Amid howls of protest from those of us based in London, the penultimate 4NCL weekend went all the way north to Telford (just outside Birmingham.) "Saturday is just a training match really" was perhaps not Jerry's best opening line under the circumstances, but there are many dark arts to captaincy and we had a full team in the end, with Horia Bogdan from Bath University our latest guest star.
To be fair, Saturday's fixture against The ADs really was a training match, since we were already doomed to the relegation pool. But we could have taken our opponents with us if other results went the right way, which frightened them no end having scored all their points against the top teams. So they put a strong team out, averaging 199 ECF with a WGM on board eight. We always play better on Saturdays though...
In time-honoured fashion, the opening skirmishes left us with some inelegant positions. David came under some early pressure when his Alekhine developed a bit too rationally, whilst Phil somehow found himself playing 12. Bh3 in a Nimzo-Indian with black starting to take over the centre. Chris didn't hesitate to trade queens as early as move 6, but his slight lack of development made things surprisingly delicate. And I forgot the theory in a sharp old line of the Ruy Lopez, with nasty things apparently set to happen to my kingside.
Life looked better on the other boards though. Horia was clearly ready for his opponent's Tarrasch and soon had an hour in hand on the clock as well as a promising position. Jerry's opponent seemed to be trying a hybrid anti-Sicilian without much success, and the Dear Leader soon had a threatening initiative on the queenside. Max caused some alarm by plunging into thought for 20 minutes on move 4, but, tease that he is, it turned out he knew what he was doing all along and he equalised comfortably. Finally Michael (who probably hasn't told you about his unbeaten score against titled players, especially not the 20-move win against an FM) got into a position that he insists is all theory, but looked OK for black to your author at least.
As we moved into the middlegames, ADs nerves were starting to fray: Barbican Youth were doing the business so far in the match that could help drag them down, and their own grading advantage wasn't getting anywhere. Jerry and Max were happy to agree draws as black from positions of strength, whilst Phil was starting to untangle and prompted his FM opponent to sacrifice the exchange to keep his initiative going. Apparently everyone wanted a bit of the action: I offered a pawn to trade queens, hoping that two pieces could beat a rook, Horia's opponent and Chris both decided that a pawn was well worth some air, and Michael got to the unusual imbalance of queen against rook, bishop and two pawns. David also joined in the fun and gave away a pawn, but unfortunately not on purpose.
The match rapidly clarified en route to the time control. Next to finish was Phil, who defended well and was rewarded when his opponent overplayed his hand in time trouble and dropped his queen on move 40. But David wasn't far behind, his knight pair having no chance against two bishops in the ending. Chris was another victim of good technique; it's not clear exactly what went wrong, but later he did mention something about being completely outplayed. I rounded out this flurry of results by taking us to 3-3, the two pieces proving to have more potential than the rook.
Apparently the opposition had seen enough by this stage, since when Horia gave up his winning attempts in an opposite-bishop ending, Michael's opponent was told in no uncertain terms to take a draw if it was offered. Lo, the draw offer soon arrived and he escaped from a position that by now looked very shaky. But really they needn't have bothered, since Barbican Youth could't keep up their bright start anyway.
So 4-4 in the end, and one of our best results of the season albeit in a dead rubber. The relegation pool is one big traffic jam around the 4/6 mark, so everything is possible. Accepted wisdom was that we needed a 50% over the last four rounds to stay up, starting with Guildford 3 the next day.