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O Captain! My Captain!
Captaining a chess team is the hardest job I've ever had. There, I've said it. Now I've just got to convince you it's the case.
Playing a three hour game at the end of a long day can be stressful enough. However, when you're in effect playing eight such games at once, as I experience fourteen times a year in the Middlesex League, it's a thoroughly exhausting enterprise. We hear football commentators going on all the time about managers kicking every ball and heading every cross. It's no wonder player-managers are rarely a successful commodity.
The difference in this case is that, while I too bear responsibility for the match result, I have the added pressure of contributing something to the match score from my individual game. And while a cricket or football captain can theoretically win a match all by themselves with a superhuman performance (David Beckham v Greece in 2001 springs to mind) that 12.5% contribution is the maximum I can make. I could win all my games in impressive style yet still find my team being relegated having lost 7-1 in every match. And once the match has started there's absolutely nothing I can do to influence the result outside of my own game except watch, with a mixture of anguish and expectation. And perverse enjoyment of course. But we'll skim over that.
Match night is a culmination of the process of finding the other players, convincing them that they can - for example - make it from Canary Wharf to Ealing by 7.30pm and then sweating on the simple matter of them turning up. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) has recently imposed a zero-tolerance default rule in many of its competitions. It is of course unenforceable at an amateur level, when the start time, game length and the time used by each player are very fluid entities. A game where each player has 90 minutes each for all their moves isn't going to be seriously affected if one player turns up late and starts with 85 minutes. However, I'll tell you what, I wish I could impose a fine of a pint or similar for unreasonable lateness. While it may not make any difference to the eventual result, having every player present at the start of every match would do wonders for my nerves and, arguably, my own individual performance. It's not fair for me to have to call people up during play to enquire how long they're going to be.
The Middlesex League is played over 8 boards. One crass error or unexpected defeat isn't the end of the world and is recoverable from the remaining games. So while it means more organising beforehand, there's slightly less of an onus on the team performing perfectly. The Bucks League is played over 6 boards, so one mistake can prove very costly indeed. On the other hand, games like the following can provide some much-needed respite from the pressure of worrying about the match result. To win in 13 moves is extremely rare at this level. To do so with black is particularly golden. What made this even more impressive is that it was Vedantha's first serious game for almost a year. White thinks that he has won a piece with 13. Qc3 but black's dastardly reply forces white to resign immediately. If 14. Qxb4, 14... Nxc2+ forks king and queen.
S. Coles - V. Kumar 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Nc6 3. Nf3 Ne4 4. Bf4 e6 5. e3 g5 6. Bg3 h5 7. d5 h4 8. Bxh4 Nb4 9. Bg3 Nxg3 10. fxg3 Nxd5 11. e4 Ne3 12. Qd3 Bc5 13. Qc3 Bb4 (see diagram) White resigned.
There'll be something new every Wednesday, with bits and pieces thrown in on other days when I can. I encourage anyone to send me queries, games, reports and photos to email@example.com. You can also follow me on twitter @buckschess.