Final Four Nations League Weekend

5/12/2014 – The 4NCL is a team tournament over three divisions. With over 850 players registered to take part and over £10,000 in cash prizes on offer it is the most prestigious team chess event held in the United Kingdom. It takes place over various weekends from October to May 2013/14, in several venues. The 2013/14 season ended last week. John Saunders reports – with annotated highlights.

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The Four Nations League is a team tournament over three divisions, with over 850 players
registered to take part and over £10,000 in cash prizes on offer. It is the most prestigious
team chess event held in the United Kingdom. It is held over various weekends from
Oct to May 2013/14, in several venues (for the 2013/14 season).

Final 4NCL Weekend Report – 3-5 May 2014

By the Man in Room 503 a.k.a. John Saunders

Little did I expect when I drove up to Hinckley Island on the Saturday how much drama I was to meet with that day. Even before the chess got underway, as it happened.

My previous visits to Hinckley Island had been trouble-free as regards hotel arrangements, but this one was more colourful. For starters, they had no record of my booking. This had been made for me by Dave Welch so I had to check with him that it had been done, and of course it had. It transpired that the hotel, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that all the various official 4NCL people had duly arrived on the Friday and that nobody could possibly be coming on Saturday (despite this being clearly signalled in my booking) so my reservation had been re-routed to the digital wastebasket.

So they had then had to register me all over again and find me a room – thankfully, not a problem, the receptionist told me. Or was it? I was allocated room 503. I went to where she told me room 503 was located, and found myself looking at a blank wall between rooms 502 and 504. Did the numbers alternate with those on the opposite side of the corridor, maybe? No, there was a large laundry room there and no sign of a room 503. I briefly contemplated bedding down in the laundry room, which did look quite cosy with all those fluffy towels. I also considered putting my faith in the existence of room 503 and driving my wheeled suitcase in determined fashion at the wall between 502 and 504 but that sort of thing only works in children’s stories.

I traipsed back to reception. Interestingly, two callow hotel staff tried to persuade me that there really was a room 503 but a third (evidently more knowledgable) ruefully agreed with me and proceeded to allocate a room number that came with a door and a physical space beyond. I later learnt that this same room had earlier been rejected by other 4NCL guests as it had a defective window through which a gale-force draught had blown through. But I don’t care about draughts as I’m a chessplayer.

Enough of the perpendicular pronoun, you cry – what about the chess? Oh alright, then...

Round 9, Saturday 3 May

Division 1, Championship Pool: Piling Up Game Points

4NCL pairings are of course rigged to keep the really big pairings to the very end, so part of the fun is finding out which super-GMs the big battalions – these days Guildford 1 and Wood Green 1 – are going to deploy on the final weekend. There can be a fair amount of industrial espionage, with the weapon of chessboard destruction is kept back for the final round but may still be spotted lurking somewhere in the hotel.


Alexei Shirov

Luke McShane

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

This year the two team managers, Roger Emerson of Guildford and Brian Smith of Wood Green, seemed fairly relaxed about the names in their frames. It was known from the start of the weekend that Wood Green would later be deploying Alexei Shirov (who could be seen about the hotel) and Luke McShane (who came later). However, I think we were in the dark about the imminent arrival of MVL – as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is generally known. Of course, it could have all have been a bluff: for all I or anybody else knew there could really have been a secret room 503 somewhere with Magnus Carlsen or Vishy Anand in it.

Although both major teams heavily outrated their round nine opposition, it was of course vital to pile up as many game points as possible in order to secure draw odds for the round 11 show-down. As we left things last time, both leaders were on a maximum 8 match points but Wood Green edged Guildford by a single game point.

Let’s consider each match in turn.

Wood Green 1 6-2 Grantham Sharks: Guildford 1 had finished their match in advance of this one, and Wood Green 1 needed to match their score as closely as possible in order to maintain their slender game point lead. David Howell’s was the last game to finish as he endeavoured to eke out a win against Ameet Ghasi. He didn't quite succeed but a draw was enough to give Wood Green a half game point edge over Guildford. The costliest result in this match for Wood Green was Pia Cramling’s calamitous loss against the 18-year-old English player Peter Batchelor, who did very well to exploit the Swedish GM’s time trouble by posing her a few tactical puzzles in ascending order of difficulty.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.03"] [Round "9.8"] [White "Batchelor, Peter J"] [Black "Cramling, Pia"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E11"] [WhiteElo "2157"] [BlackElo "2507"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "q5k1/5ppp/1Rb5/2p1r3/3p4/P3P1PB/2Q2P1P/6K1 w - - 0 23"] [PlyCount "15"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Grantham Sharks"] [BlackTeam "Wood Green 1"] 23. Bf1 $1 {White used around 9 of his remaining 15 minutes on this move but it is probably the right choice.} dxe3 24. fxe3 Bf3 25. Rb5 Qa7 ({After the queen move, Black's time was down to 13 minutes for the final 15 moves.} 25... Rxe3 $5 26. Qxc5 Re8 27. Ra5 Qd8 {might have held out more winning chances for Black, though objectively it's not much more than level.}) 26. Qc3 Qc7 {Black soaked up a further 9 minutes which she could ill afford on this move.} 27. Qa5 $5 {The position is level as far as the computer is concerned but White can line up a few back-rank cheapo threats to push Black further into time trouble. } Qd6 28. Qa6 $5 Bc6 {One of five adequate moves but it used up a further 2 minutes, leaving just 2 minutes 11 seconds (plus increments) to play with.} 29. Rb6 $1 {This doesn't win but restricts Black's choice to just one safe move, which probably requires more than two minutes' worth of calculation and checking, even for an experienced GM.} Re6 $4 (29... Qd2 $1 {holds, somewhat improbably. If White then tries to exploit Black's time pressure with} 30. Qa8+ $5 {Black can dodge the cheapo with} Be8 $1 {and actually White could be in a bit of trouble.}) 30. Qc8+ $1 1-0

Jon Speelman (above) dealt severely with Veronica Foisor:

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.03"] [Round "9.7"] [White "Speelman, Jon"] [Black "Foisor, Veronica"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2495"] [BlackElo "2274"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Wood Green 1"] [BlackTeam "Grantham Sharks 1"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 g6 4. e3 Bg7 5. d4 cxd4 ({This seems to give White a free game.} 5... d6 {has more of a track record amongst leading players.}) 6. exd4 d6 7. d5 {Database stats show Black taking a major hammering (80:20), wherever the knight goes.} Ne5 8. Nxe5 Bxe5 9. Be2 Bg7 ({Rather than lose a tempo with the bishop, perhaps Black could consider playing} 9... h5 {and then 10...Nh6.}) 10. Be3 Nf6 11. O-O O-O 12. Qd2 Bd7 13. Rfe1 a6 {Black has rather a cramped game as she can't get a ...b7-b5 or ...e7-e6 counter in.} 14. f3 Rc8 15. Rad1 Qa5 16. a3 (16. b4 $5 {is also playable as} Qxb4 $4 17. Rb1 Qa5 18. Bb6 {and Black has to give up a piece to save her queen.}) 16... Rfd8 { The rook is a liability on this square.} 17. Bf1 Bf5 $2 18. Qf2 $1 {Now we can see why White preferred the sneaky 16.a3 to 16.b4. The black queen is in danger of being trapped with Bb6.} Qc7 (18... Nd7 {stops Bb6 but allows} 19. g4 {, winning a piece.}) 19. Bb6 Qd7 (19... Qb8 20. Bxd8 Rxd8 21. Rxe7 {is no better.}) 20. g4 Re8 21. gxf5 Qxf5 22. Ne4 Nd7 23. Ng3 Qg5 24. Bd4 1-0

Overall this was a pretty effective job by a team with an average rating of 2606 up against one averaging 2310, but the London side could have done with something nearer a maximum 8-0 to maximise their edge over Guildford. As it turned out, their game point advantage was cut to just a half game point.


Anish Giri on board one

Robin van Kampen on board six

Guildford 1 6½-1½ White Rose: Guildford bolstered their team with two Dutchmen, Anish Giri on top board and Robin van Kampen on board six, and it gave them enough firepower to score a big win against White Rose. As always, the interest came on the boards where the more fancied team did not win.

Sue Maroroa (above), playing against her hubby Gawain’s team and following in the distinguished footsteps of Bob Wade and Murray Chandler in becoming a Kiwi-turned-Brit, played extremely well to defeat GM Mark Hebden. It was her first GM scalp.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.03"] [Round "9.7"] [White "Maroroa, Sue Y"] [Black "Hebden, Mark"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C55"] [WhiteElo "2131"] [BlackElo "2545"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. e5 Ne4 ({Hebden generally favours the more usual move} 5... d5 {here but the text is perfectly respectable.}) 6. Qe2 Nc5 7. Ng5 $5 {This is known but a bit unusual.} Ne6 8. Nxe6 dxe6 9. O-O { Now we are out of the book and the players are on their own. Black has an extra pawn but his position is slightly cramped and undeveloped, which I suppose constitutes a degree of compensation for White.} Qh4 10. Nd2 Bd7 11. Nf3 Qh5 12. c3 $5 {Playing someone rated more than 400 points above you can be a daunting experience but White has decided she is going to take a positive course of action, targeting Black's vulnerability along the d-file.} dxc3 13. bxc3 Bc5 14. Rd1 O-O-O ({The king proves to be too vulnerable on the queenside, though it takes a truly inspired sequence of moves by White to prove the point. Instead (and with the wonderful benefit of hindsight), one is tempted to recommend} 14... a6 {or perhaps 14...h6, to stop the white bishops coming to what prove to be strong squares.}) 15. Bg5 $1 Ne7 ({Here} 15... Be7 {runs into the devastating} 16. Ba6 $3 {and I'll leave the reader's computer to fill in the tactical details.}) ({The computer suggestion is to play} 15... Rdg8 {but then White is liable to get a forceful attack against the bishop on d7, either by playing Qd2 immediately or possibly the preparatory Bb5.}) 16. Bb5 $1 c6 ({ Not} 16... Bxb5 17. Qxb5 {when Black has to prop up his position with the awkward} b6 {and suffer some horribly weak light squares around his king. But something of the sort happens anyway.}) 17. Qc4 $1 b6 ({Again, Black's dark-squared bishop can't afford to move away from the g1-a7 diagonal:} 17... Ba3 $2 18. Ba6 $3 {and it is game over.}) 18. Bxe7 cxb5 19. Qe4 $1 Kb8 (19... Bxe7 20. Qa8+ Kc7 21. Qxa7+ Kc8 22. Rd6 $3 {is a gorgeous finish. The king would last longer if it goes to c6 instead of c8, but the result would still be the same after 22.a4, etc.}) 20. Bxd8 Rxd8 {Black has bought off White's brilliant attack at the expense of the exchange for a pawn so White still has to maintain the momentum.} 21. a4 bxa4 22. Rxa4 Qf5 ({White threatens a mating attack with Rxa7, while} 22... Bxa4 {is answered by} 23. Rxd8+ Kc7 24. Qa8 { winning.}) 23. Qh4 Rc8 24. Raa1 Bc6 25. Nd4 Qxe5 26. Nxc6+ Rxc6 27. Qxh7 Qf6 ( 27... Qxc3 28. Qg8+ Rc8 29. Qxf7 {brings the win a bit closer for White.}) 28. Rd7 $1 {White puts her trust in her powerful triumvirate of heavy pieces.} Bxf2+ 29. Kh1 Qxc3 30. Rad1 Qf6 $2 ({The computer finds} 30... b5 $1 {, which is a better way to fortify Black's position, with the bishop defending a7:} 31. Qg8+ Rc8 32. Qxf7 Bb6 33. Qxe6 Qc4 {and Black might yet frustrate White's winning chances.}) 31. Qe4 $1 {For the second time in the game the queen lands on this square with devastating effect. At this stage White still had around 17 minutes with increments to move 40 and Black around 54 minutes.} Rc7 32. Rd8+ Rc8 33. R8d7 Rc7 34. Rd8+ {White wasn't in time trouble but every little helps.} Rc8 35. Rxc8+ Kxc8 36. Qa8+ Kc7 37. Qxa7+ Kc6 (37... Kc8 38. Rd7 {is terminal.}) 38. Qd7+ Kc5 39. Qd6+ Kb5 40. Qd3+ Kc6 41. Qd7+ Kc5 42. Rc1+ Kb4 43. Qd2+ Ka4 44. Rb1 1-0

Guildford 2 4-4 Cheddleton: this was an important match for the minor places, with Cheddleton managing to edge past Grantham Sharks 1 into fourth position. On top board for Guildford 2, Spanish FM Alberto Suarez Real was (according to his team manager) content to cruise to an IM norm with three draws if need be, but he was up against Jonathan Hawkins who needed a win for a GM norm. Consequently the Spaniard’s early peace offer was declined. However, as so often where one side is straining too hard to win, it was the player offering the pipe of peace who triumphed, and rather beautifully.

Jonathan Hawkins

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.03"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Suarez Real, Alberto"] [Black "Hawkins, Jonathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B17"] [WhiteElo "2398"] [BlackElo "2518"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Guildford 2"] [BlackTeam "Cheddleton"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Ng5 Ngf6 6. Bd3 e6 7. N1f3 Bd6 8. Qe2 h6 9. Ne4 Nxe4 10. Qxe4 Qc7 11. O-O b6 12. Qg4 Kf8 13. b3 Bb7 14. Bb2 Nf6 15. Qh3 Nd5 16. g3 Nb4 17. Be4 f5 {It's starting to look hairy but we're still in known territory.} 18. Ng5 Qe7 19. Nxe6+ $5 Qxe6 20. Bxf5 {It's fairly obvious that White has some play for the piece but exactly how much is hard to judge.} Qf7 21. Rae1 Re8 22. Re6 $1 ({This looks like a distinct improvement on } 22. c4 h5 23. a3 Na6 24. Be6 Rxe6 25. Qxe6 Rh6 {, which was played in Aabling Thomsen-Palo, Danish Team Championship, in March 2014, and which Black went on to win.}) 22... Rxe6 23. Bxe6 Qf6 $2 ({This costs Black the game and a GM norm:} 23... Qe7 $5 {would prevent White's next move and also give Black a modicum of control along the e-file:} 24. Re1 Nd5 25. c4 Nf6 26. Qf5 {, etc, though it would be by no means a comfortable defence.}) 24. Bc8 $1 { Effectively buying a tempo to take control of the e-file.} Ba8 ({Alternatives aren't much better:} 24... Qe7 25. Bxb7 Qxb7 26. Re1 $1 {is also very unpleasant, for example} Be7 27. Qf5+ Kg8 28. Qe6+ Kf8 29. c4 {and Black is powerless to hold back White's attack.}) 25. Re1 Nd5 (25... Be7 26. Qd7 Qd6 27. Qxa7 {is hopeless.}) 26. Re6 Qd8 27. Qf5+ Nf6 (27... Kg8 28. Rxd6 $1 Qxd6 29. Be6+ {is a simple win.}) 28. d5 $1 {Intensifies pressure on f6 to screaming point. There is nothing to be done.} Kf7 ({After} 28... Qxc8 {, either ook or bishop capture on f6 wins.}) 29. Rxf6+ {The computer finds more immediate ways to win but this is perhaps the way that most appeals to the human brain for its lack of complexity.} gxf6 30. Be6+ Kg7 31. Qg4+ Kf8 32. Qg6 Qe7 33. Bxf6 Qh7 34. Qg4 cxd5 (34... Rg8 {leads to a mopping-up exercise:} 35. Bxg8 Qxg8 36. Qc8+ Kf7 37. Qe6+ Kf8 38. Qxd6+ Kf7 39. Qe6+ {and wins.}) 35. Bxh8 1-0

There was an interesting clash between England’s most successful junior and senior players of the moment on the third board. Youth triumphed over experience in a very tense encounter. This win left Yang-Fan needing a win against a 2380+ opponent in round ten for a ten-round GM norm.

Keith Arkell

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.03"] [Round "9.3"] [White "Zhou, Yang-Fan"] [Black "Arkell, Keith"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B17"] [WhiteElo "2478"] [BlackElo "2461"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4rn2/5pk1/2pbpnp1/4N1Rp/3P3P/P7/1PBB2P1/6K1 b - - 0 37"] [PlyCount "32"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Guildford 2"] [BlackTeam "Cheddleton"] 37... N8h7 $2 ({Black might have been better had he found Hiarcs's sneaky} 37... Nd5 $1 {, threatening ...f7-f6, thus forcing} 38. Rg3 {and now} Nd7 $1 { , exploiting the pin along the h2-b8 diagonal.}) 38. Rg3 Ng4 39. Bf4 c5 40. Nxg6 $1 fxg6 41. Bxd6 cxd4 42. Rb3 $1 {Now White's rook and bishop pair work well together.} e5 43. Rb7+ Kh6 44. Re7 Rc8 45. Rc7 Re8 46. Re7 Rc8 ({ Amusingly, England's most famous rook-handler refuses the exchange of his most treasured piece no fewer than four times on consecutive moves. Of course, the decision was based not on sentiment but hard logic: after} 46... Rxe7 47. Bxe7 {, it seems almost certain that the two bishops will shepherd home one of the queenside passed pawns before the slow-moving knights can emerge from their stables.}) 47. Rc7 Re8 48. b4 {Even with the rooks on, Black has a hard job to stop the pawns.} Nhf6 49. b5 Nd5 (49... Ne3 {changes nothing:} 50. b6 $1 Nxc2 51. b7 $1 {and White wins.}) 50. Rf7 $1 Nf4 51. b6 d3 52. Bxd3 Nxd3 53. b7 1-0

e2e4.org.uk 6½-1½ Barbican 2: perhaps feeling lonely in the Championship section without their first team, Barbican lost by rather a large margin. Their two bottom boards gave them a degree of respectability, with 15-year-old English girl player Naomi Wei winning against Lithuanian-registered but long-time English resident Rasa Norinkeviciute.

Division 1, Championship Pool after Round 9

Wood Green 1 10(32), Guildford 1 10(31½), White Rose 6(20), Cheddleton 5(18½), Grantham Sharks 1 4(18), e2e4.org.uk 3(15), Guildford 2 2(14½), Barbican 2 0(10½).

Division 1, Demotion Pool, Round 9

Grantham Sharks 2 and King’s Head came into the weekend with demotion a virtual certainty, but only Barbican 1 could be entirely confident of not being one of the two teams which joined them on the way down. King’s Head defaulted two boards so that was a head start for 3Cs on their way to a 6½-0 victory. Oxford also defaulted a board and were soundly drubbed by Barbican 1 to the tune of 7-½, one plus factor for Oxford being the draw against GM Turner achieved by Justin Tan on top board, thus keeping him chugging along on his way to a norm. Grantham Sharks 2 turned up with their full complement of players but may as well have stayed at home as they were wiped out 0-8 by Blackthorne Russia, who, in seeking to ensure that they did not drop a division, were significantly strengthened by the inclusion in their side of experienced Russian GM Konstantin Landa.

That meant that the only closely contested match of the round in this pool was Wood Green 2 versus Cambridge University, which ended 4½-3½ in the first-named team’s favour.

Division 1, Demotion Pool after Round 9

Barbican 1 10(29), Wood Green 2 8(24), Oxford 6(18½), 3Cs 6(25), Blackthorne Russia 6(24½), Cambridge University 4(18), Kings Head 0(19½), Grantham Sharks 2 0(9).

– Part two of John Saunders' report will follow soon –

About the author

John Cameron Saunders, 61, graduated in Law and Classics from Cambridge University in the mid-1970s. He has a Welsh father and Scottish mother, hence should be referred to as 'British' rather than 'English'. He claims that his most outstanding achievement was making the lowest score on bottom board for Wales, the country which finished last in the 1997 European Team Championship. In the late 1990s he successfully plotted an escape from a very long term of imprisonment (20 years) as an IT professional, changing career to chess editing and writing. He became the BBC Ceefax teletext service's chess columnist in 1998 and editor/webmaster of 'British Chess Magazine' in 1999. In the past he has been the webmaster for the 4NCL and the English Chess Federation (for whom he also once edited their house magazine 'ChessMoves'). In 2007 he wrote and had published a richly-illustrated hardback book for beginners – "How to Play Winning Chess", ISBN 978-0754817123 – available at an extremely reasonable price from many online stockists. So far he has failed to persuade the manager of his own company's chess shop to stock copies.


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