I rather expected the top board game to be a non-event and they duly drew in 14 moves.
Qun Ma v Alexander Cherniaev was a very different matter, The Chinese GM built up positional pressure against the Russian GM, who is in England very frequently. Eventually Black could no longer keep control of c5 and so lost a pawn. But Alexander continued to fight, only to lose eventually.
Jacek Tomczak sacrificed a piece on move 13 against Justin Sarkar. This seemed neither desirable, nor sound. The game continued, but the American played accurately and ran out a worthy winner. I like Tomczak’s little joke on move 35. It is known as a 50%er. Either White plays correctly and wins, or he blunders and the game continues.
Sophie Milliet had a grip on the position against Nicholas Pert. But he was never in trouble and eventually the game was a fair draw.
Jens Kipper sacrificed a pawn on move 10 against Jonathan Hawkins. This resulted in a fiercely complicated game that was eventually drawn.
It was a black day for England on both Boards 6 and 7, although Jovica Radovanovic is a long-term resident in England. Jovica, who is still registered for Serbia, sacrificed a rook for knight and pawn against Danny Gormally. White had adequate compensation. But White managed to emerge a pawn up – which he promptly returned to relieve the pressure. By move 37 Danny had a small edge with the black pieces. Time and moves passed until Black has a virtually winning position on move 75. Then Danny had a mental aberration and lost on time, totally unnecessarily. It was a tragedy for the home-grown grandmaster after he had started the tournament so well.
The game between Peter Sowray and Jahongir Vakhidov was an engrossing one. The young Uzbek gradually increased the pressure until eventually Black had rook and pawn for a bishop. Peter then resigned, having had a splendid grip on the tournament and played with great verve for so long. Sadly then, of the 6 leaders with 6/8, none is British. However 4 of the 7 players with 5½ are English.
The last round starts at 2.15pm as usual on Sunday 5 January. Several foreigners assumed we would follow the usual tradition elsewhere of spoiling players’ biorhythms by suddenly switching to a 10am start. The organisers then wonder why the last round is often so listless.