Traditional end of season fun and games at Horfield!
If you look back over recent years, a number of final tables have been decided by our end of season visits to Horfield. Three years ago the A team needed to lose by no worse than 3½-2½ in order to win the Championship for the first time this century. This they achieved with absolutely nothing to spare! A year later the B team needed a draw to ensure staying in division one - in fact they went one better. And now, while the C team were safe, Horfield C needed to beat us to keep alive their hopes of being division two champions.
Before the match Andrew was at pains to point out that we were missing our two top boards, and indeed two more regulars, while Horfield had amassed a team so powerful that it averaged 162, going by Chessit's latest grades, compared to our own very modest 147. So it looked like Horfield had it well sorted.
However, the first point on the board was ours, when Thomas possibly unwisely got his Queen stranded in the centre on an open file where it was attacked by Nigel's rook and had nowhere to go. Nigel converted his advantage smoothly and quickly, a fantastic performance by someone not having the best of seasons: 3-8-16 before this match, if he will forgive me for mentioning it!
Around the same time I had reached a safe enough position against Mike and offered a draw which, in view of his somewhat weaker pawn formation, he accepted. Then Dominique went astray in a complicated middle game with Rob. He had won a pawn and ventured a promising knight sacrifice which unfortunately fell foul of a killer re-capture - a shame after such a well played start to the game. This brought the score back level at 1½-1½ and it stayed like that seemingly for ages and, furthermore, we were well down on the clock in all three remaining games.
Next to finish was James, who had a very tricky position where, at first sight, he was under pressure from Prakash against his castled King. But he found enough key moves to arrive at a position where his R & N were able to invade with various threats against both Queen and King. Possibly Prakash missed something but when the dust had settled after a number of exchanges, James' knight won the enemy bishop, albeit on a square from which it could never safely escape Black's King. But while Prakash was winning the piece back, James, down to less than a minute at one point, was able to advance his own King and gobble up enough pawns to make the promotion of one of his own a sure winner. Incredibly well played when very short of time and potentially a match winner!
But it all depended on whether Andrew and Dave could hold for draws. Andrew played the S weapon again against Matias and had arrived in a tricky ending with about ten minutes against more than thirty. He kept his cool when it looked like he could struggle to hang on. He conjured just enough threats to make life difficult and finally won the exchange for a pawn. It was a simple matter now to give up his Rook for the pawn and leave Matias with just a knight, guaranteeing at least a drawn match. So, I suppose we could say "The Scandinavian Rules, OK!".
Which left Dave against Bob. This game had been following recent grandmaster play (or so Dave assures us!) and by about move 40 it was a complicated rook and knight ending where possibly Dave stood worse and also only had five minutes against twenty-something. As time ran down for both of them, Bob achieved a passed Rooks pawn and a Rook able to check along the back two ranks. Dave's own Rook could counter-check and/or threaten the pawn, but by now he also had an unstoppable passer on the sixth. Dave had been down to less than ten seconds and a number of draw offers had been declined when Bob finally decided he had nothing better than perpetual check. It had been a thrilling finish to the evening and a highly gratifying victory against one of the top sides in the division.
We had lost quite badly to Horfield C in the first game of the season, to set them off on their chase for promotion, so it was good to prove that we are still a force to be reckoned with. “See you again next season” was one of the parting comments from this friendly bunch of players. But shall we, I wonder!