SCO V LUX SPAIN B v SCO
Report by Paul Roberts , team manager.
The Scottish contingent for this event consisted of John Shaw, Dougie Bryson, Andy Muir, Tim Upton and Neil Berry in the men's event and Helen Milligan and Carey Wilman in the women's event. The teams were also accompanied by Alan Minnican who acted as Head of Delegation and Delegate in the meeting of the ECU general assembly, Andy's wife Claire and myself acting as team manager.
As with the previous European championship the journey to the event was not entirely without incident. Whilst Helen, Carey and Tim had already arrived in Madrid airport on an earlier flight the rest of us were delayed on arrival owing to a security alert on the flight. It became apparent that we had a few dodgy characters on board when the front part of the plane was filling up with members of the local constabulary who were no doubt exceedingly annoyed at having been disturbed from their coffee and doughnuts.
It soon became apparent that some drugs paraphanalia had been recovered in one of the toilets. Instead of doing the sensible thing and approach the alledged offending 3 passengers, the Police left it to one of the stewardesses to approach them on her own. To the surprise of those sitting in the general vicinity the alleged culprits made their way to the front of the plane very meekly.
The tournament venue was Palacio de Deportes in the centre of Leon. Both the men's and women's events took place in a spacious sports hall with spotlights trained on all the boards and the rest of the hall in relative darkness. The top 3 matches had live internet coverage and a large screen had a video link up with one of the top games. The facilities were generally quite good though there were the usual problems over lack of availability of lists of all the pairings and lack of access to both the organisers' office and one of the 2 press centres.
Round 1 - November 6
Scotland 1½-2½ Yugoslavia Shaw (2499) ½-½ Ilincic (2521) Bryson (2384) 0-1 Ivanisevic (2547) Muir (2313) 0-1 Kovacevic (2553) Upton (2303) 1-0 Vukcovic (2466)
Scotland 0-2 Slovakia Milligan (2117) 0-1 Hagarova (2335) Wilman (2044) 0-1 Repkova (2330)
The general concensus from the men's team was that the Yugoslav's were a "team of hustlers" as their boards 3 and 4 risked hugely in going for the win and their board 2 managed to convert a clearly won position into a not so clearly won position. Tim had a dead drawn bishop v knight endgame with pawns on both sides and no clear way through for either side. As his opponent was intent on playing on Tim set a clever hephalump trap which his opponent promptly walked into. This was even more amusing when Tim revealed his opponent missed the win of an exchange shortly before the time control!
Andy had 2 rooks v queen and g-pawn and it looked as if he should defend. And with Andy having 2 1/2 minutes to his opponent's half a minute in the quickplay finish Andy offered a draw. However his opponent gambled everything and it tragically paid off after a blunder allowed the pawn to promote. Watching Dougie's game I thought he was clearly lost as his opponent had an extra 2 connected passed pawns on the queenside in a rook and minor piece endgame. However Dougie's opponent became quite casual and the position got progressively more and more murky. Although the final position was lost, Dougie said after the game that there may have been a moment 3 or 4 moves before the end when he could have put up more resistance.
John was never in trouble in a Bb5+ Sicilian and came incredibly close to winning a bishop v knight endgame where he had a passed a pawn and h pawn to his opponent's f and h pawns. So, overall, it was a good result with our opponents marginally shading it in terms of luck.
The ladies had a tough opening match. Helen had trouble with a buried bishop on g7(black pawns on h6,f7,f6, white pawn on f5) in a psedo-Sveshnikov type position. Carey fell into a trap which allowed a well time kingside attack and an eventual queen invasion proved decisive.
Round 2 - November 7
Scotland 1-3 Iceland Shaw (2499) 0-1 Stefansson (2575) Bryson (2384) ½-½ Gunnarsson (2386) Upton (2303) ½-½ Thorfinnson (2393) Berry (2255) 0-1 Kristjansson (2371)
Scotland 0-2 Sweden Milligan (2117) 0-1 Agrest (2205) Wilman (2044) 0-1 Johansson (2190)
Another tough day as both teams were again paired against higher seeded opposition. (SCO V ICE right) John fell into an unfortunate trap early in the middlegame and was lost soon afterwards. Dougie got on the scoreboard with a comfortable draw and Tim again had a good "return of serve" by drawing against the Catalan.
Neil's opponent sacrificed a pawn in return for better development on the black side of a 4 Qc2 Nimzoindian. For a large part of the game it looked very unclear, however a missed tactic shortly before the time control was decisive. Nevertheless it was a good fighting performance from Neil on his debut (photo left).
The ladies again found it hard going as both the Swedes ground out hard fought wins. Helen seemingly had excellent drawing chances in an opposite coloured bishop endgame , however a cunning pawn sacrifice took a key checking square away from Helen's bishop which in turn allowed her opponent to break through. Carey had an uphill struggle when her opponent was able to seize more space in the centre and on the queenside in a Benko Gambit. I was beginning to feel optimistic as Carey's opponent seemed to be looking at the queenside a lot when the real breakthrough should be engineered on the opposite side. Unfortunatley her opponent eventually found the right plan and Carey eventually dropped the exchange but still managed to put up a lot of resistance.
We found an Irish pub called Dickens - a strangely anglicised name for an establishment purporting to promote memories of the Emerald Isle - still it did sell Guinness. Pictured right was some of the evening entertainment which the team flatly refuse to believe is any worse than that riverdance stuff.
Round 3 - November 8
Scotland 4-0 Wales Shaw (2499) 1-0 Cobb (2335) Bryson (2384) 1-0 Zvidler (2296) Muir (2313) 1-0 May Berry (2255) 1-0 Varley (2197)
Scotland 2-0 Ireland Milligan (2117) 1-0 O'Shaughnessy Wilman (2044) 1-0 Ui Laighleis (2041)
A great day for Scottish chess! At the start of the day Alan Minnican made a 20 pound bet with the world-famous poker player Stewart Reuben (pay-off right) that Scotland would win both matches. Dougie subsequently pointed out that, based on the expected scores the odds on this happening were 5-4 against so it was a correct bet from Mr. Reuben's point of view. This, however, counted for nothing as both teams put in splendid performances.
Dougie was quick to cash in with some home brewed preparation which his opponent walked straight into. On top board John gradually increased his advantage with ease and won soon afer the time control. The most amusing aspect of this match was the uncanny resemblance of the Welsh boards 3 and 4 to the bearded members of the band ZZ Top - Andy and Neil were unfazed and both had comfortable wins. Andy later celebrated in style and indeed did his best to bring the analysis room into disrepute by trawling the tournament venue's internet computers for his favourite "Captain Pugwash" websites.....
Meanwhile the ladies were also in ruthless form as Helen's opponent was forced to walk the plank in the early middlegame and Carey tortured her opponent for a good couple of hours before finally putting her out of her misery.
Round 4 - November 9
Scotland ½-3½ Croatia Shaw (2499) ½-½ Kozul (2569) Bryson (2384) 0-1 Cvitan (2550) Muir (2313) 0-1 Zelcic (2547) Upton (2303) 0-1 Golubovic (2458)
Scotland 1½-½ Albania Milligan (2117) 1-0 Vuji 2135 Wilman (2044) ½-½ Gjergi 2026
This was a day of mixed fortunes with the mens team narrowly avoiding a 4-0 wipeout thanks to an heroic rearguard action by top board John Shaw. As John´s game was the last to finish it was shown live on the playing hall's giant screen. Mr.Kozul was not best pleased as he was the only member of his team who failed to win - he was a clear pawn up with queen and knight v queen and bishop. In the other games Dougie never really recovered after an early mistake in the opening, Andy played a speculative piece sacrifice which didn't work and Tim played a c6-c5 pawn break too early which allowed his opponent to cement a pawn on d5 which was ultimately decisive.
The ladies once again produced another excellent performance to move further up the table. Playing the Pirc Defence, Carey was able to equalise in the early middlegame and drew comfortably. Helen seemed to have a level knight v bishop endgame, however her opponent played the self destruct button and allowed a passed pawn on the sixth rank which enabled Helen to exchange into a won king and pawn endgame.
Round 5 - November 10
Scotland 2-2 Finland Shaw (2499) 1-0 Salmensuu (2436) Muir (2313) 0-1 Kallio (2517) Upton (2303) 1-0 Norri (2418) Berry (2255) 0-1 Holmsten (2422)
Scotland ½-1½ Greece Milligan (2117) 0-1 Makropoulou (2315) Wilman (2044) ½-½ Kouvetsou (2234)
Today the boys bounced back with a creditable draw against a higher ranked Finish team. Tim was first on the scoreboard with a 21 move demolition job of an IM in his favourite Ponzani Opening.
The Finns then fought back with wins on 2 and 4 in the hour leading up to the time control. John then once again demonstated excellent endgame technique in squeezing a win after having a nagging advantage from the opening onwards. It is also worth noting that the game started in most extraordinary fashion: 1 e4 Nc6 2 Nf3 f5??!, which merited a diagram in the tournament bulletin.
The ladies had a tough match against a strong Greek team who rested their 2300+ top board. Helen was in trouble at an early stage of the game and had a seemingly lost position, being a pawn down and facing a strong attack against an uncastled king. A loose move by her opponent allowed a queen exchange and thereafter some drawing chances with each side having 2 rooks , a pair of knights and opposite coloured bishops. In the end Helen lost a crucial h-pawn which proved decisive. Meanwhile Carey produced another solid performance and succeeded in frustrating her higher rated opponent and drew comfortably.
Round 6 - November 11
Scotland 1½-2½ Macedonia Shaw (2499) ½-½ Bogdanovski (2430) Bryson (2384) ½-½ Mitkov (2514) Upton (2303) 0-1 Nedev (2514) Berry (2255) ½-½ Jacimovic (2486)
Scotland 1-1 Latvia Milligan (2117) 1-0 Reizniece (2303) Wilman (2044) 0-1 Rogule (2221)
Today the ladies had their best result of the tournament with a draw against a much higher rated Latvian team. Helen produced the performance of the day with a victory against a 2300. Carey had a slightly worse position and faced a difficult defence once her opponent gained control of the d file and the d6 square, which eventually resulted in her losing queen for rook and bishop which was decisive.
Meanwhile in the men's match, Neil's opponent was obviously eager for a time out and offered a draw on move 8 which he accepted after some deliberation (as he was white he would normally have played on). Tim's game was next to finish when he went for some tactics which eventually backfired. John had a comfortable draw rook and knight v rook and bishop endgame and was no doubt relieved to have an early finish as both his previous games lasted the full 6 hours. Shortly before the time control with both players reasonably short on time Dougie was the exchange up. In an attempt to clarify matters Dougie sacrificed the exchange to try and breakthrough on the kingside, however the game soon simplified into an opposite coloured bishop endgame. After the game Dougie said he probably missed several wins before the time control. The net result was that the team had 10.5 points and managed to avoid the bye for another day!
REST DAY - November 12
Alan returned to the UK today , leaving the hotel at around 0600hrs and the rest of us surfaced at a much more civilised hour. John, Helen and Neil decided not to go on the excursion to "Las medulas"(some famous spanish mudhuts or spanish anthills made of mud. Anyway, mud is the most prominent feature...) and this turned out to be an inspired decision. We learnt the previous evening that we would not be visiting the famous mud-constucted edifices and would instead be treated to the region's most attractive churches and cathedrals.
Arriving in the small town of Astorga at around midday we couldn't help but be amazed at the beauty of its 11th century cathedral. We were even more amazed when after barely half a minute we were all turfed out by the caretaker as it is normally closed between 12 and 4.30pm ! After an impromptu coffee stop to fill up the time we set off for Villa Franca, which is famous for its monastery.
On the way we stopped at a restaurant in a very scenic hillside location which was no doubt specially selected by the organisers. The meal turned out to be an highly entertaining affair with the local speciality (a bull's entrails) attracting the most attention and appetite spoiling jokes, most notably from members of the Greek team.
Later in the afternoon we finally arrived at Villafranca and were promptly deposited at the doors of the monastery with the guide saying to meet at the entrance in 2 hours. No sooner had the tourbus disappeared into the susnset it soon became apparent that the monastery was closed. Further enquiries with the locals revealed that all the town's other churches and museums were also closed as it was a Monday.
As luck would have it we found our tourbus sneakily parked in one of the town's sidestreets (see right). Just as we were about to return to Leon we discovered that 2 Austrians were missing. An Israeli arbiter who had assumed the role of unofficial tourguide/racconteur then co-ordinated several search parties while the more lazy (ie all of us) either remained on the bus or had another impromptu coffee stop. When the Austrians were finally found we discovered that 2 Finns who had gone looking for the Austrians were now missing! To cut a long story shorter we finally arrived back in Leon at 7pm after an unforgettable day.
Round 7 - November 13
Scotland ½-3½ Spain (B) Shaw (2499) ½-½ Martinez (2503) Bryson (2384) 0-1 Angelis (2489) Muir (2313) 0-1 Martinez (2474) Upton (2303) 0-1 Lopez (2435)
Scotland 1-1 Belarus Milligan (2117) ½-½ Popova (2283) Wilman (2044) ½-½ Tetenkina (2253)
Another day of mixed fortunes with the men losing heavily and the women acheiving an excellent draw against another higher ranked team. Dougie lost 2 pawns early on in the Scandinavian Defence and never had enough counterplay. Andy had an IQP position with white and his opponent gradually exchanged all the pieces into a favourable rook endgame which he won after approximately 4 hours' play. Tim's game went the full distance and he came agonising close to drawing a bishop v knight endgame, missing the draw on the very last move.
Both Helen and Carey had very solid games and both appeared to have the better of the draws. Before the round a minute's silence was observed in the playing hall in repect of England's GM Tony Miles who passed away the previous day.
Round 8 - November 14
Scotland 2-2 Luxembourg Shaw (2499) ½-½ David 2522 Bryson (2384) 1-0 Wagener 2183 Muir (2313) 0-1 Brittner 2202 Berry (2255) ½-½ Weber
Scotland ½-1½ Switzerland Milligan (2117) ½-½ Hund 2279 Wilman (2044) 0-1 Ramseier 2181
This was quite a tense round as the men were battling to avoid the ignominy of having a bye in the last round. The other contenders were Austria who were a point behind and playing Turkey.
Andy's opponent sacrificed a piece in return for a strong attack in the early stages. Andy later said that it was probably unsound but he was unable to find the correct defence and he eventually bailed out into a rook v bishop endgame, which he lost after 6 hours' play. In the other games Dougie had a good win, maintaining his high scoring with the white pieces, and John and Neil both drew. At one stage Neil looked as if he had a difficult position but he was able to bail out into rook, bishop and 3 pawns against his opponent's rook and 5 pawns.
Meanwhile the ladies were playing a higher ranked Swiss team and both Helen and Carey had slightly worse positions in the early middlegame. While Carey went down shortly before the time control Helen was able to steer the game into a rook endgame where she may have even had some chances of playing for more than a draw. So , Helen's excellent tournament continued and she needed a win in the last round for a WIM norm.
At the end of the round there was a tense wait to see whether it was us or Austria who were given the bye as we were both on 13 points. In the end we managed to avoid it. The Austrian team manager still saw the funny side as he insisted on submitting a team sheet!
Round 9 - November 15
Scotland 2-2 Albania Shaw (2499) ½-½ Dervishi (2501) Muir (2313) 0-1 Seitaj (2386) Upton (2303) ½-½ Rama (2311) Berry (2255) 1-0 Mehmeti
Scotland 1-1 Turkey Milligan (2117) ½-½ Cinar 2075 Wilman (2044) ½-½ Keskin
Both teams finished with draws against similar ranked opposition. With rook, bishop knight + 4 pawns v 2 rooks +6 pawns (2 of which were doubled) John appeared to be slowly torturing his GM opponent with his active pieces. However shortly before the time control disaster struck as John had to give up a piece so that his king could escape a mating net. Dervishi then sacrificed the exchange in time trouble in order to simplify the position and the resulting rook + 2 pawns v rook + pawn endgame was drawn. Andy had another difficult game with the black pieces and his opponent eventually crahed through on the kingside assisted with a well timed f-pawn advance. Tim tried to maintain an edge on the white side of the Ruy Lopez , however his opponent was able to simlpify the position to a level queen endgame. Neil produced an excellent controlled performance against an offbeat opening (1 d4 d5 2 Bg5) and slowly built up an advantage until his rooks crashed through on the open c-file. After winning the exchange in a blocked position Neil was able to win with some panache by putting his opponent in Zugswang with half a chess set still on the board.
The women had quite a tough match against the Turks who, although lower rated, were quite dangerous (Their board 1 beat Elaine Rutherford with black at last year's olympiad in Istanbul and the second board was an unrated junior.) After their respective games both Helen and Carey were quite relieved as they said their opponents offered draws in won positions!
The men finished on 15/36 in 29th-31st place and the final individual scores were: John Shaw 5/9, Dougie Bryson 3/7, Andy Muir 1/7, Tim Upton 3/7, Neil Berry 3/6. John proved to be rock solid on top board with only one loss and a string of draws against strong GMs. The other main highlight was Neil scoring 50% on his debut.
The women finished on 7.5/18 in 26th-27th place with Helen scoring 4.5/9 and Carey scoring 3/9. Helen was half a point away from a WIM norm and had an overall rating performance of 2232. Carey's performance of 2039 was only marginally below her rating. The best results were undoubtedly the 1-1 draws against Latvia and Belarus in the second half of the tournament which enabled them to finish a couple of places above their seeded position.