Exeter 2015 - Ken's Diary
Having landed in Exeter on Friday afternoon after a wonderful five-day break at my daughter’s in Paris, I found the B&B and, after a lazy nap and refreshing shower, arrived at the Corn Exchange early ready for combat. As the only South Hams player present I felt a little lonely. Phil and Cliff had both cried off (i.e. opted for first-game byes). Perhaps wisely, a guaranteed ½ point is better than none!
As things turned out, come Saturday morning I had some good news for them: both had more points than me! Plumping for the C4 English, I’d actually made a strong start against Alan Fraser (rated 107), a wily old codger who’d come from as far afield as Beckenham, Kent – no, I didn’t tell him I’d flown in from Paris that afternoon! Anyway, despite clearly holding the advantage, one inaccurate move (the 27th) derailed all my previous strong play. Such is chess, right? While being a little peeved, I have to say my opponent can hardly be blamed for reeling in the gift presented him. God, how nice it would be to win the 1st match of a tournament. That said, at least I’d made a better fist of it than November’s Torbay opener. Being murdered by a kid not even in his teens after a poorly calculated sac was downright embarrassing. So, one match down, and a big, fat zero again. Not to matter, I’d enough joie de vivre still inside me not to beat myself up about it. And, bloated by a Maccie-D and a couple of much needed cigarettes, I returned to my cosy (i.e. small) room at the B&B. Watching Beckham on Graham Norton saying something about his various hairstyles merely produced a mighty yawn from me. A deep sleep followed.
Day Two: It was great to see Phil and Cliff ready for battle. As it turned out, they needed to be; as did I. Indeed, with each of us remaining clamped to our seats with only ten other boards still looking for a result, the duration of our games (for this 2nd round at least) were well longer than the norm. Anyway, Phil ended up winning with Black against Ray Chubb: excellent. Cliff almost got the draw he craved against 144-rated John Morrison (who, incidentally, ended up coming 4th overall). And, wonders never cease, I managed to avenge a defeat I suffered against Marian Cox at Torbay, 2013. The match was a genuine rollercoaster. One moment I’d think I was winning, the next that I was sure to lose. And then, whether through fortune or good play, I somehow managed to squeak a victory.
Alas, the afternoon didn’t go so well for us. In fact, it couldn’t have gone any worse! Playing White against Mark Cockerton (who, ultimately, finished 2nd=), Phil was first to falter when, by his own confession: “Never recovered from a horribly messed up opening.” Cliff was next to drop. Unusually fatigued, he struggled concentrating against Charles Keen, his 141-rated opponent, for anything more than two moves ahead. Put simply, he had one of those matches that the sufferer wants to forget, but can’t! Result-wise, I fared no better. However, other than being Black for the second time that day, I’ve no real complaints with this one. Having drawn against Paul Broderick in Torbay, 2014, confidence wasn’t an issue. Frankly, I got tied up in knots and the imminent mate proved a thing of beauty. Funnily enough, I think I actually saw it before my opponent did. Not that I could do anything about it. Other than appreciating it, that is. So, with one point out of three, it was back to Maccie-D’s for me. Later, having taken a zigzagging bishop’s route through the hordes of clubbers, I was glad to get back to my cosy, little room. The TV had ‘The Voice’ on. What a load of rubbish! Hadn’t I been so tired, I might have thought about doing a ‘Rocker Fowler’ and trash it out of the window!
Back at the Corn Exchange, Sunday started well via Phil’s rendition of his tale about Intruder Cat! Chess clearly has nothing on the complexities of a cat-flap! That said, in trying to squeeze through his opponent’s solitary king defence via the means of a king and h-pawn, Phil may have pondered whether the etymology of the word ‘pawn’ stemmed from paw. Moreover, the ensuing stalemate may have let him come to terms with the pesky cat’s predicament. So, a ½ point for Phil. Unfortunately, Cliff messed up a dead cert draw against David Lawrence. As for me, I had what turned out to be my favourite game of the weekend. What’s more, it was against an eight-year-old girl! What a little tigress Helen Archer-Lock proved to be. After sacrificing a pawn for position, I felt I was in the driving seat for much of the game. However, this pen-twiddling kid’s cunning defence was both bold and inventive. As the wind (or was it the Ghosts of Chess?) howling outside, she was fearless. Even when she went down a piece her simple resolve was to get it back pronto; which, remarkably, she managed. At which point, it had all become very drawish to me. Her undoing, however, proved not to be me, but the clock. Always behind, she found herself in the unenviable position of having to make three moves in less than a minute. Her 38th, a check, proved catastrophic. Not that I immediately saw it as such. Indeed, it was the very move I’d feared. However, with the obvious soon enough dawning on me, I was able to block the check with my rook (the very rook that she could have previously taken). Now, a full rook down, her situation was hopeless and, within a matter of a few moves, she most graciously laid her king down.
So, with round 4 done and dusted, the by now weary trio sat outside Exeter Cathedral and as Cliff sought Divine blessing for the guarantee of a draw, Phil and I prayed for the seagulls above us to find it in themselves not to dive-bomb into our sandwiches, nor crap on us! Thankfully, they did neither and we headed back for our final games.
I didn’t get to see much of Phil’s game. Indeed, there wasn’t much of it! The part I did looked like he had made the better start. With the game’s prompt conclusion, I’d presumed Phil had won, but alas, he’d blundered. My game against Kevin Huntley proved more satisfactory. Albeit, not perfect result-wise. Playing Black again, I was initially concerned I may have bungled the opening, but actually it was quite solid; enough anyway for me to gain some momentum. However, this was thwarted by an annoying little check. After a period of exchanging pieces, it became a game of rooks and queens. His doubled-up rooks though put me in immediate peril. I thought for over twenty minutes in deciding to offer my queen up in exchange for his two rooks. Kevin, in turn, agonised over his response. Sitting uneasily in his chair over what to do next, he finally shifted his gaze from the board onto me. His eyes added an extra plea to his offering a draw. Knowing two rooks should be stronger than a single queen, some may say I bottled it in agreeing. The fact is: one minor slip would be all it would take for me to lose. And besides, the journey home would seem far longer had I not got anything out of the final game. Plus, getting 2½ points from 5 higher-rated players than me has to be a good overall result.
As predicted, Cliff faced Norman Tidy. It turned out to be a marathon. Into the endgame, Cliff was up two rooks to a rook and a bishop. However, Norman’s pawns were better placed and Cliff’s king was stuck. Ultimately, though getting quite scary, with potential zuhgzwangs coming two-a-penny, Cliff just about managed to hold on for the draw. Phew!
As usual, Brendan O'Gorman has posted numbers congress photos on the web, which can be viewed here.
I can’t wait for next year. Exeter 2016 has a good ring to it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make up a team for it.