Going into the last round I was on 4½/6, with a chance of first place if I won my final game. I found myself playing White against one of the highest graded players in my section and a QGD Exchange Variation soon appeared on the board.
1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Nf3 Nbd7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 Be7
7. e3 c6
8. Bd3 Ne4
You can do this if you like but, as you might expect, Black usually castles in this position.
9. Bf4 Ndf6
10. Qc2 Nxc3
Rather obliging. Bf5 was another option, but Black could also castle here, offering a pawn. Stockfish analyses 10…0–0 11.Nxe4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Nxe4 13.Qxe4 g5 14.Bg3 f5 15.Qe5 f4 16.exf4 g4 17.Nd2 Bf6 when Black has a lot of play.
11. bxc3 Bg4
This is just bad. He could still have castled.
12. Ne5 Bh5
And this is a blunder.
Missing the chance to play Rb1 which just wins a pawn. Qc8 or Qd7 would be met by Bf5.
14. Rab1 Bxd3
15. Qxd3 Qc8
Another inaccurate move. I should have taken the opportunity to play c4, which Black could now have prevented by playing b5.
This is just crazy. I really can’t imagine what prompted him to play this move. Last round nerves, perhaps? All I have to do is open the centre and Black will have no defence.
17. Bxe7 Kxe7
18. c4 f6
19. cxd5 Nd6
Stockfish recommends the piece sacrifice Rfc1 here. Black’s best bet now is to trade knights but instead he loses quickly.
21. Nxd6 Kxd6
22. Rfc1 Qd7
23. e4 b6
24. Qg3+ Ke6
25. Rc7 1-0
So I finished on 5½/7, enough for a share of first place. Four wins with white and three draws with black. In the immortal words of Mr Punch, that’s the way to do it.
Looking back at the games I was lucky that all my black opponents played rather feebly in the opening and in each case I was able to gain a significant advantage early in the game. Two of my white opponents played unambitiously and allowed me easy equality. Only in round 4 was I in any trouble, where I blundered a pawn and should have lost the subsequent ending.
For the first time I was feeling confident about my chess. A few weeks later the new season was under way. My first seven matches resulted in seven wins, several against fairly strong opponents. My next tournament, one of the large open Swisses which were popular in London at the time, saw me extend my winning sequence to nine before losing to a strong opponent in the second round. Although I’d cut out most of my blunders and was happy with my defence to 1. e4, I’d still lose the occasional horrible game to opponents who knew the opening better than me.
The question that interests me is whether or not I was a stronger player 40 years ago in my mid 20s than I am now in my mid 60s. I think players of, say, 1800-2000 strength are stronger now than then, which, given the increased knowledge of chess, is what you’d expect. If I’d continued to play regularly and take chess seriously I’d be stronger now than I was back in the mid 70s. But I chose not to, so, perhaps I’m about the same strength.
In a few weeks time I’ll revisit another tournament from my past.