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Surbiton win 4NCL Division 4

This season I took over the captaincy of 4NCL Surbiton - my first step into the world of chess captaincy. The previous 4NCL season had been a tough one for Surbiton; we had lost many close matches, struggled to make a team for the crucial final weekend and been relegated from division 3. When I took an early roll call of players the situation didn't look good. Some of our previous regulars had decided to either step away from the 4NCL, or play for other (mostly higher division) teams. Enter the first hero of the 4NCL season: Stephen Moss.

Stephen had been the first person to suggest a Surbiton 4NCL team back in 2013. With the team now under threat he went to work looking for enough new players to boost our ranks and make a team viable. Our ranks slowly increased and by the time we submitted our team we had a full list of 12 players - phew!

The first weekend in November started well. We were paired against a team of junior players, which always comes with an element of unpredictability, but our greater experience won out with a convincing 4.5-1.5 score line. Even better, none of the games overran, so we had plenty of time to get to the local Indian in Mortimer for a victory dinner! Unfortunately, it didn't remain plain sailing and a tough pairing against Wessex B resulted in a narrow 2.5-3.5 defeat. Nick Faulks had a particularly unfortunate loss and Stephen, showing the same tenacity that got our team to the start line, held out for 6 hours before succumbing in a tricky endgame. Well fought!

Although 50% wasn't a dream start we took advantage of the seemingly random early pairings to win our next three matches relatively comfortably. In fact, the only thing that stood between us and 6-0 victories in rounds 4 and 5 was your author's chess deficiencies! However, after this the pairings moved into a regular swiss system and we began playing against teams of similar strength. Round 7 gave us a difficult pairing against Crowthorne, where we again lost 2.5-3.5. In this case I felt we were well beaten and the score could (and perhaps should) have been worse. In the last game to finish Mike Singleton pulled off a truly remarkable draw from a position I think many players would have thrown in the towel. The draw didn't help us in that match but every half point improved our tie-break, which turned out to be very important later....

Prior to the fourth weekend I feared that any promotion aspirations may be short lived. For the first time putting together a team proved a struggle and I was unable to make the round 7 match myself due to other commitments. On top of that we'd been paired against Brown Jack 2, the highest rated team in the league. I needn't have worried! Paul Durrant and Genc Tasbari held down draws on the bottom boards, while our top three, David Scott, Mike Singleton and Nick Faulks all won to give us a fantastic 4-2 victory. We followed that up with a close-fought draw against CSC 2, to end the penultimate weekend in a respectable 6th place.

Ahead of the final bank holiday weekend it was clear that we'd need a very strong finish if we wanted to win promotion back to Division 3. Due to the league rules, it wasn't clear how many teams would get promoted, but most guesses were on three. In such a tightly packed league we'd probably need 2.5/3 match points to overtake enough teams to get there. After a great response to my call for players we went along with our strongest possible team to give us a fighting chance.

In round 9 we were paired against the cleverly named "All Anands on Deck". The pun was particularly apt, as they had called up a 2399 rated IM to play board 1 and give them a chance at a promotion run. Fortunately for us our own board one, Chris Briscoe, was in top form! After a complicated fight, Chris won with black against his strong opponent and we turned out 4-2 winners. Our next pairing in round 10 against Oxford 3 was a friendly pairing on paper. They had a relatively low average rating and we were the clear favourites. However, over the season they had won several matches as the underdog, so we had to be on our toes. There were a few scares. We lost one game quickly and I had a few nervous moments in my game before eventually securing a draw, but eventually we prevailed 4-2 again, with wins from Chris Briscoe, David Scott and Graham Alcock. Thanks to our superior tie-break we moved up into second place. It was clear we now had promotion in our sights.

In the final round we were paired against the top placed team Iceni 2, who remarkably had outperformed Iceni 1 over 10 rounds, despite losing their individual encounter. The night before the match I worked out some potential scenarios based on what might happen if we drew or lost. In those cases, our promotion hopes would rest on how other teams performed. The preferred scenario was also the simplest: if we win, we win the league! Powered by our team's second Indian meal of the weekend we went into the match in a confident mood. First blood was ours as Nick Faulks played a great game, sacrificing two pieces for a big attack that eventually reclaimed the material with interest. Well played! It felt good to edge ahead but I was in time pressure, David Scott appeared to be losing in an endgame the exchange down and the other games were still unclear. No time to relax! Shortly before the time control Chris Briscoe won his game, giving him a personal score of 3/3 for the weekend on board 1. This was closely followed by my own victory and a sigh of relief. With a 3-0 lead, we were guaranteed at least a draw and a look at the remaining games showed that David Scott had somehow turned his game around and victory was in sight. David indeed went on to win and with his remarkable turnaround tied up both a 4 - 2 match win and the league victory, thanks to our superior tie-break. David also recorded a fantastic 6.5/7 personal score, which surely qualifies him as this season's MVP! It definitely makes it easier for the team to have such a prolific scorer playing amongst the top boards.

"It ain't over till the Fat Lady sings!"

Here is a miraculous escape by Mike Singleton as Black against Colin Purdon on board 4 against Crowthorne in Round 6. Luckily for Crowthorne this miraculous escape from the jaws of defeat for Surbiton was not crucial as Crowthorne won that match 3.5-2.5 - much to the relief of several Crowthorne players who were watching the final stages of this game in disbelief.....

Game viewer by ChessTempo

See the final table here.

Thank you and congratulations to everyone who contributed to the team's victory. A special thank you to Graham Alcock who helped provide lifts to players as well as playing all 11 rounds.

In 2018-19 we'll be back in division 3 and the venues will be Bedford (2nd weekend) and Daventry (all other weekends). These are both about a 2 hour drive from Surbiton, so a bit further away than Mortimer but an improvement over Telford where it was held for a while. Hope to see you playing for us next season!

Tim Seymour, May 2018