Pursuits: Chess

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DON'T LET your babies be chess players, dear reader. I'm just recovering from one of the most stressful 24 hours I've ever endured: the sort of thing you want to undertake three or four times a decade but not more. I hope therefore that you'll forgive me for deferring the game to tomorrow and describing events in some detail.

The last round of the Andorra Zonal started at 3.30 on Saturday. I was Black against Jeroen Piket, had to win and somehow achieved this, as you will see in tomorrow's game.

Meanwhile, most of the leaders had halved out, and when the dust had cleared eight players were tied on 6/9 and had to play off for six places. In the (final) tie-break order they were: Bauer, Reinderman, Van Wely, Miles, Magem, Nijboer, myself and Dorfman.

The players' meeting began at 11pm, with the organisers, according to the regulations, proposing a knockout but due to inexperience bringing pairings to the meeting - which of course favoured some more than others - based on the tie-break in the original tournament.

Pandemonium broke out, much of it, I have to admit, engendered by myself. At one point it turned out that they had even split the ties wrong: so I went down from sixth to seventh - a triumph which was to cost me much anxiety later but at that moment had the effect of moving me to the probably easier half of the draw.

An all-play-all was impossible, so zone president Monsieur Loubatiere had decreed by phone. Then it was possible if all the players agreed. All did except for Spaniard Jordi Magem. But his objection was overcome when the draw was doctored so as to avoid countrymen playing each other and hence possibly colluding in the final rounds. Finally there was the time limit which was speeded up to 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move; and discussion of the breaking of further ties - in the order listed above. The meeting broke up at half past midnight and we all attempted to sleep.

The next day started well for me when Tony Miles was happy to split the point in the first round at 9am for the sake of some further rest; and I beat Magem in the second. With everybody extremely nervous there were many quick draws and this remained the only decisive game for several rounds: but the draws only heightened the tension.

We cut through much agony to the final round, in which I was able to draw bloodlessly with the tournament winner, 21-year-old Christian Bauer, as were Nijboer and Miles. The other two games were terrible to behold. Loek van Wely blundered as White against Magem and was ground down by excellent technique. Dimitri Reinderman, also White, came in a whisker of losing to Josef Dorfman, but was able to bail out into the drawn endgame, where his opponenet had bishop and the "wrong" rook's pawn. So the two victims were Van Wely and Dorfman.