Final Four Nations League Weekend – Part two

by John Saunders
5/30/2014 – This tournament, held over three divisions, with over 850 players and over £10,000 in cash prizes on offer, 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. In his inimitable style – wonderful narrative, interesting analysis – John Saunders reports on the final weekend. 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).

Read the first part of this report on the 4NCL final weekend. We continue with part two...

Round ten

Division 1, Championship Pool: Keeping Up With the Joneses

Once again, all eyes were on the game points of the two big battalions, with Wood Green 1 still holding a minimal half (game) point lead at the start of the round. The Wood Green side, with fire on board two in the shape of Alexei Shirov, faced a Cheddleton side with three GMs and an average rating of 2418, while Guildford 1, now equipped with stylish, go-faster stripes on the top board in the shape of French GM va-va-Vachier-Lagrave, would probably hope to score more points against an line-up averaging 2288 and with just the one GM.

Cheddleton 1½-6½ Wood Green 1: there were no full-point accidents this time but Wood Green conceded three draws to their opponents, with Jonathan Hawkins, now out of the norm hunt, holding Mickey Adams to a draw on top board. Alexei Shirov against English firebrand Simon Williams was a mouth-watering prospect and did not disappoint. After the game I was able to quench the fire on board by buying Alexei a pint of beer. He opted for Carlsberg but, when he saw my delicious pint of Tetley’s, rather wished he’d gone for that instead. It was perhaps his one false move of the afternoon.

Alexei Shirov (right, Wood Green 1) v Simon Williams (left, Cheddleton)

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.2"] [White "Shirov, Alexei"] [Black "Williams, Simon"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2702"] [BlackElo "2463"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Wood Green 1"] [BlackTeam "Cheddleton"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. Be2 Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. g4 $5 {The first major game in which this aggressive advance was played here was Shirov-Kasparov, Linares 2001, which ended in a draw. Nigel Short has also played it a few times.} b5 ({Kasparov played} 9... d5 {in this position.}) 10. g5 Nfd7 11. a3 Bb7 12. Rg1 Nc6 (12... Nc5 13. f5 Kh8 14. Bd3 Nc6 15. Qh5 g6 {was played in the Reykjavik rapidplay game Short-Kasparov in 2004, which Black won, but White got a very promising attack along the way.}) 13. f5 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 d5 15. fxe6 fxe6 (15... Bc5 $5 {looks tempting but it's always easy sacrificing other people's pawns. Even so,} 16. exf7+ Rxf7 17. Qd2 Qb6 {looks better than the game for Black.}) 16. exd5 Bc5 17. Qd2 Qb6 18. Bxc5 Nxc5 (18... Qxc5 19. O-O-O exd5 20. Nxd5 {just looks like Black is a pawn down for not very much.}) 19. O-O-O Rad8 (19... exd5 20. Nxd5 Qe6 21. Bg4 {also seems better for White.}) 20. b4 Bxd5 $5 ({Black, typically, opts for active defence via a sacrifice. If} 20... Na4 21. Nxa4 bxa4 22. d6 {leads to a solid advantage for White.}) 21. bxc5 Qxc5 22. Nxd5 Rxd5 (22... Qxa3+ 23. Kb1 Rxd5 24. Bd3 {transposes.}) 23. Bd3 Qxa3+ 24. Kb1 Rc8 (24... Rd4 {would be a great move but for the annoying} 25. Bxh7+ {, picking up the rook.}) 25. Qe1 Qd6 26. Bxh7+ $5 {Interesting: computers opt to grind out a win with the extra bishop for pawns, but Shirov prefers to give back the piece for the pawns and a powerful initiative.} Kxh7 27. Rxd5 Qxd5 28. g6+ Kg8 29. Qh4 Rc4 ({After} 29... Qd2 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Qh8+ Ke7 32. Qxg7+ Kd6 33. Qb2 {, White is probably winning eventually, though it's not easy.}) 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Qh8+ Ke7 32. Qxg7+ Kd6 33. Qf8+ Kc7 34. g7 Qd4 $1 {Making White's task as hard as possible.} 35. Qe7+ Kb6 36. g8=Q Rb4+ 37. Qxb4 {Forced, otherwise it is mate in two.} Qxb4+ 38. Kc1 Qf4+ 39. Kd1 Qf3+ 40. Kd2 Qf2+ (40... Qf4+ {makes things a little harder.}) 41. Kc3 Qe3+ 42. Kb2 Qd4+ 43. c3 Qd2+ 44. Kb3 Qd5+ 45. Kc2 Qa2+ 46. Kc1 Qa3+ 47. Kd2 (47. Kd2 {The checks run dry after} Qd6+ 48. Ke1 Qe5+ 49. Kd1 Qd6+ 50. Kc2 Qxh2+ 51. Rg2 {, etc.}) 1-0

Guildford 1 8-0 with the score at 5-0 and three games left, Guildford 1 needed 2½/3 to ensure their game points tally put them ahead of Wood Green, thus providing them with draw odds for the final round. They went one (or rather, one half) better, scoring 3/3, with MVL beating Stuart Conquest, Antoaneta Stefanova winning against Rasa Norinkeviciute and Matthew Sadler outwitting Iliyan Mladenov in a tricky encounter.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.113"] [White "Jones, Gawain CB"] [Black "Fernandez, Daniel H"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2650"] [BlackElo "2380"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Guildford 1"] [BlackTeam " 1"] 1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 a6 4. h4 b5 ({Most practitioners of this offbeat Modern Defence line opt to stop White's pawn advance with} 4... h5 {here, as played by Simon Ansell against Gawain Jones's wife Sue Maroroa in Bunratty a couple of years ago.}) 5. h5 Bb7 6. Bg5 d6 ({If} 6... h6 {, White has time for} 7. hxg6 {, the point being that} hxg5 $2 {loses to} 8. Rxh8 Bxh8 9. Qh5 $1 {, regaining the piece with interest.}) 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. a4 b4 9. Nd5 Ngf6 ({At first glance, it's not obvious why Black can't play} 9... Bxd5 10. exd5 Nb6 { but after} 11. Qd3 Nxd5 12. Qc4 Nb6 13. Qxb4 {, White regains his pawn with a positional edge.}) 10. h6 Bf8 11. Bxf6 Nxf6 12. Nxf6+ exf6 13. d5 Be7 {Black has two bishops but they are currently blocked behind pawns, so White stands slightly better. However, the light-squared bishop soon gets into the game.} 14. Qd4 c5 15. dxc6 Bxc6 16. Bc4 O-O 17. a5 Qc7 18. O-O Bd7 19. Qd3 Qc5 ({It looks better to play} 19... Rfc8 $5 {first as} 20. Bxa6 Qxc2 {equalises. Instead of capturing on a6, White could support the bishop with 20.b3 but it doesn't look like much of an advantage.}) 20. Rfd1 f5 ({Black can still consider} 20... Rfc8 $5 {. White could now capture the a6 pawn with impunity,} 21. Bxa6 {, but after} Rc7 $1 {Black has some play for the pawn.}) 21. e5 $1 { After this, White seems to get the edge.} Bc6 22. exd6 Bf6 23. Bxa6 Be4 (23... Bxf3 24. gxf3 Bxb2 25. Ra2 Bf6 26. Qb5 {gives White a viable material advantage }) (23... Bxb2 24. Ra2 Ba3 25. Bc4 Be4 26. Qe2 {is also good for White.}) 24. Qc4 Qa7 25. Bb5 Rfc8 26. Qxb4 Bxf3 27. gxf3 Rxc2 28. Rd2 Bc3 $2 ({It's tempting to try this tactic but sadly for Black it loses by force. Instead,} 28... Qc5 29. Qxc5 Rxc5 {and now it's interesting to see what the computer finds -} 30. Ba6 $3 {- which I would be surprised if any human would venture in practical play, all the way up to Carlsen and Kasparov. I leave the reader to look in wonder upon it.}) 29. Qxc3 $1 Rxc3 30. bxc3 {Now it's just Space Invaders, with the black queen and rook vainly trying to beat off the advancing pawns.} Qb7 31. Bf1 Rd8 (31... Qd7 {puts off the evil hour but can't save Black.}) 32. a6 Qxf3 33. a7 1-0

Barbican 2 3½-4½ White Rose: this was a significant match for White Rose as it secured them third place in the league with a round to spare. Well done to them. Once again, they owed much to Sue Maroroa, who beat Natasha Regan on bottom board with a finish which was not unlike that of her husband in an adjoining room. I asked her about this but Sue was oblivious to her husband’s rooks versus queen denouement, so it was just a coincidence. Jim Plaskett has been informed.

Sue Maroroa (right, White Rose) v Natasha Regan (left, Barbican 2)

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.148"] [White "Maroroa, Sue Y"] [Black "Regan, Natasha K"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2131"] [BlackElo "2057"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "k1r4r/ppQ4p/q2PP1p1/8/4Nb2/P4P2/1P5P/1K1R3R w - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "15"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "White Rose 1"] [BlackTeam "Barbican 4NCL 2"] 26. Qxc8+ $1 {Other moves also win but sacrificing a queen is a more attractive proposition here.} Rxc8 27. d7 Qxe6 28. d8=Q Rxd8 29. Rxd8+ Bb8 30. Rc1 $1 a5 31. Rcc8 Qh3 32. Rxb8+ Ka7 33. Nd6 $1 1-0

Grantham Sharks 1 2-6 Guildford 2: the extra firepower in the Guildford first team trickled down to Guildford 2, and Mark Hebden bounced back from his round nine loss to beat Sam Williams. Alberto Suarez Real took a giant stride towards his IM norm with a quick draw against Tom Rendle, the latter being happy to take the day off after suffering an Adams grind in round nine. I noticed afterwards that Aussie GM Dave Smerdon was having a good-natured whinge on Facebook about being allocated three Blacks over the weekend but he seemed to do pretty well as an All-Black, drawing very effectively with Simon Williams.

But there was a real calamity for Yang-Fan Zhou, whose GM norm chances waxed and waned a number of times in a game of four halves (I was never mathematically inclined). In the end he lost and the opportunity evaporated. However, the cloud had a silver lining as his opponent, Peter Roberson, had his own IM norm chances suitably enhanced. He showed good technique to finish the game off.

Yang-Fan Zhou (right, Guildford 2) v Peter Roberson (left, Grantham Sharks)

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.134"] [White "Zhou, Yang-Fan"] [Black "Roberson, Peter T"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2478"] [BlackElo "2395"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6k1/6p1/2n1p3/P5q1/1Q2P2p/8/1PPNr3/1K1R4 w - - 0 35"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "Guildford 2"] [BlackTeam "Grantham Sharks 1"] 35. Qc4 $2 ({One of those 'what if' moments. Had White played} 35. Qd6 $1 {, he might well have gone on to a GM norm. The a-pawn cannot be taken:} Nxa5 36. Qxe6+ Kh7 37. Nf3 $1 {and the queen doesn't have any good squares.}) 35... Rxd2 $1 36. Rxd2 Qxd2 37. Qxc6 (37. Qxe6+ {seems more natural but} Kh7 38. Qxc6 Qe1+ 39. Ka2 Qxa5+ 40. Kb1 h3 {also looks bleak.}) 37... Qe1+ 38. Ka2 Qxa5+ 39. Kb1 Qe5 $1 {Defending e6 and also shielding the advance of the h-pawn. It takes time but now everything is flowing in Black's direction.} 40. Qd7 Kh7 41. Qd3 Qg3 42. Qd1 Kg6 43. Qd7 Qg4 44. b4 h3 45. Qd6 Kh7 46. Qe5 Qh4 47. Qh2 g5 48. Ka2 Kg6 49. b5 Qxe4 50. Qxh3 Qa4+ 51. Kb2 Qxb5+ 52. Kc1 Qc4 53. Kd2 Qd4+ 54. Ke2 Qe4+ 55. Kd2 g4 56. Qh4 Qf4+ 57. Ke2 Qf3+ 58. Kd2 g3 59. Qh8 Qf2+ 60. Kd3 Qf3+ 61. Kd2 Qd5+ 0-1

Division 1, Championship Pool after Round 10
Guildford 1 12(39½), Wood Green 1 12(38½), White Rose 8(24½), Cheddleton 5(20), Guildford 2 4(20½), Grantham Sharks 1 4(20), 3(15), Barbican 2 0(14).

Division 1, Demotion Pool

Barbican 1 2-6 Blackthorne Russia: Barbican 1 had been leaders with a 100% score to date but their lead was cut to game points over Wood Green 2 after their heavy defeat at the hands of super-charged relegation-dodgers Blackthorne Russia, with their genuine Russian GM on board one beating Matthew Turner. Other full points were delivered by Andrew Ledger, Simon Ansell and Richard Bates.

3Cs 3½-4½ Wood Green 2: Wood Green 2 moved closer to the top of the division but 3Cs’s relegation worries became more serious after this nail-biting result. Stephen Gordon seemed to be pressing against Jon Speelman and may have let him off the hook at one point. Another 3Cs man, Adam Ashton, might have been better against Richard Pert but couldn’t convert. As compensation, 3Cs could look to Sophie Milliet’s somewhat fortunate point against Andrew Greet.

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.183"] [White "Milliet, Sophie"] [Black "Greet, Andrew N"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C14"] [WhiteElo "2390"] [BlackElo "2435"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2q1rr1k/1pp1n2p/2n1p1pP/p1QpP1N1/P2P1P2/3P2N1/1P6/1KR2R2 w - - 0 33"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "3Cs 1"] [BlackTeam "Wood Green HK 2"] {A long manoeuvring game led to this situation, which can best be described as 'unclear':} 33. f5 $5 {Jettisoning her backward pawn and hoping for a breakthrough.} Nxf5 34. Nxf5 {Now Black has three ways to recapture, but he chooses far and away the worst.} Rxf5 $4 (34... exf5 $2 35. Qxd5 {wouldn't be great either, it has to be said}) (34... gxf5 {leaves the g-file looking a bit breezy but there appears to be no tactical means of exploiting it. Black would have an extra pawn and, more importantly, a rook on f8 to stop the white knight monkeying about on f7.}) 35. Rxf5 gxf5 (35... exf5 36. Qxd5 {is also terminal.}) 36. Nf7+ $1 Kg8 37. Rg1+ $1 Kxf7 38. Rg7# 1-0

Jovanka Houska produced a brutal finish involving two knights.

Jovanka Houska (right, Wood Green 2) alongside team colleague and Scottish GM John Shaw

[Event "4NCL Division 1"] [Site "Hinckley Island"] [Date "2014.05.04"] [Round "10.185"] [White "Qiu, Tong"] [Black "Houska, Jovanka"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2307"] [BlackElo "2410"] [Annotator "Saunders,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2r2k1/1q3pp1/2p2b1p/2nn1N1P/1pQ2PP1/pP6/P3N3/1KB2R1R b - - 0 32"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "2014.05.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [WhiteTeam "3Cs 1"] [BlackTeam "Wood Green HK 2"] 32... Ne4 $1 33. Kc2 (33. Qxe4 Re8 34. Qc4 Rxe2 $1 {regains the piece and effects a powerful breakthrough.}) 33... Ndc3 34. g5 {There's nothing better.} Qd7 35. Ne3 (35. Nxc3 Nxc3 36. Nh4 {keeps the game going but it's pretty hopeless anyway.}) 35... Qd2+ $1 36. Bxd2 Rxd2+ 37. Kc1 Nxe2+ 38. Qxe2 (38. Kb1 Rb2+ 39. Ka1 N4c3 {takes a bit longer but is still mate.}) 38... Bb2+ (38... Bb2+ 39. Kb1 Nc3# {mate.}) 0-1

Grantham Sharks 2 3½-4½ Oxford: Grantham Sharks 2 came close to scoring their first match point of the season but it wasn’t to be as three of Oxford’s higher boards scored wins to put them two points ahead of the demotion places but still not safe. In truth, Oxford might have won by a more comfortable had Zoe Varney not spoilt a clear win against Claire Summerscale.

Cambridge University 1 6½-1½ King’s Head: the London pub team was also still seeking its first match point of the season after being beaten comfortably by Cambridge University 1. Despite the win, the university still found itself in the demotion zone going into their final match.

Division 1, Demotion Pool after Round 10
Barbican 1 10(31), Wood Green 2 10(28½), Blackthorne Russia 8(30½), Oxford 8(23), 3Cs 6(28½), Cambridge University 6(24½), Kings Head 0(11), Grantham Sharks 2 0(12½).

The prelude to the final round: dressed to kill

Whilst walking round the venue towards the end of Round 10 on the Sunday, I was surprised to come across the Guildford team manager, Roger Emerson, dressed in a Japanese kimono and carrying a samurai sword. Seeing me carrying my camera, he invited me to an impromptu photo session in a room upstairs from the main corridor.

Samurai warrior Roger Emerson

Thus it was I found myself in a large conference room, alone with a man carrying a dangerous weapon which he proceeded to draw from its scabbard. Had he been captain of the relentlessly unsuccessful Grantham 2 or King’s Head teams, still pointless after ten rounds of chess, I might have expected him to perform hara-kiri: a ritual Japanese suicide by disembowelment. However, this was clearly not the time for the highly successful Guildford captain to do so (a loss to Wood Green on the following day would be the appropriate time in his case). Roger must have seen my look of alarm so reassured me: “don’t worry, it’s completely blunt.”

The reason Roger was dressing up was his forthcoming address to his Guildford troops at a private dinner on the night before the show-down with Wood Green 1. I didn’t attend this dinner and am not privy to all of its secrets, but events the next day seem to indicate that it was every bit as successful as Henry V’s rallying of his troops before Agincourt. (Perhaps not the most apt parallel since two of Roger’s warriors were Frenchmen, but you get my drift.) Next day Roger explained to Malcolm Pein and me that he showed his players the film ‘Yojimbo’, directed by Kurosawa. I’m not familiar with that movie but apparently ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ was a westernised remake of it – which, in a roundabout way, hints at a more plausible motivation for his team’s performance on the morrow.

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



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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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