Last autumn, we had no idea what we would be able to offer to our members in 2020/21, since the COVID-19 pandemic had suspended all in-person events.
Thankfully, Hendon’s Adam Raoof got together with the London League to organise an online version of the team competition, using the Tornelo platform.
The inaugural season of the London Online Chess League (LOCL) had two divisions – open and U1825 – and Hendon entered one team in each. I was captain for both sides. This season drew to a close last week, with the final round taking place on 10th February.
Overall, I think the LOCL has been a great success, providing the closest thing to our normal competitive team matches that is possible under the current circumstances.
The teams are smaller than in the Middlesex League – four boards rather than eight – and the time control is faster, at 45 minutes plus 15 seconds per move. The start time is a little earlier than our normal home club nights – 7pm rather than 7:30pm – which has been an obstacle for some members who would otherwise have eagerly participated.
In the Middlesex League, match days and times vary, which means that almost everyone should be able to make at least some of the matches; in the LOCL, the day and time are always the same, so if you can’t finish work early enough for a 7pm start or are busy on Wednesday nights, you may struggle to play in the LOCL at all.
However, those problems notwithstanding, the event has proven broadly attractive to members of all ages. Hendon has been represented by 20 different players over the 15 match nights, and it has never been difficult for me as captain to raise two full teams, plus reserves.
I want to start by thanking everyone who has played for Hendon in season 1. My policy has been to select the four highest-graded players available for the A team, and act as reserve for that team in case of any drop-outs; then, for the B team, I have selected the four remaining available players who have played the fewest matches so far during the season, plus reserves if possible.
In practice, this has resulted in a fairly consistent A team lineup. Special thanks must go to Rob Willmoth, David Amior and Alex Leslie, who have made themselves available for virtually every match, each appearing in 12 of the 15 rounds (for David and Alex this includes one B team appearance apiece). The others playing for the A team have been Jason Covey (5 matches), Savas Marin Stoica (4), Sacha Brozel (4), Alex Funk (2), Eugenia Karas (1) and myself (2).
The B team, by contrast, has been represented by a wider range of players. Many of these players have been no less enthusiastic than the people above, but have ended up playing fewer matches due to the rotation policy. Therefore, my thanks to Stanley Jacobs (7 matches), Tony Artman (6), Gul Kapur (6), Dev Ranka (6), David Lewis (6), Chris Rogal (6), Nick Murphy (5), Morris Jones (5), Anthony Kent (5), Jason Covey (1), Alex Funk (1), Eugenia Karas (1), Gideon Vecht (1), and Eric Eedle (1).
Hendon A finished in mid-table (6th of 14 teams), with six wins, three draws and four losses (full table). The team as a whole has a perfectly even score, with 26 game points for and 26 against, showing that we were right in the middle of the open division in terms of strength!
In the U1825 division, Hendon B had a more difficult season, with four wins, one draw and ten defeats, finishing 13th out of 16 teams in the U1825 division (full table). We scored 25 game points for and 34 against (with one mutual default).
This is perhaps not surprising, as we were deliberately not fielding our strongest available team each week; our average grade across all the matches was 1594, against 1636 for our opponents, and we only fielded a player rated above 1825 on four occasions. By contrast, many of the other teams in the division were able to field more consistent lineups, with average ratings much closer to the division’s 1825 limit: we faced a team with an average rating over 1700 on seven (out of 15) occasions, while fielding such a lineup ourselves only three times.
I’m pleased to report that we had a lot of excellent individual performances during the season, with a number of players adapting excellently to the online environment. Our top total scorers were Rob Willmoth, David Amior and Alex Leslie, each scoring 6½/12. In Rob’s case, this translates to a rating performance of 2263, close to FM strength; Alex and David’s rating performances were 2097 and 1866 respectively.
Special mention must also go to Savas Marin Stoica, who achieved a perfect score of 4/4! It’s excellent to see our strong traditions of junior chess continue. The only other person to score over 50% for the A team was myself, with 1½/2 across the two occasions I had to step in as a substitute.
The B team also saw a number of strong individual results. Top overall scorer was Stanley Jacobs, with 4½/7 (rating performance 1567); Nick Murphy and Morris Jones also did excellently with 4/5 each (rating performances 1960 and 1778 respectively), and Anthony Kent also scored above 50%, with 3/5.
I also want to highlight the performance of young Dev Ranka, who started playing competitively for Hendon for the first time this season. He lost his first five games, but kept going, and we were all delighted when he achieved his first win in the final round, which you can find annotated here. His perseverance and enthusiasm are a model for us all, and we look forward to seeing him continue to improve in the future!
Season 2 of the LOCL will be starting on 3rd March, and based on the success of season 1 and the strong interest of members, we intend to enter three teams rather than two. The dates are already available in our calendar. More information will follow on that nearer the time. I’m looking forward to it!
You can find a list of all stories about the London Online Chess League here.