Chess: Playing a team game

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CLUB chess in Britain, while involving 40,000 or more active participants, has tended to cling to its draughty church hall and pub back-room image. When weekend tournaments arrived in the Sixties to sow the seeds for a more competitive and professional atmosphere, club chess continued as it had always been, with dozens of local leagues and hundreds of club championships providing the serious competition for one-evening-a-week chess addicts.

Between national level and the humble clubs, however, chess has never been much of a team game in Britain. Even the county and national club championships tend to go on without the participation of the very best players, who it must be admitted, are often away playing for clubs in the professional leagues of France and Germany.

Three months ago, the '4 Nations Chess League' was founded to try to lift the British club game to a higher level. Although its first season has attracted only six teams (and all from the one nation of England), it has succeeded in its aim of bringing strong players together to play high-quality team chess in excellent surroundings.

Last weekend, 48 players, including three grandmasters and eleven international masters, gathered in Cheltenham (courtesy of the sponsors, Eagle Star) for rounds five and six of the competition. After some close matches, the London Barbican team moved ahead of Invicta Knights of Maidstone to take the lead for the first time. With four rounds left to play, scores are Barbican 10, Invicta Knights 9, North-west Eagles and Covent Garden 5, Slough 4, Bristol 3.

The best game of the weekend was played on the top board between Invicta Knights and Covent Garden; but first, a tasty morsel from the veteran former international, John Littlewood:

----------------------------------------------------------------- White: John Littlewood ----------------------------------------------------------------- Black: Miroslav Houska ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 d4 d6 10 fxe5 dxe5 2 d4 Nf6 11 Nxe5 Bb4 3 Nc3 d6 12 0-0 0-0 4 f4 Qa5 13 Rxf5 Rxf5 5 Bd3 e5 14 Qg4 g6 6 Nf3 Bg4 15 Rf1 Rxf1+ 7 Be3 Nxe4 16 Kxf1 Qd8 8 Bxe4 f5 17 Qe6+ Kg7 9 Bxf5 Bxf5 18 Bh6+ 1-0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

John Emms's win over Andrew Martin was a beautifully logical game. Black must have felt content when his knight reached the outpost on b4 at move 17, but it spent the rest of the game staring into space. White patiently exchanged men until he was effectively a piece ahead where it mattered. At the end, there is nothing to stop Ne6 and Nxc7 winning easily.

----------------------------------------------------------------- White: John Emms ----------------------------------------------------------------- Black: Andrew Martin ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 e4 Nf6 20 Nxe5 Bxe2 2 e5 Nd5 21 Nxe2 Bxe5 3 d4 d6 22 Bd4 Qf6 4 Nf3 Bg4 23 Bxe5 Qxe5 5 Be2 e6 24 Nd4 Rae8 6 0-0 Be7 25 Rbe1 Qf6 7 c4 Nb6 26 Rxe8 Rxe8 8 Nc3 0-0 27 c6 b6 9 Be3 a6 28 Re1 Re5 10 b3 d5 29 Rxe5 Qxe5 11 c5 Nd7 30 f3 h6 12 h3 Bh5 31 Kf2 Kf7 13 b4 Nc6 32 g3 Kf6 14 Rb1 f6 33 h4 Kf7 15 exf6 Bxf6 34 Qe3 Qxe3+ 16 a4 a5 35 Kxe3 Na2 17 b5 Nb4 36 Kd2 Kf6 18 Qd2 e5 37 f4 h5 19 dxe5 Nxe5 38 f5 1-0 -----------------------------------------------------------------