Champions two years running! What a team!!
The Division Two leadership had been a three horse race for some time between Clevedon A, South Bristol B and our C team. Then, over the last month or so we saw each contender do their best to scupper their own chances. First Clevedon took weak teams to play both their rivals and lost fairly heavily each time. Then we had a "bad hair night" at University and also failed to beat Keynsham. Just to keep it friendly, SBB went and lost narrowly at Thornbury.
It meant that last weekend we were leaders with 27 points and only SBB to play. Clevedon were one point behind with only Grendel to play. SBB were four points behind with us and Bath B to play. So any of the three could still win the Division if all the results went in their favour. That soon changed though when Clevedon beat Grendel. Now we just needed a draw at SBB to be Champions.
Dominique was travelling so we were grateful that Mike was able to replace him. Apart from that we had five regulars and the whole squad had only missed four games between them all season - a remarkable feat of consistency.
The match became very much a game of two halves. All the games proceeded cautiously as everyone was aware of not taking too many risks. However the first problem from the point of view of material was that Martin, playing his pet variation against the Sicilian, shed a pawn - he did have various threats to re-capture it, though. However, he consumed far more time than Tony and became virtually an hour down. To make things even more worrying, so did Dave, who was also playing a well-rehearsed line against the Sicilian.
However, David was evidently not enamoured of defending against a potentially tricky attack and offered a draw, which Dave, in view of the clock, swiftly accepted. One down, five to go! Richard soon managed to stifle any attacking possibilities that Andy could conjure up and when there was only one minor piece left, Richard had a Knight on a superb outpost compared to a Bishop with very limited scope. Maybe half a point ahead on the engine but when Andy offered a draw, Richard also accepted as there was no obvious path to a serious advantage - job done! Over to the skipper. A slightly stodgy game with pieces being exchanged and no great prospects on either side, so he and Dorota were happy enough to finish by move 20. Three down, three to go!
There was much more action on the top three. Robert was playing one of his canny openings against Neville and, although he won a pawn, it was at the cost of being somewhat cramped. But he was posing enough problems for Neville to become uncomfortably behind on the clock. This proved crucial when Robert's position drifted but Neville didn't have time to find some of the best moves, one a killer pawn thrust. So anything could still happen and, with Martin continuing to struggle against the clock, all match results were possible.
Over to Mike, then. Careful play of the French Defence meant he had equalised by move 15 and in fact had better prospects in any endgame because of White's isolated Queens Pawn. Shane tried a thrust of this pawn and to quote Mike "Shane thought for over 40 minutes on this move. He realised his attacking chances were poor and he saw that exchanging to an endgame would leave him with a struggle." Mike simply took the pawn and consolidated his pieces leaving Shane, by now desperately short of time, with few options. He tried a Knight sacrifice but it simply didn't work and his position collapsed entirely a few moves later. Very well handled by Mike! Obviously this transformed the match prospects but there remained the nightmare scenario where Robert and Martin would both lose, confounding our dreams.
But by now Robert was putting us all through the mill as he parried threats to his King while taking the occasional sequence of checks. Eventually he put us all out of our misery by forcing repeated checks so that now the match was at the very least drawn. While most of the gallery were engrossed with Robert, nobody is entirely certain how it happened but Martin finally won that central pawn and most of the pieces came off, leaving him with far better prospects in a rook ending. He obtained a passed pawn or two, a rook on the seventh and, when he manouevered his other rook to a square from which it could reach the eighth to deliver checkmate, Tony conceded. Martin had done brilliantly to hang in with very little time remaining. So, after all that, the match was won 4-2 and all the agonies of the last hour could be forgotten.
The final table will show the C team top, with Clevedon runners up and SBB probably in third. Three of this year's team had been in the squad which won Division Three last season. (The others moved down to the D team and we shall have to wait a few more days to see if they can emulate the C team by being part of another Champion team.) Everyone in the team scored at least 50% throughout the season and Captain Andrew led the way with 66%. Massive congratulations to the team on a determined campaign, very well followed through to the bitter end, oops, wrong choice of words, far from bitter, delightfully sweet in reality!