I have a love/hate relationship with county matches. The "hate" part is all about the travelling I'm required to do for them; any county match further from home than Taunton requires leaving Bideford at 08:30 and getting back at 00:10 the following day. Of course, part of this is because I play for a county in which I no longer live, but, given how much North Devon is represented in the county team, playing for Devon probably wouldn't help much.
The "love" part is all about the matches themselves. Meeting all my old friends from the Somerset League, getting practice playing serious games against tough opposition without its having an immediate effect on my FIDE rating, and on this occasion, winning 11-5 against Hampshire. Nowadays that's not such an amazing result, but when I first started playing for Somerset in 1987, Hampshire were by far the strongest team in the region, and beating them still gives a sense of achievement. (It's a little as if one's national football team beats Uruguay.)
In this particular county match, I also got the opportunity to notice some weaknesses in my own play; this is not something into which I usually have great insight, so I'm pleased when it happens. Take the following two positions:
This is the position after I played 20...Bd5, after which my opponent played 21.c4, attacking my bishop. A natural enough move, but I'd completely missed it. And the reason I'd missed it was that I have a blind spot in my play - I habitually overlook moves that allow en passant captures, even if the capture is not any good. (I had considered 21.c3 and was not going to capture on c3 had Yeo played it, so it certainly wasn't a case of rejecting the move based on how I would have responded to 21.c3.) As it happens, the move I'd overlooked probably wasn't the strongest anyway, but on other occasions it might have been.
From the diagram, play then continued 21.c4 Bf7 22.c5 Nxc5 23.Nxc5 Qxc5 24. Rac1 Qd5, and my opponent's next move was the natural and good 25.Bxf5, winning his pawn back.
I had also considered another move for him here, and this was 25.Bc4, attacking my queen. Some thought reveals why this is not a good move: I can play 25...Rxe1+ 26.Qxe1 Qd7, and white isn't getting his pawn back any time soon.
However, my mind had been distracted by another option for black there, and that was the positional queen sacrifice 25...Qxc4. This is probably not as good as the simple line I've just given, but it attracted itself to my consciousness a little like an oncoming car's headlight does when it's set to "beam", and it would take great effort to restrain myself from playing it in the game. This is, I suppose, an inverted blind spot: when an opportunity to create an unusual material balance occurs, I have to make a special effort to notice anything else.
Trying to find blind spots and beamed headlights is not easy, but it's probably something that will pay off for most players looking to improve their game. I hope it's something that will improve mine.
Openings and endings
1 year ago