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Surbiton's Debut Season in the 4NCL

It was with some trepidation that Surbiton's debut in the 4NCL started in November 2013. As Captain, I was just happy to have 6 players turn up on time at the Daventry Court Hotel! A number of lifts were involved, and there were plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, but everything worked fine. Playing on the first weekend were (in board order): Chris Briscoe, Paul Shepherd, Ian Henderson, Alan Crombleholme, myself and Koby Kalavannan, the talented U11 British Champion. In addition we had Paul Durrant travelling as a reserve.

In Round 1 on the Saturday afternoon we faced a team very comparable to ours in terms of ratings average, Leeds University Old Boys, which was a bit of a surprise. I guess this is a feature of the pairings being done in advance without knowing who will actually play in each team. Anyway, it felt like a very accelerated pairing for a swiss. We narrowly lost it with 5 draws and 1 loss. It could have gone either way. In Round 2 on the Sunday morning we played Iceni 2, a side that averaged c250 elo points lower, and we won 4.5-1.5, with wins from Alan Crombleholme, Koby Kalavannan and myself. All in all, a pretty solid start - 1/2 scored. (Below is Alan's Round 2 game, where he uses the Trompovsky to deadly effect....)

The second weekend took place in January 2014, and we had the same team, except that Paul Durrant was playing this time. I had not booked far enough in advance and we found ourselves staying at the Holiday Inn about 5 miles down the road from the venue. In Round 3 we faced Iceni 1, and suffered another narrow defeat with 5 draws and one loss. This was disappointing - as a team we were rated slightly higher - but it was very close! Following a really very good dinner at a local pub on the Saturday night, we found ourselves playing another tough match on Sunday morning. In round 4 we played another equally rated team and drew, although there was plenty of carnage with four decisive games. Ian Henderson and Paul Durrant did the business and kept us in the match. This was our toughest weekend, scoring just 0.5/2. When you consider we only lost three games in the whole weekend and won twice, and drew seven, it just goes to show how fine the margins can be with these 4NCL matches. (Below is Ian's 4th round game, in which he turns the tables and wins with Black against the English Opening. Also below is Paul's 4th round game, in which he dispatches a higher rated player playing Philidor's Defence without too much bother...)

The third weekend took place in February. Our usual two top board players were absent and Hugh Fenwick, from Mushrooms, made his team debut. On the Saturday our Round 5 opponents were the amusingly named Throw in the Tal. They were quite a lot lower rated than us, and it was our easiest match with a 6-0 walkover. A very encouraging bounce-back from our tough second weekend. On the Sunday morning, we played another funnily named side The Full Ponty. We were pretty closely matched, particularly as we had two strong players missing, but nevertheless we won 4-2. There were wins from Koby Kalavannan and Hugh Fenwick, giving them wonderful 100% scores for the weekend! With this the team's running score rose to 3.5/6, for the first time taking us into the top half of the table. (Below is my Round 5 game playing against the tricky French, Tarrasch, Guimard main line. Also below is Hugh's short and sweet Round 6 game with Alapin's variation (2.c3) against the Sicilian...)

The fourth weekend took place in March, and we were again expecting some tough matches given that our score had gone up. Strangely though we actually faced weaker teams than we did in the first two weekends. In Round 7 we faced KJCA Knights, rated on average c1800, but made up of scarily under-rated juniors! We were also missing Chris and Ian for different reasons - Chris was doing some coaching on the Saturday and Ian was unwell and decided not to play. We only narrowly won 3.5-2.5, with wins from Paul Shepherd and Paul Durrant. On the Sunday, Chris and Ian played and we secured a 3-3 draw with the pretty strong side Ashfield-Breadsall, thanks to a win by Chris on Board 1. (Below is Chris's win against the Sicilian O'Kelly variation, in which he takes the unusual step of offering a transposition to a Smith-Morra variation, which his opponent declines...)

In the fifth and final weekend over the first May Bank Holiday weekend we had 3 rounds to play. Coming into it we had a score of 5/8, and we were again expecting a tough ride. We had a good team playing, however, so anything was possible. In Round 9 we faced Ferry 'Cross the Marcoczy 1, which fielded a decent team comparable to ours. We won 4-2 with wins by Paul Shepherd and Koby Kalavannan, who by now had gone up a place to Board 5. This was a great result that put us in contention with the top placed teams in the tournament. In Round 10 we played Kings Head 2 on Table 5. We won with an impressive 4.5-1.5 score, with four wins (Ian Henderson, Alan Crombleholme, Koby Kalavannan, Hugh Fenwick). In the final round, with a score of 7/10, we found ourselves on Table 1 for the first in the season, against Guildford 3, who were already winners of Division 3. We did our best, but lost 5-1. However, Chris Briscoe and Paul Shepherd achieved highly creditable draws against IM Andrew Martin and IM Gavin Wall, respectively. (Below is Paul Shepherd's win in Round 9 with his stalwart Closed Sicilian and Koby's Round 10 win against the QGD (also resembled Catalan and Dutch...)

You can view a selection of the team's better games here...

Game viewer by ChessTempo

You can view round results and a cross-table here.

At the beginning of the season, looking at the opposition I imagined we would finish mid-table. So, to finish on the top table of Division 3 in the last round and to finish in 14th place out of 63 teams is an achievement we can be proud of! To come so close to the possibility of promotion in our first season was also a pleasant surprise. Thank you to all nominated players, whether you played or not, as having so many good players available to play made my job as Captain easy. Despite nominating 12 players, only 8 were actually called upon to play, and that reflects the excellent support given by players. A special thanks to Paul Durrant who travelled every weekend whether or not he was playing, and gave vital lifts to players. Thank you to our treasurer David Morant who paid for our entry fee upfront, and to Stephen Moss, who suggested we play in 4NCL.

Looking forward to the 2014-15 season, the ambition is to enter two teams, with one aiming for promotion to Division 2. This would be dependent upon strengthening our first team, and expanding the number of nominated players. If any players out there would like to play for 4NCL Surbiton in 2014-15, please get in touch, by emailing me at surbitonchessclub@gmail.com !

Angus James