Me at J4NCL 2017
The first weekend of the 2017-18 J4NCL was hotly contested at the De Vere Estate, Wokefield Park, Reading with 20 teams in Division 1 and 23 teams in Division 2.
Firstly, I was against Hiya Ray who plays for the Welsh Dragons Red team. She is graded 131, 16 grading points below me. We had met before and she managed to hold a draw. I played a Classical Dutch Defence against her Hopton Attack. The game came down to a similar amount of material around the lower stages of the middlegame. All the heavy pieces were on and a light-squared bishop each, and things were starting to look drawish so feeling a little tired after the 2 hour journey I offered a draw and she must have felt tired too because she accepted. A badly fought draw!
My second game was against Guildford Giants' Felicity Pettit, graded 102. As white, I played a Ruy Lopez and she clearly didn't understand the aims very well, walking into all of my preparation. I went into the Columbus variation which I like a lot and she lost quickly when I cramped all her pieces on her queenside with one knight and a pawn and then attacked her kingside with a queen and bishop. It came down to either losing an exchange or checkmate and she, unwisely, chose the latter.
Next, I was up against Kennan Kesterson, who plays for WestMinster Under and graded 119. I played a Sicilian Hyperaccelerated Dragon. I play against this all the time but had never actually played it myself. What a time to experiment! Suffice to say, I got out-played. It was an attack on my kingside with a pawn storm. And it was just pressure all throughout the game. I was not 100% and I was tired but he probably was as well, we both had already played 2 games that took most of the day. All excuses aside, I lost the game, but I did play terribly and Kennan's win was well deserved.
The most boring game I played was against Arnav Srivastava, who plays for Cambridge Knights, graded 137. As black and looking for a win, something that would surprise my opponent, I played the Black Lion Defense. I tried an attack on his kingside and it was actually looking scary for him until he just slid his king over to h1 and then his rook could come over to defend and then my attack was gone. So, now seeing only a draw, I locked the pawns in the centre so no pieces could get through, (otherwise my king will be in the center asking to get attacked). Finally having some play, Arnav didn't really want a draw and said no to my first and second offer. We played on for another 10 moves until, on my third offer and realising the game was going nowhere, Arnav accepted the draw.
My final game was against Rory Mclean, who plays for Barnet Knights 1, graded 112. This time I was facing a Sicilian Hyperaccelerated Dragon and, knowing how to attack this very well, I felt a lot more comfortable. Still though, he put up an amazing fight considering his grade and it came down to an endgame with both of us having a queen and rook but I had one extra pawn. My king was also much safer than his, with his being trapped on the 5th rank. I thought, there has got to be something! After a deep 15 minute think, I found a move... Kg3!! Leaving my rook en prise... but if he took my rook I had mate in one with either my f-pawn or my h-pawn so he couldn't take my rook. He thought for about 20 minutes slowly realising any checks he made didn't matter because I had a forced mate in one. He did the only thing he could, give up heavy material. He sacked his rook, leaving him with a king and pawns and myself with a mighty rook. He fought on desperately, hoping for something to go wrong... maybe I'd throw my rook away in a moment of madness – it happens. Not today. I won my final game putting me on 3 out of 5.
So a good day for me, and David Phillips, handling board 1 while hardly breaking a sweat. Devan Patel and Rayaan Farooq at boards 3 and 4 respectively also played brilliantly... so much so that little old Warwickshire finished 2nd in division 1. Looking forward to the rest of the competition.