Oxford 1 – Weekend 4

Michael White plays black in a rook & pawn endgame
… if not to the death, to the dinner …

More photos below.

The 4NCL decamped to Wokefield in Berkshire this weekend (3-4 March) for Rounds 7 and 8 of the 11-round competition, and Oxford won both its matches fairly comfortably – although not before raising a couple of eyebrows in the sparse, if occasionally alert, crowd. This was particularly the case on board 8 of the Sunday game, where Kieran Smallbone’s Caro-Kann was given a right drubbing by the 1800 FIDE-rated lady player … for at least 80% of the moves – although our captain recovered for the remaining 20% (fortunately placed nearer the end of the game) sufficiently for his game to secure the match result.

Both games were against somewhat weaker opposition, and wins were expected. As Barbican beat Richmond on the Saturday and all other top teams won their other games, Oxford join the other two teams in a three-way tie at the top of the table, with Cambridge threateningly placed a mere two points behind. As Oxford's final three fixtures involve matches against Richmond and (round 11) Cambridge , the first weekend in May looks set fair for some quality nail-biting.

Saturday - Oxford 5-3 Poisoned Pawns

1 w Harley, Andrew 2225 ½ - ½ Savage, Ben D 2334
2 b Moore, Gerald 2237 ½ - ½ Ozeren, Kemal 2298
3 w Swanson, Stephen 2249 ½ - ½ Smallbone, Kieran 2228
4 b Byway, Paul 2175 1 - 0 Boytsun, Olena 2281
5 w Dunn, Andrew 2190 ½ - ½ White, Michael J R 2260
6 b Dignam, Matthew 2132 0 - 1 Eckersley-Waites, Tom 2159
7 w Goodger, Martyn 2096 0 - 1 Rawlinson, Aidan 2186
8 b Davison, Chris 1810 0 - 1 Shaw, David A 2202

The Saturday match against Poisoned Pawns 1, joined after 90 minutes, showed White on the top 6 boards having a slight edge. This view turned out to be a bit optimistic, as Kemal had blundered a pawn early and was struggling, while Tom Eckersley-Waites's good position owed more to a colossal positional blunder on about move 15 than anything else. A close match was promised, so it was well we were gifted an easy point on board 8 with Dave Shaw very arguably being given the easiest endgame conversion test he's had.

Returning after a vain search for the free coffee advertised in the bedroom literature - the score was 3-0 for the good guys, as Tom quickly translated his good fortune into a solid point, and Aidan was also rewarded for his pre-match Fritzing of his opponent - a sharp tactic eventually netting a pawn and a time advantage sufficient to obviate the need for any dull endgame conversion.

With Kieran defending the dullest drawn endgame for a seeming eternity before the handshake, attention turned to the top two boards, where Kemal had turned around his apparently hopeless position into one where he was a mere 4 pawns adrift - but with a pawn on the 7th rank about to queen a draw became inevitable. Up a board Ben was adding to his collection of half points (is it 6 for the season, Ben?!) with some fearless grinding, the match result was secured.

On the other two boards, both Blacks had reversed to a degree the original assessment quoted above, and Olena found it impossible to counter some running queen-pawns, notwithstanding an extra piece. This left Michael White grinding away in textbook fashion to try win a rook and pawn endgame, and while many headed off in search of more artificial stimulants, this reporter - being on a Lenten pilgrimage of sorts - watched on tenterhooks as Black tried to find a way to … find a way to … find a way…

…eventually drawn. (Black went Kd5-e5, and couldn't justify any risk to play on. My guess was to bring the black king around to a5.)

The talk at dinner was… the dinner, actually, although we did have fun trying to work out some way of telling one Eckersley-Waites from another, and listening to Ben's story how he finally popped the question to the (future) missus. Those wondering what the IM norm equivalent technique is for proposing to one's intended could do a lot worse than (a) take missus for dinner; (b) when the bill is threatening to arrive, remove wallet from pocket and absent-mindedly put ring box on table; (c) wait for 10 minutes, after which the fair lady's curiousity will eventually get the better of her… "err… Ben, what's that doing there"?

For those of you unfamiliar with Wokefield, there's not much there apart from an 18 hole course, so the restaurant was packed. By the time we'd arrived, the pantry was comparatively empty, so while some of the foodstuffs were pretty OK, the absence of gravy (for the roast potatoes) was a bit disappointing for some, the presence of scampi (as a menu item) was the source of outrage (for others). A group of young Turks went off to lodge a complaint, and the party was rewarded with a 50% reduction. It turns out that the hotel hadn't expected 450 chess players to actually stay and eat at the conference centre, which is fair enough in its own way: you can lead the chess players to the restaurant, but will they stay and eat? but on the other hand, even the most devoted citizens will tell you there's not much doing in the line of night life in those parts…

Sunday - Oxford 5½-2½ Warwickshire Select

1 w Savage, Ben D 2334 1 - 0 Mason, Don 2249
2 b Ozeren, Kemal 2298 0 - 1 Thomas, Nicholas 2296
3 w Boytsun, Olena 2281 ½ - ½ James, Russell A 2233
4 b White, Michael J R 2260 ½ - ½ Pitcher, John 2195
5 w Eckersley-Waites, Tom 2159 1 - 0 Shephard, Chris C W 2180
6 b Rawlinson, Aidan 2186 ½ - ½ Fishburne, Stewart K 2200
7 w Shaw, David A 2202 1 - 0 Baruch, Andrew J D 2085
8 b Smallbone, Kieran 2228 1 - 0 Hale, Katie L W 1830

Sunday dawned wet and miserable, and wasn't helped by the breakfast hours (7.30am - 9.00am ONLY) and … well, the absence of breakfast, frankly. Even the basic cutlery and crockery items were in short supply by 8.50am, with the result that Ben had a bowl of bacon, Sean experimented with sausages and yoghurt, and was it Aidan who'd segued with a sausage or so without plate? All very strange, but for all that I found the staff - for whom this was their first introduction to 4NCL-land - all friendly, helpful and patient. (The rooms were quite nice, too.)

At the chess, we were up against a Warwickshire side that hadn't won a game all season, but you wouldn't suspect this from a glance at the ratings. Quickly into our stride we were good on 1 (Ben an exchange to the good), bad on 8 (Kieran finding the Caro a bit tame this morning) and various shades of indifferent on others. Early draws for Aidan and Olena meant that some element of judiciousness entered into the ring-side kibitzing, but we figured Kemal should draw, notwithstanding his awful knight the position seemed blockaded, and three other positions seemed somewhere near the 'promising' stage: Michael had a comfortable edge in a queenless middlegame, Tom had sacked a pawn and seemed to know what he was doing in the reduced piece middle game, and Dave was drumming up some play against his opponent's Alekhine.

After finding a coffee finally - it's free, but you need to know where it is, apparently - we returned to find that Kemal had lost, Kieran looked worse,… but the other three games (above) were turning our way. Ben finished strongly to crush on top board just about the same time as Dave (below) finished his game, while Tom's 2 rooks were proving too strong for R, N & B, particularly when his b-pawn made it to within queening range in 3 consecutive moves.

This left us on four points, which became 5 when Kieran, whose queen was by now running wild amongst the empty spaces previously occupied by White's king-side pawns, reduced the position to a rook and pawn ending with an extra 2 pawns.

The final half-point was achieved in our absence as Michael's extra pawn in an opposite bishop R+B ending either could not be converted or the train had to be caught… before heading off I managed to work out how to differentiate between the Eckersley-Waites'es - one of them keeps his watch under his chair, the other one doesn't…

Dave ends with a crash bang wallop, but after the post-mortem was a little worried about Black's play if he'd gone (instead of 22. … Bf5) … Bxb5! (Fritz suggests his worries would have been justified!)

Shaw,David (2201) - Baruch,Andrew (2085) [B03]
4NCL div 2, rd 8, 04.03.2007

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.Rc1 0-0 9.b3 e6 10.Nf3 Bd7 11.Be2 d5 12.c5 Nc8 13.b4 a6 14.a4 Nc6 15.b5 axb5 16.axb5 Na5 17.h4 Ne7 18.h5 Nf5 19.Bf4 Nxd4 20.Nxd4 e5 21.Bg3 exd4 22.Nxd5 Bf5 23.Bd6 Re8 24.0-0 Nb3 25.Qxb3 Rxe2 26.hxg6 hxg6 27.Rfe1 Rxe1+ 28.Rxe1 Be6 29.Qf3 Bxd5 30.Qxd5 b6 31.Re7

Ra1+ 32.Kh2 Qf8 33.cxb6 Bf6 34.Re8 Qxe8 35.b7 1-0


Afterthought from the captain's table:

A pleasingly comfortable 2/2 from the Oxford team, but the final weekend (5-7 May) will be anything but, with a four-and-a-half horse race for the three promotion spots…

Team Won Drawn Lost GP MP
BARBICAN 4NCL 2 6 1 1 43 13
RICHMOND 6 1 1 40 13
OXFORD 1 6 1 1 39 13
CAMBRIDGE UNIV. 1 5 1 2 35½ 11
WESSEX 1 4 2 2 32 10

… and Oxford having probably the trickiest run in …

  • Oxford: v Barbican Youth (Sat), Richmond (Sun) & Cambridge (Mon).
  • Barbican: v Slough Sharks, Warwickshire Select & Poisoned Pawns.
  • Richmond: v Guildford, Oxford & Wessex.
  • Cambridge: v Wessex, Slough Sharks & Oxford.
  • Wessex: v Cambridge, Guildford & Richmond.

Whilst everyone's played their part getting us into the promotion spots, the big-hitter table below shows that Tom and Dave are officially "having a blinder".

[Boring technical note: of the myriad of ways to work out the performance ratings, I've plumped for the rating that would expect to get your score against your opposition]

Rating P W D L Pts vs TPR
Dave Shaw 2202 4 4 0 0 4 2024
Tom Eckersley-Waites 2159 8 7 0 1 7 2166 2502
Kemal Ozeren 2298 6 3 2 1 4 2271 2396
Ben Savage 2334 7 1 6 0 4 2271 2321
Merim Bilalic 2291 4 1 2 1 2 2320 2320
Aidan Rawlinson 2186 6 3 2 1 4 2173 2298
Mike White 2260 7 3 2 2 4 2212 2262
Kieran Smallbone 2228 8 4 1 3 2153 2196
Alex Milovanovic 2258 4 1 1 2 2269 2182
Chris Duggan 2063 2 1 0 1 1 2113 2113
Olena Boytsun 2281 2 0 1 1 ½ 2204 2011
Lateefah Messam-Sparkes 1855 4 2 0 2 2 1956 1956
Lejla Smajlovic 2042 2 0 1 1 ½ 2099 1956


The pretty (much in the middle of nowhere) venue

l-r: Dave, Mike, Olena and Kemal

Tom "the magician" en route to 6/6 with the white bits…

… and doesn't his opponent know it

Dave with an acceptable 4/4

Ben on his way to a rare non-draw.
In the background, Kemal on his way to an equally-rare loss

Kieran v Katie. Clear plus to white