In the last few days we´ve got to know exactly what a yo-yo feels like ... the only problem is that tomorrow´s the last round and we desperately don´t want to end on a down !
After the disappointing loss yesterday a good win today against Costa Rica (2½-1½) who field a GM and 3 IM´s.
Leighton went down with Black to their GM while Richard had to face yet another Accelerated Dragon. Its as though his opponents have worked him out because the Maroczy Bind positions definitely don´t suit him as much as other Open Sicilians. we feared at one stage that he was even worse but he held on very competently and secured a comfortable draw in the end.
I finally chalked another win but only after an embarassingly long ending a rook up (!!). Having basically ´won´ the game in the middlegame we arrived at Q, R and 3 scattered pawns against Q and 5 solid pawns. All I needed was 10 mins to think and make a plan but at this limit I had to play the next 50 moves at 30 seconds each and just couldn´t evade the checks. I only got away after a virtual complete kings tour of the board.
Ioan won comfortably against his IM after refuting a very dodgy looking gambit (a kind of cross between the Albin Counter Gambit and the Chigorin).
Now for the all-important title news.... Richard obviously hasn´t made it in 12 games but he can still do it in 13. He needs to get up to the required 2451 performance with a win against a decent opponent tomorrow. The calculation is that whoever he plays needs to be 2491 or higher and the draw may be out as I write.
I´ve been accused of neglecting to give much detail on the womens performance - to which I´m afraid I have to plead guilty ! Unfortunately we´re not allowed in to see any of it but they did have a superb 3-0 win over New Zealand today. Abigail, Olivia and Julie are all right in top gear at the moment and there is a similar calculation going on for Abigail´s WIM title..... she needs to play a 2326 opponent and win (with Black probably !).
It may be a long shot but all keep your fingers crossed for the two of them tomorrow.
Down to earth with horrible bump today, I´m afraid. We´d worked hard preparing for some serious Belgy-bashing but unfortunately they´d done their homework on us too and we came out with only 1/2 a point.
The worst news is probably that Richard lost for the first time since Round 1. He was just slowly outplayed on the Black side of an English. He tried for some optimistic counterattack but it never got going and his was the first to finish - around move 30.
Leighton and I both resolved to try to hack the Belgian Najdorfs on boards 1 & 3 with current team favourite line (Bc4 plus Bg5). We both sac´d, Leighton a queen for 3 bits and me a piece but neither could quite deliver the knockout punch. I missed a clear draw at the end with 53 Rg1? instead of Kd6! which I saw but panicked into not playing as the last few seconds ticked down. I was then left with the incredibly galling finale of having to watch as once again (how can you have two of these in one tournament ?!!) my opponent finished with R, B & ´wrong´ RP against R & 3 but was able to pick the pawns off one by one without swapping rooks.
Our sole ´success´was Francis who managed to defend very resolutely and determinedly in another long ending eventually resulting in Q & B vs Q which fortunately their man didn´t pursue too much further.
Just found out that our opponents tomorrow are Costa Rica (+2500 on top) - not an easy proposition coming just after a tough match such as this. Still they only have 4 players so hopefully they´re getting tired !
The women had a very creditable 1½ - 1½ result (3 draws) against higher rated Bangladesh. Solid results for Abigail and Olivia while Julie is making excellent progress and chalked another very useful rating points gain.
Another excellent day for Wales sees the following highlights:
Men 3½ - 0½ win over Thailand which takes us into positive territory (22½/44) for the first time this Olympiad, way ahead of seeding.
Wales now gradually overtaking the other British teams ... scores = England 24½, Scotland 23½, Wales 22½, Ireland 21½.
Olivia clinches the WFM title with another good win against Estonia. She won a piece with a neat tactic early on and finished off quickly and easily. Abigail also won material (an exchange) early on but her opponent defended resourcefully and eventually forced a perpetual. Debbie unfortunately went down despite again being last to finish in another long fight.
For the men, Richard scores another excellent win, hacking down another Sicilian with an exciting sacrifical attack. He´s now on 7/10 and the re-calculations about the IM title go on. We think 8/12 might do it but it might also need 8½/12 or 9/13. It all depends upon the opponents rating as he needs a performance of 2451 or better and thats more or less where he is now.
Leighton also won brutally with an excellent hack against the Winawer. The key sac (axb4 Qxa1 Kd1 !) is worth taking a look at.
Suan outplayed his opponent early on in a quiet Colle system and was left with a fairly straightforward technical win.
My opponent clearly prepared for my Schliemann but then failed to go for the advantage with the tame 12Nf3 and I somewhat reluctantly (as I´d come for a fight, honest) had to accept a totally drawn ending.
Well, we´ll be finding out what life´s like amongst the big boys tomorrow ... watch this space!
Just a quick update on todays game vs Albania.
It was long faces all around the dinner table tonight as we mused over missed opportunities. In short a 3-1 defeat drops us back to -2 but the good news is that at least Richard kept his title hopes alive with one of the two draws.
Leighton returned from his long rest to play the black side of a sharp Velimirovic Sicilian vs their GM. A wild game ensued where excellent preparation meant he was about an hour up on the clock with pieces flying all over the place. I won´t understand it until I´ve had a good look later over a couple of pints (and probably not even then !) but certainly winning possibilities were missed maybe on both sides.
Richard got another of his favourite Kings Gambit Modern defences (similar to the one he won against Bangladesh). His opponent defended slightly differently this time and after missing his best chance (c4 instead of b3 I think he said) the game slowly slid a bit downhill and in the end he did very well to hold on. In the last few rounds Richard´s been grinding out the results a bit but not long to hold on now.
Ioan and Francis were our two defeats but both put up hard fights and were a little unlucky to go down narrowly in tense endings.
Four more rounds, team target = 9/16. Richards target = 2/3.
The women did a bit better with a 2-1 win, Olivia winning crushingly and Julie and Abigail picking up solid draws.
Well, the boys are back in touch with an excellent 4-0 win over Malta today while the girls got an very creditable draw with Bolivia.
In the Mens we´re now back to 50% (18/36) level with Ireland and only just behind Scotland (18½) and England (20). Maybe we can even avoid the British wooden spoon (!) well, we´re still dreaming anyway. the important thing is to build some momentum before the crucial final 2 or 3 rounds.
Most of the guys had pretty smooth wins against the not especially strong and Andy Borg-less Maltese. (He asked to be dropped for this game and joked before that he just loved Wales too much to want to take a point off us !).
Richard struggled the most in a rather scrappy game but persistence got him home in the end. Given he is the only one in serious contention for a norm / title now we are definitely ´running´ him for it but he needs to make sure he keeps playing freely and doesn´t tighten up with the finish line in sight. He´s on 5½/8 now and with reasonable luck on the pairings probably needs another 2½/4 to get the title outright.
Of the rest of us Leighton and I have struggled most for form although in one or two cases good results have been agonisingly close. vs Ireland Leighton was probably just one minor tactic short of a win against Baburin following an energetic attack and exchange sac to get a passed pawn on a7.
Against Pakistan my preparation worked a treat thanks to Leightons 11c3 and 13Nxb5 novelty vs the Sveshnikov. After 25 moves I reached the target ending (+20 says Fritz) with passed a and b pawns but stupidly failed to transfer my rook to the Q-side (26Rb4! instead of 26a5??) and went rapidly downhill as my opponent suddenly sprang to life.
Suan has played well in parts and despite a high board and excess of blacks is not far off a ´par´ result
Ioan spoilt what was shaping to be an excellent score with a rather careless defeat from a better position against Pakistan. His chances of a board medal may not be completely gone though if he can put in a strong finish.
Francis had to wait a while to see much action and was slightly unlucky to lose a tough fight against Ireland but has come back strongly into plus territory and could be running into form at just the right time.
For the women, Abigail has been superb so far and like Richard is on for a (W)IM title if she can keep it going. Debbie has struggled for form (it was a pity she couldn´t quite win that long Q&P ending in round 2) but she has stayed positive and continues to play for a win at every opportunity.
Olivia is doing very well despite a slight fiasco vs Spain (the one live game !). With 4/7 she should hopefully get her FIDE grading up where it has been long overdue i.e over 2000. Oh yes and I´ve been asked to let her swimming coach know that she´s kept up those 100 lengths of training every day, honest !! (For those who don´t know Olivia is a double international representing Wales and chess and swimming).
Julie (1½/5) has battled very gamely despite the tough opposition and we were all delighted for her when she got her first international win on the board in round 6.
Tough games tomorrow and a curious coincidence - both teams are playing Albania. In the mens case its a 2500 GM followed by all the rest in the 2300´s. Still, this is the sort of opposition we have to hold if we´re going to achieve our target of 50%.
Hope the weather´s been good back in Wales (28 degrees and sunny again here, its getting quite boring now).....