Report on LOCL Season 2

By Hendon LOCL captain Andrew Medworth
Saturday 22 May, 2021

Season 2 of the London Online Chess League came to an end on 12th May, having run over 11 weeks from 3rd March. As in Season 1, I captained all Hendon’s teams. Here is my final report on the season.

Differences from Season 1

We chose to run three teams, up from two in Season 1. This was a response to the higher level of demand from members for online league chess which we saw as Season 1 was drawing to a close in February. I’m delighted that several people joined the club around the end of Season 1, specifically in order to play in Season 2!

Thanks to a suggestion of Stanley Jacobs, this time we called our teams the Hurricanes (first team), the Spitfires (second team) and the Harriers (third team), as a tribute to the RAF Museum here in Hendon.

The LOCL continues to tweak its format. This season, it stuck with the four-board matches, the Wednesday 7pm starts, the 45+15 time limit (45 minutes per player plus 15 seconds per move), and the Tornelo online platform, but the divisional structure was changed.

In Season 1, there were just two divisions, one Open and one with a limit of 1825 on the average rating of each team. This structure was announced up-front, and clubs could choose which divisions to enter. In order to achieve an all-play-all format, the league then had to have a different number of match nights for each division, with the Open division having 13 and the U1825 having 15.

In Season 2, the divisional structure was not announced in advance; instead, captains had to submit an indicative line-up for each team with their entry, and the League Secretary then chose the number of divisions and the grading limits, and allocated teams to each one. Following the success of Season 1, there was interest in participation from all over the UK, and the LOCL significantly expanded – deservedly so, in my opinion!

In the end, they decided to run four divisions, called the Queens, Rooks, Bishops and Knights. The Queens was an open division, while the other divisions had rating limits of 2300, 2100, and 1950 respectively. In contrast to Season 1, this time the grading limits applied to each individual player (for example nobody rated over 2100 could play in the Bishops Division) rather than the average rating of each team.

The first three divisions had 12 teams each, with an 11-round all-play-all structure; the Knights Division had a few additional teams, and was therefore run as an 11-round team Swiss. This meant all divisions had the same 11-week schedule, which was helpful to avoid confusion as to which teams were playing which weeks.

The Hendon Hurricanes were placed in the Queens Division, while the Spitfires and Harriers were both placed in the Bishops Division.

Team results

I hope everyone has been enjoying my match reports from this season, which go into a lot more detail on what happened each week.

As I promised at the start of the season, I sent an email to members each week to ask for volunteers, then I selected the strongest sides I could for the Hurricanes and Spitfires, and operated a rotation policy for the Harriers.

The results achieved by each team are listed below. In reading these, it is helpful to know that when teams had the same number of match points, the tie breaks were (in this order) game points, head-to-head match result and games won with the Black pieces.

Full league tables may currently be found here for the Queens Division and here for the Bishops Division.

Hurricanes

The Hurricanes finished eighth out of 12 teams in the Queens Division, with 4½/11 match points (two match wins, five draws and four defeats), and 20½/44 game points.

The team struggled somewhat in a very strong division; we scored decently on the middle two boards (5½/11 and 7½/11 respectively) but struggled on the top and bottom (3½/11 and 4/11). With a relatively high number of drawn matches, just a few extra half-points in the right places would have resulted in a much higher table position.

Top scorers for the Hurricanes were Alex Leslie (7½/10), Kennan Kesterson (5/7), and Rob Willmoth (4/10). These three together scored 16½ out of the team’s 20½ total points, so special thanks to them!

This season’s Hurricanes players were: Rob Willmoth, Alex Leslie, Kennan Kesterson, Sacha Brozel, David Amior, Savas Marin Stoica, Gideon Vecht, myself, Jason Covey, and Alex Funk.

Spitfires

The Spitfires finished second out of 12 teams in the Bishops Division, with 9/11 match points (eight wins, two draws and one defeat), and 28/44 game points. They barely missed out on first place to Streatham & Brixton B, who won seven and drew four, but had a higher game-points score.

Overall, the Spitfires performed superbly and were very unfortunate not to win the division. They won more matches than any other team, but unfortunately suffered a critical defeat to rivals Streatham & Brixton B in round 9, and barely failed to defeat Beckenham & Bromley in the final round, and the Hackney Hopefuls earlier in the season.

This season’s Spitfires (with points scored) were Anton Drel (7½/8), Eugenia Karas (4/6), Nick Murphy (3/7), David Amior (3/6), Chris Rogal (3/6), Alex Funk (3/4), Morris Jones (2½/4), Kennan Kesterson (1/1) and myself (1/2).

Harriers

The following is based on my own calculations from the Tornelo results, since the final Bishops Division table has not yet been published at the time of writing, and there are results missing which affect the Harriers' position. If this changes in the future, I will update this report.

The Harriers finished sixth out of 12 teams in the Bishops Division, with 5/11 match points (five wins and six defeats) and 21/44 game points, just ahead of Hackney Happening (who had the same number of match and game points but lost their individual match to the Harriers) and the Battersea Cats (who also had the same match points, but slightly fewer game points).

The Harriers started the season poorly with just one win in their first six matches, but they turned it around, winning four of the last five to finish in the top half of the table. This was partly due to their match schedule, which paired them against most of the division’s strongest sides in the first half, but also due to the arrival of some new players mid-season, such as Amirabbas Mehrafarin who scored 3/3 in the last three rounds.

Top scorers for the Harriers were James Baxter (4/5), Dev Ranka (3/6), Amirabbas Mehrafarin (3/3), Stanley Jacobs (2½/6) and David Lewis (2½/5), who scored 15 of the Harriers' 21 total game points between them.

The Harriers players were Stanley Jacobs, Dev Ranka, Matty Berenblut, James Baxter, Gul Kapur, David Lewis, Marcel Berenblut, Amirabbas Mehrafarin, Tony Artman, Nick Murphy, George Meligonis, Chris Rogal, and Anton Drel.

Individual results

As well as looking at the performance of our teams, I think it’s also important to look at some of the great individual contributions and achievements of Hendon members over the 11 weeks of the season.

In total, Hendon was represented by 25 different players in Season 2, up from 20 in Season 1. I’d like to start by thanking all of these people: it’s been great to have you all in our teams!

I’m particularly thankful to those who played in more than half the eleven matches:

  • Rob Willmoth (10 matches)
  • David Amior (10)
  • Alex Leslie (10)
  • Anton Drel (9)
  • Nick Murphy (8)
  • Kennan Kesterson (8)
  • Chris Rogal (7)
  • Stanley Jacobs (6)
  • Eugenia Karas (6)
  • Dev Ranka (6)

There were other players who would have been willing to play in more matches, but did not due to squad rotation in the Harriers. Many thanks to them as well!

There were seven players who played in the LOCL for Hendon for the first time in Season 2: welcome to Anton Drel, Kennan Kesterson, Matty Berenblut, James Baxter, Marcel Berenblut, Amirabbas Mehrafarin and George Meligonis!

We should also celebrate our top scorers this season:

  • Anton Drel (8½/9)
  • Alex Leslie (7½/10)
  • Kennan Kesterson (6/8)
  • Rob Willmoth (4/10)
  • Nick Murphy (4/8)
  • James Baxter (4/5)
  • Eugenia Karas (4/6)
  • David Amior (4/10)
  • Chris Rogal (3½/7)
  • Dev Ranka (3/6)
  • Amirabbas Mehrafarin (3/3)
  • Alex Funk (3/5)

The following players scored more than 50%:

  • Amirabbas Mehrafarin (3/3, our only player on 100%!)
  • Anton Drel (8½/9)
  • James Baxter (4/5)
  • Savas Marin Stoica (1½/2)
  • Kennan Kesterson (6/8)
  • Alex Leslie (7½/10)
  • Eugenia Karas (4/6)
  • Morris Jones (2½/4)
  • Alex Funk (3/5)

It’s also interesting to look at the rating performances, as these take into account the strength of opposition each player faced. My calculations here are based on the official LOCL grades, which were mostly based on stale ECF grades from before the March 2020 lockdown (and sometimes captains' estimates), so these need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but nonetheless, they do have some value:

  • Alex Leslie (rating performance 2308) – we must particularly congratulate Alex here, as his 7½/10 score was achieved against opponents with an average rating of 2118, which is a performance of FM strength!
  • Savas Marin Stoica (rating performance 2234) – Savas was only able to play two games this season, but when you include his four games from Season 1, his rating performance was a whopping 2425 across the two seasons, which is well into IM territory!
  • Kennan Kesterson (2162)
  • Rob Willmoth (2123)
  • James Baxter (2036)
  • Sacha Brozel (1994)
  • Anton Drel (1989)
  • Myself (1921)
  • Eugenia Karas (1901)
  • Alex Funk (1879)

It’s surely no coincidence that six of these ten names are junior players: I will be following their future careers with great interest!

Finally, I think it’s interesting to take a look at the players who outperformed their official grades by the largest amount. These are players who scored higher than their official grades would have predicted, suggesting some improvement during this difficult pandemic year!

  • Anton Drel: 479 points (official grade 1510, performance 1989)
  • Alex Leslie: 220 points (official grade 2088, performance 2308)
  • Kennan Kesterson: 179 points (official grade 1983, performance 2162)
  • David Lewis: 148 points (grade 1465, performance 1613)
  • Stanley Jacobs: 134 points (grade 1390, performance 1524)
  • Eugenia Karas: 98 points (grade 1803, performance 1901)
  • Gul Kapur: 40 points (grade 1533, performance 1573)

I excluded those who played fewer than five games, and those whose official grade was an estimate. In the latter category, special mention must go to James Baxter, Dev Ranka and Matty Berenblut, all of whom significantly outperformed their estimated grades.

Before we leave the subject of individual performances entirely, I want to highlight my personal favourite game of the season, by Morris Jones in round 10. It wasn’t exactly a picture of ideal endgame technique, but Morris showed a lot of resilience and gave us a great deal of instructional value. If you only play through one game from this season, make it this one!

Once again, my thanks and congratulations to all the Hendon players for their efforts on behalf of the club!

Final reflections

I’ve really enjoyed being LOCL captain in Season 2, and I’m already looking forward to Season 3, which is expected to start in June.

We are still in the process of considering how many teams we will enter, because I am expecting demand from our members to fall to some degree, as the weather gets better and as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions relax (all legal limits on social contact are currently scheduled to end in late June).

It was already starting to become more difficult to raise three full teams towards the end of Season 2, as our junior players returned to school for the summer term (many needing to focus on exams). School terms will finish during Season 3, but then many members will be taking much-needed summer holidays.

I sent a survey to all Hendon members after round 11 asking for their views on Season 3 and various other topics, and it would help a great deal if people could fill that in if they have not already done so, as this will be the foundation of our plans for the summer.

My main hope for Season 3 is that it will be graded. Neither of the first two seasons was a graded competition, and this is starting to cause serious problems, as the official grades being used are extremely stale. As we saw above, some of our players are now playing hundreds of points higher than their official grades, forcing them to play on artificially low boards. Managing this by constantly tweaking subjective captains' estimates is making a mockery of the entire system on which the LOCL’s divisional grading limits and board order rules are based.

For the LOCL to rely on the official rating system without contributing results to it strikes me as unsustainable. Current indications are that Season 3 will indeed be graded, though this will mean that players will need ECF membership in addition to club membership in order to play.

I also hope that the LOCL will announce its divisional structure in advance again for Season 3, rather than basing it on indicative line-ups. Guessing who will play for which team is very difficult in a world as unpredictable as this one.

If it were my choice, I would make Season 3 a single-division team Swiss, with pairings based on the actual grades of the teams selected in each round, as well as the current scores, to try to avoid excessively mismatched pairings in the early rounds. Lower-graded teams could be given something to play for by offering grading-based titles, for example the highest team to have consistently fielded line-ups graded lower than 2100 or 1800.

I congratulate League Secretary John Sargent and tournament arbiter Adam Raoof for their hard work this season, and I’m looking forward to what they come up with for Season 3!