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John Saunders


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Tournament: 124th Varsity Match • Venue: RAC Club, Pall Mall, London • Date: 11 March 2006
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John Saunders reports: The 124th Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at the RAC Club, Pall Mall, London on 11 March 2006. The match sponsors were Peter Musgrave (on behalf of Vantis Business and tax advisers) and Henry Mutkin. Match arbiters were IM Bob Wade and David Sedgwick.

2005«     2006 Varsity Chess Match     »2007
Bd Oxford University Rating Nat 2006 Cambridge University Rating Nat
1b Alvar Kangur (Pembroke) 2231 EST 1-0 Thomas Nixon (Sidney Sussex) 2216 ENG
2w David Shaw (Worcester) 2200 ENG ½-½ David Hodge (Trinity) 2164 ENG
3b Kieran Smallbone (New) 2194 ENG ½-½ Adam Eckersley-Waites (Queens') 2143 ENG
4w Tom Eckersley-Waites (Keble) 2116 ENG ½-½ Richard Mycroft (Jesus) 2141 ENG
5b Mark Gray (Queen's) 2120 ENG ½-½ Andreas Werner (Wolfson) 2154 ENG
6w Chris Rawlinson (Somerville) 2063 ENG 0-1 Teresa Khoo (Churchill) 2055 ENG
7b Anna Partington (Christ Church) 2064 ENG ½-½ John Rennie (Fitzwilliam) 2053 ENG
8w Benedikt Wagner (Wolfson) 2050e GER 1-0 Martin Rohrmeier (Darwin) 2000e GER
  Av. Rating 2129.8     4½-3½ Av. Rating 2115.8    

Oxford won to reduce Cambridge's series lead to 55 wins against Oxford's 51, with 18 matches drawn. Richard Mycroft captained the CUCC team, while Mark Gray captained OUCC. The Oxford reserve was Graham Morris (Balliol, e2000) and the Cambridge reserve was Laurence Hunt (Jesus, e2000). The time limit was 40 moves in 2 hours, followed by all the moves in 1 hour.

The match was opened by Peter Musgrave of Vantis. Amongst those who attended during the afternoon and evening: Julian and Lizette Hodgson, Jon Speelman, Lady Thelma Milner-Barry, Peter Lee, Shaun Taulbut, Ray Keene, Bill Hartston, Stewart Reuben, Adrian Hollis, Terry Chapman, Jonathan Levitt and Michael Stean.

Kieran Smallbone became the first player to play in six Varsity matches for Oxford (two Cambridge players - John Neville Keynes and James Vigus - have done it previously, while David Lawson played three times for each university). Twin brothers played on opposite sides. This is definitely a first, though non-twin brothers have played before, both in the same match and in different years. Unusually, there was no holder of an OTB FIDE title on either team (although the Estonian player on top board for Oxford has a correspondence grandmaster norm to his name). Another curiosity: both the bottom boards were from Bavaria in Germany. Luke McShane was playing in the Bundesliga this weekend so missed the match.

Order of finish: Bd 5 (4.19pm), Bd 8 (4.25pm - initially posted as 'Cambridge win' on the scoreboard but it was most definitely an Oxford player who delivered checkmate - so one-nil to Oxford), Bd 6 (4.30pm - Cambridge level the score), Bd 7 (4.57pm), Bd 4 (5.20pm), Bd 3 (5.50pm), Bd 1 (6.12pm - Oxford win the match). In his post-match speech, Oxford captain Mark Gray commented, "It was about ten past six when I thought we might win."

Best Game (Oxford): Alvar Kangur. Best game (Cambridge): Teresa Khoo.

31st time the match was held at the RAC Club (acc. to Henry Mutkin).

The Oxford team wore 'token ties' - blue, with the words 'Varsity Chess 2006' written on them - as part of their campaign to gain half-blue status.

Excerpts scribbled down from Bob Wade's post-match speech: "... biggest social occasion in British chess... looking forward to a time when the games will go out around the world as you play [plea for electronic boards, and for more than one female player per team]".

Richard Mycroft, Cambridge captain, post-match speech: "It was my fault we lost. On entering the playing hall, Eddie Penn [in charge of programme and scoreboard construction] told me it was unacceptable for Cambridge to win 8-0 because he only had seven light blue win indicators for the scoreboard. All the gentlemen on my team took it upon themselves not to win - and I thank them for that."

Ray Keene post-match speech: he started with his time-honoured geological joke... "Henry Mutkin represents the Jurassic period of Varsity chess, while I represent the Cretaceous" ... before moving on to tell an anecdote about a match from his era - possibly the 1971 match, though not all the facts as stated fit the circumstances of that match... "We had British, Welsh and Irish champions playing... Richard Eales was responsible for transport... waiting for the coach outside [Cambridge University] Senate House, I suggested to Eales that he phone the company he ordered the coach from - "what company?" was the reply. He admitted he had not ordered a coach. The team then made its way to Oxford via train and cab, only to discover that nobody knew where in Oxford the match was to take place. We happened to meet John Moles [interruption from the audience... "Adrian Moles??"... betraying their ignorance of chess history from the Cretaceous period ], an Oxford player who directed us to the venue, where we arrived in the nick of time and managed to beat Oxford." RDK's advice to the current Cambridge team was twofold: "one, training in mental toughness - you had two won positions on boards 1 and 6, but I had the horrible feeling that they would lose them; and, two, if you could stop Kieran Smallbone playing a seventh time, do it."

© 2006 John Saunders, all photos and text - not to be used without permission