With four rounds to play I was back to 50% and was given the black pieces against another strong teenager (unlike today there were a lot of them around), Clive Hill.
I chose a rather suspect line of the Modern Defence which had been recommended by Keene and Botterill in their book on the opening.
1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 c6 5. Be3 Qb6 6. Rb1 f5 7. e5
Giving up a pawn for rapid development.
7… dxe5 8. fxe5 Bxe5 9. Nf3 Bg7 10. Bc4 Nf6 11. Qe2
C Hansen – M Todorcevic Rome 1988 was OK for Black: 11. Qd2 Qb4 12. Ne5 e6 13. O-O Qe7 14. Bg5 b5 15. Bb3 b4 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Ne2 a5 18. Qe3 a4 19. Bc4 Ra5 20. Nd3 O-O 21. Nef4 Na6 22. c3 bxc3 23. bxc3 Nc7 24. Rfe1 Re8 25. Rb8 Ra8 26. Rxa8 Nxa8 27. Nc5 Nb6 28. Bxe6+ Bxe6 29. Qd3 Qd6 30. Rxe6 Rxe6 31. Nfxe6 Nd5 32. g3 1/2-1/2
but H Westerinen – H Lehtinen Finland 2003 was a disaster: 11. O-O e6 12. Qe2 Qb4 13. Bf4 Qe7 14. Rbe1 O-O 15. Ng5 Re8 16. Qd3 Kh8 17. Bd6 Qd7 18. Bxe6 Rxe6 19. Rxe6 Ng8 20. Rfe1 1-0
Returning the pawn is probably Black’s best option.
12. Bxd5 cxd5 13. Nxd5 Qa5+ 14. Nc3 Nc6 15. O-O Be6 16. Rbd1 Rd8
Here Ng5 or Bh6 would favour White but instead my opponent goes for a tactical idea which doesn’t quite work.
17. Bf4 Bf7 18. Nb5 O-O
The intention was presumably 19. Bc7 but Clive must have missed that after 19… Qxa2 20. Bxd8 Rxd8 I have the nasty threat of Bc4, hitting several pieces. 21. b3 is no good because of Bxb3 so the best bet is 21. d5 Rxd5 22. Nc3 Bxc3 23. bxc3 when Black has two pawns and a nice position for the exchange. This would still have been better than his choice in the game, though.
19. b3 a6
Trapping the knight. 20. Nc7 would now be met most effectively by 20… e5.
20. Bc7 Qxb5 21. Qxb5 axb5 22. Bxd8 Rxd8
Now I have two bishops against a rook and eventually manage to bring home the full point.
23. c3 b4 24. cxb4 Nxb4 25. Rfe1 Kf8 26. Re3 Nxa2 27. Kf1 Nb4 28. Ng5 Nc2 29. Rc3 Nxd4 30. Rc7 Bxb3 31. Re1 e5 32. Nxh7+ Kg8 33. Ng5 b5 34. Rb7 Bc4+ 35. Kg1 Ra8 36. h4 e4 37. g4 Nf3+ 38. Nxf3 exf3 39. gxf5 Bd4+ 40. Kh2 f2 0-1
Back to +1, then, with three rounds to go, and Round 9 found me facing David Robertson, another higher graded player from Liverpool. I opted for a quiet line against his Pirc Defence.
1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Bd3 g6 4. c3 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. O-O Bg4
Perhaps not the most accurate move here as Black will be forced to trade off his better bishop.
7. Nbd2 Nc6 8. h3 Bxf3 9. Nxf3 e5 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Qc2 Qd6 12. Be3 Rad8 13. Rad1 Qe7 14. b4 Ne8 15. Bc4 Nd6 16. Bd5 Kh8
A strange choice, giving up a pawn. 16… a5 was possible.
17. Bxc6 bxc6 18. Bxa7 f5 19. exf5 gxf5 20. Bc5 Qe6 21.
Rfe1 e4 22. Nd4 Qg6 23. Ne2
Another strange choice. No reason not to capture on c6.
23… f4 24. f3 Rde8 25. Bd4
A mistake, allowing Black to force a draw.
25… Nc4 26. Bc5 Ne3
Instead 26… Na3 leads to repetition. I have to play either Qb2 or Qd2 to hold g2 (other queen moves lose to exf3 when a knight move will allow immediate mate) and Black just goes back to c4, hitting the queen again. But now I reach an ending with two extra pawns.
27. Nxf4 Rxf4 28. Rxe3 Rxf3 29. Rxf3 exf3 30. Qxg6 hxg6 31. gxf3 Bxc3 32. a4 Ra8 33. a5 Be5 34. Bd4 Bxd4+ 35. Rxd4 c5 36. bxc5 Rxa5 37. Rd8+ Kh7 38. Rd7+ Kh6 39. Rxc7 Ra2 40. c6 Kg5 41. Rc8 Kf4 42. c7 Kg3 43. Kf1 Rc2 44. Ke1 g5 45. Kd1
I could have played f4 immediately, but I eventually get the right idea. If black takes either way his king will be exposed to a rook check.
45… Rc3 46. Kd2 Rc4 47. Kd3 Rc5 48. Kd4 Rc6 49. Kd5 Rc1 50. Ke6 Rc2 51. Kf5 Rc5+ 52. Ke4 Rc4+ 53. Kd3 Rc6 54. f4 1-0
I was now on 5½/9 with two round to play. Would my luck hold out? You’ll find out next week.
Perhaps Clive and David will also find out, as, 38 years on, I’m in regular touch with both of them on Facebook. David’s active involvement with chess still continues. He brought several major events to Liverpool between 2006 and 2008, still plays regularly, and is still graded above me. In the following year’s Major Open he gained his revenge, beating me in only 18 moves:
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 b6 4. Ngf3 Bb7 5. Bd3 Nf6 6. e5 Nfd7 7. O-O c5 8. c3 Nc6 9. Re1 g5 10. Nf1 g4 11. Ng5 h5 12. Nxe6 Qc8 13. Nf4 Nd8 14. Bf5 Be7 15. e6 fxe6 16. Nxe6 Nxe6 17. Rxe6 Kd8 18. Qe1 1-0
Clive, on the other hand, gave up chess for many years, but made a comeback a couple of years ago, playing in the 2014 British Championships, since when we’ve managed to meet up for lunch (must do it again sometime, Clive!).
It’s a tribute to the power of chess, as well as the power of social media, that friendships can be reignited after so many years. I’ve come to realise that this is the real reason why I continue to play chess.