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Tournament: 123rd Varsity Match • Venue: RAC Club, Pall Mall, London • Date: 5 March 2005
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John Saunders reports: The 123rd Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at the RAC Club, Pall Mall, London on 5 March 2005. The match sponsors were Barry Martin and Henry Mutkin. Match arbiters were IM Bob Wade and David Sedgwick.

Bd Oxford University
Rating
Nat
3-5
Cambridge University
Rating
Nat
1w Luke McShane (University)
2614g
ENG
1-0
James Vigus (Clare)
2311f
ENG
2b Timothy Woodward (New)
2333f
ENG
½-½
Thomas Nixon (Sidney Sussex)
2195
ENG
3w Merim Bilalic (Wadham)
2292f
BIH
0-1
David Hodge (Trinity)
2165
ENG
4b David Shaw (Worcester)
2197
ENG
0-1
Richard Mycroft (Jesus)
2141
ENG
5w Kieran Smallbone (New)
2170
ENG
0-1
Bernhard Klein (Downing)
2094
ENG
6b Ezra Lutton (Jesus)
2135
ENG
0-1
Oliver Cooley (Trinity)
2097
ENG
7w Sophie Tidman (Queen's)
2127wf
ENG
1-0
Martin Rohrmeier (Darwin)
2000
GER
8b Mark Gray (Queen's)
2100
ENG
½-½
Annie Powell (St John's)
2026
WLS
  Av. Rating 2246.0
3-5
Av. Rating 2128.6

Despite being outrated on all eight boards, Cambridge won to take their series lead to 55 wins against Oxford's 50, with 18 matches drawn. Simon Williams (Pembroke) was president (and captain) of the CUCC team, while Sophie Tidman captained OUCC. The Oxford reserve was Vygante Milasiute (a Lithuanian woman player from Lady Margaret's) and the Cambridge reserve was Nick Kingston-Smith (Fitzwilliam). The time limit was 40 moves in 2 hours, followed by all the moves in 1 hour.

The match was opened by the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Michael Savory, who had some fun making the first move on Luke McShane's board. Earlier, the Lord Mayor had asked McShane in all innocence, "do you think you will become a grandmaster one day?". The Lord Mayor made an honest, if unusual, statement of his partiality: "I hope Cambridge win: my father went there". The sponsors made him a presentation of a portrait of Nigel Short (by Barry Martin).

The match started promptly at 12.30pm. Cambridge scored first blood around 3pm when Ezra Lutton's position collapsed utterly against Oliver Cooley. Around half an hour later, board two was agreed drawn. The next phase of the match belonged to Oxford: their grandmaster top board won around 3.45pm and just after 4 o'clock, the Oxford captain, Sophie Tidman won after Rohrmeier got a knight trapped in his opponent's half. A draw on board eight followed quickly, after Annie Powell allowed a threefold repetition in a slightly favourable position.

That made the score 3-2 in favour of Oxford. But that was as good as it got for the Dark Blues. Just before the 4.30pm time control, Smallbone succumbed on time in a lost position against Klein, making the score 3-3 with two to play.

At the time control it was apparent that Cambridge had good winning chances on both the remaining boards, with Oxford having two very ill-placed rooks (one on each board). But in both cases the win was extremely problematic. An enormous expanse of time seemed to wander by without any moves being played at all, as the two Cambridge tried to calculate their winning methods. This had the effect of building up the tension, not just in the players but in the large group of spectators. There were also many nervous visits by the players to the adjoining board, to see if the other player was more likely to win. Hodge, in particular, ran his time perilously low. Eventually, having assessed his colleague's winning chances as better than his own, he tried for a repetition but did not achieve it. Then a time scramble ensued on board 4, with Shaw blundering and allowing Mycroft's pawn to queen. The Cambridge player had little difficulty in converting despite his time shortage. Now Hodge could take a draw with a clear conscience but his Bosnian opponent heroically eschewed a draw in the hand for an extremely improbable win in the bush. This involved seriously compromising his position. Bilalic bravely walked the plank but could not unseat his relentless opponent. Cambridge thus won of the most tense and improbable victories of recent years.

© 2005 John Saunders, all photos and text - not to be used without permission