Apr 072021
 

White to play from Blinkhorn vs Woolgar in Round 6 of the 4NCL Online. White is clearly winning here, but how would you chose to finish the game? Josh played 26.Rf8+ and his opponent resigned immediately as 26…Rxf8 27.Rxf8+ Qxf8 28.Bxf8 is all over. However, there is a beautiful forced check mate available here. Can you see it? See the game viewer below for the solution.

A brief hiatus in posting here means that lucky readers will get all the games and updates from two rounds of the 4NCL Online competition where two Hebden Bridge teams are making their debut appearance in division 7 and fighting hard for promotion.

On the 23rd of March round 5 matches took place and the only word that can be used to describe the outcome for Hebden was ‘catastrophe’! Having both lost to the very strong Newport A outfit in consecutive rounds, Hebden 1 and 2 had an identical record of three match wins and one defeat. Keeping pace with the leaders seemed like a decent prospect as both sides drew teams that were, on paper at least, weaker than them. However, the ECF Online rating system is new, there are lots of new and returning players out there and, as we’ve discovered many times since the COVID lockdown came into force,  players online strength does not always reflect their ‘over the board’ strength – whether that be through fair means or nefarious ones! In round 5 Hebden fielded slightly weaker lines ups for their sides but still had an edge on paper over Eagle and Child (who played Hebden 1) and Dundee City C (Hebden 2’s opponents.

What was perhaps most surprising on the night was that it was the lower boards where matters went astray for the teams. Dave Shapland and Pete Leonard lost on boards 3 and 4 respectively for the first team and Chris Marsden and Rob Catlow lost on boards 3 and 4 for the second team. This left their colleagues on the upper boards with it all to do. Josh Blinkhorn won on board 2 for the second team leaving Dave Wedge on board 1 with an uphill task in his match as he was certainly worse very late into the evening. However, the position was complex enough that he was able to hoodwink his opponent and he saved the day for the second team by snatching a win that tied their match with Dundee City C.

White to play from Vijayakumar vs. Catlow in Round 5 of the 4NCL Online. Can you find the beautiful forced conclusion to this game? Solution in the game viewer below.

Sadly it didn’t quite go so well for the first team. Andrew Clarkson won a smooth positional game on board 2 and Greg Eagleton seemed to be doing well against Martin Carpenter on board 1, the challenge was, his clock situation was poor. In the end, had to settle for a draw and that meant the first team lost by the narrowest possible margin 2.5-1.5.

So, Hebden 2 actually climbed above their first team with their tie, but both teams really needed to win in round 6 last night to keep their promotion hopes alive. Lessons were learned from round 5 and Hebden looked to take no prisoners with their teams selections this time opting for the strongest eight players available. That meant Stavros Pantazopoulos, Phil Cook, Andrew Clarkson and Pete Leonard in the first team squad to face Redbridge All Sorts C and Dave Shapland, David Wedge, John Allan and Josh Blinkhorn in the second team against the wonderfully named Throw in the Tal!

Hebden 1 got off to a flying start as Andrew won his game in very short order when his opponent blundered a piece in the opening. After that though, the evening became a tense and difficult grind as the remaining seven games were extremely competitive. Next to finish was Stavros who was playing Black on board 1 for the first team. His game was very accurately played by both parties although his opponent was playing very, very quickly – suspiciously so perhaps given the incredible level of accuracy. Stavros held his nerve though and, despite running his clock down fairly significantly, he managed to liquidate into a drawn rook and pawn ending and halve the point to keep Hebden 1 a point up against Redbridge.

The second team meanwhile were locked in to some tight encounters with their opponents from Throw in the Tal. On board 1, Dave Shapland had played his Classical System (3…Bc5) against the Spanish. This gave him a solid base to work from but there weren’t going to be any trademark complication in his game against Ben Graff. David Wedge was struggling a little in his game against Ed Goodwin and John Allan also appeared to be under pressure with the Black pieces against Gareth Griffiths. Only Josh Blinkhorn on board 4 seemed to hold a definite advantage playing the White side of a Sicilian Richter Rauser variation and with a strong initiative against Steven Woolgar.

For the first team, the remaining two games looked tight as well. Phil Cook had to weather an aggressive middle game assault from Mark Murrell while Pete Leonard had suffered an opening malfunction and was two pawns down with the White pieces in an endgame against Michael Wilson.

As the night draw towards it’s end, Josh converted his advantage to put the second team 1-0 up. Shortly afterwards, John also turned the tables on his opponent to make it 2-0. David lost his game on board 2 and that left Dave Shapland to steer the shop safely home on board 1. He’d won a pawn in the transition from middle game to end game and seemed to be in no danger of losing as long as he didn’t over press for the win. He played patiently – missing a few opportunities along the way but finally converting successfully to make the final score 3-1 to Hebden 2.

In the first team match, Phil, having resisted his opponents attack was able to gain a material advantage in an unbalanced ending. He still had work to do but converted comfortably enough to put Hebden 1 over the top. The cherry on the cake was Pete’s incredible turn around in his game which seemed totally forlorn but he successfully invaded his opponent’s position and ended up snatching a win meaning the first team won by 3.5-0.5.

With both teams firmly back on track, Hebden 2 lie in fifth position in the table on 9 points behind Bearsden Grizzlies (who have 10) and King’s Head and Newport A (who both have 11). There are three other teams on 9 and so the second team seem to be guaranteed a very stiff encounter on the final round. Meanwhile, Hebden 1 are on 8 points along with 10 other teams although they lie in ninth thanks to their excellent game points score of 18/24. A win in the final round should see them enter the top eight positions which would get them promoted.

The game viewer below has all 16 games from rounds 5 and 6 of the competition. Round 6 games first.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains all eight games played last night and from the previous round. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Mar 112021
 

Toczek vs. Pantazopoulos. Black to play after White has just played 25.Qb5. How did Stavros continue to secure a winning advantage with a beautiful tactic? the answer can be found in the game viewer below.

Round 4 of the 4NCL Online Season 3 was played on Tuesday night this week and saw the championship move past the half way stage. Hebden Bridge 1 came into the round with a perfect record of three match wins and 12 game points from those matches. This put them joint top of Division 7 alongside the top seeds King’s Head. A little further down the rankings, but still very much in contention, Hebden Bridge 2 had won their first two matches before being defeated in round three by second seeds, Newport ‘A’.

With two further teams on three match wins (but behind the top two on board scores) it was clear that Hebden 1 were going to draw very challenging opposition in round 4 and indeed, when the draw came out on Friday evening they found themselves pitted against Hebden 2’s nemesis – Newport A. Both teams fielded exactly the same line up that they had in the previous round but this time, the ratings margin between all four pairings was much closer than they’d experienced in round 3.

Board 1 had a real international feel to it with Newport’s Polish-born FIDE Master Grzegorz Toczek facing Hebden’s Greek import Stavros Pantazopoulos in what the main stream media might have dubbed the ‘Battle of the Unpronouncables’! This game was a tense struggle originating from the 2.c3 variation of the Sicilian Defence which the players reached by transposition. Playing White, Toczek seemed to have succeeded in achieving a nice advantage from the opening as he had the bishop pair, more space and had created a structural weakness in Stavros’ camp in the form of doubled, isolated e-pawns. however, Stavros hung on and was able to generate strong counter play when his opponent grabbed the loose pawn on e6. Then followed a stunning tactical sequence which culminated (from the diagram) with 25…Rdd1 26.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 27.Kh2 Rd5!! 28.Bxd5 Qxe5+ and saw Stavros winning a piece. by this point he was very low on time and, with the queens still on the board, there was still much to be done. However, Stavros calmly steered the game home to make it 2-2 for Hebden Bridge players against the Newport’s FIDE master!

Sadly for Hebden 1, that early highlight was as good as it got for them. The remaining 3 boards were all ferociously competative, but Newport some how managed to bag wins on all of them. Board 3 was the next game to finish. There, Greg Eagleton had essayed the King’s Indian Defence which generally tends to lead to fireworks and his opponent, Gareth Yeo, did not shy away from the fight as he played one of White’s most aggressive responses with 5.Nge2 intending a king’s side pawn advance and queen’s side castling. It looks as if Greg’s 16…b6? a decisive mistake (16…f5 was needed to prevent White’s 17.g4) and after this, although the game was so complicated that inaccuracies were guaranteed, White always seemed to have the initiative. In the end Greg lost on time, but his position at the board was hopeless by that stage.

On board 4, Andrew Clarkson was locked in a mortal struggle with Barbara Graczyk-Gibiec. Unlike the wildness that occurred on the board above them, this game was a drawn out and tense affair with neither side allowing their opponent much by the way of opportunities. The engine points out that White might have secured some sort of advantage after 17.Bg3 instead of 17.Bxe7 but the game bowled on and eventually the players emerged in a same coloured bishop and knight endgame with six pawns each. We’re used to seeing Andrew grind out wins with great endgame technique but this time he was on the receiving end as his opponent capitalised on a mistake to grab a pawn. Then, with Andrew still hanging on grimly he blundered to walk into a knight fork that lost him his bishop and it was game over. That made it 2-1 to Newport.

The last game to finish was the board 2 match up between Phil Cook and Adam Rakos. This one was delayed in starting when Phil couldn’t see his opponent online and his opponent couldn’t see Phil’s challenge. Eventually, the problem was resolved and the game got underway nearly half an hour late. When it did it saw another pretty heavy-weight positional encounter that was tense and tight from start to finish. Phil navigated the opening successfully and generated a weak backward pawn on d6 that looked like it might give him decent chances when he eventually won it on move 19. However, it was clear that, whilst Phil had been winning the pawn, Adam had been busy generating some activity of his own. Some arch manoeuvring followed in which Black managed to regain his pawn deficit as Phil sought to reactivate his own pieces. Then, just as the game appeared to be reaching it’s climax, Phil resigned when it looked like Black would be breaking through his king via f2. The engine assessment was that Phil still had an advantage but by this point he was running short of time and Black’s initiative did look scary.

So, Hebden 1 went down to their first defeat. However, they are still very much in touch with the top of the table as there are just five teams above them. King’s Head and Newport are the only two teams to have won all their games so far and will face off in what promises to be an epic clash in round 5, while there are three more teams on seven match points out of a possible eight. Hebden 1 are the first of the teams on six match points.

While all of this drama was going on, Hebden Bridge 2 were making an attempt to bounce back from their defeat at the hands of Newport A last time out as they took on Streatham B. This match was also closely contested with all four games going on well into the evening. In the end however, Hebden came out on top thanks to fine wins for John Kerrane, Josh Blinkhorn and Rob Catlow on board two, three and four respectively. Dave Shapland lost on board 1 against Michael Chung who defended against Dave’s attack very well and then drove home his counter attack with great precision.

All eight games from this week’s matches can be found in the game viewer below. The annotations are created by Lichess’s in house engine and some of the ‘exclams’ are therefore rather arbitrary.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, he game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Mar 052021
 

Shapland vs Toczek. Black has just made a second queen on d1 but White has the initiative. How would you proceed here? Answer in the report below.

Last week our two Hebden Bridge teams took part in round 3 of 4NCL Online season 3. With both teams having won both their matches so far it was always likely that the strength of the opposition would increase significantly for at least one of the two teams and  indeed, this was exactly what happened as the second team drew the second seeds in the division – Newport A. Hebden Bridge 1 meanwhile drew the 16th seeds, Celtic Tigers Cubs.

In preparation for a stern challenge Hebden had selected their strongest 8 players for these matches. Hebden Bridge 1 fielded Stavros Pantazopoulos for the first time and Greg Eagleton returned to the side along with Andrew Clarkson and Phil Cook who have played all three matches. Meanwhile Dave Shapland dropped down to play on board 1 for the second team and was joined by Dave Wedge, Pete Leonard and John Allan. The strategy behind this approach was to make the second team as strong as it possibly could be. Newport A are title contenders for Division 7 and, even in the event that Hebden 2 lost, if they could take some points from their opponents then this would increase Hebden 1’s chances of taking the title.

The strategy worked out reasonably well as Hebden 1 carried out their part of the scheme to perfection by winning 4-0 to keep their 100% record in the competition. Three matches and 12 games played and three matches and 12 games won so far! The only other team with this perfect record after three rounds are the top seeds King’s Head.

The opening system in Stavros’s game on board 1 against John White looked fairly exotic, but Stavros simply preserved a pleasant space advantage and eventually induced his opponent into making a mistake. The game ended after a tactical sequence that left Stavros a clear rook up.

On board 2, Phil Cook appeared to be playing in a highly provocative fashion with the Black pieces against Adam Cranston. The approach paid off however as his opponent struggled to find the right plan and the players ended up transposing into a variation of the Philidor’s Defence that was very comfortable for Black. Phil trapped his opponent’s bishop early in the middle game and the contest ended shortly after that.

It was a similar story on board 3 where Greg Eagleton had the White pieces against Kenneth Kwabiah. This one was a Classical Variation of the Dutch Defence and Greg set himself up solidly, keeping a careful eye on Black’s  weak spots. This game also ended after a tactical skirmish in which Greg out-calculated his opponent and won a piece with a second about to fall immediately after.

Andrew Clarkson found himself playing his favorite Pirc Defence on board 4 against Nadim Osseiran. This one was a little strange early on as Andrew seemed to be slightly distracted by some of his opponent’s sub-optimal moves in the opening phase of proceedings. Despite this, White seemed to have a perfectly acceptable position at several moments until Andrew broke out thematically with 19…f5. After this White’s position went down hill fairly rapidly and another burst of tactics concluded the game. 4-0 to Hebden 1.

Life was always going to be rather more difficult for the second team who were out rated by 250 points or more on every except board 4 (where the difference was just over 100 points) against Newport A. However, the Hebden quartet put up a strong and spirited showing in the early stages of the evening.

On board 3, Pete Leonard had a perfectly acceptable position out of the opening against Gareth Yeo but then fell into a trap that cost him a piece. The rest was torture. Meanwhile, Dave Wedge was battling hard with Black on board 2 against Adam Rakos. This game was another Pirc Defence and White didn’t appear to have much if any advantage until Dave was induced to expand on the king’s side somewhat in the style of a King’s Indian Defence. At first the approach looked like the right one, but then Adam managed to land a knight on an outpost on e6 and that made it hard for Dave to continue with his attack. He missed a brief opportunity at move 31 when he could have landed a protected passed pawn on f2 in exchange for a piece. The engines seem to think this is roughly equal.

The line Dave played instead looked very enticing indeed but, once the dust had settled he found himself in a rook versus knight and bishop ending with four pawns per side all on the king’s side. Probably there were some drawing chances but, as the clocks ticked down, finding the best defence became very difficult and eventually, Dave missed a skewer that left White up a knight and a pawn and that was that.

On board 4 John Allan also emerged safely from a slightly offbeat looking opening and appeared to be doing well. The players castled on opposing wings and John’s pawns looked like they would arrive first on the scene against his opponent’s monarch. However, the Newport board 4 – Barbara Graczyk-Gibiec, managed to slow down John’s progress on the queen’s side and then reposition her knight to g3 where it eyed up a Black pawn on e4 and also a tempting outpost on f5. Left with a tough choice to defend one or the other, John played 19…g6?! to keep the knight from f5 and it appears that this decision was incorrect. John was relying on pinning the knight to the king’s rook on the long but perhaps he over looked Barbara’s clever manoeuvre which saw her switch the knight from e4 to d5 with a tempo by checking on f6 first. That essentially left John a pawn down in the end game and, try though he did, he couldn’t hold the balance. That was 3-0 to Newport.

And so, Hebden’s chances of snatching any kind of consolation rested with Dave Shapland on board 1 who had the toughest assignment of all playing White against FIDE Master Grzegorz Toczek. However, it became apparent that Caissa had decided that it was to be Dave’s night as Grzegorz played into a pet opening line of the French Tarrasch that Dave has studied extensively. Then, when the game got complicated and Black’s position started to drift a little Dave was able to develop threats to make a perpetual check on the Black king. Unwilling to allow his much lower rated opponent to gain a draw, Grzegorz opted instead to keep the position murky but by now Dave’s initiative had developed considerably and with some careful calculation he found a way to exchange down to a winning rook endgame – though it must also be said that he missed a forced checkmate at one point! (Did you manage to find 32.Rxg7+! Kxg7 33.Re7+ Kg8 34.Qh7+ Kf8 35.Qg7# in the diagram above? Well done if you did.) With 5 minutes left on his clock to his opponent’s 90 seconds, Dave was able to navigate the endgame to claim a famous victory and snatch a board point from Newport.

All the games from last week’s matches can be found in the game viewer below. Instructions for using the game viewer can be found at the bottom of the post.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Feb 102021
 

Both our Hebden Bridge teams drove through the opposition last night to notch up their second wins of the competition. Photo: Dermot O’Halloran

Last night saw the second round of action in the 4NCL Online League with both Hebden Bridge teams taking part in Division 7 matches.

Having had relatively straightforward assignments last time out, both sides were expecting sterner tests in round 2 and, despite the fact that between them they only dropped half a point, that should not disguise the fact that the matches were much more competitive. The first team in particular were pushed hard by a handy Aberystwyth University 1 side.

Hebden Bridge 1 were without the services of Greg Eagleton, who played board 2 last time out, but in came Pete Leonard on board 4 whilst Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland both moved up a board.

Meanwhile, Hebden Bridge 2 faced a Muswell Hill Juniors team that looked very green on paper but it’s always dangerous to assume that a junior’s rating has kept pace with their ability. All of them sported much higher Lichess ratings than they had ECF Online ratings.

However, it was Hebden Bridge 2 who started the night with two quick wins. On board 4, Terry Sullivan was first to strike with the Back pieces. He played sensibly against his young opponent, first securing the bishop pair, then targeting a pawn weakness to win material and finally, when his opponent tried for counter play he took over in the centre of the board and set up a simple mating pattern that his adversary overlooked.

Shortly afterwards Josh Blinkhorn made it 2-0 to the second team when he also delivered checkmate by taking advantage of his opponent having not castled. John Allan then made it 3-0 against another opponent who never got castled. Note that John should have been playing Black but his opponent issued the challenge on Lichess incorrectly and, despite John trying to get them game aborted, they continued. This error was flagged with the arbiters afterwards and there was a chance that the game would be scored 0-0 but in the end the result stood.

Meanwhile, the first team were having a more challenging time of it against Aberystwyth University who certainly played in enterprising fashion. For example Pete Leonard’s opponent on board 4, Kieran Rafferty, played 2…f5 against his Bishop’s Opening – evidently this is called the Calabrese Gambit! Being the pawn-grabber extraordinaire that he is, Pete played it like a King’s Gambit Accepted in reverse and this give him a stable advantage with an extra pawn and decent development. By move 25, Pete had two extra pawns and the queens were off. Black’s only compensation was that he had a bishop pair against Pete’s pair of knights. However, that proved to be nothing like enough and Pete converted by pushing his connected passed e and f pawns down his opponent’s throat.

The next to win was Phil Cook on board 1. We’re used to seeing Phil play solid, positional chess under pinned by an sharp tactical sense that knows when his opponent has slipped to take full advantage. On this occasion however he was the one going a little bit wild as, playing a reversed Sicilian against the English Opening he decided to expanded rapidly on the king’s side with h5 and then g5 before he had gotten his king to safety. This looked risky but he was able to get away with it because his opponent had blocked the centre by playing e4 as early as move 4. According to Stockfish the game was littered with inaccuracies which is hardly surprising given the complexity of the position, however, it was Phil who came out on top in the melee driving his opponent’s king into the centre of the board. White had no coordination and resigned as soon as Phil made a tactical break through.

Andrew Clarkson sealed the won for the first team by winning his game on board 2. This game was a Four Knights Sicilian and, even though Andrew won the exchange, his opponent seemed to have sufficient compensation to hold on. At one point Andrew event thought he might be worse (see his game notes in the viewer below). However, once the players had transposed into an endgame where Andrew had the exchange for a pawn, his superior endgame technique won the day and Andrew got over the line to make it 3-0.

The last two games to finish in each match were tense affairs. On board 3 for the first team, Dave Shapland had to weather a very dangerous looking attack on the Black side of a Sicilian Dragon. However, Dave was confident that his opponent had launched his assault prematurely and, taking a leaf out of Mr Leonard’s book simply took everything that was offered to him. First one pawn, then another and finally the exchange. The critical moment came when Dave found 16…Rc5! which helped him to defend along the fifth rank. His opponent missed one fleeting chance to equalise and after that Dave’s counter attack was unstoppable even if he did miss a simple checkmate that would have crowned the performance nicely.

On board 1 for the second team, Dave Wedge was up against a tough opponent in Stanley Badacsonyi who certainly outperformed his rating by some margin. This was perhaps the most accurately played of all the games last night. There were comparatively few errors and, although Dave at one point achieved an advantage, he was able to hold on to it and got into trouble on the clock. Eventually the players agreed a draw  with fours pawns each and opposite coloured bishops left on the board.

So, another 4-0 win for the first team and a 3.5-0.5 win for the second team. The third round in two week’s time will surely see at least one of the paired with a side that could be stronger than them. It should start to get really interesting from here on in.

All the games from last night can be found in the game viewer below. In most cases the annotation is from Lichess’s house engine – Stockfish, but Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland have provided some annotation of their own. You can find instructions for using the viewer just down below it at the end of the post.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Jan 292021
 

Rupf vs. Blinkhorn, 4NCL Online, 2021. White to play. Black has just captured a pawn on e5 with his queen. It looks like a clean pawn win but he’d over looked a beautiful tactic which, thankfully his opponent (and everyone who studied the game afterwards!) also missed. Can you do better? The solution is in the article below.

It’s been a very long time since this website made a post – the last one was on the 5th of April, 2020! That report acknowledged of course that our ‘normal’ activities have had to be curtailed due to COVID-19. Now, nearly ten months on, we still can’t meet physically at the Trades Club and we can’t play any matches in the Calderdale Evening League or any other ‘over the board’ encounters for that matter. It is of course impossible to know when these activities will be able to resume – perhaps we can hope for a usual scheduled start to the 2021-22 season in September – but one thing is for sure, when they do resume, they won’t be or feel quite the same.

During the lockdown we have, of course, moved online. Lichess has become our website of choice for meeting to play games against each other and we have established our own Hebden Bridge Chess Club pages where members can come and meet each other for friendly games. We’re doing that most Mondays. We’ve also been holding Study Night sessions on Microsoft Teams on Thursday nights which has been a good opportunity to actually see each other and, hopefully, learn something and be entertained! Meanwhile, updates to members have been delivered via email rather than here on the website. If anyone isn’t getting these and would like to please email me at hebdenbridgechessclub@gmail.com to get added to the mailing list.

The whole chess world has migrated to being online although there have been, and still are, a very few elite level over the board tournaments being played – Wijk Aan Zee is taking place at the moment. In England our salvation has been the 4NCL (Four Nations Chess League) which has successfully adapted to move from being a fairly exclusive, over the board club competition to welcoming chess club teams from across the nation at all levels of ability in its new online incarnation. They’ve also moved their individual congresses online and so their are chances to play chess at a decent time limit (45mins + 15secs per move) both in the team and individual formats.

Season 3 (each season lasts 4 months) of the 4NCL Online League began on Tuesday night and we’re delighted to report that Hebden Bridge debuted two teams of four and have a squad of 14 registered players. Both sides start out in Division 7. This is one giant league of 66 teams and it’s a 7-round swiss system. If our teams manage to fight their way out of this division (it’s still not quite clear to me how that works) then the top six leagues each consist of four groups of eight teams. They each play each other and then the top team from each group contest semi-finals and a final. Of course Division 1 contains some extremely strong players amongst their number – even some Grand Masters.

Back to Division 7. Our 1st team are seeded three in the division and our 2nd team are seeded 16th. This meant both sides were in the top half of the draw and got paired with fairly low-ranked opposition. Hebden Bridge 1 lined up against Wessex Some Stars G with Phil Cook, Greg Eagleton, Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland in their team. Hebden Bridge 2 were up against Barnet Knights D and fielded David Wedge, Pete Leonard, Josh Blinkhorn and Rob Catlow.

It was interesting to be paired against what seemed generally to be fairly fresh group of players, many of whom I’d guess were juniors. This led to some stereotypical examples of what can happen when two players of very different playing strengths are pitted against each other. Prime among these was the first game of the night to finish on board 4 of Hebden Bridge 2’s match with Barnet Knights D. Rob Catlow’s opponent played so quickly that she actually ended the game with more time on her clock than when she started (remember that after every move is made 15 seconds are automatically added to your clock) so, while Rob was taking his time to make sure he saw as much as he could his opponent was blitzing out moves and was almost inevitably bound to miss something eventually. Indeed, after some mistakes on both sides of the board Leela Maya overlooked Robs’ 26.Ng6+ after which the roof caved in on her position.

At the other end of the spectrum, the other fourth board encounter between Hebden Bridge 1 and Wessex Some Stars G saw Dave Shapland’s opponent, George White playing at glacial speed early on in their game. Dave chose to play the French Defence (not his usual selection!) having seen that his opponent played the Tarrasch Variation (3.Ne2) which is his own choice against that opening with White. The plan turned out well when his opponent first played sub-optimal early moves but also took ever such a long time to make them. Already a pawn down after eight moves, George was ten minutes behind on the clock by move ten and had just eight minutes plus the increment to complete them game by the time he’d reached move twenty. Aside from one brief slip where his opponent could have equlaised, Dave steadily built up a space advantage and then pushed through his central pawn majority in thematic style until White’s position broke down under the pressure.

By the time this game was over, both matches were settled in Hebden’s favour. After Rob’s early win the 2nd team collected two more wins for Josh Blinkhorn (re-joining the club from his new home in Germany!) and Pete Leonard. Josh survived a scare when his opponent missed a particularly devious and beautiful tactic. In the position given above if Oscar Rupf had found 11.Ne4!! he would have pretty much won the game on the spot as 11…Qxb2?? allows 12.Nd6+ followed by either 13.Qe8 or Nxf7 checkmate! So, Black is therefore forced to give up his queen. Having survived that moment, shortly after, Josh showed that his own tactical awareness was sharper when he saw further in a forcing line and bagged a piece. He coasted home after that.

As the club’s most assiduous pawn grabber, Pete must have been delighted when his opponent played the Icelandic Gambit variation of the Scandinavian Defence and simply collected the proffered pawn. He held on to it comfortably and then took full advantage when his opponent overlooked an intermezzo (17.Ne4) which won him a piece. The rest was easy.

The remaining games lasted somewhat longer and were hard fought although Greg Eagleton, on board 2 for the 1st team, picked up his opponent’s queen when she blundered it on move 17. She went berserk after that trying to go for Greg’s king but he stayed calm, defused the tactics and then delivered checkmate with his huge material advantage. On board 1, Phil Cook played a typically smooth game on the White side of a Catalan. He simply retained a small positional advantage and put his opponent under pressure until he too made a tactical error that cost him a piece. Now the 1st team had also secured a 3-0 lead.

Andrew Clarkson made it 4-0 when was finally able to convert his long term positional trumps out of a Maroczy Bind set up in the opening. He managed to get all his pawns on the right coloured squares in preparation for a same coloured bishops ending and then, when his opponent finally gave him a tactical opportunity he didn’t miss it, grabbed an extra pawn and then converted the technical ending without any problems.

Last to finish was David Wedge on board 1 for the 2nd team. He too had to be patient against a resilient opponent who resisted well but slowly slipped into an inferior position. Dave broke through on the queen’s side, set himself up with a passed c-pawn and drove it home remorselessly.

So, a fine start for both teams in the 4NCL. I won’t bother sharing the score cards as the score lines for each player are easily remembered! Tough match ups will most certainly lie ahead in round 2. But for now all the games are posted in the game viewer below. Andrew Clarkson has kindly provided some light annotations for his game. The rest of the annotations are from the Lichess house engine analysis.

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer below contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

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