24-25 March 2007, Nottingha

Marco gets distracted from his opponent's “book” on Saturday

More photos below.

Oxford 2 lost to Celtic Tigers, 1½ - 4½
Oxford 3 beat Pontypridd, 3½ - 2½

Oxford 2 lost to Pandora's Box, 2 - 4
Oxford 3 beat Nottinghamshire 2, 4 - 2

A bad weekend for Oxford 2 sees them drop out of the promotion hunt, and now dependent on favourable draws or upper-tier cannibalism in the last 3 rounds to give them a chance of promotion. Meanwhile, Oxford 3 surprised everyone - themselves included - by winning both games, winning on Saturday with a 5-man (or 3-man / 2-woman) team.

Starting off early-ish on Saturday we enjoyed good traffic to the outskirts of Nottingham, and before the back-seat drivers had fallen asleep we heard that Dave Bruce had got a game citation John Emms' book on the Najdorf (Bruce - Palliser) and apparently an inaccuracy in the text, which goes something like this:

Here Dave played Nxe6 followed by e5 and after … Nd5 Bg6+ the Black king was able to flee to the queenside. Emms seems to be commenting (though we couldn't find the book at the stall, we're sure it'll be here: //www.chessdirect.co.uk/) that Black is OK, but by transposing moves 14.e5 first if 14. … dxe5 then 15.Nxe6 fxe6 16.Bg6+ and the king can't go to the queen side. After 16. … Kf8 17.fxe5 Bxa3 18.exf6 Qxc3 19.fxg7+ Kxg7 20.Rd7+ White is winning.

Getting to Nottingham is fairly easy - head off towards Northampton and then scramble up the M1 is the back-seat driver's estimate - but that's less than half the battle. Once arriving in Nottingham , there seems to be no reliable street directions, a seeming one way system and umpteen roundabouts to negotiate. Fortunately, Dave Bruce managed to hire someone who wasn't actually asleep (Dave Scott) who could also map-read, and we made it to the Park Inn motel with plenty of time to check in, have a leisurely coffee and shower, and (for some of us) … still be only 12 minutes late for the kick-off.

The playing area at the motel is spread over three floors, with the top teams playing at the end of a long corridor on the first floor - anyone familiar with the opening credits for Get Smart will soon get an idea - the middle rankers playing on the ground floor, and the tailenders playing in 3 or so rooms in the basement. Over the years, I've become accustomed to the basement, and now having played three 7 hour games there, it feels like a home for home for the bewildered. The arrangements, though comfortable - and the hotel isn't bad, either, though the standard of coffee has plummeted since we were last there - it makes for difficulties for the player-reporter, as a round trip to check on the lads upstairs takes about 8 minutes.


Oxford 2 - Celtic Tigers

1 w Hoffmann, Hendrik 2330 ½ - ½ Dickinson, Timothy R 2210
2 b Kemp, Peter D 2192 1 - 0 Scott, David A 2110
3 w Thomas, Robert K 2137 1 - 0 Rawlinson, Christopher J 2053
4 b Haldane, Robin 2122 1 - 0 Ludbrook, Matt 2058
5 w French, Angus 2105 1 - 0 Morris, Graham 2035
6 b Evans, Craig 2030 0 - 1 Bruce, Dave 2025

Well, we were outgraded by about 80 points a board, and for once we tended to play that way. Or maybe the opposition were simply better. (The Tigers are much stronger than last year - their top board then, Robert Thomas, is board 3 now.) On top board Tim snatched a pawn in the Caro, and held on to it - but seemed to be clinging to a draw at best for all that - while on bottom board Dave Bruce showed how to play against a Tiger - but in the middle things seemed a mess.

Dave Scott and Graham Morris didn't seem to be at the races, and hard though they tried they were ground down, while Chris Rawlinson employed the technique of not developing any queen side pieces (not so unusual, in a Dutch), but more controversially he followed this up by (a) pushing his g-pawn, and (b) capturing on c4 (thus removing an essential brick from the Stone Wall). The result was messy, the outcome never in doubt.

Matt Ludbrook played what Graham called later a ‘one-mover’ game. Here's the recipe:

(a) Play 18 moves of book (here, the Marshall)

(b) Remember some suggestion Fritz made about an almost identical position (with the black queen on e8, not e7, when it made it); and finally

(c) Implement the suggestion. Play continued: 19.h3?? Bh5 20.Be3 Ne4 (and now the white queen can't either take the bishop on g4 or move to h4) . Ho hum - this is the sort of position I regularly get when playing 1. Nc3 deviants. 21.Qh2 Qh4 22.Rf1 g5 23.g3 Nxg3 24.Rf2 gxf4 25.Bc1 Rxf2 0-1

I'm not altogether sure why players allow the Marshall - White usually has to tip toe through a no-man's land of variations while covered in honey.

Dave Bruce shows how to tame the Tiger: here, he adapts Napoleon's dictum that one should never disturb an enemy while he's making a mistake, which start at the diagram position:

Bruce, D - Evans, C [C93]
4NCL Ox 2 - Celtic Tigers, 24.03.2007

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 h6 5.c3 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 d6 8.h3 Na5 9.Bb5 a6 10.Ba4 b5 11.Bc2 c5 12.Nbd2 Re8 13.Nf1 Bf8 14.a4 Bb7 15.Ng3 g6 16.d4 Nc6 17.Be3 exd4 18.cxd4 Nb4 19.d5 Nxc2 20.Qxc2 Nd7 21.Nh2

Qh4 22.Qb3 Ne5 23.axb5 c4 24.Qa4 Nd3 25.Reb1 Bxd5 26.Nf3 1-0

Oxford 3 - Pontypridd

1 w Davies, Peter L 2000 ½ - ½ Terry, Sean 2040
2 b Lobo, Richard 1935 0 - 1 Messam-Sparkes, Lateefah 1855
3 w StClair, Allan 1826 ½ - ½ Zhang, Marco 1890
4 b Davis, Ashley 1535 0 - 1 Henbest, Kevin B 1800
5 w Warden, Peter 1393 ½ - ½ McIntosh, Sally 1705
6 b Lobo, Robert 1585 1 - 0 Default

Oxford 3 found themselves initially down to four players against Pontypridd, but fortunately Sally McIntosh was co-opted after some good work by Lateefah's mother, and she proved an admirable board 5, both for the half-point she provided and the enterprising bish sacrifice that her opponent refused early on and then defending stoutly when the resulting half-open file was taken over by the enemy. A blow for the good guys, which was made better when Lateefah smoothly won on board 2 against an opponent who'd been delayed in the traffic. Counting the default on board 6, this made things all square with 3 to go…

… although Kevin had in fact already recorded his win, using a non-standard Oxford 3 weekend tactic. As this weekend's report emphasises, our team is full of specialists at getting bad positions and then recovering; Kevin finesses somewhat by getting a good position, then faltering somewhat and convincing himself his position is dicey, before reaching an equal, if not drawn, endgame.

White's 10th move is a bit hesitant and lets Black back into the game [10.Nc7+ Kd8 11.Nxa8 Nxc2+ 12.Kf1 Nxa1 13.Nc3 seems perfectly peachy]. As it happens, Black escapes to the endgame but has to deal with the more rapid deployment of the white rooks and he finally succumbs to a blunder in a difficult position.

Henbest, K - Davis, A [B44]
4NCL ox 2 - pontypridd, 24.03.2007

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nb5 d5 6.exd5 exd5 7.Qxd5 Qe7+ 8.Be2 Nb4 9.Qc4 Bf5

10.N1a3 Rc8 11.Qf4 Nxc2+ 12.Nxc2 Rxc2 13.0-0 Qxe2 14.Qxf5 Rc5 15.Nd4 Rxf5 16.Nxe2 Bc5 17.Ng3 Re5 18.Bf4 Re6 19.Nf5 Kf8 20.Rad1 Nf6 21.Rd8+ Re8 22.Rfd1 Rxd8 23.Rxd8+ Ne8 24.a3

24… a5 25.h3 b6 26.Kf1 g6 27.Bh6+ 1-0

So, just one result of any description needed from either Marco or Sean. Marco's opponent was - had we but suspected it at the time - playing the 6-pint attack (see picture at top), even if to begin with the appearance of 2 pints of cider suggested more modest ambitions, reinforcements were called on when required. Oddly enough, this didn't do anything to the quality of his position, as Marco position was riddled with weaknesses, and king-side pawns looked like dropping like the ripe apples that featured in his opponent beverage of choice all through a “tense” middle game.

Amazingly though the damage was restricted to one pawn, although the resulting B + 5 Vs N + 4 ending still seemed lost, particularly when the black knight was wandering like a lost sheep in the vast expanses of the king-side when the main action was happening on the other. Fortunately, and just before the completion of the 6th pint, Marco had set up this position

when either the b-pawn went, or (if Bd2) the Knight sacrificed itself on c5…

Last to finish was Sean, who had tended a thoroughly won position into this nightmare:

48 … a3 with the idea 49. Kc4 Bb5+ etc, but instead after 49.Re3+ Kd6 50.Kc4 a2 51.Re1 Be4 52.Kb3 Bb1 53.Kb2 b3 54.Re3 Bc2 it's not clear how the win can be achieved. Drawn though in 76, just in time to not go to the Gloucester for a meal (Last orders are at 9.00pm).

Supper at the bar, followed by some World Cup cricket highlights. Ponting's lads looking good at the moment, although highlights are deceptive particularly with smaller ground sizes…


With the clocks going forward an hour overnight, breakfast was a little quieter than normal, but at least most of us made it to the nosebag. With neither side particularly close to the top or bottom of the table, we played games at mezzanine level, which helped reporting.

Oxford 2 - Pandora's Box

1 w Dickinson, Timothy R 2210 0 - 1 Hammond, Andrew J C 2208
2 b Hackett, David G 2150 ½ - ½ Dilley, Jason M 2205
3 w Scott, David A 2110 ½ - ½ Woolley, Jos 2091
4 b Rawlinson, Christopher J 2053 ½ - ½ Coates, David 2055
5 w Ludbrook, Matt 2058 0 - 1 Birtwhistle, Nigel 2105
6 b Bruce, Dave 2025 ½ - ½ McCarthy, Kevin 2055

Strengthened by the arrival of Dave Hackett, but playing a still-stronger lot from the land of Pandora , Oxford 2 started off a little listlessly and eventually four draws and two losses emerged.

Matt Ludbrook found himself with plenty of space but was outmanoeuvred in good style by his opponent, while Tim on top board lit a match in a petrol station, and the box simply exploded. White's problems can be traced we feel to his unusual choice of 8 th move - though Tim pointed to his 2. Nf3? (and it's well known that 1. e4 is a bit suspect anyway) - although it took some energetic play from the diagram position to exploit it so comprehensively.

Dickinson, T - Hammond, A [B22]
4NCL ox 2 - Pandora's box, 25.03.2007

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 b6 7.Bd3 Ba6 8.Be4 Nc6 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Rc8 11.Qa4 Na5 12.Bb2

b5 13.Qc2 b4 14.a3 bxc3 15.Bxc3 Qc7 16.Bxa5 Qxa5+ 17.Qd2 Rc3 18.Ng1 (Fritz recommends Rb1 although White has long term problems with his king placement) …Bb4 0-1

Oxford 3 - Nottingham 2

1 w Morris, Graham 2035 1 - 0 Webster, Richard J 1976
2 b Terry, Sean 2040 ½ - ½ Harrison, John 2000
3 w Levicki, Jeffrey 1950 ½ - ½ Wright, Antony J 2020
4 b Messam-Sparkes, Lateefah 1855 1 - 0 Graham, Neil 1915
5 w Zhang, Marco 1890 1 - 0 Hill, Maurice J 1910
6 b Henbest, Kevin B 1800 0 - 1 Lakhani, Anjali 1830

And while the 2nds were going astray a few yards away, the thirds were digging a pretty big hole for themselves within the first 30 minutes, or so it seemed by the time I'd made it past the check-out and to the playing area. While top (Graham) and bottom (Kevin) boards seemed good and losing respectively, the other four boards were in need of serious grovel. On Board 3, Jeffrey Levicki was being outplayed in the French, and faced a long battle to retrieve lost, and defend weak, pawns.

Board 4: Lateefah

Lateefah's position was hopeless as she'd blundered a piece by move 8:

8. … h6?? 9. Rf5! And while we all commiserated with her silently on this oversight, she seemed unaffected and after a long think came up with: 9. … c5 10.Rf1 cxd4 11.Qf3?!! dxc3 12.Be3 cxb2 13.Rad1 Qc7

when all of a sudden she's three pawns up … but her opponent has an attack: 14.Bb5+ Kf8 15.Nd7+! Nbxd7 16.Rxd7 Qxc2

at which point ChessBase Lite recommends (as did our panel of experts) Rxe7 followed by Qxb7 which seems to be winning for White. White played instead Qxb7 and after …Re8 our scoresheet turns indecipherable, but some shuffling stage leftwards of the King to h7 followed, and after queens came off… Black emerged triumphant. Excellent stuff - and not the first time that Lateefah has shown immense cool this season in seemingly hopeless positions…

Board 5: Marco

Conversation with Marco & others in the car park in mid afternoon:

Sean : “Marco. how did you win that.?”
Marco's mate : “Marco.. why is everybody asking you that question..?”

Seems to sum up a failed Morra Gambit:

And with the crowd just agog to find out what that bishop is doing there on a2, Black to play can take one of two pawns : (a) 21…Nxf4 when 22.Qf3 e5 23.g3 Nh3+ 24.Kg2 Ng5 is pretty disastrous; and (b) 21…Bxe4 which just seems solidly fine. Instead Black did neither: 21. …Qc6 22.Qxc6 Bxc6 23.f5 Ne5 24.Nc5 Nc4 25.Rd1 d5?

26.fxe6 fxe6 27.Nxe6 Rd6 28.exd5 Rxd5?? 29.Rf1 1-0 Mate is threatened, and can only be avoided by loss of a whole rook. After 29. … h6; 30. Bb1! Napoleon once more to the rescue…

On board 2, I was having this pleasant position to consider at move 10:

The usual prize for guessing the move order responsible for this position in advance of the publication of the pgn file, but suffice to say that it doesn't appear in Richard Palliser's latest, and excellent book “Beating Unusual Chess Openings” (Everyman, £14.99). I say this notwithstanding that many of its chapters seem to debunk my chosen repertoires over the past four seasons. It's well researched, clearly explained and set out, and not too bloody long! And all these count as positive features for me.

So, my choices here seemed to be between the solid Be7-f8 or the somewhat adventurous Be7-c5. With my critical faculties at their Sunday morning after-the-hour-lost-the-night-before low I came up instead with 10. … Ng4?? “the bishop must move after all” 11.Bb5+ “oh… that bishop” Bd7 12.Qxg4 c6 13.Qg3! cxb5 when White can simply win a safe pawn with 14. Qxe5, but he opted for larger booty in the shape of the exchange on offer after 14.Bg7 Bf6 15.Bxh8 Bxh8 16.0-0 b4. Ho hum. And so started grovel No. 3 , which was rewarded with a draw offer at the first time control in this position:

A little generous, perhaps although given the position at move 16 many Whites would have expected a more carefree conversion of the advantage - and maybe by this point this White was a bit bored with the on-board shenanigans of the surviving bishop (Bf8-e7-f6-h8-f6-e7-c5-d4-c3 etc).

And with Graham mopping up nicely on board 1, that secured the match result for the team:

Morris, G - Webster, R [C00]
4NCL ox 3 - notts 2, 25.03.2007

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 b6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.g3 c5 7.Qe2 Nc6 8.Bg2 Be7 9.0-0 Qc7 10.Re1 Bb7 11.Nf1 d4 12.Bf4 Nb4 13.h4 h6 14.h5 Rd8 15.N1h2 Nf8 16.Ng4 Nh7 17.a3 Na6 18.Rad1 Bc6 19.Nd2 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Ng5 21.Bxg5 hxg5 22.Qf3 Kf8 23.Rh1 Nb8 24.Rde1 Nc6 25.h6 g6 26.Nc4 b5 27.Nd6 Bxd6 28.exd6 Qxd6 29.Qf6 Rh7 30.Qxg5 Qd5+

31.Qxd5 exd5 32.Nf6 Rh8 33.g4 c4 34.g5 b4 35.Re2 Nb8 36.Rhe1 1-0

Black's only chance was to play … g5 before White played it, and pray.

Less information to hand about Jeffrey Levicki's grovel on the board next to me, but in the end he retrieved the pawn, and found enough resource to hold the others!



Lateefah Messam-Sparkes and Jeffrey Levicki. Stars of the future. Good hair.

Marco Zhang, a picture of calmness.

Oxford 3 v Nottinghamshire 2. l-r: Kev, Marco and Lateefah.

Dave Scott flexing his endgame muscles.
In the background Graham Morris remembering the days of good hair.