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THE FINAL three rounds of this season's Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) took place over the long weekend. In the first division, the runaway leaders Slough fielded a relatively weak team which scored only three match points - a win against bottom-placed Wessex, but then a loss against the revived Home House who, despite a last-round victory against Wessex, still went down and a draw against BCM.

Nevertheless, Slough won with a round to spare, ending up on 19 match points and 63 game points ahead of my own team Wood Green, who made 18 (and 57).

There followed Bigwood 14, Invicta Knights 13, North West Eagles 12, Barbican I 11, Richmond 10, BCM 9, Bristol 8, Home House 7 (37), Barbican II 7 (36.5) and Wessex 4.

The greatest drama, though, was in the second division promotion battle. White Rose, sponsored by Silvine, won the division quite easily on 18 match points. Towards the end of the session, Guildford, on 15 match points, were assured of promotion but the final place was between Coulsdon and Purley, and Wood Green II.

Just one game remained which the Coulsdon top board, the league's originator Chris Dunworth, had to win. A crowd gathered and at one point, admittedly from an obscured viewpoint, I rushed out to tell the troops that our top board Norwegian Bjorn Tiller had mate in one.

Not so! But Tiller held on and eventually, despite Dunworth's very brave efforts, won on time in a position which had already turned in his favour.

The top scorer in the first division (and I presume overall) was my team mate, the Daily Telegraph columnist Malcolm Pein, who made an outstanding 9/10. This is how he disposed of his opponent on Sunday.

The provocative 10 ...Nh5 is trendy since if 10 ...d5 11 cxd5 cxd5 12 Bg5 dxe4 13 fxe4 Nbd7 14 Ndb5! is very good for White. Not 12 ...d5? 13 g5! but 12 ...h5 13 g5 Nh7 is normal - Pein developed the bishop on e3 rather than f4 so that in that case f3-f4 is readily available.

12 ...a6 was recently recommended in a book - but you shouldn't believe everything you read, particularly in chess opening books. The splendid 14 Nc2 which stops ...b4 prepares to hit d6 and prophylactically defends the e3 bishop more or less refutes it.

14 ...Be6 came after 50 minutes' thought! If 15 ...Bxc4 16 Bxc4 bxc4 17 Qxd6 Nfd7 18 Na3! is also quite awful. At the end if 22 ...Rad8 23 Nxe8 Rxe8 (23 ...Rxd4 24 Nxf6+) 24 f4 Ned7 25 e5 Bb4 26 Bf3 wins a whole piece.

White: Malcolm Pein

Black: Richard Palliser

4NCL Wood Green vs Barbican II, 1999

King's Indian Defence.

1 d4 Nf6

2 Nf3 g6

3 c4 Bg7

4 Nc3 0-0

5 e4 d6

6 Be2 e5

7 0-0 exd4

8 Nxd4 Re8

9 f3 c6

10 Kh1 Nh5

11 g4 Nf6

12 Be3 a6

13 Qd2 b5

14 Nc2 Be6

15 Rad1 bxc4

16 Qxd6 Qxd6 17 Rxd6 Nbd7 18 Nd4! Bf8

19 Rxc6 Ne5

20 Nxe6! Nxc6

21 Nc7 Ne5

22 Bd4! 1-0