Four Nations Chess League :: 2003/2004

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Basic data

Four Nations Chess League 2003/2004
(see all-time tournament summary)
Dates: October 2003 - May 2004
Cities: Rounds 1-2, 7-11: West Bromwich, West Bromwich Moat House
Rounds 3-6: Telford, Telford Moat House
Chairman/Team Representative: IM Paul Littlewood (ENG)
Finance Director: Mr. Mike Truran (ENG)
Team Representative: Mr. Mark Adams (WLS)
Chief Arbiter: IA Steve Boniface (ENG)
Long time 4NCL Arbiter Richard Furness died in Aprill 2004.
Teams participating: Division 1: 12 (3 down)
Division 2: 12 (3 up; 3 down)
Division 3: 12 (3 up; 2 down)
Division 4: 18 (3 up)
Total of 54 teams from 33 clubs.
Players participating: Division 1: 168 (incl. 35 GMs, 32 IMs, 3 WGMs, 25 FMs, 2 WIMs, 3 CMs, 5 WFMs and 1 WCM)
Games played: Divisions 1 thru 3: 528
Division 4: 594
Competition format: Divisions 1 thru 3: Eight board round robin.
Division 4: Six board eleven rounds Swiss.
Final order decided by: 1. Match points; 2. Game points
Time control: 40 moves in 2 hours followed by 20 moves in 1 hour followed by 30 minutes to finish the game.
Website: 4NCL
Other websites: Then official Website (cached)
BCM Website
Downloadable game file: Division 1:
Division 2:
Division 3:
Division 4:

Big Hitters

Individual results (most points scored wins)
Division name flag code pts gms
Div 1 King, Daniel John England GUIL 10
Div 2 Ashby, Ann-Marie England BRST 11
Div 3 GM Hebden, Mark England HLSM 11
= Div 4 Goodger, Martyn England POP2 11
= Div 4 Moskovic, David England CAMB 11

Manager of the Year
Division name team

Tournament review

October saw the start of the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL), Britain's premier chess league. Now in its eleventh season, the league attracts 54 teams, competing in four Divisions. During the close season an unprecedented number of new teams joined including the Braille Chess Association and some enigmatically named teams such as Brown Jack and Grendel's Mother.

Most of Britain's strongest players compete in the 4NCL, as do competitors from a total of 27 countries. The strength in depth is shown by the fact that some third and fourth division teams boast International Masters and in one case a Grandmaster. If previous seasons are anything to go by, the promotion and relegation issues will be closely contested in all divisions.

Last year's Division 1 runners up were Guildford-ADC and their strengthened team got off to a good start in the first round, played at the West Bromwich Moat House. In their opening game, Guildford managed a convincing 7-1 win over newly promoted Micro Markets NWE. Their new recruit, French International Master Thal Abergel, made a stunning debut with a 15 move win.

The most exciting game in the match was Danny Gormally's victory over Micro Markets' Charles Kennaugh, which featured the unusual material imbalance of bishop against five pawns. Black went pawn-grabbing in the opening and then sacrificed a knight to amass an impressive pawn phalanx which should have been decisive in the endgame. After a couple of inaccuracies near the time control White's initiative proved impossible to stem. 30...Nxc3! 31.Bxd7 Bxd7 32.Rxe3 dxe3 creating six passed pawns for the rook would have been decisive eg 33.Nf3 b4! and 34...Na4 was strong.

Once Black had missed his last chance of 41...Ka5, he found his king trapped in a mating net and his extra pawns proved worthless. Gormally finished off nicely with 48.Be5+, which forces mate after 48...Rxe5 49.Nxc6+ Kc8 50.Ba6 mate or 48...Ka8 49.Nxc6 Rxc6 50.Be4 with mate next move.

* * *

Last year's Four Nations Chess League winners Wood Green look like the team to beat again this season. Alongside England's top two Michael Adams and Nigel Short, they can also call on Russian Alexander Morozevich, winner of the recent tournament at Biel in Switzerland, and Moldovan Viorel Bologan, who won in Dortmund. Just in case that line up is not formidable enough, they have also recruited England's most improved player, Grandmaster Luke McShane. Perhaps it is no surprise that the bookies make Wood Green odds-on favourites to retain their title.

Wood Green started off their program at the West Bromwich Moat House with a comfortable 6-2 win over The ADs. Although weakened by having a number of players away on international duty, they wrapped up the match with four wins and four draws, and looked in ominous form for the tougher battles ahead. I expect their closest challengers will be Guildford-ADC and Barbican 4NCL, with as a good outside bet.

Perhaps the most instructive game from Wood Green's opener was Norwegian Bjorn Tiller's victory against Jana Bellin on bottom board. When we first start out in chess, we learn some to develop all our pieces and to keep our king safe behind a solid phalanx of pawns. But Tiller showed excellent strategic understanding and broke these rules by launching a quick-fire pawn storm against Bellin's king. Although Tiller broke the rules by keeping his queenside pieces at home, his kingside pawn storm drove the White knights into passive positions. Black's pawn on f3 set up a variety of checkmate attacks. In the final position Bellin could find no sensible defence to the threat of 30...Ne2+ followed by 31...Qh1 mate.

A surprise result on top board in the match between Numerica 3Cs and Barbican II. GM Keith Arkell is very experienced in this line against the Modern Benoni and offers an exchange sacrifice that Peter Taylor declines. Taylor's bold decision to give up his dark squared bishop proves justified because Arkell has no play on the long diagonal with the pawn on c3 blockaded and d4 controlled by Black's c5 pawn. Later on 27.Bxf6 and Qxc4 was reasonable and 30.Be3 Rxd5 31.Bd4 would have given more play for the pawn. In attempting to maintain material equality Arkell also gives up his fianchettoed bishop but the white squared diagonal is opened and the white king perishes.

* * *

Round two of the Four Nations Chess League was played at the West Bromwich Moat House on October 19th and to avoid any awkward pairings at the climax of the season the first and second teams of clubs in the same division faced each other.

There was one amusing result as Barbican II held Barbican I to a 4-4 draw with Dave Coleman despatching Lorin D'Costa in a quite wonderful sacrificial game, which I will give next week. The first team's blushes were spared by Simon Knott who defeated Peter Taylor, the hero of Barbican's second team in round one.

The 4NCL champions Wood Green I also had difficulty overcoming their second team but GM Matthew Turner scored the decisive victory over GM Neil McDonald.

Second seeds Guildford ADC were defeated by, Black's play in the opening is a little too cavalier and although two minor pieces are usually more than a match for a rook in the middlegame Black suffers from a weakened kingside and lack of development. The end is a little surprising, White is so well coordinated he can force the Bg7 off the diagonal after which the black queen cannot defence g7 and the Bd7 for example 24...Be5 25.f4 Bxb2 26.c3

* * *

There was a surprising result in round two of the 4Nations Chess League division one as Barbican's second team managed to hold their first team to a 4-4 draw thanks to this sacrificial win by Dave Coleman. This is one of the games of the year in my view and White makes five sacrifices in all. The first two are known to opening theory and third apears to be a new idea.

The first offer 13.Nf5 is very dangerous to accept because 13...exf5 14.gxf5 intends Nd5 and the open 'g' file gives White a huge attack. If the bishop is taken with 14...exd5 15.Nxd5 Qb7 16.e5! is very dangerous because taking the pawn loses a piece eg 16...dxe5 17.Ndxe7+ and Bxc5. After 16.e5! White will capture on d6 and Black is in a tangle although my database shows that the late GM Edmar Mednis held this position against GM Ferdinand Hellers.

The third sacrifice 16.Nxg7! seems to be an inspired novelty because in that position White has usually played 16.Rg3 intending Qh5 and Rh3. Black has little choice but to accept since taking the Bd5 instead gives a much worse version of the line above. Black might have tried 17...Ne5 intending a quick ...b4, 17...Rg8 looks like a serious concession since moving the rook from c8 deprives him of counterplay against c2. The final sacrifice with 20.Nd5! cannot be accepted because 20...exd4 21.Qh6+ Kh8 22.Bd4+ wins. Black is still a piece up and 23...Rg7 and if 24.Qh8+ Rg8 25.Qh6+ Ke8 looks a better defence because after 23...exd5 24.f5 the attack is too strong. Black maintained his defence of f5 for a long time and the loss of this square opens up new lines of attack for White.

A nice game from the 4NCL in which central pawns prevail over a queenside majority. Readers may recall the game between Garry Kasparov and Ruslan Ponomariov from Linares this year in which the exchange on c3 in a similar position only served to strengthen White's centre. Black should wait for dxc5 before playing Nxc3 and instead 15...Nc7 and later ...f5 was better. Grandmaster Nigel Davies uses his new 'c' pawn to exchange the black 'd' pawn and the two central passed pawns advance. There is no stopping the avalanche, if 30...Rd6 31.Rf1 b3 32.axb3 cxb3 33.e7 Re8 34.Rf8+! Rxf8 35.e8(Q)

* * *

Guildford ADC edged further ahead of Wood Green I in the seventh round of the 4 Nations Chess League Division one held at West Bromwich. Guildford despatched Wood Green II convincingly conceding just one defeat and a draw over the eight boards to win 6.5-1.5 while Wood Green I conceded five draws to Numerica 3Cs.

The two leaders still have the same number of match points but Guildford increased their lead on game points which could well be crucial at the end of the season if both sides continue to win their matches. The 4NCL was graced by the presence of newly crowned European Women's Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk who is also the Vice Women's World Champion as well as a fashion model and film star in Russia.

Ms Kosteniuk played for Numerica 3Cs against Wood Green I and drew a short but spectacular game against England international Jon Speelman after the latter sacrificed his queen for three pieces and numerous tactical threats. Kosteniuk held the balance with a counter combination, see below.

a) Speelman could also have tried 17 Qf5 and if 17...g6 18 Nxg6! hxg6 19 Qh3 with a big advantage but 17 Qf5 Bxe5 18 Rd7 Qf6 19 Qxf6 Bxf6 20 Bh5 Bc6 21 Bxf7+ Kf8 22 Bxe8 Bxd7 23 Bxd7 Bxb2 is probably a draw but White has some chances. If 20 Bh5 Re7 21 Rxb7! Rxb7 22 Bxf6 gxf6 23 Bf3 with a clear advantage. 17.Qg4 was also possible but 17...Bxe5 18 Rd7 Bc8! 19 Rxe7 Bxg4 20 Rxe5 Bxe2 is level.

b) Black's eighteenth move is forced, White was threatening Bf3-d5

c) If 20...Kxg7 21.Bf3 Qe7 22.Rd7 and the a7 pawn falls while f7 remains weak, White would be better.

d) Black repeats the position because playing on was very dangerous for example 24...Qxa2 25 Rfd1 f6 26 Rd7 Qxb3 27 R1d3 Qb1+ 28 Kh2 a5 29 Rg3+ Kh8 30 Bg7+ Kg8 31 Bxf6+ Kf8 32 Bg7+ Kg8 33 Bc3+ Kf8 34 Rf3+ Kg8 35 Rg7+ Kh8 36 Rg5+ Re5 37 Bxe5 mate

After failing to get any opening advantage White gets his pieces in a tangle but just when material loss seems inevitable he finds an amazing defensive try 27 Rb8! however his hopes are cruelly dashed by 28...Kh8!; the idea was 28 Rxb8 29 Ne7+ Kf8 30 Nxc6 Rb6 31 Rc1. After 28.Qxb8 the calm 28...Kh8! won material.

* * *

The finish to the 4 Nations Chess League could hardly have been scripted better as Guildford ADC I triumphed at the final weekend's play held at the West Bromwich Moat House on the 22nd and 23rd May.

The destination of the division one title was only decided in the last minute of the time scramble in the last game to finish as Wood Green's Harriet Hunt just failed to defeat Guildford ADC's Silvia Collas. This meant that the match ended 4.5-3.5 in Guildford ADC's favour and they topped the league.

The previous day, round ten had seen a major surprise as Guildford ADC, leading at the start of the weekend's play, dropped a match point to Slough in a 4-4 draw. Slough came with a strong squad in a last ditch and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stave off relegation for the first time in the league's eleven-year history.

The effect of Guildford ADC's lapse was to hand the lead back to Wood Green and the North London side then only needed to draw the final match to take the 4NCL title. Both teams had boosted their squads with Grandmasters from far afield but Wood Green looked like the clear favourites with an astonishing average rating over the eight boards of 2584 to Guildford's 2507.

However things quickly went Guildford ADC's way as the Israeli GM Emil Sutovsky made a stunning debut for them and defeated world number seven Alexander Morozevich in a wild game analysed by David Norwood in Saturday's Weekend Telegraph. The second Guildford victory came from Danny King who brilliantly outplayed the Muscovite GM from Dublin Alexander Baburin. King's performance deserves a mention, he scored 9.5/10 for Guildford ADC I this season and his only draw was conceded to Darren Wheeler who was forced to defend a prospect-less position for sixty moves.

Four games were drawn as Guildford ADC's middle order held off higher rated opposition. Scottish number one Jonathan Rowson drew with Michael Adams and Russian Alexander Cherniaev held Luke McShane and secured his long-awaited Grandmaster title.

At the first time control Guildford ADC led 4-2 but Wood Green held clear advantages in the two remaining games. Jonathan Speelman defeated Stuart Conquest and the whole season then turned on the final game between Harriet Hunt and Silvia Collas. Collas, a Bulgarian WIM now living in France, managed to save an endgame a pawn down to give her team victory.

Guildford ADC's victory was a personal triumph for team captain IM Nigel Povah and sponsors Assessment and Development Consultants Ltd who did not have the same resources as some of their rivals but marshalled their forces well. Formerly one of the strongest players in the country, Povah played himself in the second team this season.

For the first time there was live transmission of the top match over the internet and spectators at the Moat House were also able to follow proceedings on monitors.

King combines tactics on both wings from a quiet position. If 20.Bxc4 Nxf3+ and if 25 exd4 Rxe1+ 26 Kg2 Ne3+ 27 Kf3 Bg4+ 28 Kf4 Rxf2+ 29 Kg5 Rf5+ 30 Kh4 g5 mate. After 24.Bd1 and now 24...Qxd4 and if 25.exd5 Rxe1+ and mate in five see above. After 37.Rd1 now 37...Qxd1+ 38.Rxd1 Re1+ ended the game.

/ Weekly columns by IM Malcolm Pein from The Telegraph /

* * *

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys -- that's what I've always believed. And whether we are talking football or chess, the teams with the fattest wallets tend to take home the silverware. It's true that team spirit can take you a long way, but the hired guns tend to make all the difference.

Last weekend saw the match decider between the two top clubs in the 4NCL -- chess's answer to the Premiership. Wood Green, the clear favourites, needed only a draw against their rivals Guildford to capture the title.

When I saw the Wood Green line-up, it was clear that Guildford were doomed. The North London boys had not been shy at flashing their wad. OK, the spending hadn't been quite on Abramovich's level, but fielding Mickey Adams and Alexander Morozevich alongside other top grandmasters was bound to do the trick.

While the result wasn't quite the foregone conclusion of the Man Utd - Millwall final, few people would have bet against Wood Green.

Despite leaving nothing to chance, the final result was a disaster for Wood Green, who seem to make a habit of falling at the final post in the 4NCL. The very in-form Morozevich was roundly outplayed by the much lower rated Emil Sutovsky.

By losing 4.5-3.5 they were edged into second place by the cruelest of margins. They might need to have a whip-round and book Gazza for next year. Here is the game that shattered their dreams ...

/ Columns by GM David Norwood, The Telegraph, May 24th, 2004 /