The 140th edition of the Varsity Match took place last month at the Royal Automobile Club in London’s Pall Mall. This one was as tense as they come: Cambridge grabbed an early point, but Oxford built a significant lead by winning the next three. On the four boards which remained, Oxford’s situation looked precarious, so Cambridge could still entertain hopes of victory. In the end, Cambridge pulled back a single win, but the remaining games fizzled into draws. That made for a 4.5-3.5 win in Oxford’s favour. The overall series now stands at 60-58 to Cambridge, with 22 matches drawn.
The RAC Chess Circle which organises the event has a generous custom of awarding both a best game prize and a brilliancy prize. Oxford’s Tom O’Gorman won the best game prize for his win against Matthew Wadsworth on top board. The epic battle in the game below deservedly earned both players a share of the brilliancy prize. The game spirals out of control after 11 e5, and in the ensuing chaos it is often hard to fathom which side holds the advantage. Both players rise to the challenge, repeatedly finding inventive ideas in irrational situations.
Victor Vasiesiu (Oxford)–Koby Kalavannan (Cambridge)
Varsity Chess March 2022
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 d3 Bg4 6 Nbd2 Qc7 7 h3 Bh5 8 g4 Bg6 9 Nc4 Nd7 10 Bd2 f6 11 e5 This ambitious move obstructs the natural advance e7-e5, which justifies an urgent response. b5 12 Ba5 Qc8 13 Ncd2 Now 13…Nxe5 14 Nxe5 fxe5 15 Qe2 followed by Ba5-c3 grants White a clear positional edge, so Kalavannan creates a tactical diversion. Qa6 14 Nb3 fxe5 But not 14…c4 15 dxc4 bxc4 16 Qxd7+! 15 Bc3 b4 16 Bxe5 c4 17 Nbd4 c5 18 Nf5 Qe6 19 O-O! Inviting 19…Nxe5, since 20 Re1 Nxf3+ 21 Qxf3 Qc8 22 Nd6+ picks up the queen. Bxf5 20 gxf5 Qxf5 21 Bg3 Rd8 22 dxc4 Nf6 22…Ne5 was perhaps a better bet when White could choose between 23 Nh4 and 23 Qxd8+ Kxd8 24 Nxe5 with interesting compensation. 23 Qe2 Qxh3 24 Rad1 Rc8 25 Rfe1 h5! An essential bid for counterplay. 26 Nh4 g5 27 Qd3 Rg8 28 Nf5 Kf7 29 Nxe7 A clever shot, based on the idea 29…Bxe7 30 Rxe7+ Kxe7 31 Bd6+ which wins the queen on h3. But 29 Nh6+! was more forcing and after 29…Bxh6 30 Rxe7+ White should win. h4! Coolly played. The counterplay lands just in time to avert disaster. 30 Nxg8 hxg3 31 fxg3 Kxg8 32 Qg6+ Bg7 33 Qxg5 Ng4 34 Qd5+ 34 Rd8+ Rxd8 35 Qxd8+ Kh7 36 Qd3+ Kh6 37 Qd2+ would secure a draw. Kh8 35 Re2 Qxg3+ 36 Rg2 Qe3+ 37 Kh1 Qh3+ 38 Kg1 (see diagram) Ne3 This tempting move meets with a powerful counter. Jon Speelman noted that there was a forced win with 38…Bd4+ 39 Rxd4 Qe3+ 40 Kh1 Qe1+ 41 Rg1 Qh4+ 42 Kg2 Qh2+ 43 Kf3 Rf8+ 44 Kxg4 Qxg1 45 Kh5 Qxd4 39 Qd8+! Yet again, the only chance! Rxd8 40 Rxd8+ Kh7 41 Rh2 Qxh2+ 42 Kxh2 Bxb2 43 Kg3 Kg6 44 Kf4 Nxc4 45 Rc8 Bd4 46 Rc6+! Keeping Black’s king to a passive position is a key part of White defence. Kf7 47 Ra6 Na3 48 Ke4 Nxc2 49 Rxa7+ Ke6 50 Ra6+ Kd7 51 Kd5 Ne3+ 52 Ke4 Kc7 53 Kd3 Kb7 54 Rd6 Nd1 Setting a trap, which White avoids: if 55 Rxd4 Nb2+! 55 Kc4 Ne3+ 56 Kb5 Nc2 57 Rb6+ Kc7 58 Rc6+ Kb7 59 Rb6+ Ka7 60 Ra6+ Kb8 61 Rb6+ Kc7 62 Rc6+ Kd7 63 Rxc5 Bxc5 64 Kxc5 Kc7 65 Kc4 Kc6 66 Kb3 Kb5 67 Kxc2 Ka4 68 Kb2 Ka5 69 a3 bxa3+ 70 Kxa3 Draw agreed
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