Crazy game seals Spitfires win in round 10

By Hendon LOCL captain Andrew Medworth
Wednesday 5 May, 2021

In the tenth round of the London Online Chess League tonight, the Spitfires scraped home in an absolute thriller, including a truly extraordinary game by Morris Jones – and the Harriers scored a good win against a decent side too!

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, came a cropper against the champions-elect of season 2.

Charlton Chess Addicks Hendon Hurricanes
FM Conor Murphy
2395 1 - 0
CM Rob Willmoth
Gary Clark
2230 ½ - ½
Alex Leslie
FM Tony Stebbings
2260 ½ - ½
David Amior
John Wager
2058 1 - 0
Gideon Vecht
3 - 1

In the Queens Division, the Hurricanes faced the Charlton Chess Addicks, who were already guaranteed the season 2 title. Our opponents had won all nine of their previous matches, with a two-point lead over second-placed SchachAttack A and an insurmountable game-points advantage to boot.

Charlton are a strikingly strong side; they had two FMs in their lineup, and their initial team sheet had a player rated 2215 on Board 4, though he had to be substituted at the last minute for someone rated 2058, leaving their average rating at a mere 2236!

The Hurricanes didn’t disgrace themselves by any means, with all games going the distance, but Charlton ran out clear victors.

On Board 4, Gideon never recovered after an error in the opening.

On Board 1, Rob was doing well for most of the game, reaching a major piece ending with level material. However, his king was more open than his opponent’s, which is so often a decisive factor in such situations. With little time on the clock, Rob succumbed to an attack.

On Board 2, Alex scored a very creditable draw against his strong opponent, never looking in any danger at all.

On Board 3, David Amior scored a good draw as well, although he was somewhat more fortunate to survive a position where he was a pawn down and had a distinctly draughty king.

The Hurricanes can be proud of how they performed; there is no shame in losing to a side that has romped home in every match to date, and clearly deserve to win the division!

The Queens Division games in round 10 are currently available here.

Hendon Spitfires East Ham Beagles
Eugenia Karas
1803 0 - 1
Laith Hayali
Morris Jones
1758 1 - 0
Stephen Berkley
Nick Murphy
1750 ½ - ½
Michael Wickham
Anton Drel
1510 1 - 0
Maksim Khromov
2½ - 1½

In the Bishops Division, the Spitfires were facing the East Ham Beagles, and looking to bounce back from the disappointment of last week. The Beagles are a decent side, placed fourth in the division, but we outgraded them on every board, and I hoped for a decisive victory.

Things didn’t look good early on, however, with Eugenia dropping a piece in the early middlegame and succumbing to an attack, and Anton seeming to have lost control of a very good position on Board 4, finding himself a knight down for just one pawn in the ending.

However, Anton managed to turn things in his favour once more by pushing his passed pawns on the queenside, and levelled the match!

This left everything resting on the middle two boards, which were the last two Hendon games to finish in this round, and left us all on the edge of our seats until the very last minute!

On Board 3, Nick’s position looked ropey from a positional point of view, with an isolated c-pawn on an open file, and his opponent having well-placed pieces. However, his opponent gave us some hope by neglecting to castle, and Nick got good counterplay against his opponent’s king, at the cost of a pawn.

The game reached boiling point on move 25, when Nick’s opponent thought for 13 minutes before centralising his queen, which was a critical error. Nick could and should have crashed through on f7, which was far stronger than Black’s counterplay against g2. However, thinking for seven minutes himself, Nick spurned the opportunity, and the game simplified into a major piece ending with level material.

The game swung back and forth, with both players in time pressure, although Black seemed to have the better chances for most of it. The key moment was when Black allowed his c-pawn to be exchanged for the White a-pawn, and then allowed the exchange of queens; the resulting rook ending was a fairly simple draw, which was probably a fair outcome of this tough fight!

The excitement of this game, however, paled into nothing when compared to Morris’s game on Board 2 – a truly outrageous contest, which must surely have cost me more years of my life than all the other LOCL rounds put together! Do bear with me as I recount the epic tale of this extraordinary game…

Morris didn’t come out of the opening well, but his opponent didn’t take his chances, and ended up allowing Morris a clever liquidation, which resulted in a rook-and-knight ending where Morris was a dangerous pawn up.

After some mutual inaccuracies, the game simplified further into a rook ending, where Morris had three pawns on the kingside against a single a-pawn for his opponent. Morris was clearly winning, and when he started pushing his pawns and got his rook behind his opponent’s, he seemed well on the way to victory.

However, Morris allowed his g-pawn to be exchanged for his opponent’s a-pawn, leaving him with just f- and h-pawns, a situation which is notoriously prone to being drawn. Watching live, Morris did seem to be struggling to make progress, and my heart was in my mouth – surely victory wouldn’t escape us here?

Tablebases confirm that White was able to draw at several points, but it required good rook endgame technique. A critical moment came when Morris’s h-pawn fell, leaving just the f-pawn, and a standard R+P-vs-R ending – would Morris be able to reach the classic Lucena position and force the pawn through? White could have prevented that, but his rook endgame technique wasn’t up to the task, and he allowed the winning position!

However, there were many gut-wrenching twists still to come in this game! Morris didn’t play the standard “bridge-building” technique, and instead ran out with his king, being checked from pillar to post by the White rook. In the end the Black king ended up on the back rank, with the f-pawn poised to queen, as it had been for many moves.

Once again, we seemed to be on the verge of victory, but Morris wanted to avoid some stalemate tricks – which didn’t actually exist, as it turned out, but it was a reasonable practical worry. Watching live, I felt sure he would play the simple rook retreat, 85…Rf8, which would have taken away all stalemate possibilities, and left White with no checks, and the Black f-pawn free to queen.

However, I almost had a heart attack when Morris instead decided to sacrifice his rook to allow the pawn to queen, allowing a notorious queen-versus-rook ending! A computer with tablebases can win these easily, of course, but in practice there are some tricky pitfalls, which Morris went on to demonstrate!

I could barely watch, as Morris trapped his opponent’s king in the corner, which is a perfect recipe for kamikaze rook checks. It looked as if White had cottoned on to this idea, and I thought the game would be drawn for sure (remember that we needed the full point to win the match!). I could not believe my eyes as the East Ham player missed the right way to continue the checks, and Morris was winning again!

Finally, Morris was able to corner the White king, and his opponent resigned on move 112!

I really have never seen a game quite like that one, let alone a decisive one for the match! The sheer number of tricky endings we went through, with the f+h-pawn rook ending bouncing between drawn and won, then White allowing the Lucena position, then Morris going for queen-versus rook rather than just queening the pawn, then both players slipping up in regard to the stalemate tricks… I still can’t quite believe it all happened, even now!

What makes it even more incredible is that time shortages didn’t really play a role in this game. Neither player dropped below eight minutes at any point, and Morris never dropped below ten – there were so many moves played that the 15-second increment kept plenty of time on both clocks!

One can sympathise with the nerves of both players, of course, and the following is easy to say as an outside observer, but I believe if either Morris or his opponent had recognised any of the countless critical positions in this game, and just taken 30 seconds to close their eyes, take some slow deep breaths, think about something else, and then refocus, the game could have been over in their favour a lot earlier!

Still, the only thing that ultimately matters is the result. At the end of the day, Morris deserves credit for coming out on top, winning us the match. Wow!

[Event "London Online Chess League Season 2 - Bishops"] [Site "?"] [Date "2021.05.05"] [Round "10.16.2"] [White "Berkley, Stephen"] [Black "Jones, Morris"] [Result "0-1"] [BlackElo "1775"] [FEN "5r1k/pp4p1/2nR1p1p/8/2P1Q3/8/PP3PP1/2K1N2q b - - 2 29"] [SetUp "1"] [WhiteElo "1804"] 29...Qh5 { We pick up the game in this position; Morris has survived after his opponent had a great position at several points during the opening, and the position is level. White's major pieces are well-centralised, but Morris has a threat which he fails to prevent. } 30.Rd5 $2 ( 30.Nd3 { was better, getting the knight out of the potential skewer } 30...Re8 31.Qd5 Qe2 32.a3 { and my engine rates the position dead level. An example continuation is } 32...Qf1+ 33.Kc2 Re2+ 34.Kb3 Qb1 35.Rd7 Qc2+ 36.Ka2 Nb4+ 37.axb4 Qa4+ 38.Kb1 Qd1+ 39.Ka2 Qa4+ $10 ) 30...Re8 $1 { A good spot by Morris. } 31.Rxh5 Rxe4 { The double attack on e1 and c4 wins a pawn. } 32.Nd3 Rxc4+ 33.Kd2 Rg4 34.Rd5 $2 { Playing for activity, but White can't really allow the g-pawn to fall. } 34...Rxg2 35.Rd7 Ne5 $2 ( 35...h5 { was very strong, as running the h-pawn is a winning threat. Sample continuation: } 36.Ke2 h4 37.Nf4 Rg4 38.Ke3 Rg1 39.Rxb7 g5 40.Nh5 h3 41.Nxf6 Ne7 $3 42.Rb8+ Kg7 43.Nh5+ Kh7 44.Ng3 h2 45.Rb7 Kh8 46.Rxe7 Re1+ 47.Kf3 Rxe7 $19 ) 36.Rxb7 $2 ( 36.Nxe5 $1 fxe5 37.Ke2 { is a draw, despite the two extra pawns. Running the h-pawn does not help Black now, as the White king is well-placed to help: } 37...h5 38.Rxb7 h4 39.Rxa7 h3 40.Ra3 h2 41.Rh3+ Kg8 42.Kf3 $10 ) 36...Nxd3 37.Kxd3 Rxf2 { Now Black is just winning, with two extra pawns, and a powerful connected kingside trio. } 38.Rxa7 Rxb2 39.Ke4 Rb5 ( 39...h5 { Running the h-pawn was simplest again. White's king invasion is completely illusory (provided the White king is not allowed to settle unchallenged on g6 of course). } 40.Kf5 Kh7 41.a4 Rb1 42.a5 Rf1+ 43.Ke4 h4 $19 ) 40.a4 Rb1 41.Kf5 Kh7 42.a5 Ra1 43.a6 h5 44.Kf4 Kh6 45.Ra8 Kg6 46.a7 Ra5 47.Kg3 Kg5 { Morris is still totally winning here; his king is shielded from checks, so the White rook is stuck on a8. and the h-pawn is running. } 48.Kh3 g6 49.Kg3 h4+ 50.Kh3 Ra3+ 51.Kg2 f5 52.Kf2 Kf4 $2 { This is an error in practical terms, because it enables White to exchange his a-pawn for Black's g-pawn, leaving Black with just the f- and h-pawns. Black is still winning according to the tablebases, but the margin for error is considerably reduced, as the notes to the following play demonstrate. None of White's available draws strikes me as especially easy, but they weren't impossible either, and there was no need to allow any of this. } ( 52...h3 53.Kg1 Ra2 54.Kh1 h2 { is Zugzwang: } 55.Rc8 Rxa7 56.Kxh2 f4 $19 { The two connected passers will easily decide. } ) 53.Rg8 Rxa7 54.Rxg6 Ra2+ 55.Kg1 Kf3 56.Rb6 Rg2+ 57.Kh1 Rg3 $2 { Looks innocent enough, but an error according to the tablebase! } ( 57...Ra2 58.Rb3+ Kf2 59.Rh3 Ra1+ 60.Kh2 f4 61.Rxh4 f3 62.Rb4 Kf1 $19 { The Lucena position will be on the board shortly. } ) 58.Rb3+ $2 ( 58.Kh2 $1 { is remarkably a draw! The point is that the Black rook is poorly placed, and the Black king will be mercilessly checked from the side. } 58...Kg4 ( 58...Kf4 59.Rb4+ Kg5 60.Ra4 Re3 61.Kg2 h3+ 62.Kf2 f4 63.Ra8 $10 { This time it's checks from the rear that the Black king has no shelter from! } ) 59.Rg6+ Kf3 60.Ra6 f4 61.Rb6 Kg4 62.Rg6+ Kf5 63.Ra6 f3 64.Ra5+ Kf4 65.Ra2 Ke3 66.Ra3+ Kf2 67.Ra2+ Ke1 68.Ra1+ Ke2 69.Ra2+ $10 ) 58...Kg4 59.Rb4+ Kh3 $2 ( 59...f4 $1 60.Rb2 Ra3 61.Kh2 f3 62.Rb4+ Kg5 63.Rb5+ Kf4 64.Rb4+ Ke3 65.Rxh4 Ra1 66.Rh3 Ke2 67.Rh8 f2 68.Re8+ Kf1 $19 { Lucena } ) 60.Rf4 $1 Re3 61.Kg1 Re5 62.Ra4 $2 ( 62.Kf2 $1 Ra5 63.Rb4 Ra8 ( 63...Ra2+ 64.Kf3 $10 ) 64.Rf4 Rf8 65.Kf3 $10 { A good illustration of the problems Black can face in this ending! There is no way to make progress. } ) 62...Re4 63.Ra3+ Kg4 64.Ra8 Kf3 65.Kh2 f4 $2 ( 65...Re1 $1 66.Ra3+ Kf2 67.Ra4 Re4 68.Ra3 f4 69.Ra2+ Re2 70.Ra1 f3 $19 ) 66.Kh3 $1 { Now Black is losing his h-pawn. Can he force his remaining pawn through? } 66...Re2 67.Ra3+ Kf2 68.Kxh4 f3 { One of the critical positions of this game; we are on the knife-edge between a win and a draw. Who knows their rook endings better? } 69.Ra8 $2 { After this, Black can reach the famous Lucena position, which is winning. } ( 69.Kh3 $3 { would have held the game for White. Black cannot get his king out via the g- and h-files, and cannot reorganise his pieces to reach the Lucena position. } 69...Re3 70.Ra1 $1 { An indication of how difficult these endings are is that this is the exact same motif as the famous game Aronian - Carlsen, Tal Memorial 2006, where the future world champion failed to find this defensive idea. } ( 70.Ra2+ $4 Kf1 71.Ra1+ Re1 72.Ra2 f2 73.Kg3 Re3+ 74.Kh2 Rf3 75.Rb2 Rf5 76.Ra2 Ke1 77.Ra1+ Ke2 78.Ra2+ Kf3 79.Ra3+ Kg4 80.Rg3+ Kh4 81.Rh3+ Kg5 82.Rg3+ Kf6 $19 ) 70...Ke2 71.Kg3 f2+ 72.Kg2 Rf3 73.Ra2+ Ke1 74.Ra1+ Ke2 75.Ra2+ $10 ) 69...Kg1 70.Ra1+ Kg2 71.Ra8 f2 72.Rg8+ Kh2 73.Rf8 Kg2 ( 73...Re4+ $1 { is the cleanest way - the classic "bridge-building" technique, with the rook shielding the pawn from the attack from behind. } 74.Kh5 Kg3 75.Kg5 Rg4+ 76.Kh6 Rf4 $19 ) 74.Rg8+ Kf1 75.Ra8 Re1 76.Kg3 Re3+ ( 76...Kg1 { would have won on the spot here! } ) 77.Kh2 Rf3 78.Ra1+ Ke2 79.Ra2+ Ke3 80.Ra3+ Kf4 81.Ra4+ Ke5 82.Ra5+ Kd6 83.Ra6+ Kc7 84.Ra7+ Kb8 85.Rh7 { All right, I thought - Black has bought himself a move here, and has over 16 minutes to work out how to finish things off. I foolishly began to relax... } 85...Rh3+ $2 { When I saw this, I almost had a heart attack! Technically, it does not change the evaluation of the position, but it makes life so much harder than it needed to be... } ( 85...Rf8 $1 $19 { was a simple winning move - there are no stalemate tricks for White here, no sensible checks, and the f-pawn queens next move. } ) ( 85...f1=Q { actually also wins, though given the stalemate potential, it's understandable Morris didn't want to risk this. } 86.Rb7+ Kc8 87.Rc7+ Kd8 88.Rd7+ Ke8 89.Re7+ Kf8 90.Re8+ ( 90.Rf7+ Rxf7 $19 ) 90...Kf7 91.Rf8+ Ke7 92.Re8+ Kf6 93.Re6+ Kg5 94.Rg6+ Kf4 95.Rg4+ Ke3 96.Re4+ Kf2 { and White's tricks have finally petered out! } 97.Re2+ Qxe2 $1 $19 ) 86.Rxh3 f1=Q { Queen versus rook is generally winning, but once again it is an ending full of pitfalls, which were eloquently demonstrated by the course of the subsequent play... My heart was in my mouth throughout! } 87.Rh8+ Kc7 88.Rh7+ Kd6 89.Rh6+ Ke7 ( 89...Ke5 { is more efficient, bringing the king closer, though nothing has gone wrong for Black just yet! } ) 90.Rh7+ Kf8 91.Rh8+ Kg7 92.Rh3 Qf2+ ( 92...Kg6 { just bringing up the king was the right way } 93.Rg3+ Kf5 94.Rg1 Qf3 95.Rg2 Kf4 96.Kg1 Qh5 { and now the White king and rook will eventually be separated, with fatal consequences, e.g. } ( 96...Qc6 { is one move quicker according to the tablebases, but this is totally inhuman stuff } 97.Kf2 Qb7 $19 { is remarkably two moves quicker than any alternative! } ) 97.Rh2 Qg4+ 98.Rg2 Qh4 99.Rh2 Qe1+ 100.Kg2 Kg4 101.Rh8 Qe4+ 102.Kf2 Qd4+ $19 ) 93.Kh1 { Exceptional care must be taken when the defending king has no moves like this... } 93...Kg6 $2 ( 93...Qf1+ 94.Kh2 Kg6 { would transpose to the line above } ) 94.Rg3+ $1 Kf5 95.Rg5+ $1 { I thought tragedy had finally struck here, but this unbelievable game still had a few twists and turns left in it... of course the rook cannot be taken due to instant stalemate. } 95...Kf6 96.Rg6+ $1 Ke5 97.Re6+ $2 { This allows Black to escape the checks, by dodging to a square where both of White's possible checking squares are covered by the queen. } ( 97.Rg5+ $1 { would leave Black completely unable to escape the checks (without losing his queen). To be honest this was probably White's easiest drawing chance of the whole game. } 97...Ke4 ( 97...Kf4 98.Rf5+ $10 ) 98.Rg4+ $1 Ke3 99.Rg3+ $1 Ke2 100.Rg2 $10 ) 97...Kd5 98.Re5+ ( 98.Rd6+ { does not help White } 98...Kc4 99.Rc6+ Kd3 100.Rc3+ Ke4 101.Rc4+ Kf5 $19 ) 98...Kc6 ( 98...Kd4 99.Rd5+ Kc4 $19 ) 99.Re6+ Kb5 100.Re5+ Kc4 101.Re4+ Kd3 { and the checks end. Perhaps now we could finally breathe easily? } 102.Rg4 Qf3+ 103.Rg2 Ke3 104.Kh2 Qh5+ 105.Kg1 Qf5 106.Rg3+ Ke2 107.Rg2+ Ke1 108.Ra2 Qg4+ 109.Rg2 Qd4+ 110.Kh2 Kf1 { Now Morris has worked his pieces round into the right places, and the finish line is in sight. } 111.Rg3 { A quick mate is available on the board. Would this finally be "game over"? } ( 111.Kh3 Qh8+ 112.Kg3 Qg7+ $19 { and the White rook drops } ) 111...Qh4+ 112.Rh3 Qf2+ { Yes it would! White finally resigned, not wanting to see mate on the board. I've run out of words to describe this game: it is simply extraordinary. Not so much an endgame lesson, as an entire course packed into a single epic contest! Several different rook-and-pawn endgame ideas are illustrated - f+h+R-vs-R is not easy to win, the Lucena position, various stalemate themes, and then finally queen versus rook. Of course all this only happened because Morris made his own life unnecessarily difficult at several points, but ultimately he deserves credit for being that bit more resilient and bringing home the full point in the end! } 0-1

Streatham & Brixton B also won, so they still top the table on game points, with the Spitfires in second place. If they win in the last round, then they will win the Bishops Division title. All we can do is to try our best and force them to pull out that final victory. But for today, well done team!

Hackney Happening Hendon Harriers
James Corrigan
1833 ½ - ½
Chris Rogal
Alistair Dyte
1765 0 - 1
Amirabbas Mehrafarin
Robin Oakley
1758 1 - 0
Matty Berenblut
Peter Burgoyne
1653 0 - 1
Marcel Berenblut
1½ - 2½

It seems remarkable that there was another whole match to report on after all that, but there was! The Harriers faced off against Hackney Happening, who were fifth placed in the table and clear rating favourites.

However, the Harriers managed to upset them, with Chris holding a solid draw on Board 1, Amirabbas winning the time scramble after a back-and-forth affair on Board 2, and Berenblut Senior winning his first LOCL game for Hendon! Marcel won a pawn with a nice tactic, and played the ending well, reeling in the point after winning a couple more pawns.

Unfortunately, Matty (Berenblut Junior) lost when he walked into a knight fork, after having good chances in the ending, though he was somewhat fortunate to get that far after his opponent missed a mate in three on move 28.

Many thanks to all who played across all the teams!

The round 10 games in the Bishops Division are currently available here.

You can find a list of all stories about season 2 of the London Online Chess League here.