Harry Gardiner wins 7th Annual Blitz Handicap

Last night saw the club take a big step back to normality, with 20 members competing for the Annual Time & Point Handicap trophy, plus several spectators, other newcomers and the control team.

The format of a 5-round swiss is complicated by time and points handicap based on players standard grades, so that the top players rated between 1900 and 2000 are allowed 5 minutes to complete their games, while lower graded players have 1 minuted added to their time for each approx 100 point band up to a maximum of 15 minutes. Additionally handicaps are added to lower grade players varying from half a point to 2.5 pts based on the grade band they fit in to. Any previous winners have time and handicap points reduced to add to their difficulty of winning the trophy, and this has ensured we have had a different winner in all six previous events.

The first round saw most of the top half seeds win their games as expected which forces them to play each other in Round 2. As the bottom half of seeds have the biggest handicaps any early win propels them up the leader board. The unusual results in round 2 saw three draws among the higher seeds, so that only two players emerged with two wins – being Rick Renegade and Amy Lovatt.

The battle of the top two in Round 3 saw Amy succeed to be the only player with 100% record and effectively make it impossible for Rick to win the trophy as he did in 2018. Wins for Kobus Nienaber and Reinhard Haack to take their scores to 2 from 3, put them in the joint lead with Amy on 3.5 pts with the handicaps included, ahead of a couple of players with 3 pts and a large group on 2.5 pts.

Round 4 threw up a number of surprises with Harry clinching the top board game against Amy. Simon Layhe’s 4th round win kept up his unbeaten score with two wins and two draws, while Dave Price and George Jellis added further wins to their accounts to leave all of this group on a combined score of 3.5 pts together with Kobus and Reinhard, making it a 7-way tie on the leader board.

Round 5 scores created a big head ache for the tournament controller as four of the leading group all won their last round games making a tie on 4.5 pts as Harry, Amy, Simon and Reinhard all chalked up successes to finish ahead of a group on 4pts including unbeaten No 1 seed Martin Burns, Doug Barnett, Julian Bulbeck and the 2020 online winner – Nigel Gardner.

A series of Armageddon play-offs were then decided as the best way to determine the outright winner. The random draw, paired Simon with Reinhard and Harry with Amy. Simon had a walk-over as Reinhard was too tired to continue after the long evening. When Harry met Amy for the second time on the night we could not have seen a more dramatic finish as Harry was given an extra minute as white, but knew he had to win otherwise a draw would see Amy in the play-off final. A tense game followed with both players using all of their seven minutes until the late middle game saw complications and pieces literally falling all around in mayhem as the clocks homed in towards flag-fall. With just two seconds remaining on both clocks confusion arose and Amy’s flag fell first in uncertain circumstances as pieces were not placed correctly. It was impossible to say which player was totally responsible for the wreckage and the controller decided that flag-fall was the only call available so that Harry went through to play Simon.

A good number of spectators stayed late to watch the play-off final, as Simon was given 9 minutes with white to see if he could beat Harry with his 6 minute allowance. A tactical game saw Simon gain a pawn with Rook, two bishops and 6 pawns vs Rook, bishop, knight and 5 pawns. Harry managed to deflect Simon’s minor pieces to recover the pawn and swap his knight against a bishop, which led to an endgame with opposite bishops and opposing potential pass-pawns. In a complicated endgame both players created queening pawns and Simon missed a winning combination but would only have had a couple of seconds to make too many moves and ultimately lost on time, when Harry would have had insufficient material after Simon could recapture the queening pawn. Either way a draw would see Harry win the Armageddon play-off and win the 2021 Time & Point Handicap to become the 7th different winner. Congratulations to Harry.

A special thank you to Steve Ballantyne for working on all the pairings, and to Les Hall and Dave Price for resetting clocks for every game and setting up the room for the event.

All in all it was another special night for the club, with all members taking part in a friendly and sporting manner, as another new member was introduced to club activities and an exciting finish to decide the champion !