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HOW STRONG does a team need to be to have reasonable chances of winning the European Club Cup? Not an abstract question but one which Invicta Knights (Maidstone) faced in its full muscularity last weekend at the Hotel Brabant, in Breda, in the south of Holland.

When Honved (Budapest) withdrew, there were just seven teams left for the three-day knockout to decide one of the eight contenders for the finals scheduled for Azov, in Russia, for 26-30 November.

We fought our way quite well past Hohenems (Austria) 3.5-2.5 and Alkaloid (Croatia) by 4.5-1.5 but were then confronted by one of the very plausible answers to my initial question in the form of the hosts Panfox (a computer company).

Unlike many other sportsmen, chess players are totally free agents. So in principle there is little difficulty for a sufficiently wealthy and influential sponsor or individual in actually assembling his "fantasy chess team". While Panfox is bereft of a "K" - Kasparov, Kramnik, Karpov or even Korchnoi - it more than makes up for this in an incredible selection from the rest of the alphabet.

On Sunday we faced, in board order, Van Wely, Timman, Lautier, Mikhail Gurevich, Vaganian and Van der Wiel. While for this match against fellow Englishmen, Julian Hodgson had been consigned to the Panfox "bench". Our expected score was 1-5 but I fear that we actually made just half-a-point from James Vigus's excellent draw against Van der Wiel on bottom board. Several of the games were deeply horrible, my own less so: but Van Wely is becoming a bete noire of mine - or, as we tend to say, I'm becoming (have become) a customer of his; and he got me in the end.

Rather than something from that rather miserable occasion, here is Julian Hodgson at work in the first round against the Portugese team Boavista.

Instead of hurling his queen's bishop out with the Trompowsky - 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 - Julian has recently taken to the more modest Queen's Fianchetto.

Black badly mishandled the opening and ended up with a rotten pawn structure for no compensation. Hodgson's very slow and calm exploitation was crowned by 26 Ne4! after which the fruit finally started dropping off the tree.

White: Julian Hodgson

Black: Pedro Parcerias

Breda 1998

Queen's Fianchetto

1 b3 e5

2 Bb2 Nc6

3 e3 Nf6

4 Bb5 d6

5 Ne2 Be7

6 d4 exd4

7 Nxd4 Bd7

8 Bxc6 bxc6

9 Qf3 d5

10 Nf5 Bxf5

11 Qxf5 0-0

12 Nd2 Qd7

13 Qxd7 Nxd7

14 Nf3 Bf6

15 0-0-0 a5

16 a4 Bxb2+

17 Kxb2 Rab8

18 Nd4 Rb6

19 Ne2 Nf6

20 Nc3 Rfb8

21 Rhe1 Rb4

22 f3 g6

23 e4 Rd8

24 exd5 cxd5

25 Re7 Rb7

26 Ne4! Nxe4

27 fxe4 d4

28 Re5 c6

29 Rxa5 Re7

30 Rc5 Rxe4

31 Rxc6 Re2

32 Rd3 Rxg2

33 a5 Rg5

34 b4 Rb5

35 Ka3 Kf8

36 Ka4 Rbb8

37 a6 Ke7

38 b5 Ra8

39 Ka5 Rd5

40 c4 resigns