Third Time's the Charm
Another lockdown can mean only one thing; another 4NCL Online season! There was some small degree of squad rejigging with Oli taking up the Division 1 mantle and me moving out of harm's way to join the juniors in The Rook1Es, as well as a few familiar names joining the squads. Despite relegating at the end of the last season, Downend 2 had a Groundhog Day moment, waking up back in Division 3 thanks to some teams not returning, meaning the club now has a stake in each of the top 3 divisions!
After the game kicked off, Alex Holowczak (despite no longer working on this season of 4NCLO) spotted that white's challenge had not been sent as rated, which would mean the game would be scored 0 - 0, so the game was restarted at a shorter time control and the opening repeated. Remember folks, it's always rated games! Rob took a pawn with an opening flurry that left him behind in development. Combined with the bishop pair, this advantage persisted through to a difficult endgame with far from enough time to solve. Rob tried something fancy with opposite-coloured bishops but all that came of it was a draw. The computer spies another plan, but chess would be very dull if we always found the best move.
Oli's first foray with the senior team (and in Division 1) saw black try a very aggressive approach, rushing the king's defences straight at white's. Oli was under pressure but black's zeal went too far and the chance wasn't wasted, even under time pressure.
Dominique seemed to be playing very well, locking a white bishop in a useless position and controlling the good open files. White had to instead play for a bold draw with a rook sacrifice to open the king up for a perpetual.
Ian was absolutely smashing his game. Going in for a Advance French gambit that gives up both central pawns, white took all of the initiative, and then all of the pawns. The endgame looked difficult but very much won for white. Unfortunately, the time pressure that goes hand in hand with online play meant the point swung the other way.
Chirag is back and ready for regular play! White went for a huge grab of queenside space while black attempted to poke through the kingside. Both queens pushed to cheeky positions but the middlegame was more manoeuvring than tactical. Time trouble (theme of the night) proved the biggest obstacle and white was unable to find the winning line when the game turned razor sharp.
I was on the back foot after white, unsurprisingly, spotted by cheap mate in 1 threat. Things were level, but with white holding a smidgen of initiative, until even that petered out in the endgame. With white pressing too hard, it was black that was able to take advantage.
Ian had a proper game of chess, with some excellent moves going against the general rules. Earning a locked pawn endgame with a great bishop against bad, Ian exchanged bishops and then allowed the creation of white pawn islands so that the rooks could come in. Zugzwang finished off the game.
No doubt hearing of Aron's wild reputation, white played possibly the driest variation I've ever seen. In fairness, it won white a pawn, but Aron fought hard to hold the position. Despite the efforts, the position slipped away.
Samy, fresh from scoring very well at the 4NCL Open (and getting warmed up for the season), went straight into the attack with an excellent tactical spot to win a piece. After that it was coasting to the endgame (though white actually had 3 pawns for it) and making an excellent demonstration of how to use the piece advantage.
It was a trappy line of the Dragon, and if you haven't fallen foul of that as white, you're clearly not a 1.e4 player. A piece was lost due to tactical fireworks and it proved too great an ask to save the white king.
Elliott's eye for tactics is quite astonishing. Black had a sensational start and middlegame with an extra pawn, the initiative, and excellent chances, thanks to some sound but wild-looking tactics. The endgame was where rating differences finally told, but I expect Elliott to be duffing up Division 1 in no time at all.
Catherine decided after a calmer opening that some aggression was called for. Despite pushing to an endgame with an excellent bishop against a bad, and a protected passed pawn against a backward pawn, the position was too locked for the kings to make any progress and a draw was agreed.
With some strong opposition (and some real grading disparities in places), scoring 2 draws and only a narrow loss feels like a result with which we can be content. Let's see what we can do next time!