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Thoughts from the Nationals Final - David Hand

Whilst getting to the final was seemingly incredibly straightforward and relaxing for Imre, it was somewhat more stressful for myself. Having lost convincingly to Imre and then losing 33:31 to David Beck (in an unnecessarily complicated endgame where we both imagined the same non-existent swindle), my fate was already out of my own hands and I had to rely on Iain Barrass to beat David which Iain very kindly agreed to. So after day one Imre was already out of sight on 6 out of 6, with myself, David and Iain all cosily huddled on 4 points.

I was able to come through my game against Iain to leave me tied with Beck fighting for a high MBQ tiebreak. Through some miracles of luck I was able to beat Ian Turner and Ben Pridmore in games where I surely deserved to lose (maybe I played Ian T on day one but whose keeping track), finishing the swiss rounds on 7 and narrowly beating David (also on 7) into the final through what I assume was more discs (but who really knows how MBQ works).

My reward was I got to play Imre in a nationals final again, having won one against him in 2013 and having lost the other three since. Knowing that he always (without exception) chooses white in finals I decided to focus my limited preparation on black openings, and thankfully he was happy to play along with our standard comp'oth opening we play far, far too much together. We always play as far as F2, when I then tend to alternate between F1 and B4 (to ensure he has to prepare twice as many lines for me).

I chose the F1 route this time, and after his C2 I went to B1. Note that in the 2019 final I played E7 after C2 and was completely destroyed so had thoroughly learnt my lesson. We both played the next few moves nicely (G4, G3, G5, H6

, H5, D6, H3 G6) and were both out of book at the same time in a lovely drawing position.

The next move for white you could argue mathematically was the decisive move in the game as he missed the somewhat unintuitive C7 and played the sensible but mysteriously worse D7. Not that it was especially straightforward after that for me. We both then played sensibly (E7, C7, D8, C1, D1, G2) with Imre playing the x-square (correctly) and left us in a very inter

esting position.

While white technically still has parity and after a black H1 has the option of either H2 or G1, the danger of G6 being flipped at a later point (giving black a quiet G1) definitely puts a lot of pressure and uncertainty on the position. But for now it’s me to play and I have to play somewhere to the west, hoping to play it out in a way that will allow me to cruelly abuse the north east to my advantage later without giving away a game losing amount of stable discs in the meantime. After B4, B6, B5, A4, A6, A5, A3, C8, B8, I was feeling relatively happy. We were

getting slowly closer to forcing white to do something he really didn’t want to in the south east and I hadn’t done anything disastrous.

Whilst it may look initially that a white B2 followed by a black A1 has the problem of black losing access to A2, it’s not really an issue, as if white plays to B7, A8 will reflip D5 giving access back and the only other options for white are to play into that horribly south east area I’ve been excitedly looking forward to. Another problem with giving me A1, is it lets me abuse a completely different parity stealing mechanic that doesn’t even need white to flip G6. Once A1 is black I have the lovely H2 move, and whether white goes to H1 or G1, I play the other leaving black no access to H4.

And if it went B2, A1, A2 I could still play B7 myself securing a big stable patch on the west edge.

Anyway, White didn’t really have any better options so played out B2, A1 and with the previously explained flaws in B7 and B2 opted to play to E8.

Whilst F8 for black is fine here, I was a little unsure exactly how the F8, G7 line played out, and was slightly concerned about having issues getting access to A2 later so decided it was safer to just guarantee that access by playing F7 now. Essentially sacrificing the bottom

edge to white, but it’s not like there was a great amount he could do with it (especially without access to A7 – meaning he couldn’t build any useful stables on row 7 and would be forced back to the horrible south east region. Anyway, white obviously understand this too, so plays out F8, G8, delaying my access to A2 briefly and ensuring that taking A8 will also give him H8. Then we play out the aforementioned A2, B7, A8, B7.

At this point there isn’t any hope for white. I still have the H2 parity stealing move I’ve been saving and no method of playing out the south east will stop that. So we just played it out with H8, G7, H7, H2, H1, G1, pass, H4.

So in the end my north east parity related threats worked out nicely and it’s not like white really did anything particularly bad (other than the unintuitive missed C7 earlier). In fact Saio analysis says Imre only lost 0.9 discs per move which is a highly respectably performance in any game, but with an easier to understand goal (stay alive till white has to play south east) I would argue it was simpler for me to plan out my moves and find a winning line. It was definitely an interesting game from any perspective with lots of key Othello concepts to think about throughout.

Whilst some might feel bad for Imre winning 9 out of 9 and then losing the final it appears to be a surprisingly common occurrence in British Nationals, with Imre doing the same to me the other way round in 2019, and I’m sure he can wait for what will surely only be another couple of years for that 16th national title.

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