North Belfast Move Top

The final game in the first round of Division 1 fixtures saw QUB, off the back of two impressive 3.5-1.5 wins at home to Fisherwick and Lagan, travel to North Belfast. North Belfast have been in superb form having already defeated both Fisherwick and Clifton House, but a recent loss against Lagan has provided a blemish to their excellent record. With neither Clifton nor Fisherwick able to do better than two wins and two defeats from their opening matches, each of this game's teams had the opportunity to take the league by the scruff of the neck with a positive result.
North Belfast Move Top

Pucovsky picks over his game as Skelton picks his teeth (foreground), meanwhile Grzymek abandons both Walls and his blown position (backgound)

For this match-up both sides were without their usual board ones, with David Houston and Steve Scannell both already committed to another engagement. This unfortunately left North Belfast a player short, so on this occasion Millar's mere presence was literally worth a point for his side. The match proper got underway with the surround sound of clattering snooker balls from the adjacent room and rather vigorous carpentry-related noises from above.

Board 1 saw QUB incredibly employ their ninth player already this season, with Vladimir Pucovsky stepping up to take on Adrian Skelton. Despite being a good 200 rating points short of his opponent, Vlad played aggressively against his opponent's Grunfeld Defence. For a while it seemed that Vlad even stood better, thanks to control of the centre and two well-advanced centre pawns. Skelton's class told though, as he steered the game into a winning endgame. Once converted, the scores stood level at 1-1.

On board 3, Damien Lavery was looking to maintain his 100% league record. Lavery's previous with tonight's opponent however, North Belfast captain Stephen Wood, looked less than encouraging. Nevertheless, for the second week in a row Lavery used the white pieces to build up a huge spacial advantage against his cramped opponent. Wood was able to nick a pawn on the queenside but it proved of little use - Damien had enough play and threats on the kingside to force his opponent's resignation.

The next match to finish was that between QUB's Andrew Higgins and North Belfast's Bernard McCaughey. Higgins enjoyed a successful league debut with a win against Gerald Harvey the week before and was therefore confidently recalled by his captain. McCaughey had been up since 5am and appeared to be staying awake only courtesy of a continuing chain of coffee cups arriving at his side. However, McCaughey restricted Higgins' attacking options and finally won by refuting his opponent's sacrifice. This not only rudely upturned the expectations of the ratings system, but also your onlooking author's hopes for a QUB win.

This was largely because, by this stage, David Grzymek was finding himself in dire time-trouble against Eamonn Walls in the night's final match. While the game seemed to be heading for an even rook and pawn endgame on the board, on the clock David was down to his final minute compared to Eamonn's ten. This proved decisive as Grzymek missed a key promotion tactic and was soon lost.

So North Belfast win the match and the battle to move top. QUB must now focus on winning their pre-Christmas game away to Clifton House next week if they are to enjoy a happy Christmas.

NORTH BELFAST 3-2 QUB

1. Adrian Skelton (1936) 1-0 Vladimir Pucovsky (1747)
2. Eamonn Walls (1854) 1-0 David Grzymek (1760)
3. Stephen Wood (1751) 0-1 Damien Lavery (1688)
4. Bernard McCaughey (1470) 1-0 Andrew Higgins (1646)
5. Default 0-1 Chris Millar (1547)

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