Arrival and Round 1 Report (by Rudy van Kemenade)
Strange how things sometimes just don't seem to workout, despite still being outgraded (though less so on the top and more so on the bottom boards) the match could easily have been won for Cardigan 3.5- 2.5 (with maybe an extra halfpoint one way for 4-2 or a half the other way for a draw). But the gods didn't smile.
Howard got a good position from a Queens Pawn Semislav opening, with central pressure, getting a d pawn as far as d7, but the double Rook ending was difficult for both sides, especially with four doubled and isolated f pawns, In the end although white was still a pawn up the single Rook ending was too drawish. But a result against an IM is still worth having.
Iolo got a good position from his opponent's slightly strange handling of the Nimzoindian, with a lot of Queenside play before white got to castle kingside. Iolo kept his two Bishops intact on the back rank, and continued his Queenside pressure. White slightly overreached with a d5 advance and Iolo could have won two centre pawns with a Bc5 reply. Unfortunately he found himself holding the wrong Bishop, thus had to play Bd7, when Qxb6 also left a Rook on a7 with no good square & resigned soon after. (Something similar happened to Max Euwe in I believe the Siegen Olympiad, when he picked up a Queen to oppose a Queen on b6 at b3, to find himself holding the King. Since 0-0 lost a piece, he was forced to play Kf1 and the position went downhill).
Gerry got a draw, actually allowed his 2229 opponent to escape from a completely lost position. White always had plenty of pressure throughout from an English, where the black pieces never got any kind of activity going. Gerry got an advantageous late middle game with two Bishopss vs Bishop and Knight and pushed though a pawn to h7, Unfortunately he moved to attack the Queenside pawns with a Bishop to f8 one move too early, allowing the Knight to take the h pawn. Kf4 first, and the black King has to take, thus being further away, and there are several pawns that fall on the Queenside.
Rudy got chances, when, avoiding the lines that his 2144 opponent normally plays, got into a good Philidor position (not one that Mikko was familiar with) where black had excellent attacking chances on the Kingside. Leaving a Knight on f4 to be taken by a pawn (which the engines say black should have a quick win against an exposed King). Later on the other Knight also got to f4 and was exchanged (black would have ideally liked to have a 3rd Knight to put there as well). Eventually all the heavy pieces exchanged leaving black with Bishop vs Knight with four pawns each and a protected passed pawn on f4, but the blockade saved white.
Tony was very unlucky. He played his usual type of Queens Pawn development with Bishop to g5, got a good position from various piece clashes in the centre of the board, very nearly going a pawn up in an endgame. A Bxb6, Nxb6, Rxb6, Rxa2 sequence would have left each with Rook and four pawns on the Kingside, dead drawn. However the tournament rules forbid draw offers before move 40, so Tony played on, attacking pawns on the Kingside with Rf4; when suddenly his 2138 opponent found Rc2 trapping the Bishop on c7 (no escape to f4). Really should have been a well-earned draw.
John, taking on a 2102, fell foul of a Bg5 move in a Samish King's Indian inhibiting the normal e5. Some strange gyrations on the Queenside followed (others have been down this path before - black attacking with Qa5 and Nb6, white defending with Ra3 and Nh3-f2-d1). Gradually though white was able to advance on the Kingside, netting a pawn, and a cluster of passed pawns moved in the direction of the black King, one of them giving mate in the end.
A closer match than the result suggests, and onto the All Wales clash on Round 4.
Round 4 Report
A triumph for Abergavenny and a disaster for Cardigan.
First to go down was Rudy. A solid enough position from a Petrov gave black chances against doubled pawns, though white had a g file as compensation. Then playing moves in the wrong order lead to a Qh6 , threatening mate and disclosing a Rook onto a Queen, winning Queen for Rook for Mark on board 4. Resignation was forced a few moves later as the Queen penetrated the Queenside pawns.
However on board 1 Howard struck back against Charles, who played his favourite Tarrasch Defence. White established a Knight on e5 supported by an f4 pawn, then tested the c4 pawn with b3. When black incautiously put a Queen to a5, Qe1 set a nasty trap, sprung by f5! the Ne4 winning a clear piece on the Kingside. Black resigned after 18 moves.
By now John on board 6 was running into trouble against Richard's anti King's Indian setup. An early weakening of the Queenside, plus terrible white square weaknesses after the exhange of the Queens Bishop lead to a complete white invasion of the Queenside, with the Black Kingside attack never coming anywhere near starting.
Meanwhile on board 3 Gerry's Nf3 and C4, b3 opening had been anticipated by Lloyd, using a recent book by Marin. Without knowing it, white not only followed the main line, but even an improvement suggested by Marin. If white had played an earlier f5, there would have been a near irresistible pawn storm descending on the black King. As it was, the delay caused a flurry of central tactics, leaving black two clear pawns up. An effort to get counterplay then ended with the white King being mated on e4 by a pawn.
On board 5, Tony and Matthew seemed well matched out of a Queens Pawn opening, but a little inaccuracy meant that Matthew won a vital pawn on the Queenside, Play was still difficult and an endgame was reached with black pawn on c2 and Rook on c1 perhaps still holdable had white been a bit more exact about where to put his remaining three Kingside pawns. As it was, two of them went as a price for the c pawn.
It was left then to Sven and Iolo, from a Petroff (transposing to an exchange French via d3 first, then d4). Nothing much seemed to be happening, though black had to defend an isolated Queens Pawn. Then white doubled his g pawns to remove queens. The state of the match suggested a draw, but since the rules required at least 40 moves, the players dutifully carried on before splitting the point at move 41.
So a deserved win for Abergavenny 4.5-1.5.
Round 5 Report
A chance for a win against a team ranked one below, the bottom team from Kosova (Kosovo is the Serbian version), who have only one Fide-rated player, so its not possible here to regain rating points lost in earlier rounds. But one must take care - the board number two that Iolo ended up losing to ended the event with a performance of 2351!
Iolo seemed to start off with an advantage as in the Four Knights, when black played 4...Nd4,the Rubinstein variation, known from the 1900's, white paused to think for close on twenty minutes, the opening being unfamiliar to him. (In an earlier round one of the Kosova team had fallen into the Noah's Ark trap in the Ruy Lopez, losing a Bishop early on). Anyway, white got a decent enough position, as did black, and after a pawn sac by white, a long period of manouevring ensued. After white created a centre break, the postion was materially even, but white had a passed d pawn. This lead to black's f7 dropping, finally reaching a Queen and Pawn ending with white having an extra a pawn. Unfortunately for Iolo, this time there was no chance of a perpetual, and he resigned when Queens came off.
Howard had a comfortable position in a BogoIndian, when black tried to hang on to the gambit pawn on c4. Making it a permanent sacrifice with b3, white got the black pieces into a tangle, winning two pieces for a Rook and finishing neatly against the black King trapped in the centre with an exchange sac netting the c6 pawn and Queen.
Tony got a complex position against a Queen's Indian setup, with his opponent producing an unorthodox pawn storm on the Kingside. Eventually the position cleared and all the pieces came off, leaving four pawns and a King each. Tony got a superior King placement, but got a lucky break, when black moved his f pawn, undermining e6 that meant that white now had a possible invasion point at d5. The race to queen was easily won by Tony.
John faced a slightly unusual Advance line against his Frenc , with white playing Be3 and a consequent Queen swap on b3. A long period of piece movements followed, with black defending carefully against invasions. A postional mistake by white, Knight swapping off the bad Queens Bishop, meant that black could slowly target the d4 pawn. John missed a couple of opportunities to take on e5 (unprotected Bishoop on e3 vulnerable to Bishop on b6, but black struck when white left that Bishop overloaded, protecting both the d pawn and a Rook on c1, leading to a win of both d pawn and e pawn for black.
Unfortunately the score given in the tournament record stops there, when actually several more moves were played.
It was one of a generic failure in this tournament that it seemed inputting of moves on the non-electronic lower boards was considered to be unnecessary, once the game had turned in favour of one of the players. This was noticed in several of the Welsh games, e.g. six moves missing from Rudy's game discussed next. Regrettably, this throws doubt upon how many games are affected by this incompleteness.
In Rudy's game, there was another instance of lack of opening knowledge when his opponent needed ten minutes to think of a response to the Budapest, as if not having seen this before. Black got a King's Indian with an extra move (e3-e4 being played) and got the makings of a Kingside attack. An imprecision lost an exchange, but with two Bishops vs Rook and Knight (stuck on the Queenside) and severe Kingside weaknesses (h3 played with the black-squared Bishop absent), white had difficulty in finding the best defence. A tactical breakthrough with g4 got to the King and the game should have finished quite quickly, if Rudy had seen that for once he could win a Queen rather than lose her (as in three previous games). Anyway, the second wave of attack had the white King march to d6 then back again to e2 before getting mated on the back rank.
Gerry got an excellent position from a Symmetrical English as white, and built up a promising central bind that the engines suggest should have been winning with an earlier c5 thrust. As it is things swapped off and Gerry hoped for a swift Kingside attack with a Qg5, but allowed an e4 move by black gaining space towards white's King with a well placed Knight on d4. (Be4 first would have prevented this movement). When the centre cleared, the Knight went to f5 both protecting its own King and menacing the white King by targeting g3 (with h4 an extra threat), Gerry resigned, when faced by mate from an invasion of his second rank by Rook and Queen.
So a clear win at last for the team, 4-2.
Round 7 Report
The evening before most of both teams had landed up, just as in Vienna before with the Seniors, in an Irish pub. One wonders though, whether there are any Macedonian pubs in Dublin. The food looked sort of Irish (with Macedonian trimmings), and a very convivial evening was had.
However the draw for Cardigan was unfortunate, a downfloat to our strongest yet team; who had mostly been performing badly, with the exception being their top board, an IM with a chance of a GM norm should he beat Howard, his weakest opponent of the event.
It started as a complex Nimzoindian, with opposite sides castling and white seeking to disturb Howard's Kingside structure. Howard gave up the the King's Rook Pawn to seek to benefit on the other side of the board. It seems that white should have been winning with finding the right time to push h4-h5, yet he began to defend his King (back in the centre by now) from perpetual check possibilities. And suddenly Howard was able to push his c pawn to c3 and c2, queening with a quick mate to follow.
Rudy having white, found a way of bypassing his 2316 FM opponent's more usual lines with a sharp Velimirovic Attack and had looked at a number of games in preparation. Black reacted with a Qe8 rather than Qc7, but seemed surprised at being gifted the e pawn, discounting the typical Nd5 (pseudo) sacrifice, but not having quite seen the sharp followup. Some exchanges followed with black having an extra but doubled and isolated set of Queen Pawns. However when white allowed an advance to d4, he could have found it quite difficult to defend his King in a more passive position for his pieces. Black missed the opportunity and White proceeded to have slightly the better of an endgame with Bishop vs Knight, maybe setting up a potential outside passed pawn, but which could easily be miscalculated as well. The pieces swapped, leaving the centre impassible for both King's, but given the prohibition on agreeing draws before move 41, both sides repeated moves with their King, the same position occurring four times, twice.
Unfortunately the going for the rest of the team was less fortunate.
John slowly built up a pawn roller with f3 and e4, e5 and f5 against his 2115 opponents Nimzoindian, who reacted with Queenside play, anchoring a Knight on b3. At a crucial moment white edged in with his Bishop on to the weakened white squares around the black King, allowing a Qb1ch and QxR on a2. Had John retreated Be1 rather than the Re1 played, the engines give white the victory as the Queen and Knight are far away and black's Queens Rook also unable to come to the aid of its King. As happened though black was able to regroup around his King, return some material, and win with a piece and extra Queenside pawns.
Tony played a Queen's Indian against his 2122 opponent and got a level position; white lining up against a d6 pawn being held by Rooks and pressure against e4. However an overambitious ...f5 gave white his chance to play against the King. Putting pieces onto d5 that could not be taken, white sacrificed an exchange to break through to Tony's King with a Queen and Bishop.
Gerry faced a 2339 IM with his Sicilian, keeping his King in the centre for much of the game to deter any rapid Kingside initiative, and even gained the advantage for quite some time (according to the engines) with his own initiative aimed at the white King on the Queenside. It seems he should have taken white's e5 pawn earlier in exchange for his on b3, but elected to defend his instead. When he did take on e5 it was a blunder, letting the Bishop skewer the Knight and Rook on d6 (although the engines consider that white was winning in any case by now).
That left Iolo facing a 2511 GM on board 2. Repeating the same line he had tried in Round 1, getting a Schlechter-Grunfeld with black taking two moves with d6-d5 and with the white Knight on c3, white seemingly had a decent enough position in the centre with prospects for his King's Bishop aiming at the Queenside. However the engines give black a slight superiority in the only open file and black swapped off with his Rook aiming at several of white's pawns on the second rank. Iolo sent his Rook to the Queenside for counterplay; leaving white with two pawns to one on the Queenside, and black's four connected pawns to two on the Kingside. The position stabilized with a solitary a pawn and Rook in front while black advanced in the centre, leading eventually to a position where white had recovered with a h pawn versus two central passed pawns. Some delicate grandmasterly moves kept black in control, threatening mate to end the game before the h pawn became anything close to being a real menace, despite being on h6.
Final result; 1.5-4.5.
The Closing ceremony was a bit of a shambles, with the audience scarcely able to see past a ring of photographers surrounding the dais, and lacking the customary musical performance.
And at 3.30 four Cardigan players, six Norwegians and a lone Nakamura waited in vain for the promised bus to the airport, having to organise their own transport at the last minute.
The hotel was a lovely experience, with open view lifts working smoothly, very helpful staff, and good Macedonian beer & wine accompanying varied meals.
The flight to Zagreb first was a wonderful view of rocky mountains, with just the tops in wisps of snow, with the surrounding plateaus already filled with km wide early snow.
A second security check followed at Zagreb on re-entering the EU, but there was enough time left to go on the final leg, back to Heathrow.