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ECF Online Counties Championship - National Stage Open Challengers  SF vs. Shropshire match report

ECF Online Counties Championship - National Stage Open Challengers SF vs. Shropshire match report

Amynstor
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MxB entered the KO phase as one of four undefeated teams the others being Northumberland (Open Championship and the top two seeds in the u1825 Championship Mx and Northumberland). Pride therefore would be a motivator to ensure they completed the competition with a 100% record and this would start with a defeat of Shropshire in the SF stage. Now there is an element of irony that the two counties meet as essentially both are u180 teams. Like other teams Shropshire participate in Minor competition so as to appeal to players of all strengths within the county again the perennial problem for weak counties first teams. If the OTB competition had proceeded as expected it was possible that the two could have been drawn against each other in the u180 section as both had progressed into the National Stage from their respective regional competitions. A quick peruse through the Mx records shows that this was the first time the two had met at this level or higher. If one wishes to continue emphasising irony we should look to the last and only time the two could have met. This was in the 1914-15 cycle. Shropshire were MCCU Champions and many thought Mx would defeat Devon in the SCCU Championship final thereby progress to the Counties Championship SF as the SCCU's representative to play the Midlands county. As is well know 1915 saw the suspension of OTB play due to the Great War so it can only ever be speculated whether Mx would have defeated Devon (1907-08 Mx Walkover win, 1909-10 Mx win Championship SF, 1914-15 Championship final abandoned). It can also ever be speculated whether Shropshire would have been strong enough to fend off Mx, it must be remembered that the MCCU's record in the Counties Championship from 1908 to 1914 was P7 L7 and this includes losing 2 finals after receiving the bye! The current year also sees a possible OTB encounter suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic, clearly the gods are conspiring to prevent the counties meeting OTB!

Despite initially being labelled as a minnow, MxB were a second team surrounded by first teams, they have in fact been a titan throughout the Group Stage averaging 164 by far and away the strongest of the 11 teams participating in Open Division 2. Their opponent Shropshire had been averaging 146 so they would be seen as the underdog of the contest. However beware of upsets sporting or otherwise, The Crazy Gang vs. The Culture Club (1988 FA Cup Final) comes to mind as does David vs. Goliath or Coe vs. Ovett vs. Cram. Your author has a predilection for sport in general but in terms of chess he is a player and organiser rather than a follower of its top flight so apologises for any overlooked chess equivalents. When looking at the respective team averages as expected MxB go into the match overwhelming favourites and would expect 4/4 on bottom four boards. However, the Derbyshire match should prove as adequate warning. MxB could have been said to have had an off day when playing Derbyshire in the final round of group matches, a successive performance could mean them going home! Thus Mx just needed to be professional to ensure they got to the winning line so top of the order shouldn't assume forgone conclusion on bottom boards. Shropshire are in SF for a reason and the player as does the reader needs to be mindful of that. Mx team ave. 166; Shropshire team ave. 147; Par score: Mx win 8.5-3.5 

A timely reminder that things could go wrong was received within short order. Manmay's (Bd9) was declared to have lost his game due to a termination issue. Although it took some time to be verified both Manmay and your author were horrified that something could go so wrong early in the match. Mx had inexplicably dropped a point on one of the bottom four boards and the termination cost him the chance of challenging Leon as best performing MxB player. Sometime later it transpires the same thing happens to a Shropshire player (Bd8) so all things considered the misfortune had evened out but as their match captain highlights position was lost anyway so termination issue neither here nor there. Thus if being generous the match really relied on the outcome of the ten live matches. Scores tied 0-0 or if you really want to include terminations issues 1-1!

The first completed game was that of Ian on Bd2. To date Ian has been used more regularly for MxA but recent matches had seen that team bulk up so Ian's presence at the top of MxB was a nice fillip especially with the late withdrawal of Colin. He gets a solid draw so match now well and truly underway. The draw on Bd2 would be more favourable to MxB as would the win on Bd8 should tie-break come into play if so then Shropshire would have to find at least a win on one of the higher boards. When giving away an average of 6pts per on boards 1-7 then to play even more sharply would favour the Mx player. However as highlighted upsets do happen. Any chance of that happening though is reduced when David secures win on Bd11. When having a huge grading advantage it is easy to become complacent and look for a spectacular way to finish off your weaker opponent so the norm is wait for the error then punish. If the spectacular comes along then take it. One would then have to question why his opponent plays 7...Bf6? 7...exf develops White's QB and is unpalatable but surely more preferential to what happens next. See Bd11 link below. Needless to say the error comes and when an opportunity for the spectacular is presented David takes it. Mx secure the first victory after actual play. Shropshire's task is now clear they need at least two wins above Bd11 to win on board count. The higher the win the better. Any prospect though was dashed after Jason (Bd3) secures a solid draw which is followed by victory for Nigel (Bd5). Nigel has been absent for a few matches but marked his return with a stylish win. His opponent was so focused on his attack and the chances of a queen sacrifice to set up back row mate that he forgets one of the chess basics - pay attention to what your opponent is doing! Nigel's quiet 23. Qa4 followed by 24. Qe7 highlighted the futility of the his opponents plan. The desperado queen sacrifice to try and justify the attack is a woeful admission that he misread the position. Having fallen behind to an inexplicable termination Mx were now two up. Mx lead 4-2 (3-1 if discounting terminations issues!) Board count 24-9 (16-0 if discounting terminations issues!)

Shropshire were now really under the cosh. Trailing by two points and needing to find wins at the top of the order in order to try and win on board count. With three of the top six boards finishing in Mx's favour  (2-1) Shropshire would need to win on both boards 1&4. This though would just pull level with Nigel's win on Bd5 for board count purposes even if match scores levelled as a result. Thus to be sure of victory with play they really had to win all of the remaining matches including and especially boards 6&7. Ajoy (Bd6) and Paul (Bd7) get the requisite draws either side of a Shropshire win to make their task of securing victory nigh impossible considering all bar two matches had been completed on top nine boards (Mx lead 4-3). Shropshire had to play for victory as tie-break and elimination were not looking favourable. Mx lead 5-4 (4-3 excluding terminations issues) Board count 24-21 (16-12 excluding terminations issues) 

Three games to go and Mx are firmly in control. Yogit (Bd1) has been having a fantastic competition. It is a thankless task to play top board for a strong counties second team as when facing weak counties first teams as you are invariably outgraded. He has been outgraded in all except one of his games and even then he only had a minor grading advantage over his opponent (+4). Once again he finds himself outgraded but this does not put him off as once again he scalps another higher graded opponent! Having played a 205, a 198 and now a 193 Yogit comes away with a 100% record. His victory means the team cannot be beaten as even if the unthinkable were to happen and the remaining games lost then Mx have a comfortable lead on board count and would win on elimination as Shropshire had the disadvantage of the win on Bd12. Board count and elimination though are academic as Raghu makes sure of the win. Mx cross the winning with some margin to spare. Mx lead 7-4

Although Fraser is unable to make Mx margin of victory larger he is fast becoming the last to finish! Without a close perusal of the stats it is thought that this is at least Fraser's third game where is is the last to finish! Mx win 7-5.

The favourites may have finished just shy of the par score the key is that they are one of the twelve finalists who will be playing on finals day. Congratulations to the team and the squad for reaching a magnificent milestone especially on a day when hopes were high it would be a treble. It was not to be as MxB's sister teams MxA and Mxu1825 just fell short. The win also sees the team maintain their 100% record one of only teams to do so, Northumberland in the Open Section being the other.

See full here for full results of KO Stage

Links to the each game are given for you perusal

Bd1 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269670702
Bd2 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269536537
Bd3 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269657621
Bd4 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269655073
Bd5 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269645361
Bd6 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269666621
Bd7 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269662940
Bd8 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269634935
Bd9 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269657012
Bd10 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269658913
Bd11 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269648994
Bd12 https://www.chess.com/live/game/5269656222

Open Challengers SF Results

MxA vs. Shropshire Mx win 7-5

Cumbria vs. Oxfordshire Oxfordshire win 7-6

MxB face a familiar foe in the final Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire of course were defeated in the group stages in a close match (6.5-5.5) but it could be argued that just like the u1825 side MxB have yet to field their strongest team. Colin was absent for Shropshire match and like Ian has been used more often for MxA, Julian placed on standby and even your author may be tempted to come out of self-enforced non-playing to take part in the final! If that team were to be fielded the 12board average is close to 170! This is significantly stronger than the 163 they averaged when first playing Oxfordshire who really cannot top 163 with their strongest team. Your author also belatedly found out that some of the players he thought he could float down had been excluded as all had been declared as MxA nominated players thereby barred them from playing for MxB. Now that you author is aware, should there be a future online counties competition whether he or is not the captain if Mx have two teams in Open section it will be known what to do to ensure floaters available for both teams!

A final observation about the finals is that is is hoped it unlike many of the SF's and in fact other matches could be played over a greater number. Note Oxfordshire vs. Cumbria (Open Challengers) and Greater Manchester vs. Surrey (u1825 Challengers) were the only matches to exceed 12 but at 13 each neither came close to the traditional 16board county match. With both counties u1825 teams eliminated there is scope to make it happen if both captains will it! Notwithstanding, Mx will be looking to make it a double over Oxfordshire and with it a perfect record. It is interesting to note that the Challengers final is one of four rematches, the others being Open Major, Minor Championship and u1825 Challengers. 

Best player performance

Position Player Performance Points (min 3 games)
1st Leon 5.5
2nd= Raghu 4
2nd= Jason 4
4th= Yogit 3.5
4th= Manmay 3.5

Leon claims the best performance prize (pride) prior to the final. He has had a fair mix of players so it would be unfair to say that he has had an easy time of it in that he has consistently outclassed his opponents. In the instances where he has he has played with the professionalism one would expect namely respect his opponent's play and then seek to win when opportunity presents. Even if top spot is already assured the race for the runner-up spot is of interest as no less than  

Next fixture 22nd August

Open Challengers Final MxB vs. Oxfordshire

Your author can find no better way than using the words of Fraser to bring this penultimate match report for MxB to an end,

"Middlesex B has a huge responsibility in the final, so let’s bring you back some silverware."

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