The hammering downpour before the last round in Batumi was, in retrospect, a precious omen. After all, England’s medal drought in international team competitions has lasted nearly 20 years. This year our rain dances finally took effect, as we brought home the bronze medals from the European Team Championship last week. It’s our second major success of the year, following silver medals in an elite team event in Kazakhstan, in March. England last won gold in Pula, 1997 and the women’s team got the bronze in Leon, 2001.
I’ve played in the Black Sea resort of Batumi three times, and I like it. The Georgians have khachapuri (cheesy bread) to celebrate and the city’s boulevard is glorious in the sunshine. During lengthy walks, we cleared our heads and plotted surprises for our opponents, often with an escort of itinerant local dogs.
At the end of our final match with Germany, we had our hopes pinned on David Howell to clinch the win. As we watched nervously, I whispered to Gawain Jones that we at least had the right man on the job. David evidently enjoys the challenge of nursing an advantage against stubborn resistance, and he once again saw it through. My games had more ups than downs, including an opportune punch in our match with the Netherlands: see this week’s puzzle. Nick Pert was a steady reserve who scored well in the early rounds. Malcolm Pein was our energetic captain who made problems disappear before we could notice them.
The Russian team took the gold medals. Our penultimate round match with them was unpromising, as my game ended in tears, and Gawain also looked doomed. It was jangling to watch. One could sense the scraping of fingernails as he clung on for the draw in the game that follows. In addition to the team bronze, Gawain’s tournament performance merited an individual silver medal. Meanwhile Michael Adams capped his unbeaten run on top board by patiently wringing a win against his Russian counterpart, which secured a miraculous 2-2 draw.
Maxim Matlakov–Gawain Jones: European Team Championship, Batumi, November 2019
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 Bg7 7 Bc4 c5 8 Ne2 O-O 9 O-O Nd7 10 Bg5 h6 11 Be3 Qc7 12 Rc1 Rd8 13 f4 b5 Facing an avalanche of pawns, this is a timely bid for counterplay. 14 Bxb5 Nf6 15 Bd3 Ng4 16 Qd2 e6 17 h3 Nxe3 18 Qxe3 Bb7 19 e5 Rac8 20 Kh2 Qc6 21 Rf2 Qd5 22 Rb1 Rc7 23 g4! Resolute play. Black’s king is the one in greater danger. 23… Qxa2 24 f5 cxd4 25 cxd4 Qa3 26 fxe6 fxe6 27 g5 Ba6 28 Rd1 Qb3 29 Rd2 Bxd3 30 Rxd3 Qb5 31 Rc3 Rxc3 32 Nxc3 Qd7 33 gxh6 Bf8 34 Ne4 Qxd4 35 h7+ Kxh7 (see diagram) 36 Ng5+ Missing a concealed opportunity: 36 Rf7+ Kg8 37 Rxf8+! wins, as 37… Kxf8 38 Qh6+ leads to mate. 36…Kh6 37 Nf7+ Kh7 38 Ng5+ Kh6 39 Qg3 39 Qxd4 Rxd4 40 Nxe6 must have been the intention, but Black escapes with the fiendish 40…Bg7!! 41 Nxd4 Bxe5+ and the endgame is drawn. 39…Bc5 40 Rg2 Rg8 41 Nxe6 Qb4 42 Qg5+ Irresistibly natural, but this throws away the win. Instead, 42 Rc2 was a better try. 42…Kh7 43 Qf6 Be3 44 h4 Qe4 45 Re2 Bg1+ 46 Kxg1 Qxe2 47 Ng5+ Kh6 48 Nf7+ Kh7 49 Ng5+ Kh6 50 Nf7+ Draw agreed