Safe progress to the final
A busy night at the club saw five A-team players, three B-teamers and all six of the C-team filling the room for two crucial matches. The KO semi-final against Clifton was certain to be close fought with us having only a few points grading advantage.
At the start all eyes were on Jerry to see what fireworks he would unleash for our entertainment. In fact Dominic chose to offer a draw at move 17. Although Jerry felt he already had a slight pull, he first checked the state of the other games and then accepted.
He probably based this on the fact that Nigel and Mike both had promising positions while nobody seemed to be in danger. There was also a possibility that the clock would play a part. Henry, Chris, Nigel and Mike were all using less time while Rich and Javier were preparing for their customary scrambles at the end.
Mike was the first to seem to be winning but he needed to be wary of some sneaky traps set by Tim. He had a potentially killing attack down the open h file but the wrong move order would only have led to perpetual check. He threaded his way through the dangers to reach the safety of a probably winning ending and you can read all about it in the games section. Meanwhile Nigel's pressure had led to the win of the exchange and this, coupled with the clock situation, brought about Igor's resignation.
It was still very much all to play for but the next significant happening was that Lewis outplayed his opponent in one of those complicated middle games in which he excels. He tempted some enemy minor pieces into his parlour and then snaffled two of them for a rook. His two bishops had great scope and it was far easier for Duncan to go wrong, which he eventually did, making the score 2½ - ½.
Rich had been probing Dave's Najdorf variation and chose to sacrifice the exchange and win a-pawn to boot. Dave then returned the compliment and by the time the dust had settled they were happy enough to share the point, making it 3-1.
It was looking good but by now Henry was sweating a little because James started coolly picking off-pawns and threatening to queen an outside passed one. Fortunately for us he was very low on time. And Javier was even lower on time - in a repeat performance of his effort at Clevedon the week before, he kept making practically instant responses to Gareth in a complex middle game. Chris, meanwhile, seemed to have better play against John but it was not inconceivable that a late charge by Clifton could secure a win on board count.
Now, at last, Mike decided he had kept us all waiting long enough and finally converted, making the score 4-1. As long as Chris could avoid defeat, we would be home. By now he was a couple of-pawns up in an opposite coloured bishops ending that I think even my grannie, who came equal second in the Accrington under-12s in 1885, could have held, and indeed John did so without difficulty.
Although the match was now safe, there was still much to be played for. First Henry exploited James' time shortage to pull off an excellent save. And then Javier again did what he does best. Why have more than half a minute remaining after 67 moves when the only pieces still on the board are the two kings?
So in the end this was an excellent win by 5½-2½ and importantly, with no losses, against the current league leaders. I don't think we were unduly flattered by the score because the team played really well but it is also fair to say that this scoreline disguises the closeness of the match and Clifton had put up the kind of fight for which they are renowned. Now we shall meet the winner of the other semi-final between Bath and Horfield in a few weeks time to see if we can compensate for disappointing performances in the league.