The 1st Battle

Season 1 Battle 1

Even online, there is a certain tension as players take their places. The click through the other teams, checking out their strength, gauging the eventual winner, and then our own standing. Will our team have to fight to survive? Have all of our players arrived? It’s different when playing for your team, there’s more at stake. It’s not only personal pride we fight for but also, for the pride of the team. It’s nothing like a real battle, of course, or even a fight between football hooligans, but the feeling, the buzz as you virtually stand side-by-side with your team mates is surely similar.

The final minute counts down and the buzz intensifies, like electricity. Some can’t contain it and emit war cries that, in the chess world, translate to contained ‘good luck all’ and ‘good games all’ messages in the chat. And then, the hush as the final few seconds tick down. Which way will the excitement take us tonight? Will we be nervous during our first game, assured, excited, or will we go b-b-b-berserk!? We ready our weapons of choice; maybe a highly sensitive gaming mouse, or touchpad, even a finicky phone, or, in my case, a wireless mouse with a tendency to need a new battery during the middle of a game. However, it is a sacrifice I am prepared to make to remain wire free.

The board and pieces flash up and we are in the first game. Lichess generously allow some time to compose ourselves before making the first move but this also causes apprehension when we play our first move quickly and then… our opponent sits there. Come on! What are you going to do? This or that? Then I do this, or that. You hover over the pieces you usually move and then they play… of course, you’re hovering over the wrong piece so you must adjust, losing valuable hundredths of seconds.

After ever victory or defeat, we are shown the leaderboard. The anger as we see our team losing or a weaker team mate is performing better! The urge to get back into the fight to add those valuable arena points that mean more than rating, and, also, to prove our place in the team. Whether the team is relegated or not, we must prove our worth.

The 1st 10 battle, of the very first (proper) 10-week season, was a story of surprises. Sutton, the winner of the previous week’s preliminary battle was this time relegated. Their champion from the week before, IM Ameet Ghasi, did not play and this was visible not only from the final team score but the lowered morale as the others players did not play to the standard they’re capable of. After battling so many times, it will be a strange 1st 10 not having them there, and if we go down and they go up after Battle 2, it may take a while before we get chance again.

Another surprise drop was Roy Rene, a strong team who I expected to do well and even compete for the top spot. Perhaps they underestimated their opposition. I’m sure that now they know the strength of the field, we will see a different Roy Rene over the coming weeks.

Bischwiller, on the other hand, surprised upon previous weeks. I honestly had them pipped to go down to the Contenders where they would find a permanent home. But no, Bischwiller introduced a champion in the form of Etienne Bacrot, playing under the handle, Alphachecs. His presence improved the morale, showing once again the value in having a champion player on every team. I hope we get to see more of him. Credit to the captain for strengthening the team. It made all the difference.

Only 5 points separated 3rd from 7th, meaning any one of us could have hit the 7th spot and relegation. It could so easily have been 3rd-place Halesowen and not Roy Rene. For Halesowen, an old war dog and former board one now emigrated, finished ahead of both their usual champion, GM Keith Arkell and their fourteen-year-old junior star, Finlay Bowcott-Terry. The wiley introduction of FM Nick Thomas, scoring valuable points (as it happens, 5 more than the next leading scorer), along with a solid front line of even-scoring players eventually ensured that Halesowen survived… this time.

Finishing one point below Halesowen, Wolverhampton, a team led by Phil Bull, had a similar story to Halesowen’s. Their solid front line, including Nat Paul, Gavin Cooper, and their champion on the night, Phil Zabrocki helped them survive.

I feel a little bad for Liverpool. I have awarded them a league point, but I am going to take it away again as I have a new method of deciding draws that will entail the champions from either side, or a nominated other, playing a 3|0 blitz game to decide the winner. As this can mean the difference between relegation and not, this should be sorted out by playing chess and not an equation. As with Halesowen and Wolverhampton, Liverpool Chess Club, had a solid front line in their players like James Friar, a former Kidderminster and Wolverhampton League player, who fought just hard enough to stay out of relegation.

And what of the first two teams? Vasteras were a level above the chasing pack. Their campion on the night, CM Ludwig Carlsson led an impressive line-up including players such as, Erik Norberg, Karl Magnusson, André Nilsson (a lichess top 50 crazyhouse player), and Peter Bergström. But even their impressive strength could not compete with the eventual battle 1 winner, LSG.

LSG, led by Boterhoofd and championed by LSGeneraal, put forward an impressive team of 2300+ players. Other teams could only look on in awe as the LSG players lined up to play. We were like helpless villagers with pitchforks against a gun-toting army. It was brutal. Only Vasteras was able to get close.

Four excellent teams in the form of Kings Head, Malahide, Isle of Wight, and former preliminary league number 1, the Lewisham Lewnatics will ensure Battle 2 is very exciting. Perhaps one of them will be able to take on the might of LSG.

From the Final Stage arena, Warley Quinborne and Cornella move into the Contender ranks. Will the relegated teams rise again? What of the promoted teams? Do they have what it takes to make it into the 1st 10?

Dustin Bowcott

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