It seems like I write this every week, but it was a night of tough opponents for all the teams. Then again, the 4NCLO is a tough competition. Downend 1, for example, were up against Broadland Kestrels, which the astute may recall is the home of club hero Henry, but Henry was playing for the second team as ratings dictate.
Exchanges came quickly and a Carlsbad endgame with major pieces was on the cards very early on. Black made an attempt at creating some weaknesses and the bulk of the endgame revolved around whether white would be able to play the e4. While black managed to contain the break, there was only one weakness (and barely that) so a draw was agreed.
White decided to avoid Rob's dreaded "queen's off by move 5" variation. Instead there was a wild tactical flurry in the middle in which everything but the queens came off and white cemented an ominous f6-pawn peeking in at the fianchetto hole. White then pressed very hard thinking mate must be around the corner and Rob managed to snag an extra pawn. After the queens came off the endgame was a clear draw.
Steve also had a lot of exchanges early on, and the pawns structure looked to be favouring his knight over black's bishop. Unfortunately, the edge was too slight to make significant progress. Due to a technical issue, the game went on a few moves more on lichess, but the draw was agreed as shown in our records.
No, not the Michael Harris of Horfield fame, but another strong player regardless. Oli played magnificently, snatching an extra pawn and holding on well despite fierce pressure. While the position was far too complex for me to get a handle on it, something went awry and white was able to sacrifice their last rook for a good try with some connected passed pawns. Despite yet more strong play, the point was eventually lost.
Many of us have put on a little bit of extra lockdown weight, and that may explain why my intended Dragon or Tiger opening ended up as a Hippo. Though things started well, my king became exposed when the centre opened and white was probably making positional gains. Bailing out for an opposite-coloured-bishop ending was my only hope, but white kindly ended matters with the first rook blunder of the match.
Ian's game looked like strong positional play with an invading rook winning an extra pawn. Black worked hard to regain the pawn, but white was only allowing the material equality to reposition a blocked bishop to a very strong square, after which the position collapsed.
It looked like everything was gearing up for a wild Semi-Slav style fight where nothing makes sense and by that metric, my prediction was right. Somehow white managed to keep the pressure on a backward c6-pawn, which if ever allowed to break out to c5 would have solved all of black's problems. The game seemed to revolve around this question right into the endgame. Aron attempted to counter attack down the f-file and while the attack looked strong the king was able to hide in apparent safety.
Finn's game had a wild opening. Perhaps there is theory there, but I hope they were making it up. White took the space but black had a knight on a d4-hole. Despite the madness, a surprisingly level looking endgame emerged. Black gave up a bishop for an attack, but it was the second rook blunder of the night that secured Finn the point.
It sounds odd to say it, but Dominique took all the space following his 1.b3 opening. Pieces were swapped and the minority attack rumbled through. Black presumably felt they had things under control, especially with active king in the endgame, but white dazzled with a great sacrifice to leave black's remaining rook unable to deal with the 6th rank pair of passed pawns.
Stephen made a welcome return this season and started with an exciting way of tackling the Queen's Gambit. Unfortunately, it was tempo lost on the attacked black queen that allowed white to invade with a bishop pair on the kingside. Although it's always disappointing to get a loss, I'll be attempting to commit the finishing combination to memory as it may come in handy.
Samy made short work of a Qd6 Scandinavian. Black never had time to play a6 or c6 and a cheeky Nb5 started a series of moves that improved white's position while harassing black's pieces. On top of that, black risked giving up a fianchettoed bishop to snatch an extra pawn. Everything fell apart immediately after that.
Elliott played another strong opening and had certainly equalised, perhaps even snagging a small edge. Unfortunately an exchange was lost and despite some tenacious defence, white was able to squeeze the full point out of the endgame.
Personally, I think it was an excellent set of results. Downend 1 were up against the toughest opposition seen yet and very nearly took some points away, The Rook1Es sit top of their group (is it too early to talk about promotion?), and Downend 2 earnt their first points of the season, taking them off the bottom spot!
Also the 4NCL have announced their new OTB season (hard to believe as we sit at home, I know). Since we've had more enthusiasm for 4NCL than ever before, it would be remiss to not check if we have enough enthusiasm for an OTB season.