It’s become an almost running joke inside my 4NCL team, Blackthorne Russia. Why this is the last weekend, why I’m fed up with these atrociously long train journeys and getting battered and losing rating points everytime I play.
A lot of the problem I have with 4NCL is that there is often a gap between the previous weekend of a month or so. In some other countries, they play the whole league format at the same time, which I believe is a fairer format. It was extremely noticeable in the final weekend, which was played in the glamorous location of a hotel in Telford, how out of shape I was chesswise. I don’t train at home really, so the only way I can get “into shape” is to play tournaments. So everytime I’ve turned up at the 4NCL the last few years, I’ve struggled. And I’m fed up with it.
Fed up with losing rating points in the same competition year after year, so this time I’m going to be true to my word for once and quit playing in the 4NCL altogether. To be honest I don’t really believe in team chess. Chess is an individual game, and it’s not like football for example, where your play directly influences other members of the team. Chessplayers in general are extremely selfish individuals, I’m no different, and in truth if I had a choice between winning my game and the team losing, or losing and the team winning, I’d choose the former everytime (no wonder I took the minus offer on the chase.)
In truth though, maybe I’m deluding myself. It’s entirely possible that my poor form in the 4NCL is just a symptom of my crap play over the last few years. I need to get my backside in gear and start training again, because I feel woefully underprepared for any problems that might arise over the board. A key example of this is the game against Stephen Gordon in the final round.
On his previous move he played Nxd4, so his knights are quite mobile in the center and I have to be careful. What should Black play here? I don’t think I came up with a very good solution.
In truth, even if I was in good shape, playing black against Steve Gordon would be a tough game. Just the point I’m making is that to compete with these guys I need to be on absolute top form, and it’s clear when I play 4NCL it’s just Gorm operating on 30% capacity. I’ve bored people to death over the last few years by telling them that I need to get an extended run of chess together if I’m to make any progress. That this stop-start approach doesn’t work for me at all. It needs to happen soon though as I’ve just turned 42 and the brain cells are disappearing by the minute. As for Steve, anyone who has spoken to him for any extended period of time can testify that he’s one of the nicest people in chess which is why his behaviour against Jack Rudd was so out of character. I didn’t see the incident myself, but apparently it happened just after the time control.
The game I really should have won was against Craig Hanley. It really was an illustration of why good technique is so important. When you see these games of Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, they make finishing off the game so easy, and for me it creates a false impression of how easy it is to win won games. Not that the game against Hanley was winning by force, but it seemed to me that we got the kind of position that Magnus would win 99/100, if not 100/100.
In the diagram position I’ve sacced the exchange to create these very dangerous pawns on e5 and f5, and Black feels obliged to sacrifice the exchange back immediately to take the sting out of my initiative:
I don’t know if anyone has been paying attention, but Matthew Sadler, a supposed part-time player, has been doing very well of late and winning almost every game in the 4NCL and in any other local competition he chooses to enter.
I’m sure the work ethic that Sadler retains puts supposed full-time players like me to shame, and yet I wonder if this is a missed opportunity. Why isn’t Sadler taking advantage of this form and trying to qualify for competitions like the World Cup? Because it seems to me on current form Sadler is easily 2720 or 2730 strength, which would put him amongst some of the strongest players in the world. Already his live rating is running very close to 2700.
Speaking with one of his final-weekend “victims”, Neil McDonald, Neil told me that Sadler essayed a risky move in the opening that he had played before. Neil felt he wouldn’t repeat it because apparently strong players “don’t repeat what they played before”. This seems like strange logic to me, because one of the recurring themes when playing through the games of very strong players is their stubborness and desire to stick with what they know.
Guildford were able to retain their title with the help of Sadler and co. As I said to Neil on the train journey back, the league has become boring unless you are a Guildford fan, because they win it easily every year. My advice to make the competition more interesting is to impose some kind of rating average; this would mean though that probably fewer 2600 players would compete in the 4ncl. Not that I care anyway as I’m out of it now. No more 4NCL for me! Well at least not until next season…
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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