Roaring start as Tigers 2 tear it up
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Celtic Tigers 2 made the perfect start to the new season with two wins out of two to be among the early pacesetters in 4NCL Division 3 South.
The Tigers left Wessex Some Stars in a daze, beating their C team 4.5-1.5 on Saturday before edging out the B team 3.5-2.5 in a tense match on Sunday.
On both occasions CT2 had to come from behind to clinch victory, and Sunday's success was particularly satisfying as the Tigers were clear underdogs based on both ECF and FIDE ratings.
Celtic Tigers 3 also competed well over the weekend, which was played at a new venue at Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes. On Saturday they gave a highly-fancied Poole team a scare before going down 4-2, the highlight being Jeremy Turner clinching his first win in Tigers colours after a fine rearguard effort against Richard Smith (who was rated a huge 631 points higher than Jeremy).
But they were no match for Sussex Martlets 3 on the Sunday, going down 5.5-0.5 and ending the weekend near the foot of the 32-team division.
Wessex Some Stars C 1.5-4.5 Celtic Tigers 2
Poole 4-2 Celtic Tigers 3
The season's opening round can often produce lopsided results as it is based on seedings, and CT2 went into the opening round as clear favourites against a Wessex side heavily outrated but with three juniors in their ranks.
The two sides were drawn against each other at the same stage three years ago, and this weekend's match produced an identical result.
But the encounter got off to an inauspicious start for the Tigers, when Jacques Tivillier's queen became trapped on the edge of the board in a Catalan middlegame against David Deacon on board three, prompting a swift resignation from Jacques.
If Deacon Senior had a day to remember, his two sons found the going tougher. Peter Kitchen levelled the scores with a 21-move win over 10-year-old Nicholas Deacon on board four, and older brother Matthew was ground down impressively by John Goodacre on board five.
Carsten Pedersen won convincingly on top board and Bajrush Kelmendi drew a fascinating-looking ending on board two, before Adam Cranston added the gloss with a win over Larissa Cuthbert on bottom board. A professional job well done.
While most of the second team games were over by the two-and-a-half hour mark, the CT3 games all went on longer against stronger opponents - and the Tigers players certainly rose to the challenge.
Jeremy Turner was forced on to the back foot by some fine positional play by Richard Smith on board five. But despite being chronically short of time, Turner kept finding the right defensive moves. And when Smith blundered, Turner took his chance. His rook came to c2 with check, the white king was pinned to the queen, game over!
Robin Sarfas also put in an impressive showing on board two against Martin O'Neill (no, not the former Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland manager...). With an impressive pawn chain across the centre of the board and a solid pawn up during the middlegame, things looked good for Robin. But his opponent managed to drum up counterplay, and Sarfas ended up sacrificing a piece for a couple of pawns. Yet despite looking in trouble with K&P versus K, N&P in the ending, he was able to force a cute draw.
Defeats for John White, Jonathan Hoong and Benjamin Portheault on boards one, three and four put Poole in charge, but there was still time for Nadim Osseiran to secure a tremendous result on bottom board. He was outrated by 750 points by David Fuller, but played what looked a very solid game to earn a well-deserved draw.
(Or "Scenic Walks with John White...")
A big part of a Tigers 4NCL weekend is, of course, the camaraderie and the team evening meal.
As we were playing at a new venue, the need to find a suitable hostelry for good food and beer was vital. I'm happy to report that Carsten Pedersen came up trumps with The Swan Inn in Milton Keynes Village. As well as the history attached to it being part of the original, pre-New Town settlement, there was a great choice of beer and the food was terrific. We were extremely well looked after and I'm sure we'll be looking to spend most of our evening debriefs there on Milton Keynes weekends (although we'll have to book in advance - I understand it is already fully booked up ahead of the first team's visit to MK this weekend).
In truth, we should be happy we made it there at all. Striding confidently at the head of a posse of eight Tigers leaving our hotel, John White led the way on what should have been about a half hour walk to the venue. Ten minutes in, and amid much inward cursing from said Mr White, it transpired he'd been leading us in completely the wrong direction through barren land on the edge of Milton Keynes with barely a building in sight.
We'd certainly earned our pints by the time we eventually got to the pub, and safe to say John is off navigation duties for the foreseeable future.
Once the meal was out of the way, the assembled Tigers spent time analysing each other's games and setting the world to rights on all sorts of issues as only the Johns White and Goodacre can. The walk back home through bland housing estates was significantly shorter than the way there for those of us who didn't bail out and take a taxi. You know who you are.
Celtic Tigers 2 3.5-2.5 Wessex Some Stars B
Celtic Tigers 3 0.5-5.5 Sussex Martlets 3
Not content with seeing Wessex C put to the sword on Saturday, the 4NCL organisers decreed more of their players needed to be seeing stars by the end of the weekend and pitched CT2 against their B team in round two.
This was clearly going to be a much tougher assignment. Don't be fooled by the official teamsheets showing the Tigers having a grading advantage - while we published mostly ECF ratings, the Stars' ratings were predominantly their lower FIDE ones. In truth, we were facing an experienced team full of 1950-2050 players.
There was just one change to the team from Saturday - Robin Sarfas moved up from the thirds to take the black pieces on bottom board, with Adam Cranston reverting to board two for CT3.
This match featured five very entertaining games with a lot happening very quickly. By the end of the first hour's play, John Goodacre had unbelievably made the 40-move time control in his board five match against Tim Spanton. John had used 13 minutes of thinking time, and Spanton a mere eight... (I think I was at move 10 at this point on the next board...).
The pair were embroiled in a complex rook ending with three pawns each. While you may expect such an ending to be drawn, there are plenty of tricks involved. Credit where it is due, the Wessex man played it very well and an hour and a half into the match, we were 1-0 down again.
On the other boards, Carsten was a pawn up with a wide open king on top board. Bajrush was swiftly into a complex ending with B, N & 3P versus 2B & 3P on board two. Jacques played the Milner Barry gambit in an Advance French and had active play for his pawn, and Robin was looking solid on the black side of a Sicilian Morra Gambit.
Robin's opponent was already well down on time when he embarked on what looked like a dubious piece sacrifice. Robin duly brought home the full point to level the scores, capping a fine weekend for him on a personal level. Well played Robin!
Bajrush's ending against British Over 65s champion Roger de Coverly finished with opposite coloured bishops and two pawns each, and was agreed drawn. Carsten then put CT2 ahead by beating Roger Marsh on top board.
Things had started to turn against Jacques on board three - he remained a pawn down but Steven Smith was getting his fair share of play too and things weren't looking too good.
Meanwhile, my game on board four was a very quiet and positional affair. I was playing the black side of a French Rubinstein and had a very solid position, albeit with very little opportunity to play for a win. I was quite a long way down on time, and had 18 minutes left to play my last 22 moves to teach the time control.
I had a draw offer turned down on move 28, but three moves later my opponent offered me a draw, and in a level position with only three-and-a-half minutes left I took it to at least guarantee the team a draw.
Jacques continued to battle away, and on reaching the time control was able to secure the draw to clinch the match for the Tigers. A fine save and a great response to his disappointment the day before. And a huge win for CT2!
Due to being further away from the CT3 boards and being more involved in my own game, I didn't see so much of the games in this match. One notable aspect was seeing the Martlets team kitted out in their own new shirts - a move their captain William Graham told me at breakfast had ben partly inspired by the Tigers. We are trendsetters!
Unfortunately, the navy blue shirts had far more fun than the dark green ones. Jeremy continued his fine weekend by getting a draw against Timothy Woods on board five, this time making up a 360-point rating deficit. The rest of the team went down to defeats, with perhaps the Herculean efforts of the previous day taking their toll.
After 18 months away due to the pandemic, it was great to be back at the 4NCL playing over the board again, and the weekend very much had a feel of a reunion about it for regular Tigers. New friendships were also forged and the camaraderie and team spirit that characterises the Tigers remains alive and well. It was wonderful to see everyone again.
Over the board CT2 made a great start towards the goal of securing a place in next season's Division 3 South once the league reorganisation is complete. CT3 showed they can give anyone a game and will be no pushovers despite facing strong competition.
In terms of individual performances, credit has to go to Carsten Pedersen for scoring 2/2 on top board for CT2. Robin Sarfas, Jeremy Turner and Peter Kitchen all scored 1.5/2.
Attention will turn to the first team's endeavours in Division 1/2 this weekend, then all roads will lead to Maidenhead for the resumption of Division 3 South in January.
Report by Peter Kitchen