Bah, Humbug! Up to this match, the B-team had a record of four wins and four losses, which really isn't bad at all. Unfortunately, the four wins had been won first and the B-team was therefore without a win since October.
Strangely, four of our players arrived before the Horfield chaps, but it did give us a chance to have a play around on their piano. Presumably we were just keen as we still managed to begin on time, with even Javier and Lewis making it there before the clocks started. Lewis began very slowly against Derek who was playing one of the most wonderfully bonkers-looking Benko gambits. Stephen M set up an interesting Indian-style position with a focus on d5 exchanges. Javier started normally enough, but took his position into a hippo-structure where each pawn was advancing in turn, one square at a time and then connected his rooks on the second rank behind them.
Mike chose to avoid an opening that he and Alex had played several times before and ended up in a sharp Nimzo position. Although the black pawns attempted to take the centre, holes were created and white's knights didn't need to be asked twice. Rob offered me the opportunity to play 4. Ng5 in a Two Knights Defence and I'm sure the reader knows I don't need to be asked twice. Besides, I was concerned there wasn't going to be enough wild play. Peter kept things far more normal against Martin who was filling in for an absent Andrew. I've looked at the game a few times in a desperate bid to claim that there were six tactical games, but this one was undeniably positional.
As the play was sharp there was no rush on any of the boards. Stephen M was first to play something enterprising, sacrificing the exchange for a pawn and some central control but I couldn't understand what he (and the computer I've used to look at it) was seeing. Rob, presumably distracted by his upcoming parental duties misplayed his compensation for the pawn and felt the need to cede both the bishop pair and some of the initiative. Then either Derek sacrificed or Lewis won an exchange, it's hard to know. Although black did have two pawns for it, the position was ridiculous.
Mike, worried that the wildness on his board wouldn't compare with some of the others, entered into some great complications on the queenside. After a Na2 became trapped ("Knights on the rim are dim." - anon) Mike resigned although further analysis showed that white's centralised knight was also trapped, even if the position would still be difficult ("Centralised knights are read their last rites." - Me). Shortly after, Stephen and Stephen decided to split the point after the central passed pawn was restrained by white's material advantage. Martin was also facing difficulties as Peter was exchanging off heavy pieces on the a-file in order to break into black's territory and snap off a pawn. The closed position meant that Martin's bishops would be unable to prevent a pawn promotion and he chose to avoid playing it out.
Lewis also found that his position was not as good as I think all the Downend players had assumed it to be. With Lewis invading on the queenside, Derek chose to ignore the threats and went straight for white's exposed king. With Derek's attack packing more of an immediate punch, Lewis also had to give up the point. Horfield A had comfortably sealed the match in just four boards.
Javier's unnatural position made attacking difficult and black was able to take advantage, using much less time. Soon Aaron's pieces flowed in and won him both a pawn and a piece. Even Javier's heroic time scramble skills were going to be unable to generate a comeback and he resigned. Though I had held an advantage for most of the game I was missing chance after chance to put the game to bed. I blundered a pawn back after seriously miscalculating a combination, but Rob's time pressure left his queen in hidden on h7. In the end I finished the game with the dramatic missing of a mate in 1. 1½-4½ was the final score and it certainly wasn't our finest hour.
The goal now is to make sure that the B-team finishes as the top B-team in the division; a goal that removes six teams from the competition. Nevertheless, on current form that may be quite a challenge! Let's just enjoy Christmas and then start again in the new year!