Final Four Nations League – Final report

by John Saunders
6/21/2014 – The most prestigious team chess event held in the UK came to a conclusion last month. John Saunders looks at the final exciting rounds of the Division 1 demotion pool – along the way he shows us a grandmaster's colourful scoresheet and tells us about an unofficial Varsity match. The report ends with a momentary personal temptation to exit the hotel in Bobby Fischer style.

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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

By John Saunders

We dealt with the major battles of the promotion section last time, but that left the so-called Demotion Pool, where eight teams struggled to avoid the drop to Division Two for the 2014/15 season. Two teams, King's Head and Grantham Sharks 2, were already doomed as the weekend began, but none of the other six were completely safe from finishing in the final relegation place. As we shall see, such was the importance of staying in the top division that some clubs had dug deeply in their pockets to fund the acquisition of strong grandmasters.

Demotion Pool

Wood Green 2 5-3 Barbican 1: the honour of finishing first in this pool went to Wood Green 2, thereby displacing their opponents from the head of the table. There wasn’t a big differential in the ratings of the teams and this was reflected in the fairly close score. Two of the Wood Green side won, with Nick Pert defeating Matthew Turner, while Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez beat Isaac Sanders. Incidentally, the Spanish GM’s colourful scoresheet filling-in caused a flutter of interest when I published a photo of one on social media.

Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez's colourful scoresheet

Blackthorne Russia 4½-3½ 3Cs: as things stood at the close of round 10, all the other teams in the division were either already relegated (the pointless pair King’s Head and Grantham Sharks 2) or else still in with a mathematical chance of going down. It was 3Cs’ misfortune that they met the Russians at the zenith of their playing strength. Even so, they only lost by one point when they really needed both match points to save themselves. My commiserations and good wishes to this well-organised club; I’m sure they will bounce back soon. Konstantin Landa proved a godsend to the Blackthorne club, beating Stephen Gordon and completing 3/3 on the weekend. Danny Gormally and Adam Hunt also provided full points for the side, whilst Alan Walton and Daniel Abbas beat much higher rated opposition for 3Cs. Adam Ashton suffered a lengthy loss to Gormally but his consolation was knowing that he had scored an IM norm as he sat down to play – congratulations to him.

The battle for the Division’s wooden spoon was won by King’s Head, despite conceding yet another default. That brought them their first match points of the season, while Grantham Sharks 2’s fate was to leave with nothing (as Anne Robinson used to say on The Weakest Link). They were a bit unlucky, with their fate turning on a couple of transitions into a king and pawn endgame, which are never easy. Half a point more in either of the games would have reversed the match result.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.1"] [White "Snuverink, Jochem"] [Black "Burrows, Martin P"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C16"] [WhiteElo "2338"] [BlackElo "2168"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/2p2p2/4kP1p/pp1pP3/3P4/P1PP1KRr/8/8 b - - 0 36"] [PlyCount "32"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Kings Head 1"] [BlackTeam "Grantham Sharks 2"] {Black to play - to exchange or not to exchange?} 36... Rh1 $6 ({Not an easy choice, especially a handful of moves before the time control, but he should have gone for it, if only to make subsequent play less complex:} 36... Rxg3+ $1 37. Kxg3 c5 $1 38. dxc5 Kxe5 39. d4+ Kxf6 40. Kf4 {and it leads to a draw, with the black king tied to defending against a c-pawn advance while the white king has to dodge back and forth to keep the f- and h-pawns from promoting.}) 37. Rg8 $1 Rf1+ (37... Rc1 {could still be defensible but} 38. Rc8 $1 Rxc3 $2 39. Kf4 $1 {is a sneaky trick, e.g.} Rxd3 40. Re8+ Kd7 41. Re7+ Kc6 42. e6 $1 { and White wins.}) 38. Ke3 Ra1 (38... h5 $1) 39. Kf4 Rf1+ 40. Ke3 Ra1 41. Rb8 h5 42. Kf4 $1 {Now it's starting to look terminal.} Rf1+ 43. Kg5 Rf5+ 44. Kh4 Rf3 45. Kg5 Rf5+ 46. Kh6 $1 {It looks dangerous to put the king this side of Black's passed pawn but White has calculated accurately.} h4 47. Re8+ Kd7 48. Re7+ Kd8 49. Rxf7 h3 50. Rh7 h2 51. Kg6 Rf2 52. e6 1-0

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.7"] [White "Okike, David C"] [Black "Summerscale, Claire E"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C41"] [WhiteElo "2159"] [BlackElo "1941"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6k1/8/p2p2p1/2pPp2p/Pp2P2P/1P4P1/2PNK3/2b5 b - - 0 43"] [PlyCount "12"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Kings Head 1"] [BlackTeam "Grantham Sharks 2"] {Black to play - capture or not?} 43... Bxd2 $2 ({This time it is better to opt out and play} 43... Kf8 44. Nc4 Ke7 45. Kf3 Kd7 {when it seems unlikely that White could make progress.}) 44. Kxd2 Kf7 45. c3 $1 {By simple Holmesian deduction, you can work out that this is the only move to make progress, and it does.} bxc3+ (45... Ke7 46. cxb4 cxb4 47. Kd3 Kd7 48. Kc4 Kc7 49. Kxb4 Kb6 50. a5+ Kc7 51. Kc4 {and it's simple to see that the b-pawn advances to b5 and eventually the a-pawn will be used as a decoy to win the d- and e-pawns.}) 46. Kxc3 Ke7 47. b4 $1 Kd7 48. bxc5 dxc5 49. Kc4 (49. Kc4 Kd6 50. a5 {and zugzwang consigns Grantham Sharks 2 to the basement.}) 1-0

Oxford 3-5 Cambridge University: the tensest match of the pool was a sort of unofficial Varsity match (though Oxford don’t carry the ‘university’ handle to their name, and the 4NCL very sensibly eschews anachronistic eligibility rules about who can play for which team). Oxford started the day two match points clear of their opponents but a loss would send them into Division 2 on game points and save the Cantab bacon. When I went to watch the match, it getting towards the sixth hour of play and boards 4-6 were still in progress and the match all square at 2½-2½. Long before, first blood had gone to Oxford when Justin Tan won and clinched his IM norm (actually I think he did it with a point to spare, but of course the point was vital to his team).

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.3"] [White "Tan, Justin"] [Black "Pinter, Gabor"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B42"] [WhiteElo "2363"] [BlackElo "2353"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "37"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Oxford 1"] [BlackTeam "Cambridge University 1"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Nc6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. O-O d5 8. Nd2 Nf6 9. b3 Be7 10. Bb2 O-O 11. Qf3 Bb7 12. Rae1 Qa5 {Forking the knight and a-pawn.} 13. Re2 Qxa2 $2 ({Too greedy.} 13... h6 14. e5 Nh7 {doesn't look too bad.}) 14. Bc3 Qa3 {Black has to expend another tempo on a queen move because of the threat of Ra1 winning the queen.} 15. e5 Ne4 $2 ({An attempt to blunt the effect of White's light-squared bishop but it only succeeds in making things much worse. Black should sweat it out with} 15... Ne8 {when} 16. Ra1 Qc5 17. Ra4 {is perhaps not as scary as it looks.}) 16. Bxe4 (16. Rxe4 dxe4 17. Nxe4 {also wins.}) 16... dxe4 17. Nxe4 Bd8 ({A desperate throw such as} 17... f5 {loses to} 18. exf6 gxf6 19. Qg4+ {and a routine attack}) (17... Rad8 {at least has the merit of setting a cheapo but} 18. Re3 (18. Ra1 $4 Qxa1+ 19. Bxa1 Rd1+ {and mate next move}) 18... Qa2 19. Qe2 {completes the encirclement of the black queen.}) 18. Rd2 (18. Nd6 Rb8 19. Qe3 {is another way to trap the queen}) ({while} 18. Ra1 Qe7 19. Nf6+ $1 {wins much as in the game.}) 18... Qe7 19. Nf6+ $1 (19. Nf6+ Kh8 20. Qh5 h6 (20... gxf6 21. exf6 Qe8 22. Rd4 { followed by Rh4 and Qxh7 mate}) 21. Rd7 Qc5 22. Rxf7 {wins.}) 1-0

But thereafter things swung back in Cambridge’s favour, with Karl Mah beating David Zakarian and the last three games to finish being won 2½-½ by the Light Blues. The Eckersley-Waites twins were playing on opposite sides, with the impressively-named French FM Guillaume Camus de Solliers playing an existentialist endgame to beat Tom of Oxford (though careful not to allow him any outsider passed pawns), while Adam the Cantab twin drew an arid minor piece endgame. Dickenson-Bisby was the key game of the match, with both players having chances but the Cambridge finally imposing himself. But there was a curious and well-hidden opportunity for the Oxford man which went begging not far from the end.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.05"] [Round "11.4"] [White "Dickenson, Neil F"] [Black "Bisby, Daniel L"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E90"] [WhiteElo "2306"] [BlackElo "2310"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1qr1n2k/3b3p/Q4p1P/3Pp1p1/pPNbP1P1/6R1/N3BP2/4K3 w - - 0 45"] [PlyCount "16"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Oxford 1"] [BlackTeam "Cambridge University 1"] {Though White is a pawn up, Black might consider he has adequate compensation. But has he?} 45. Na3 $2 ({It's not easy to spot but the computer identifies} 45. Rf3 $1 {as a real chance to win. The threat is simply to take on f6 with the rook and there is no obvious defence.} Kg8 ({After} 45... Bxg4 $4 46. Rxf6 {wins instantly}) 46. Rxf6 Qb5 (46... Bb5 {allows mate in two after} 47. Qe6+) 47. Rg6+ $1 hxg6 48. Qxg6+ Kh8 49. h7 Ng7 50. Nd6 Be8 51. Bxb5 Bxg6 {... OK, a horrendous line for a human to calculate but technically a missed chance.}) 45... Nd6 46. Rf3 {Now it's not so effective.} Rf8 47. Nc4 Nxe4 48. Bd3 $2 ({ Now Black finds a neat tactic to win.} 48. Ne3 {, to block the g1-a7 diagonal, was needed.}) 48... Nxf2 $1 49. Rxf2 e4 $3 {A killer move, opening the b8-h2 diagonal for a queen invasion whilst at the same time providing another defender for f6.} 50. Rg2 exd3 51. Qd6 Qe8+ 52. Kd2 (52. Kd1 Bxg4+ 53. Kd2 Bf3 54. Rh2 Bg1 {is one way to win.}) 52... Bb5 $1 {Ensuring a queen invasion on either e2 or e3.} 0-1

Division 1, Demotion Pool, Final Scores

Title Norms

James Adair and Peter Roberson, both England, scored final IM norms and already achieved their rating threshold, so they should get their titles at the next FIDE meeting. Other IM norms: Alberto Suarez Real (Spain), Sue Maroroa (England – also a WGM norm), Adam Ashton (England), Justin Tan (Australia). Hope I haven’t missed anyone out – and, remember, this is subject to official confirmation.

Division 2, Championship Pool, Final Table

This was about as tight a competition as can be imagined, with seven teams still in with a shout of promotion as they sat down to play the final round. The first four named are promoted to next year’s Division 1, with the tie-split for third and fourth places based on the game points over the whole season (rather than just the final pool). Commiserations to the four teams who missed out, all of whom could point to the odd extra half a point here or there that might have seen them promoted.

Division 2, Demotion Pool, Final Table

Another very tight finish, and West Country club Brown Jack will probably be a deep shade of blue after being demoted on account of a second tie-breaker (fewer points over the entire season). The top four live to fight again in Division 2, while the other four drop into the vast expanses of Division 3.

Division 3, Top Four Placings


If you’re still with me, 8,000 words on from my preamble, you’ll recall I had a spot of bother registering at the hotel on the first day. There was a minor hassle on the way out, too, as the hotel presented me with a bill for twice the 4NCL discount rate. Actually, it was 100% more than I was expecting as a bill for a lesser amount should have gone directly to the league’s man with the cheque book. Tempted though I was to re-enact a scene from Fischer’s notorious exit from the 1967 Sousse Interzonal (tearing up the bill for extras that the hotel unwisely presented to him), I passed this on to our genial tournament director who has no doubt sorted the problem out in his usual unflustered and efficient manner.

I think that’s it from me this year. Lastly, I must thank all the league officials who were unfailingly helpful to me and made my time in the back room an enjoyable one.


You can use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs to replay the games in PGN. You can also download our free Playchess client, which will in addition give you immediate access to the chess server

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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