The annual Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge ended in a surprisingly narrow victory for the dark blues. Their team was led by the former women’s world champion Hou Yifan from China, and the rating difference on virtually every board was massively in favour of Oxford. Cambridge put up a stout fight and it was only a series of misjudgments by Cambridge board six, Peter Finn, in the tense last game to finish, which converted a drawn match (or even a win for Cambridge) into a loss. This was one of those times when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory.
Oxford 4½ Cambridge 3½
1 Hou Yifan (St Hilda’s)–Matthew Wadsworth (Queens) ½-½; 2 Isaac Sanders (Christ Church)–Ryan Rhys Griffiths (Wolfson) 1-0; 3 Lisa Schut (Jesus)–Conor Murphy (Christs) ½-½; Joris Gerlagh (University, capt)–Gwilym Price (Clare) 0-1; 5 Benjamin Foo (Magdalen)–Gustavo Cazares (Selwyn) 0-1; 6 Daniel Abbas (Magdalen)–Peter Finn (Girton) 1-0; 7 Gordon Scott (Merton)–James Cole (Downing, capt.) ½-½; 8 Filip Mihov (Balliol)–Naomi Wei (Trinity) 1-0
The following game won the best game prize.
Griffiths-Sanders: Varsity Match, RAC, 2019; English Opening
1 c4 c5 2 g3 f5 An unusual idea, based on a game from the 1958 World Championship match between Botvinnik and Smyslov. 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 g6 6 Bg2 Bg7 7 0-0 0-0 8 Nc3 Nc6 9 Nc2 d6 10 Rb1 Rb8 11 b3 Bd7 12 Bb2 a6 13 Nd5 b5 14 cxb5 axb5 15 Nxf6+ Bxf6 16 Bxf6 Rxf6 17 Nd4 This leads to too much simplification. 17 Qd2 followed by Ne3 kept an advantage. 17 ... Qb6 18 Bd5+ Kg7 19 Nxc6 Bxc6 20 Bxc6 Qxc6 21 Qd4 Qb6 22 Qxb6 Rxb6 (see diagram 1) The game appears to be heading for sterile equality but Black has a slight plus in that he may one day be able to activate the central pawns. 23 Rfc1 Rf8 24 Rc2 Kf6 25 Kg2 g5 26 Rd1 Ra8 27 h3 Rba6 28 Rdd2 Ke6 29 g4 Challenging the black pawn mass is the right idea. 29 ... h6 30 e3 R6a7 31 f4 fxg4 32 hxg4 h5 33 Kf3 hxg4+ 34 Kxg4 gxf4 35 Kxf4 Rf8+ 36 Ke4 White must be careful in this endgame as his king is slightly exposed and the fact that both sets of rooks remain means that Black may get chances to exploit this. 36 ... Rf5 37 Rd4 Re5+ 38 Kd3 Rd5 39 e4 39 Rxd5 leads to a completely drawn position. 39 ... Rh5 40 Ke3 This loses as White’s pieces are now too entangled. 40 Rb4 remains equal. 40 ... Rh3+ 41 Kf4 This leaves the white king horribly exposed but 41 Ke2 Rh2+ 42 Kd1 Rxc2 43 Kxc2 Rxa2+ should win. 41 ... Ra8 42 Rd5 Rg8 43 Rf2 (see diagram 2) 43 ... b4 More accurate is 43 ... Rhg3 44 Rf3 R8g4+ 45 Ke3 Rxe4+ 46 Kxe4 Rg4+. 44 Rb5 Rgh8 45 Rxb4 Rd3 46 Re2 46 Rb5 is the last chance. 46 ... Rf8+ 47 Kg4 Rg8+ 48 Kf4 Rdg3 White resigns