A ‘Hobbyist’ Dominates the Four Nations Chess League
ByDennis MonokroussosMay 19 — 6:21 PM
Matthew Sadler is no longer a professional, but as he showed during the recent Four Nations Chess League, he is still one of the world’s best players.
The Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) is a strong annual league competition named for the United Kingdom’s four nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. As in the German Bundesliga, players from other countries are permitted to play, but unlike in the Bundesliga, the 4NCL is still dominated by players from the United Kingdom.
The 2016-17 season finished earlier this month, and the winning team was Guildford 1, led by Matthew Sadler, a British grandmaster, who scored 7.5 points in eight games.
Sadler, 43, was once one of the world’s leading players, but he gave up being a professional to pursue a more conventional career in the information technology field. Since 2010, he has resumed playing as a hobby and he has been very successful. His rating has been rising and he will be 2684 on the next list — a career high.
Here are three of his games from the 4NCL, starting with an attractive win Justin Tan, a young Australian international master:
Sadler, Matthew D vs. Tan, Justin2
4NCL 2016-17 |Reading ENG |Round 4.51 |15 Jan 2017 |1-0
1. d4Nf62. c4e63. Nc3Bb44. e3O-O5. Bd3c56. Nf3cxd47. exd4d58. O-Odxc49. Bxc4b6This is the extremely reliable Karpov Variation of the
Nimzo-Indian. 10. Re1
( 10. Bg5is the most common move, while )
( 10. Qe2and )
( 10. Qb3are also important options. )
10... Bb711. Bd3Nbd7
( 11... Nc6is approximately equal in popularity. )
( 12... Be7is less
popular, but might be a more solid choice. )
( 13... Rc8!? )
14. c4Rfe815. Ne5Nxe516. Rxe5White stands better, thanks to the bishop pair
and his attacking chances. Unless Black can exert pressure against the hanging
pawns (on c4 and d4) White will cause Black serious discomfort on the kingside.
( 16. dxe5!?is structurally ugly, but one might be attracted to the move
for its attacking potential. Unfortunately for White, 16... Qc6!forces White to
play 17.f3 or 17. Bf1, and in both cases White's attack is slowed
16... Qc617. Qf1!The Argentine GM Francisco Peralta
had twice before tried
( 17. Rg5, scoring with the move. Nevertheless, Sadler's move is an improvement. )
17... Nd718. Re3Qd6
( 18... Nf6 )
19. Bb2Nf8?!20. Rae1Bent Larsen famously proclaimed that with a knight on
f8 there would never be mate. Such a knight can be a handy defender, but
"never"? Black is in trouble here, as White's pieces are all threateningly
placed within striking distance of Black's king, while Black's forces aren't
all that well organized for defense. 20... Red821. Qe2Qf422. d5!?A thematic
sacrifice, opening the long diagonal for the powerful bishop on b2. 22... exd523. Be5!Qh624. Rh3
( 24. Rg3was even stronger. 24... g625. Bf6Rdc826. Re3White's pieces dominate the board. )
( 24... Qe6would be equivalent, provided that Black's next move is the right one. )
25. Qh5g6?Tan is too optimistic.
( 25... Qh6was a must. White enjoys a
serious edge whether he trades queens or not, but the win is still in the
26. Qh6f627. Bxg6!It is possible that Tan missed this
move, or at least underestimated it. 27... Rd7The best try, relatively speaking.
Black has three ways to capture a bishop, but all three lose quickly.
( 27... fxe528. Bxh7+!Kf729. Rf3+Ke730. Qg7+Kd631. Qxe5+Kc532. cxd5White has a forced mate, and even if he doesn't find manage to play every move
perfectly it's clear that Black's king is not going to survive. )
In the next game, Sadler faced Jonathan Speelman, a countryman, who was twice a candidate for the World Championship.
Sadler, Matthew D vs. Speelman, Jon S
4NCL 2016-17 |Reading ENG |Round 5.51 |11 Feb 2017 |1-0
1. e4e62. d4d53. Nc3Bb44. e5Qd7The main line of the Winawer continues
( 4... c55. a3Bxc3+6. bxc3, and now Black has a major choice between 6... Ne7and ... )
5. a3Bxc3+6. bxc3b67. Qg4f58. Qg3Ba6One of the key
ideas of the variation: Black swaps off his bad bishop and hopes that White's
remaining bishop won't cause him any harm. This strategy with ...f5 does leave
Black with dark-squared weaknesses on the kingside, while Black's king can be
a target on the queenside. 9. Bxa6Nxa610. Ne2Here Black faces a major
decision: should his king go to the queenside or the kingside? There is no
consensus at the moment. 10... O-O-OThe number one choice in the database, but
it's not so surprising to discover that White scores very well from here. The
b-file is open and White can use the a-pawn as a battering ram.
( 10... Kf7is a popular second choice nowadays. )
( 10... Nb8used to be popular, but
this time-consuming maneuver may be a little too slow. 11. Nf4 )
11. a4Kb7Black often moves the knight first, and after
( 11... Nb812. a5Nc613. axb6recaptures with the c-pawn. 13... cxb614. O-OWhite has done very well
here, though the young Belarussian GM Stupak has upheld Black's cause with
success - albeit against mostly lower-rated opponents. )
12. O-ONb813. a5Nc614. axb6axb6
( 14... cxb615. c4!dxc416. Qc3!Nxd4?Black's position
was precarious, but after this greedy move it's lost. White has a huge
initiative, and Black's undeveloped kingside pieces aren't going to save his
king. 17. Nxd4Qxd418. Qa3a519. Be3Qxe520. Rab1Rd621. Rfe1Qd522. Bf4Rd723. Qf8 )
( 15... Nge7is more stable, but not much more
if White plays 16. c5! )
16. Qa3White is clearly winning. 16... Nb817. Bg5Re818. d5!A nice clearance move. 18... Qxd5Surprisingly, all this had
been seen before. Speelman improves on the earlier game, but it's way too late
( 21. Bd8!is an attractive shot, intending Nb5(!). Black must
either allow a White minor piece to take on c7, or take on b5 and get mated by
Qa7+ and Qxc7#. )
21... Kc822. Qxc6Nxc623. Ra8+!Nb8Black is on the
verge of escaping, but Sadler was ready for the moment. 24. Nb5!White
threatens Ra7 followed by Rxc7#, and Black lacks any hopeful defense. 24... Re7White could grab the exchange, but he finds something nicer. 25. Rxb8+!After
( 25. Rxb8+!Kxb826. Rd8+Kb727. Bxe7White is up a piece for absolutely nothing, and can soon win even more thanks to the pin. )
The next game is against Ivan Sokolov of the Netherlands, a strong player who once had a rating over 2700. In this game, Sokolov came up with a new approach with Black in a Modern Benoni. Many players go for a safety-first approach when they see something new, but Sadler took up the challenge, obtained a big opening advantage, and immediately exploited a Sokolov error to obtain a winning position early in the middlegame.
Sadler, Matthew D vs. Sokolov, Ivan
4NCL 2016-17 |Reading ENG |Round 11.11 |01 May 2017 |1-0
1. d4Nf62. c4c53. d5e64. Nc3exd55. cxd5g66. e4d6The Modern Benoni
is a sharp choice that typically leads to strategically and tactically
complicated positions. 7. f3Black often avoids the move order in the game,
to avoid the variation with
( 7. f4Bg78. Bb5+, but Sadler takes Sokolov at
his word and plays a less ambitious move. )
7... a68. a4h5!?Sokolov
goes for a very unusual setup.
( 8... Bg7is the normal option, when 9. Bg5O-O10. Qd2gives rise to a complicated and well-known position. )
9. Bg5Be7?!Continuing his avant-garde approach.
( 9... Bg7would keep the game in
more typical Modern Benoni channels. )
( 10. f4!?Nh711. Bxe7Qxe712. Qd2 )
10... h411. Qd2Nbd712. Nh3!?Ne513. Be2Rb8Threatening to play
...b5, because after he captures on h3 White's bishop will be overloaded,
forced to defend both b5 and f3.
( 13... Bxh314. gxh3leaves White with a
compromised pawn structure, but also with the bishop pair. )
14. O-O!White is doing great here, and it's hard to understand what Sokolov hoped for
with his innovation. 14... Kf815. a5
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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