Having suffered two defeats against a strong Bath A and a not entirely useless Downend A, the B-team were certainly keen to score some points. Even with our full team however, it seemed something of an uphill task to take them off Clifton A. At first things appeared to be going in our favour as they had called in two reserves, though it's not as though they're a club that lack depth.
Lewis and James began with one of those openings that's fashionable at the moment but in a few years will make us question our sanity, much like the man-bun and skinny jeans. Just to list some of the opening rules violated:
- White made no effort to control the centre.
- Black made no effort to control the centre.
- White played a knight to the rim (a3).
- Black launched the b-pawn despite white aiming to control the a8-h1 diagonal.
- White moved his knights a total of nine times before developing another piece.
- Black pushed pawns more than once instead of developing.
- Black blundered a pawn.
Simple maths shows that black broke one rule more and so unfortunately stood worse.
Despite having the white pieces, Andrew appeared to get into opening difficulties after not knowing the theory behind Gareth's plan. Black quickly equalised but was unable to press and temporarily gave a pawn to try and stir up some pressure. Javier and Duncan played very slowly in a closed Sicilian but after white provoked a few pawns pushes, black decided to play in the style of a King's Indian Defence with a kingside pawn storm.
Stephen played a c3 Sicilian (it's available to view if you don't believe me) where white grabs a pawn and attempts to hold on for dear life. Strangely though, he appeared to be in complete control right from the off and the four pawns vs two on the queenside looked like they'd become monsters if black couldn't find quick compensation. Dominic was playing Mike who was clearly in no mood for a draw, despite playing the drawing-est of dry French defences. In fact, the only clue was when he turned down an early but not unreasonable offer from Dominic. I was playing Manuel who appeared to be harbouring hopes of using the same unsound trap he'd caught me with two years before. Fortunately, I remembered the refutation that Stephen had shown me after game and gained a pretty comfortable advantage when black had to bail out of the tricks.
Lewis tried valiantly to stir up complications and despite getting his pieces really rather active the lack of pawn cover for his centralised king was more important and James showed why he's the highest graded player in the league. Although Stephen was setting up a dominating position (and possibly because of that), Igor sacrificed the exchange for a pawn which made his queenside defence a much harder task. In the end Stephen was able to return the material for a rook and pawn ending that was indefensible and black resigned. 1-1.
I believed I was converting my midgame advantage to ending where my knight would easily outmanoeuvre Manuel's bishop, though subsequent analysis has shown that that may have been the sort of misplaced optimism we all felt at the start of the 2016. As I pressed I used far too much time and found myself getting very low on the clock while black had plenty to use. Though I did finally reach a position that leaves white winning objectively I was uncertain as to whether I could convert with my remaining time and had to settle for a draw.
Javier's attack was halted by the pawns getting locked and Duncan took control of the a-file which ultimately gave him enough of an inroad to prise apart black's position. Shooting back, Mike justified his rejection of the draw offer by winning the point in his game. 2½-2½.
With Gareth standing better in his game though with only two minutes to Andrew's three there was plenty to play for. Though Gareth had rejected an earlier draw offer (quelle surprise) the win was not going to be easy. Unfortunately for us, Andrew's play was too slow and Gareth didn't have to go through the motions of converting the final position as the flag fell.
The win for Clifton A pushes them into second place in the league and all but ends our title hopes, though the A-team are still 5 points clear. Considering that they're also on a 13-match win streak it's going to be a real ask for any other team to now have any hopes of catching up. I certainly hope I haven't jinxed them by mentioning it...