Impetus at the Top Follows Stalemate in the Centre
A visit to Grendel's new venue at the Salt Café was precluded by virtual deadlock on Bristol's roads for miles around, yet despite my major concerns all Downend players managed to arrive within minutes of the scheduled start - ahead of most of the home team. We were slightly surprised to find weaker than expected opposition on five and six, which would help our cause, though tough battles were ensured on the higher boards.
The match started well with a return to form for Richard who first won a pawn in the opening and then coaxed Ken into taking a poisoned pawn with his queen which he then sneakily trapped. A few more moves were played but things only got worse allowing Richard to seal our first point. I avoided a queen exchange in preference to winning a pawn, which left John with problems developing and before long my pieces looked threatening. My opponent thought that he was picking up an exchange but missed my reply and thereafter played some desperate moves to try to hold, but tactics worked in my favour and soon we were what now seems to be our customary 2-0 up.
At this point, things were both very unbalanced and unclear on top board, where Martin (either intentionally or having no option but to) gave up knight for two pawns and a developmental advantage. I couldn't work out who was winning but I felt uneasy. Similarly, on board three, Robert's position was less solid than those to which we have become accustomed and he was going for what looked like a speculative attack with a pawn advance whilst leaving his King open in the centre. It looked like these two games would be decisive. Dominique faced possibly premature queenside pawn advances from Mark which gave both players a half-open file for their rooks whilst on the king side the pawns were rather more blocked and although Dominique was trying to attack I couldn't see an obvious way forward for either player. Dave seemed certain for at least a draw, having built up a good and comfortable position with plenty of space, on a board with symmetrical queen side castling, though he was running short of time.
Then Robert's attempt at planting his knight on an advanced square only gave Roger a chance to exchange it off and pick up a pawn, whilst leaving Robert's king stuck in the centre and having several weak pawns. Roger then exchanged rooks for his opponent's queen and mopped up more pawns whilst Robert's rooks couldn't get into the action. A further loss of a knight sealed Robert's fate and continues his unfortunate run this Season.
Martin was continuing to pile on the pressure on Alistair on top board, after finding some very good moves, forcing the recovery of material with the bonus of extra pawns including one on the 7th. It then looked like Alistair might hold out for the draw but soon the weakness of his King position and pinned pieces became apparent and he didn't need Martin to prove the win. On board 2, Dominique had gambled on a pawn advance which hemmed both in his opponent's king and tied down his queen to defence after he failed to capture. A central pawn advance by Mark, who was now short of time, gave Dominique the opportunity to exploit the queenside with his rooks and quickly deliver mate.
That left Dave who will no doubt regret declining a draw offer with two minutes remaining as Patrick pressed for an attack. With virtually no time, Dave uncharacteristically missed a couple of opportunities for knight forks which I'm sure that he would normally have seen, effectively handing the win to his opponent to leave the final score 4-2.
A pleasing result and some excellent performances, particularly on the top two boards, which leaves us challenging for a top three finish - although Thornbury will argue against and have something to prove in our next match. At least we won't have the challenging centre to deal with in that one.