Four Nations Chess League :: 1993/1994

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Basic data

Four Nations Chess League 1993/94
(see all-time tournament summary)
Dates: October 1993 - May 1994
Cities: Rounds 1-2: London,
Rounds 3-4: Bolton,
Rounds 5-6: Cheltenham,
Rounds 7-8: Liverpool,
Rounds 9-10: Maidstone
Tournament Director: Mr. Chris Dunworth (ENG)
Teams participating: 6
Players participating: 109 (incl. 6 GMs, 21 IMs, 1 WGM, 16 FMs, 2 WIMs and 4 WFMs)
Games played: 240
Competition format: Eight board double round robin.
Final order decided by: 1. Match points; 2. Game points
Time control: N/A
Website: 4NCL
Downloadable game file:

Tournament review

WHEN the Short-Kasparov match was announced several months ago, there were plans for a London Chess Festival to run alongside. Sadly, apparently owing to lack of funding, this never took on the dimensions envisaged. One exception to the general disappointment was the 'Chessathon' at London's Barbican Centre last weekend, where hundreds of people enjoyed simultaneous displays, speed tournaments, discussions and even some serious chess.

The most significant feature of the event was the start of a new competition designed to raise the profile of club chess. Until now, Britain, unlike France and Germany, had no national chess league.

For most of the past decade, while England had a strong claim to be the world's second strongest chess nation, our leading players were making cross-channel trips at weekends to represent clubs in the French or German leagues. And apart from the professional opportunities for grandmasters, the continental clubs offered far better facilities for ordinary players too.

The '4 Nations Chess League', brainchild of Chris Dunworth, hopes to change all that. In its first season, its Premier League has attracted six powerful teams. It got off to a good start when the Barbican team, led by grandmasters Murray Chandler and Mark Hebden, were beaten by Bristol, who could not even boast a single International Master. The title will be decided after five more weekend rounds in Bolton, Cheltenham, Covent Garden, Liverpool and Maidstone.

The following game was played in the match between Invikta Knights and Northwest Eagles. After 15 . . . Nxf2! White cannot take the knight without losing his queen, but 16. Rhg1! creates the threat of Rxg7+ and Nxd5. White's 18. Ba3! is another imaginative move, inviting 18 . . . Qxa3 19. Rxg7+! Kxg7 20. Rg1+ when Black is mated. But it was all too good to be true. Black's knight galloped through the white position taking more pieces than White's queen could hope to content with. Fittingly, the knight returned to the centre for the final essential defensive move.

* * *

Meanwhile, back in England, the inaugural season of the 4 Nations Chess League continued with two rounds at the Bolton Moat House Hotel. With most club chess in Britain played in unglamorous surroundings and poorly funded, particularly in comparison with the professional leagues in France and Germany, the 4 Nations Chess League is a bold attempt to raise its profile. Indeed, the very title might be accused of over-boldness: with all six teams coming from England, the Welsh, Scottish and Irish contributions to the 4 Nations are still awaited. But with 3 grandmasters and 21 masters of various descriptions competing over the weekend, the quest for quality is clearly succeeding. After four rounds, the lead is held by Invicta Knights of Maidstone, who are sponsored by Michael's Fine Crafts. With three wins and a draw, they are a point ahead of the favourites, the grandmaster- rich Barbican side.

The most attractive game was the draw on top board between Covent Garden and Slough. After a quiet opening, the game came to life when the former British champion Paul Littlewood played 18. Re5, allowing a little combination with Rxd4. White must have hoped that the isolated black e-pawn would be a target, but Black obtained a slight initiative which he put to use with the remarkable 21 ... Qe3!

After 22. fxe3 Rxf1+ 23. Kxf1 Nxe3+ Black regains his queen with a pawn's interest. So Littlewood sold his own queen for a pawn to keep the game level. After 24. fxe3 Rxf1+ 25. Kxf2 Nxh2+ Black is certainly no worse.

* * *

CLUB chess in Britain, while involving 40,000 or more active participants, has tended to cling to its draughty church hall and pub back-room image. When weekend tournaments arrived in the Sixties to sow the seeds for a more competitive and professional atmosphere, club chess continued as it had always been, with dozens of local leagues and hundreds of club championships providing the serious competition for one-evening-a-week chess addicts.

Between national level and the humble clubs, however, chess has never been much of a team game in Britain. Even the county and national club championships tend to go on without the participation of the very best players, who it must be admitted, are often away playing for clubs in the professional leagues of France and Germany.

Three months ago, the '4 Nations Chess League' was founded to try to lift the British club game to a higher level. Although its first season has attracted only six teams (and all from the one nation of England), it has succeeded in its aim of bringing strong players together to play high-quality team chess in excellent surroundings.

Last weekend, 48 players, including three grandmasters and eleven international masters, gathered in Cheltenham (courtesy of the sponsors, Eagle Star) for rounds five and six of the competition. After some close matches, the London Barbican team moved ahead of Invicta Knights of Maidstone to take the lead for the first time. With four rounds left to play, scores are Barbican 10, Invicta Knights 9, North-west Eagles and Covent Garden 5, Slough 4, Bristol 3.

The best game of the weekend was played on the top board between Invicta Knights and Covent Garden; but first, a tasty morsel from the veteran former international, John Littlewood.

John Emms's win over Andrew Martin was a beautifully logical game. Black must have felt content when his knight reached the outpost on b4 at move 17, but it spent the rest of the game staring into space. White patiently exchanged men until he was effectively a piece ahead where it mattered. At the end, there is nothing to stop Ne6 and Nxc7 winning easily.

* * *

THREE of the most popular ways to lose were on display in the closing rounds of the Four Nations Chess League. The simplest - a method requiring hardly any original thought - is to mis-remember the opening. In the following game, Black plays exactly as Anatoly Karpov did in his recent Fide title match against Jan Timman, but apparently forgetting that the moves 9 ... Nc6 and 10. Nh3 had been interposed in the original game, when White's b4 could be met by Nxb4.

Case number two is the simple blunder. When White played 22. Rad1 in the following game, he must have seen the idea of ... Nf4 threatening Qxg2 mate, but the idea of playing the moves in reverse order never occurred to him, despite the fact that Nf4 attacks the undefended white queen.

As happens so often when a threat is overlooked, the move allowing the combination made its consequences even worse. After 22. Rad1? Qxg2+ 23. Kxg2 Nf4+, Black's 24 ... Nxd3 will attack the rook on e1, which can no longer move to b1 to protect the b-pawn. So Black loses at least two pawns from the transaction.

That game was played at the weekend in the match between North-West Eagles and Barbican, which the London team won 7½ - ½. We end with another game from the same contest, featuring a losing strategy of higher pedigree. There is nothing wrong with advancing pawns to gain space, but one must be careful not to lose control of the empty spaces they leave behind.

When White played 10. g4 and 11. e4, it all linked up promisingly with his 3. f4 to create a mobile pawn front and chances of developing a K-side attack, but over the next few moves, the initiative passed to Black. 13. e5 looks more logical than Nh2, and White's 15. e5 should surely have been replaced by 15. Ng4, when 15 ... Bxc3? 15. Qxc3 Nxe4 allows Nh6 mate. White's advanced pawns look impressive, but more important is the weakness they leave behind on the long white diagonal. Flear's 17 ... Na4! is an important move, either forcing the exchange of White's knight, when it can no longer keep an eye on e4 and d5, or luring it into an uncomfortable pin, as happened in the game.

Black's advantage is pushed home, beginning with 20 ... Nxb2! (21. Bxb2 Nxf4+), sacrificing rook for knight and pawn, but gaining control of all the important squares. Black's final move is a neat exploitation of a two-way pin.

* * *

THE inaugural season of the Four Nations Chess League ended in victory for Invicta Knights of Maidstone, who edged past favourites Barbican, by beating them in the final round.

The aim of the league's founder, Chris Dunworth, was to attract top players to club chess by providing a well-funded competition played in excellent venues, run on the lines of the professional leagues of France and Germany.

With only six teams, the first year can be considered little more than an experiment, but its success may be measured by the credentials of the crucial last-round match between Invicta Knights and Barbican. The teams included four grandmasters (one female) and seven international masters. Next season, the number of teams is expected to double.

The top-board game between Matthew Sadler (Invicta Knights) and Bozidar Lalic (Barbican) provided the best entertainment of the final round. The pawn sacrifice played by Sadler in the opening has been achieving good results for White recently. Black's defences are strained by pressure on the b-file, combined with an advance of the white centre pawns.

Lalic put his faith in counter-attack, pushing his extra pawn as fast as it would go. After 14. Rxb7 Rd8 White would regain his pawn but lose the initiative - 15. Rxe7? loses to Qa3. So Sadler chased Black's queen and played for attack, but 17. Rb1 must be a mistake. The queen is driven where she wants to go, behind the passed pawn, and White's rook absents itself from the queening square. With tactics such as 27. Rxc5 Qxd1 working in Black's favour, the queen proved to be a cumbersome blockader.

Sadler eventually overstepped the time limit with eight moves still to go, and Lalic, driving the express a-pawn home to victory, spent only 40 minutes on the entire game.

/ Columns by GM W.Hartston, "The Independent", October 1993 - May 1994 /