Final Four Nations League Weekend – Part three

by John Saunders
6/3/2014 – Over 850 players and £10,000 in cash prizes make this 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. In the third (of four) reports John Saunders shows us two games, one an adventurous display of counterattacking chess, one a game that baffles chess engines. Learn and enjoy.

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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 John Saunders

Round 11 (Final) Championship Pool

So the denouement, and the showdown between the holders Guildford 1 and Wood Green 1. The one personnel change to the two line-ups subsequent to round ten was the inclusion of Luke McShane in the Wood Green team in place of Nick Pert, with some adjustments made to board order. Guildford’s average rating was 2656 and Wood Green’s 2647, with Guildford players out-rating their opponents on five of the eight boards (by as much as 61 points in the case of Giri and McShane). Remember also that a 4-4 draw would be good enough for Guildford to take the championship on tie-break. Nine nations were represented amongst the 16 GMs on both sides: there were six Englishmen, two Frenchmen, two Dutchmen, one player from each of the Czech Republic, Scotland, Norway and Latvia, plus women players from Bulgaria and Sweden.

Wood Green 1 2-6 Guildford 1: the scoreline suggests an overwhelming win for the champions but it did look fairly close – maybe even better for Wood Green – about halfway into the first session. Rapidly improving French GM Romain Edouard set the tone for his team with an adventurous display of counterattacking chess against Jon-Ludvig Hammer.

Jon Ludvig Hammer (Wood Green 1) and Romain Edouard (Guildford 1)

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.5"] [White "Hammer, Jon Ludvig"] [Black "Edouard, Romain"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D20"] [WhiteElo "2647"] [BlackElo "2670"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Wood Green 1"] [BlackTeam "Guildford 1"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 {Jon Ludvig also has to have some credit for playing enterprising chess. This is often the precursor to some fisticuffs.} b5 {Now it's a real gambit.} 4. a4 c6 5. axb5 cxb5 6. Nc3 {On his Facebook page, Roger Emerson set this position as a puzzle for his readers (knowing full well that Romain Edouard and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would see it and proceed to tease each other). He posed the question: "how should Black defend his b-pawn?" MVL shot back an answer: "Black's position is hopeless no matter what. But let's say there is only one move giving some practical chances." Romain Edouard retorted: "Too deep for you, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave #NoCreativityAround".} a6 $5 ({Sokolov played} 6... Bd7 {against Ponomariov in 2007 but eventually lost. The text move only pretends to defend the b5 pawn.}) 7. Nxb5 axb5 ({Black gives up the exchange. A few people have tried} 7... Bb7 {but most of them have lost as White will soon be a pawn up.}) 8. Rxa8 Bb7 9. Ra1 e6 10. Be2 ({ Defending the e4 pawn with} 10. f3 {seems logical but perhaps White was worried it would cramp his kingside development, or expose him to threats from a queen and bishop battery on the h2-b8 diagonal.}) 10... Nf6 11. Nf3 Nxe4 12. O-O Qd5 13. Ne1 ({Perhaps White's needs to react a bit quicker here with} 13. b3 $5 {, when} Nc3 {may be answered by} 14. bxc4 {, etc.}) 13... Nc6 14. Nc2 ( 14. Be3 Bd6 15. Bf3 O-O 16. g3 f5 {was played in Genzling-Donchenko in France last March and also won by Black.}) 14... Bd6 15. Bf3 Bb8 16. Re1 f5 17. Bxe4 fxe4 18. Qg4 O-O 19. Qxe4 Qxe4 20. Rxe4 e5 21. dxe5 Bxe5 {White has done a pretty good job of liquidating down to a position where his exchange should be worth its true value but he now misses his best shot.} 22. Rb1 (22. Re1 $1 {, with the idea of transferring the rook to the open d-file, is better. If} Rd8 { , White can play} 23. Bg5 {with gain of tempo and then defend the b2-pawn next move.}) 22... Bf6 23. Re2 Bc8 24. b3 Bg4 $1 25. Kf1 $2 ({White seems to have been bluffed out of playing the natural} 25. f3 {, which is better than the text. Then} Bf5 26. Be3 Bd3 (26... Nb4 27. Nxb4 Bxb1 28. bxc4 bxc4 29. Nd5 c3 30. Bc5 Rc8 31. Nxf6+ gxf6 32. Ba3 {looks tenable for White}) 27. Rd2 Re8 { could pose a few problems for White but should ultimately be tenable.}) 25... c3 26. Be3 Ra8 $5 {Not wanting to release the pressure by taking on e2.} 27. Bc5 (27. f3 Bf5 28. Rd1 {is OK according to computers but looks a little hard to defend for a human.}) 27... Ra2 28. f3 $2 ({When White finally plays the move it turns out to be a blunder. Instead} 28. Re8+ Kf7 29. Rf8+ Kg6 30. Rc1 { seems to be safe enough, in the short term anyway.}) 28... Bf5 29. Rc1 Bd3 30. b4 ({Moves such as} 30. Kf2 {lose to} Bxe2 31. Kxe2 Na5 $1 {when the threat of Nxb3 forking rook and bishop is decisive.}) 30... Bg5 $1 {The cluster of pins and overloaded defences spells doom for White.} 0-1

Jones-Laznicka was a very interesting game and a good example of why you shouldn’t always put your faith in digital engines. Fortunately for me, I had one of the all-time great organic engines at my disposal at an important juncture during the game. Speelman version 1 (a.k.a. Spess or Speelwolf), sitting close to my left elbow and looking over my shoulder at the game on my laptop, took nanoseconds to assess Gawain’s position as close to winning at a stage when his electronic rivals still seemed to think Black was either OK or even better.

Foreground: Gawain Jones (right, Guildford 1) v Viktor Laznicka (Wood Green 1)

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.4"] [White "Jones, Gawain"] [Black "Laznicka, Viktor"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2650"] [BlackElo "2673"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Guildford 1"] [BlackTeam "Wood Green 1"] [WhiteClock "0:20:48"] [BlackClock "0:00:32"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nd7 7. h4 h6 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bd2 Ngf6 12. O-O-O Be7 13. Kb1 O-O 14. Ne4 c5 15. g4 {Poignantly, this aggressive thrust was first played at the top level by the late, great Vugar Gashimov back in 2002. It's become very fashionable in recent years and is of course very sharp.} Nxg4 16. Qe2 Qb6 17. Ne5 ({In last year's Indian Championship, Parimarjan Negi tried} 17. Nh4 f5 18. Ng6 Rf7 19. f3 fxe4 20. fxg4 {against Thejkumar. The game ended in a draw. Otherwise, players have nearly always opted for the text.}) 17... Ndxe5 (17... Ngxe5 {has seen three white wins out of three after} 18. dxe5 Nxe5 19. Rhg1 {and the kingside attack proves too formidable.}) 18. dxe5 f5 19. Nc3 $5 ({New move. The four previous GM games to reach this position continued} 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. Rdg1 Nxe4 21. Qxe4 Bf6 {when Black was in the game.}) 19... Qa6 {Black is obliged to offer this queen exchange as otherwise White plays f3 and the knight is embarrassed.} 20. Nb5 {White offers a second pawn to be rid of the black knight and open up the g-file to heavy piece play.} Nxf2 (20... Nxe5 {is the only alternative but then} 21. Qxe5 Qxb5 22. Bxh6 $1 {. Although Black can hang in there with} Bf6 $1 23. Qxe6+ Kh8 24. Bc1 Rae8 25. Qd6 Rd8 26. Qg3 Rxd1 27. Rxd1 {, White still has a solid plus.}) 21. Qxf2 Qxb5 22. Qg3 $1 (22. Rhg1 {runs into} f4 $1 {and a secure blocking square for the bishop on g5.}) 22... Kh8 ({The Speelman v1 engine was now in full flow and suggested something like } 22... Rad8 23. Rdg1 g5 $1 24. hxg6 Rxd2 25. Rxh6 Rfd8 26. Rh8+ Kg7 $1 27. Rh7+ Kg8 {, which seems to hold, but he was dismissive of the move played.}) 23. Rhg1 Rf7 24. Qg6 Qe8 25. Bf4 (25. Qxe6 $2 {allows Black to relieve the siege with} Bg5 $1 {, securing the better game.}) 25... Bf8 26. Bxh6 Rd7 27. Rxd7 (27. Qxe8 Rxd1+ 28. Rxd1 Rxe8 29. Bf4 Kh7 {gets Black out of gaol.}) 27... Qxd7 28. Bg5 Qe8 {Else 29.h6 is strong.} 29. c4 $1 {A subtle move, further cramping Black's position, particularly the bishop, which is trapped behind the c5-pawn. Hereabouts, Jon Speelman was talking in terms of this being close to winning for White, while engines give it as equal.} a6 (29... Qxg6 30. hxg6 {is similar to the game, with the white rook able to progress to d7 without impediment and Black unable to get his pieces to active posts.}) 30. Rd1 b5 31. Qxe8 Rxe8 32. Rd7 {Engines still tend to say 'equal' here, or 'slightly better for White' once given a bit more time, perhaps balancing White's pawn minus against his superior piece configuration, but it's much more serious than that for Black. The organic engine at my elbow was now firmly in the 'win for White' camp, though as a Wood Green player he was hoping he was wrong.} bxc4 33. Kc2 Ra8 {Black was now down to 8 minutes, while White still had 48 minutes at his disposal.} 34. a4 Kg8 35. Rb7 f4 ({I shouldn't be too dismissive of digital engines as they come up with ingenious ideas in apparently dead positions. Here Hiarcs suggests} 35... c3 $5 36. Kxc3 c4 $5 {to give the bishop a bit of breathing space. But that wouldn't end the torture, of course. Instead Black tries to break out with his rook.}) 36. Bxf4 Rd8 37. a5 Rd4 38. Bd2 Rh4 39. Rb6 Rxh5 40. Rxa6 g5 (40... Rxe5 41. Ra8 Rf5 42. a6 Rf7 43. a7 Kh7 44. Kc3 {takes slightly longer but Black's position is still hopeless. The bishop can't move because of Rh8+ and a8Q.}) 41. Rxe6 g4 42. a6 Rh1 43. Re8 c3 44. Kxc3 Rh7 45. e6 g3 1-0

Of the six English players involved in the match, Gawain Jones was the only one to record a win. Nigel Short and David Howell played out a tense draw, with the older player pressing a little harder for much of its duration. Luke McShane was perhaps Wood Green’s best hope of a win but his edge gradually dissipated and was turned round completely by Anish Giri. Mickey Adams was also ground down by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is becoming stronger and stronger all the time, comparable to a young Adams, or Petrosian in his prime. The other games were drawn, leaving Guildford the winners by a comfortable margin.

Congratulations are due to Guildford and their genial manager, Roger Emerson, who clearly engenders a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in his squad, and in this way he is not unlike his Wood Green rival, the equally affable Brian Smith. One of the pleasures of a 4NCL weekend is to chat with team managers and captains, and this is perhaps a good time to pass on my thanks to all of them for helpfully answering my questions and feeding me stories and info. The league appears to be in rude health and much of this is down to the enthusiasts who give so much time to running teams.

White Rose 4-4 Grantham Sharks 1: not too much was at stake here, with White Rose having wrapped up third place in the penultimate round, and Grantham just playing for the honour of finishing fifth or sixth. Having said that, there was a tangible achievement in the match, with James Adair winning a game against Tom Rendle, thereby completing his requirements for the IM title (subject to confirmation, as the officials always insist on me adding). Very well done to him. 1-6½ Cheddleton: the latter team finished a creditable fourth in the table after a comfortable victory over Sean Hewitt’s domain name club, who defaulted a board.

Guildford 2 6-2 Barbican 2: the Guildford side had the third highest rating average on the day and cruised to a big win. Alberto Suarez Real completed his requirements for an IM norm with a smooth victory over Jonathan Rogers (he obviously likes playing Jonathans, having defeated Jonathan Hawkins in round 9).

Division 1, Championship Pool, Final Scores

– Part four (final) of John Saunders' report will follow soon –


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Topics 4NCL

In 1999 John Saunders gave up his job as an IT professional to become full-time editor/webmaster of 'British Chess Magazine'. During the 2000s he was also webmaster and magazine editor for the English Chess Federation, and regular webmaster and photo-reporter at Isle of Man and Gibraltar tournaments. In 2010 he became editor of the leading UK monthly 'CHESS' Magazine, retiring in 2012 but remaining its associate editor and regular contributor.
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