Pursuits: Chess

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I HAPPEN to be writing this a few days in advance, the morning after several English football clubs were unceremoniously dispatched from European competition.

Unfortunately, English clubs have also been doing rather badly at chess in the European Club Cup. This is organised over long weekends with knockout groups of eight reducing to a single winner, who goes on to the final, scheduled for Azov in Russia on 26-30 November.

First up were Slough, who played in Luxembourg from 13 to 15 September. The sponsor, Nigel Johnson, the dynamo behind the Slough team, regularly manages to assemble massive squads for our own Four Nations Chess League. But many of them have commitments for other clubs in Europe and as a result he sent a somewhat desultory team, which was slaughtered 5-1 by the Belgian Club Eupen-Kelmis in the first round.

A week later my former club, Invicta Knights (Maidstone), went to Breda in the south of Holland. We won two matches, but we were then put to the sword 51/2-1/2 by the hosts, Panfox.

Happily, things have got better since then, though only in a "plucky Englishmen fight manfully against heavy odds" sort of way. Barbican went to Slovakia and lost just 31/2-21/2 to Bratislava, while much the best result was made a fortnight ago by Ilford in Narva, Estonia.

Paired in the first round against the mighty team from Reykjavik, Ilford very sportingly refused a default, instead allowing the opponent's captain, who was technically ineligible, to play on bottom board. They were massively outgraded, and their expected score must have been at most 11/2/6, but in the end it was only this act of generosity - quite correct, in my opinion, since they came to play and could hardly hope the wheel to land on 0 three times in a row - that prevented a most improbable victory.

On top board, Karl Bowden fought the grandmaster Margeir Petursson to a draw, while Philip Rossiter did even better on second against the Latvian grandmaster Igor Rausis.

Rossiter was under pressure in the opening but Rausis seemed to get somewhat over-excited - 9 g4!? wasn't particularly necessary. Still White had lots of play and Rossiter returned the pawn with 21... Kb8!? - rather than 21... Qe5 - to get active. After 23... d4! it was all hands on deck in a mad time scramble. Rausis dropped a piece to the knight fork 26... Nh4, though he resigned only when they stopped scrambling on move 45!

White: Igor Rausis

Black: Philip Rossiter

Narva European Cup, 1998

Dutch Defence

1 d4 f5

2 Nc3 d5

3 Bg5 g6

4 Qd2 Bg7

5 0-0-0 Nc6

6 Nf3 Be6

7 Bf4 a6

8 Ng5 Qd7

9 g4!? Bxd4

10 e3 Bxc3

11 Qxc3 Nf6

12 gxf5 gxf5

13 Be5 Rf8

14 Bxf6 exf6

15 Nh3 0-0-0

16 Nf4 Qd6

17 Qb3 Bg8

18 Qa4 Ne5

19 Rg1 Ng4

20 Rg2 Qe7

21 Bd3 Kb8!?

22 Bxf5 Ne5

23 h4 d4

24 Rxd4 Nf3

25 Rxd8+ Rxd8

26 h5 Nh4

27 Rg1 Nxf5, and White resigned 18 moves later.