This match started in a farcical manner: at 7:30 both teams were present, but we didn’t have any boards, sets or clocks. Our temporary venue won’t let us store equipment there, and some crossed wires meant that the person meant to be bringing everything didn’t arrive. Luckily our opponents very kindly offered to get some of their equipment to allow the match to go ahead. We are very grateful to them for that. It meant we started a bit late, and that Clifton players had reduced time, but that was far better than either defaulting or rescheduling the match.
With less time for my game I didn’t see as much of the others as usual. What I did see was clear, the students were generally outplaying us.
I certainly didn’t see much of John’s game, for when I first looked he was already getting mated. Ouch. To counter that, I thought David was doing well early on, and he might have been able to come out ahead from a tactical skirmish, but the way it went left them in a fairly level endgame. Despite them playing on for a while nothing much happened, and a draw was duly agreed.
Dunc and Victor had an interesting game, entering an endgame that I found very difficult to assess. It looked like they were both trying to win, which is always fun for the spectators. Dunc had bishop against knight, but it was the pawn imbalances that made it interesting – Victor had a central mass while Dunc was pushing on the queenside. Dunc eventually broke through, although I missed exactly how.
Mark and James started off looking like two people who had only just learnt the moves, with both queens roving about before any other pieces had been developed. No doubt it was that thing they call theory. The queens got swapped, with James a pawn up but Mark having a lot of play. Mark played it very calmly, developing his pieces and stopping any counterplay. Pieces slowly came off, Mark getting his pawn back in the process, eventually ending up in a pawn ending that was just won for white. From what I saw it looked like a very good game from Mark.
In my game I played 10 moves on autopilot, then spent 20 minutes wondering what on earth to do. It was probably just level, but I didn’t like my position at all. I tried a queenside push, which was a bit risky, and Bogdan was clearly eyeing up my king. I think he should have focussed more on the other side of the board, since I was able to neutralise the pressure and enter an endgame that was slightly better for me. It was really only visually better though, I couldn’t see any way through and with my clock ticking down I took a perpetual. I haven’t looked through the game, but I’m sure Bogdan must have missed something good somewhere.
That left us one down with Philipp and Gareth still going. A c3 Sicilian had left an odd ending where Philipp looked a touch better to me, but that may have been a misconception since Gareth had rejected a draw offer. By crunch time they had rooks and a bishop each, and it should have been a draw. Time and match pressure make these things hard though, and the last 20 moves or so were the usual mixture of good and bad. Philipp made the last mistake, allowing both sides to queen a pawn, but immediately losing his to the dreaded skewer.
All in all a draw was a fortunate result for us. The university team played very well and deserved more from the match. They’re also a nice bunch, and we’re very grateful for them helping us out after our equipment debacle.