Britain’s over the board Four Nations Chess League (4NCL), which went online during the pandemic, returned last weekend with over 80 teams in action in several divisions following a winter break due to Omicron. 

Internet games are convenient and are preferred by many casual players, but have important drawbacks. Most online chess is at very fast speeds. Five-minute or three-minute blitz or one-minute bullet for the entire game is the prevailing time control, making it as much a test of mouse dexterity as of chess skill. Website ratings have no status for over-the-board play, while there is a small but ever-present risk of losing to a computer-aided opponent.

So the 4NCL’s return, at a Daventry hotel, was widely welcomed, and after four rounds (of 11) the season is taking shape. Guildford, which monopolised the league title for eight years, have scaled down, but their new version, Guildford Young Guns, are still the only team with a maximum 8/8 total.

The title favourites are London’s top club Wood Green and Manx Liberty, who both have a touch of class and drew 4-4. Wood Green are led by the former world semi-finalist Jon Speelman and by England’s rising star Ravi Haria, while Manx, with backing from the website, have a phalanx of grandmasters from Romania, Poland and Hungary.

Who could surprise the favourites? Wood Green Youth have an interesting mix of several teenage talents plus two of England’s top women, and lost to Manx only by the narrowest of margins.

Manx’s top board, a 2620-rated GM, exploited Black’s hyper-active queen in the first game and puzzle:

Constantin Lupulescu v Tamos Fodor, Manx v Cheddleton

1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 e6 5 b3 Ne4 6 Bd3 Qa5+? 7 Nfd2! Nd7 8 0-0 Nxd2 9 Bxd2 Qd8 10 Nc3 Nf6? 11 Qc2 Be7 12 Rad1 b6 13 e4 dxc4 14 Bxc4 Qxd4? 15 Bf4 Qc5 16 e5 Nh5 17 Ne4 Qa5 18 Be2! Nxf4 19 Qxc6+ Bd7 20 Qxa8+ Bd8 (see puzzle diagram) 


Constantin Lupulescu v Tamas Fodor. White to move and win. How can he take advantage of Black’s disorganised army while dealing with the threat of Nxe2+?


Nigel Povah v Peter Sowray, Guildford Young Guns v Barbican. Black to move and win.

Click here for solutions

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