march his king up before swapping off the final pieces for an easy pawn endgame. Javier held off any countering pressure from Philipp and the game ended as a draw, so at least we weren't losing the match.
Lewis found a great tactic that involved an exchange sacrifice, an absolute queen skewer and a countering exchange sacrifice (at least this is what I've been told) all of which won him a pawn, rather than the customary +7 points on a tactics trainer. David's weak back rank gained me enough time to activate my pieces and once they invaded white's position a number of mating threats, combined with significant time pressure, won us another point. Moments later Lewis scored the point from his position which sealed our best, but most surprising, win of the season.
While the University were certainly unlucky not to take 1, or more fairly, 2 points from the match, they have also been unfortunate to start their season with matches against Horfield A, Clifton A and eventual league winners Downend B. Meanwhile, the B-team continues its tremendous start to the season with 3 wins out of 3. Doubtless the A-team (on 5/5) are already worried.