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. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 c5 6. Nf3 cxd4 7. exd4 d5 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 b6 This is the extremely reliable Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian.
10. Re1
10. Bg5 is the most common move, while  )
10. Qe2 and  )
10. Qb3 are also important options.  )
10... Bb7 11. Bd3 Nbd7
11... Nc6 is approximately equal in popularity.  )
12. a3 Bxc3
12... Be7 is less popular, but might be a more solid choice.  )
13. bxc3 Qc7
13... Rc8!?  )
14. c4 Rfe8 15. Ne5 Nxe5 16. Rxe5 White 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 considerably.  )
16... Qc6 17. Qf1! The Argentine GM Francisco Peralta had twice before tried
17. Rg5 , scoring with the move. Nevertheless, Sadler's move is an improvement.  )
17... Nd7 18. Re3 Qd6
18... Nf6  )
19. Bb2 Nf8?! 20. Rae1 Bent 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... Red8 21. Qe2 Qf4 22. d5!? A thematic sacrifice, opening the long diagonal for the powerful bishop on b2.
22... exd5 23. Be5! Qh6 24. Rh3
24. Rg3 was even stronger.
24... g6 25. Bf6 Rdc8 26. Re3 White's pieces dominate the board.  )
24... Qc6
24... Qe6 would be equivalent, provided that Black's next move is the right one.  )
25. Qh5 g6? Tan is too optimistic.
25... Qh6 was a must. White enjoys a serious edge whether he trades queens or not, but the win is still in the distance.  )
26. Qh6 f6 27. Bxg6! It is possible that Tan missed this move, or at least underestimated it.
27... Rd7 The best try, relatively speaking. Black has three ways to capture a bishop, but all three lose quickly.
27... fxe5 28. Bxh7+! Kf7 29. Rf3+ Ke7 30. Qg7+ Kd6 31. Qxe5+ Kc5 32. cxd5 White 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.  )
27... Nxg6 28. Qxh7+ Kf8 29. Qxg6 fxe5 30. Rf3+ Ke7 31. Rf7+ Ke8 32. Qg8#  )
27... hxg6 28. Qh8+ Kf7 29. Rh7+! Nxh7 30. Qxh7+ Kf8 31. Bf4 g5 32. Re7 gxf4 33. Qg7#  )
28. cxd5! Qxd5 29. Bxh7+! Rxh7
29... Nxh7 30. Rg3+ Kf7 31. Rg7+ Ke8 32. Bc7+ with a speedy mate.  )
30. Rg3+ Kf7 31. Qxf6+ Ke8 White has no shortage of ways to win, and Sadler finds a convincing path to the finish line.
32. Bf4+ Kd7 33. Rg7+ Rxg7 34. Qxg7+ Kc6 35. Qc7+ The elegant
35. a4 is even more brutal.  )
35... Kb5 36. Re5

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. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Qd7 The main line of the Winawer continues
4... c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 , and now Black has a major choice between
6... Ne7 and
...   )
5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 b6 7. Qg4 f5 8. Qg3 Ba6 One 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. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Ne2 Here 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-O The 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... Kf7 is a popular second choice nowadays.  )
10... Nb8 used to be popular, but this time-consuming maneuver may be a little too slow.
11. Nf4  )
11. a4 Kb7 Black often moves the knight first, and after
11... Nb8 12. a5 Nc6 13. axb6 recaptures with the c-pawn.
13... cxb6 14. O-O White 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-O Nb8 13. a5 Nc6 14. axb6 axb6
14... cxb6 15. c4! dxc4 16. 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. Nxd4 Qxd4 18. Qa3 a5 19. Be3 Qxe5 20. Rab1 Rd6 21. Rfe1 Qd5 22. Bf4 Rd7 23. Qf8  )
15. c4! dxc4
15... Nge7 is more stable, but not much more if White plays
16. c5!  )
16. Qa3 White is clearly winning.
16... Nb8 17. Bg5 Re8 18. d5! A nice clearance move.
18... Qxd5 Surprisingly, all this had been seen before. Speelman improves on the earlier game, but it's way too late to matter.
18... exd5? 19. Nd4 Re6 20. Qa8+ Kc8 21. Ra7 1-0 (21) Nyysti,S (2332)-Tolonen,L (2267) Finland 2011  )
19. Rfd1 Qe4?
19... Qc5  )
20. Nc3 Qc6 21. Qa8+
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... Kc8 22. Qxc6 Nxc6 23. Ra8+! Nb8 Black 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... Re7 White could grab the exchange, but he finds something nicer.
25. Rxb8+! After
25. Rxb8+! Kxb8 26. Rd8+ Kb7 27. Bxe7 White 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. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 g6 6. e4 d6 The Modern Benoni is a sharp choice that typically leads to strategically and tactically complicated positions.
7. f3 Black often avoids the move order in the game, to avoid the variation with
7. f4 Bg7 8. Bb5+ , but Sadler takes Sokolov at his word and plays a less ambitious move.  )
7... a6 8. a4 h5!? Sokolov goes for a very unusual setup.
8... Bg7 is the normal option, when
9. Bg5 O-O 10. Qd2 gives rise to a complicated and well-known position.  )
9. Bg5 Be7?! Continuing his avant-garde approach.
9... Bg7 would keep the game in more typical Modern Benoni channels.  )
10. Be3
10. f4!? Nh7 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. Qd2  )
10... h4 11. Qd2 Nbd7 12. Nh3!? Ne5 13. Be2 Rb8 Threatening to play ...b5, because after he captures on h3 White's bishop will be overloaded, forced to defend both b5 and f3.
13... Bxh3 14. gxh3 leaves 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... Kf8 15. a5
15. Bh6+ Kg8 16. f4! Neg4 17. Bg5 maintains a huge, nearly winning advantage.  )
15... b5 16. axb6 Qxb6? Already the losing move.
16... Rxb6 had to be played. Black's position is nothing to write home about, but at least it isn't losing.
17. Nf2  )
17. b4! This destroys Black's structure, and gives White a winning advantage.
17... Bxh3
17... Qxb4?? 18. Rfb1 wins a rook, or a queen for a rook.  )
18. bxc5! Qb2 19. gxh3 Not the best move, but it's more than enough to maintain a decisive advantage. White goes on to win comfortably.
19. Bh6+  )
19... Qxd2 20. Bxd2 Rb2 21. Rfd1 Nh5 22. f4 Rxd2 23. Rxd2 Nxf4 24. c6 Kg7 25. Rc2 Nxh3+ 26. Kf1 Nf4 27. Na4 Bd8 28. Rb1 g5 29. Rb8 Bc7 30. Rxh8 Kxh8 31. Rb2 g4 32. Rb7 h3 33. Kf2 Ba5 34. Bxg4! Nfd3+
34... Nxg4+ 35. Kg3  )
35. Ke3 Nxg4+ 36. Kxd3 Nxh2 37. Nb6! Ng4 38. c7 Nf2+ 39. Ke2 h2 40. c8=Q+
40. c8=Q+ Kg7 41. Qe6! h1=Q 42. Rxf7+ Kh8 43. Qe8#  )


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 Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.