Semi-finale <1650 beker SISSA-Bedum

Today (13th March 2024) is already the semi-finale for the SISSA <1650 beker team. Our beloved team captain unfortunately can’t be there this time, but our team is nonetheless in good shape for that game. We arrive in Bedum and we draw the color for board 1. Paul will be black, and so will I on board 3. That makes Merlijn (board 2) and Roland (board 4) white. Let’s see.

I don’t know any of our opponents, but I’m surprised that for once, they seem to be matching us in age. They welcomed us well and the games start in a friendly (and maybe stressful?) atmosphere. 

I’m playing against an english opening. I vividly remember being crushed right into that opening a year ago, also during the NOSBO beker, that we lost that day. And same last week against Justin. Am I panicking already? No, I know that I learnt what not to blunder in the opening. Maybe.

I look at the other boards. Both Merlijn and Roland’s positions look familiar. Good, our white players in their comfort zone, that’s what we want. However, I freeze when I look at Paul’s board, move 4 or 5. Why is his opponent’s bishop directly looking at Paul’s queen when it’s not Paul’s turn? Now I start panicking, only to realize that Paul actually has a checkmate threat. Ah. Damn, strong start. It gets even better after a couple more moves, where Paul gives his knight for a rook and a pawn. If his queen doesn’t get trapped, and it really shouldn’t, that should be more than comfortable.

Paul should have a comfortable game

On my board, I don’t hate my position yet. Wouldn’t say I like it either, but I’m quite happy that so far I anticipated quite well my opponent’s moves. Maybe at some point I’ll even manage to do something about it, who knows. My main problem is to develop my light square bishop, because believe it or not, being french doesn’t make easier to play with a non-developed light square bishop. Luckily for me, my opponent helps me with that, and we reach a somewhat equal position, with some chances on my side to win a pawn. I do so successfully, and while my queen moves back to d8 for the third time, I can’t help but notice that all my teammates actually have their own queens more or less far behind the enemy lines. Crap, I missed the « get an aggressive queen » memo. 

On board 1, I can tell that Paul’s opponent is doing his best to create some counter-play, but with that much material lost for him in the early game, I’m not too worried, even with Paul’s queen still alone on his opponent’s back rank, and even after Paul gives back a pawn. 

Next to him, Merlijn’s position is exactly what I would expect at this stage. A super active queen, a lot of pieces still on the board, probably as many tactics going on, and probably a little space advantage for Merlijn. Life is good. To my left, Roland’s queen attack also awards him a pawn, and what seems like a great postion, with a lot of attacking opportunities. Life is great. 

Roland won a pawn and is doing quite well

On my board, I go for a second free pawn. Life is… not so great anymore. I might have been a bit too enthusiastic about how free this pawn was, and overlooked that I was losing my queen. Oops. Quick math, even if I lose, seems like my teammates will compensate for it. A bit more math, my queen for a rook, a knight and two pawns is not that bad in that position actually. After the adrenaline rush and giving it more thoughts, this definitely doesn’t look lost to me, no need to panic yet. Let’s just not give my remaining pieces for free, a mantra that I need to follow more often. 

Taking the “free” e2 pawn allows 30. Rc8

On board 4, Roland’s position keeps looking better. I don’t have much time to evaluate Merlijn’s position, but I still have good hopes there.

Merlijn is actually trapping a rook

To his right, I see Paul defeating all his opponent’s attempts and winning his (second extra) pawn back. After cxb2, his opponent resigns, and we have our first win. Hup Paul!

Paul wins!

Back to my board, I try to decide on which square I prefer the inevitable bishop trade to happen. Turns out that it shouldn’t have been on the one that loses the rook. Oops again. I keep on playing, but that’s hopeless. 1-1, so sorry team. 

“How to lose a rook”, by Aurore

I comfort myself knowing that we should have at least a win and a draw, or, even more likely, two wins, from Merlijn and Roland. I step out of the room to analyze with my opponent, and shortly after, to our surprise, Paul tells us that we might have to blitz. Oof, how is that possible? Who’s losing? Turns out that after some very nice moves, Roland misplaced his knight, allowing for his opponent to counter attack. That really doesn’t look good according to Paul. And he’s unfortunately right, Roland loses, and up to Merlijn to save our chance at getting to the finale. 1-2

After 35. Ne5 Roland’s opponent gets his pawn back and threaten Qxf2

Paul is a bit pessimistic about how Merlijn will do in this endgame, despite being up a pawn. My opponent let me know that Merlijn’s opponent is « crazy good » at endgames. Lovely. We go back inside, stressed and excited. A wise person once mentioned that not all rook endgames are draw. With proper play, and his passed connected pawns, Merlijn should be the one winning. Some live reporting to our team captain and to another « crazy good at endgames » person comfort me in that idea. However, Merlijn has 5 minutes left on his clock and his opponent has twice as much. The room is in complete silence, everyone’s focus is on that board.

Merlijn has 5 minutes left on his clock to win his endgame

Merlijn moves his rook up, then his pawns. His opponent eventually creates a passed b pawn, protected by the rook. Merlijn’s own rook, now on b7, protects his passed pawns while attacking his opponent’s. He can’t promote for now, because of his opponent’s king. Can he get his own king there without allowing the promotion of the b pawn? Of course. His opponent has to let go of the pawn, and now only has a rook while Merlijn’s 2 pawns remain!

One step closer to the end. His opponent doesn’t let go. But neither does Merlijn. He promotes with check, he wins the rook, it’s all over, he won! We’re overjoyed. Or should I say, stresxcited?

The score is 2-2 so the only way to the finale is by winning the blitz games, at 23:30, after an evening of classical games. SISSA style. 

We first give Merlijn and his opponent a well-deserved 5 minutes break. Then, the line-up stays the same, colors are swapped, and tempo is 3mn +2sec increment. In theory, we don’t have to try that hard, as in case of a draw, we win (after removing the score from the lowest board). In reality, it’s really stressful. After some comforting « HUP SISSA », all games start.

Because of the time control, I have no idea how my teammates are doing. But to me, the weirdest is the complete silence. Anti-SISSA style.

I get out of my opening with a pawn, and some nice coordination between my pieces. Unfortunately that advantage goes quickly, and I start losing positionally, then a pawn, then on time, then a piece, then the game. Dang, so sorry team.

The arbiter shots « 1-0 Bedum ». That’s met the next second by an « 1-1 SISSA! » from an excited Paul.

I turn to my left, there’s barely any piece left on Roland’s board. Almost immediately « Remise, 1,5-1,5 ». Roland totally outplayed his opponent but the stalemate prevailed. Once again, all our hopes and eyes are on Merlijn. Can he work his magic again?

He’s in a pawn endgame. 3 pawns vs 3 on the king side. On the other side, 2 pawns for his opponent, and 0 for Merlijn. SISSA 1,5-2,5 Bedum.

The finale is not gonna be for us again this year. But it’s not about winning a clock, it’s about the chess we learn along the way. Or whatever they say.

Report by Aurore





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