To be honest, it's felt like it was finals all the way down. First there was the perennially strong Horfield. Then there was the immense Bath during their juggernaught phase of the season. The expected final against the combined might of Clifton A (league champions) and B (who were possibly even stronger by the end) didn't come to pass as dark horses Clevedon managed to bankrupt the bookies and beat them to it. So it was a repeat of the final 5 years ago, which had to be settled on board count.
Having worked wonders in the last round, Tyson took a more serene approach to the final. A modern opening, transposing into something not far from an exchange King's Indian Defence suggested that the excitement was not to be found on this board. Fortunately, no one was left waiting as the draw was agreed on move 12.
Steve's Scotch game took on the look of Dragon without a g7 bishop and while black appeared to be getting the quicker of the attacks in, the ambitious and wonderfully creative knight sacrifice didn't have the right sort of fiery breath to finish white off. After Steve defended for a few moves, white's material advantage settled the game.
Lewis started strongly and was gaining an advantage in a Najdorf that looked like a dodgy Sveshnikov. The minor bits came off and while there was a white passed-pawn racing up the board, it looked good for black. Unfortunately for us the complications proved too much and the effort to win a rook came at the cost of giving away a back rank mate.
Oscar's game was a messy affair with pawns being hurled across the board. An intermezzo that allowed a different capture meant that Matthew's queenside attack wasn't landing as quickly as Oscar's in the centre against the uncastled king.
Richard had the joy of facing Stuart and 1.b4, which although surely objectively unsound, never really seems to be in practice. After the position turned into stonewall-esque affair, white was unable to guard a lose a-pawn. After that, Richard exchanged into a good endgame which he converted in no time at all.
Nigel played solid chess. It was the sort of chess you'd want to teach. Fortunately for the spectactors, Paul did not. White took all the space, repelled black's ideas, attacked a weak pawn and ended with a satisfying double check to win a piece.
I offered a gambit pawn relatively early on with the idea of chucking everything at Chris' kingside. He instead, quite rudely, took two and refused to let me in, preferring his own, frankly, selfish attack. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, time pressure wobbles let me start checking with the queen but the white king found refuge around b6.
Oli maintained a persistent edge through the whole game and it felt like a matter of time before it would be converted. It was in the endgame when the play seemed to revolve around white picking up black's isolated queen pawn that Oli spotted the rook "sacrifice" to do just that. After that, Oli had only to fend off draw offers before claiming the final point.
This may be our third knockout title in as many years, but let's hope that this is a sign of good things to come at The Cross Hands!