Banana skin avoided!
Clifton B have not started the season well but upsets can always happen and when they are playing away there are not many in the League who relish playing Chris Beaumont with Black. However, they were not quite at full strength, while we had our regular team all present and correct with grading advantages on the bottom four boards so, overall, I guess we fancied our prospects for keeping the momentum going.
From quite an early stage it became pretty clear that we had very good chances on the bottom two boards. Martin advanced a central pawn to attack a minor piece intending, after it moved, to advance again and fork two more. No matter which way Ian wriggled he was going to lose a piece for quite insufficient compensation of at most a pawn or two. There were a few vague threats as Martin hadn't castled yet but he fended them all off with little difficulty and I marked that one down as a point virtually in the bank.
Meanwhile Andrew had all the play against Robert. He wasn't winning material yet but you felt that his huge pressure would soon tell. The only downside was that he was spoilt for choice on how best to proceed! Robert's queen was being harried while few of his other pieces had had time to come out of their starting squares. It looked like another point virtually in the bag.
While all this was going on, Steve was doing very well against Chris and found a series of moves to reach a rook and pawn ending which, although a pawn down, was by no means clearly winning for White. Steve's King was much more active and threatening to level the number of pawns so that by move 31, “White was slightly better” but only by about 0.6 according to the engine. Then, sadly, disaster struck when an exchange of rooks took place, leading to a pawn race that only White could win. It was a great shame after putting up such stiff resistance.
It meant that when, soon after, Martin and Andrew converted their advantages, we were 2-1 up but it was by no means certain where another one and a half points were coming from. In Manuel, Mike was facing someone who had clearly only come for one thing - a draw with Black! All the heavy pieces came off leaving Mike with two bishops against two knights on a fairly open board with five pawns each. But there was no obvious way to force a passed pawn and a win might only occur after a blunder by the other player.
But the really tricky games were Oli's and Chirag's. I was quite worried that Chirag, after building a big K-side pawn structure, was in danger of being invaded on the other wing. He possibly missed a key pawn thrust and found himself in a minus position for four or five moves. But it was one of those complex positions where nobody, other than a GM, was going to thread their way through and soon enough the position became level again. Then Chirag obtained a supported passed pawn but by now was down to just the increment. It was exciting to watch and it only took one inaccuracy by Mark to allow a series of moves which forced the pawn through. It had been an astonishing turnaround from a possible loss to a draw and then a vital win for the team.
Seeing we had three points in the bag, Mike now offered a draw which was quickly snapped up. But Oli had meanwhile been manoeuvring for an advantage against Anton, which would have secured the match points irrespective of other results. It was another complex game where both sides may have missed decisive moves. However, Oli coolly took advantage of an exchange sacrifice which appeared to open his King's position but in fact left him with a lasting material superiority. When another piece fell, that was curtains and Oli, last to finish, secured a convincing match win.
Knowing that this brought the team to nine match points, we were able to rejoice momentarily at topping the league - well, at least until any more results came in. Whichever way you look at it, the B team is having a season to remember - another great team effort.