1976 was the year Christmas came six days early for me.
Just look at what happened in my games in the last two rounds at Islington.
Going into Round 5 on 2/4 I was paired with the white pieces against Paul Littlewood, who had a grade of 214 at the time of the game. Paul had been British U18 Champion in 1972 and British Under 21 Champion in 1975, and would later become an International Master and win the British itself in 1981.
1. e4 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 a6 4. g3 Rb8 5. a4 e6 6. Bg2 Nf6 7. f4 d6 8. Nge2 Qa5 9. O-O b5
We’re only on move 9 but already Paul gives me an early Christmas present, blundering a piece to a simple tactical idea which is very common in this type of position.
10. e5 Nxe5 11. fxe5 dxe5 12. d3 Bd7 13. cxb5 axb5 14. Bg5 b4 15. Bxf6 bxc3 16. Bxe5 cxb2 17. Bxb8 bxa1=Q 18. Qxa1 c4 19. Be5 cxd3 20. Nf4 f6 21. Bc3 Qa6 22. Qb1 Qxa4 23. Nxd3 Bd6 24. Bb4
Chickening out by heading for the ending. In principle, with an extra piece, not many pawns and the enemy king exposed, I should keep the queens on the board, but sitting opposite such a strong opponent clouded my judgement. The right plan was to play for the attack with 24. Qb6 Ke7 25. Qf2.
24… Bxb4 25. Qxb4 Qxb4 26. Nxb4 Ke7 27. Rc1 Rb8 28. Nc6+ Bxc6 29. Rxc6 Rb1+ 30. Bf1 f5 31. Rc7+ 1/2-1/2
Again chickening out by offering a draw in a position where I could still have tried to win. On paper a draw was an excellent result but with a bit more courage I might have won. The story of my life, I guess.
In the final round I had black against another strong young opponent, Glenn Lambert, who was graded 205 at the time of the game. The following year he was beat Eugenio Torre in the Lord John Cup in London. Torre had beaten Karpov in Manila in 1976, and was to do so again in London in 1984. Sadly, Glenn was later diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, dying in 2003.
But in this game he was about to give me another early Christmas present as it seems he wasn’t in the mood for playing chess.
1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. g3 Bxf3 6. exf3 Nc6 7. d5 Nd4 8. Bg2 c5 9. dxc6 Nxc6 10. Bd2 h5 11. O-O Nh6 12. Re1 Nf5 13. Rc1 O-O 14. f4 Rc8 15. Bh3 Ncd4 16. b3 a6
Up to this point the engines have a slight preference for White’s bishops, and here prefer 17. Nd5 e6 18. Ne3, to trade off a pair of knights and gain control of the vital d4 square. The way White plays it, though, is fine for Black and over the next few moves I gain the advantage.
17. Bg2 b5 18. cxb5 axb5 19. a4 Qb6 20. Nd5 Qa7 21. axb5 Nxb5 22. Rxc8 Rxc8 23. Qe2
Another indifferent move. Black can either pin the bishop (Rc2 or Qa2) or drive the queen away:
23… Nbd4 24. Nxe7+ Kf8 0-1
White’s 24th move just loses a piece in obvious fashion, but there was still no need to resign, bearing in mind what happened when I was a piece for two pawns ahead in my previous game. I guess he just wasn’t in the mood for playing chess. This sometimes happens, of course, in the last round if the tournament hasn’t gone well for you. The was, remains, and will probably always remain the only time I’ve beaten an opponent graded over 200 in a slowplay game. The following year I was able to tell everyone that I should be world champion: I’d beaten Lambert, who had beaten Torre, who had beaten Karpov.
So I finished on 3½/6, having played four opponents graded over 200 for one of my best tournament results. I was very lucky on the last day, though, as Paul Littlewood uncharacteristically lost a piece in the opening while Glenn Lambert seemingly had little interest in playing chess that day. Something else I just noticed while writing this: my opponents that day had something else in common: they shared the same second name: Edwin.