Login Form

Puzzel van de dag

Reality Check

Thanks to the boost to our team by the addition of Johan and Freek, we started this season as one of the favourites of the SOS 1B group, and first place would once again return us to the top tier of this competition. It therefore seemed appropriate that our first match of the season was away against de Rode Loper, our main rival in the 2014–15 season, and the team we crucially beat in the penultimate round to all-but-secure our (brief) return to the promotieklasse.

Ahead of this match, my expectation was that this first-round pairing would serve as a comfortable warm-up for the rest of season, and some of us were even fantasising about an 8–0 victory; a result that didn’t seem entirely unrealistic given the average rating difference between the two teams. Once again, the games were projected live onto a wall, and our hosts took what to me seemed like the unusual decision of seating themselves with their backs to this fascinating overview of the state of play.

On board 1, Gerard R as white opened with 1. Nf3 and while his opponent declined to play 1. … d5, the game soon entered a kind of Reti opening via transposition. Could it be that Gerard was inspired by the burgemeester’s choice of first move at the official opening of the openluchtschaakspel? Probably not. Johan on board 2 faced the relatively uncommon 1. b4, and both players proceeded to develop and manoeuvre patiently, with Johan initiating the first sequence of exchanges on move 17 to create a passed c-pawn. On 3, after a delayed arrival, a familiar London System was soon on the board. Any hopes for gaining an early advantage quickly faded as my opponent waited until move 10 before choosing to deviate from a completely symmetric position with the offer of a knight trade. After trading off the remaining minor pieces and with a relatively locked pawn structure my opponent offered a draw. Like Johan, Gerard V on board 4 was immediately faced with an ambitious flank opening, only in this case it was 1. g4, a Grob attack. Gerard responded 1. … d5, and after 2. Bg2 chose to trade his d-pawn for the pawn on g4. Play continued dynamically with white securing an extra pawn and passed a- and b-pawns at the cost of an isolated d-pawn. Peter on board 5 opened with the usual 1. e4 and after 1. … c5, adopted his familiar approach against the Sicilian of castling queenside into black’s line of fire with the expectation that his own attack against the opponent’s king would be more effective. Henk on 6 met 1. d4 with a Nimzo-Indian defence and on move ten found an opportunity to punish his opponent’s premature pawn advance with an excellent Nxf2 tactic! Returning to the team after last season’s “sabbatical”, Freek played a Catalan and utilised the more active placement of his pieces to put pressure on the black queenside. Attempting to support the pawn on b7, Freek’s opponent played the ill-advised Na5, after which Freek was able to exchange a rook for two minor pieces. A dangerous attack looked imminent. Playing his first match as a regular member of the “eerste achttal”, Dieuwe on board 8 opened solidly against 1. d4 but went a pawn down on move 14 after perhaps miscalculating an emergent pin.

Scanning the game positions and clock-times projected onto the wall, it quickly became clear that Henk’s opponent was in trouble, and he conceded defeat in a position in which further loss of material was inevitable. A further fifty minutes passed until the second result. After successfully dealing with his opponent’s probing of his pawn structure, Gerard spotted an apparent opportunity playing 27. Qg5 rather than immediately recapturing the bishop on g2. After winning his opponent’s queen for a rook and bishop, but with time on the clock running out, Gerard was unable to find the optimum continuation and, attempting to save his trapped knight, overlooked a back-rank mate threat. A rare defeat for our number one player. 1–1. Freek was next to finish. The numerous threats created by his extra pair of minor pieces ate drastically into his opponent’s time, causing him to concede more material and eventually the game. 2–1 to Houten.

As usual, time pressure was also a feature in Peter’s game. Faced with the question of how to best to continue after black’s b5 pawn advance, Peter sank 75 minutes into the next 6 moves while his opponent castled and completed his development. Short of time and with his opponent’s knight posted threateningly on e5, Peter missed an opportunity to consolidate his position with b3, and lost too much material in the resulting complications. 2–2. At this point, it was starting to look like we might be at risk of losing the match. Fortunately, the next three results went in our favour. First, Johan succeeded in edging his c-pawn down the board, using it to restrict the activity of his opponent’s pieces and before long winning enough pawns to force his opponent to resign. 3–2. In a complex endgame, Gerard outplayed his opponent, who dubiously grabbed a pawn on h7 at the expense of piece activity and king safety, and soon paid the price. 4–2. After allowing me to open up the game with a queenside pawn advance and create some possibilities with a more active queen and rook, my opponent and I both missed the fact he could sacrifice his rook for a perpetual check. One move later, both this game de Rode Loper’s hopes of pulling off an unexpected result were over. 5–2. In a long rook-and-pawn endgame on board 8, Dieuwe’s opponent eventually managed to convert his one pawn advantage into a win. Final result, a fortunate 5–3 victory for Houten.

This match turned out to be far tougher than we expected, and we need to make sure we treat the remaining matches with less complacency. Our next opponents already hold a 3 board-point advantage over us, so anything other than a win in that game will put our ambitions of winning this season’s title in jeopardy. To add to the challenge, both Gerard R and myself will be unavailable for that match, but fortunately we have some strong reserves.