As I've said several times recently, the leaders now all require perfect scores to improve. The reason lies in the complex system which depends, roughly speaking, on adding up a limited number of best scores throughout the year. As an increasing number of excellent results are accrued, so it becomes harder and harder to produce results so good that they can beneficially replace ones already included in the total.
On Friday evening the leading scorers were Hebden (190.6), Arkell (190.2) and Plaskett (188.3). Playing in the Golders Green Rapidplay on Saturday, Plaskett started with 4/4 but then drew with Paul Georgiou. A further draw left him the clear winner on 5/6, ahead of Jonathan Parker on 4 and a group including Georgiou, who plays for Barnet Chess Club, on 3.5.
Meanwhile Keith Arkell had snuck off to the North London Open, in Barnet itself, where (over Saturday and Sunday) he scored a perfect 5/5 to improve his score to 191.2. Enough to take the lead, you would have thought. But that is without reckoning with Mark Hebden. In the Nuneaton Rapidplay, on Sunday, Hebden scored a superb 6/6 against a powerful field, with victories against the joint second-placed Chris Baker and Andrew Webster, who both scored 5, and Plaskett himself, who had sped on from Golders Green but crashed out on just 4/6.
With just the Islington Open left, Hebden leads on 192.4, ahead of Arkell (191.2) and Plaskett (still 188.3). A perfect 5/5 at Islington next weekend would enable either Arkell or Plaskett to overhaul Hebden in the race to the pounds 3,000 first prize - but otherwise it is Hebden's.
In this very unusual opening, popularised almost single-handedly by Hebden, White develops his knight in front of the c pawn but still has various motifs for pressurising the centre.
Baker seemed to get a good game and, indeed, for much of it he had arguably the better pawn structure with a slightly weak a pawn but pressure against d4. However, his Achilles heel was the misplaced bishop on e6, which prevented easy coordination; so perhaps he should have played 25...Bd7 26.Nc5 Be8 or even 26...e6. 28...f5 was very weakening. At the end Black was getting mated; eg if 39...Bxe3 40.Be6+ Kh8 41.Qf8+ Kh7 42.Qg8 mate.
White: Mark Hebden
Black: Chris Baker
Nuneaton Rapidplay, 1998
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