The Christmas holidays mark the mid point of the Oxfordshire chess season. An examination of the tables reveals City club making the running in three of the four divisions with Cowley 2 just ahead of City 2 in division 2. Last week, City 1 narrowly defeated Witney 1 and are now favourites to retain the division 1 title.

Internationally, Friday sees the start of the Wijk aan Zee tournament where Nigel Short will be battling it out with the likes of Anand, Carlsen and Kramnik, while David Howell will compete in the second section.

I will follow the action over the Internet. This is easily done by typing coruschess into a search engine and following the links.

Howell had a successful London International and has just finished playing at Hastings where he finished joint first ahead of Simon Williams amongst others. Williams had a poor tournament by his standards; but he did pick up the best game prize for this amazing queen sacrifice.

White: Simon Williams Black: Andrew Green 1.f4 g6 2.Nf3 Bg7 3.c4 Williams is nothing if not original in his openings.

3…d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 0–0 6.e4 Transposing into the Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian.

6…c5 7.d5 e6 8.e5?! Perhaps Williams got confused here, intending to enter the 8.Be2 exd5 9.e5!? variation. It’s more likely however that he just wanted to make his opponent think for himself as early as possible. 8...dxe5 9.fxe5 Ng4 10.Bg5 White’s e-pawn cannot be conveniently defended. For instance, after 10.Bf4 Nd7 11.Qe2 exd5 12.Nxd5 Re8, Black is better.

10...Qa5 11.Be2!? True to his nature, Williams chooses a dynamic sacrifice over defence. With 11.Qa4 he could temporarily save his pawn; but this would be bad for White following 11…Qxa4 12.Nxa4 b6.

11...Nxe5 12.Nxe5 Bxe5 13.0–0 f6 The computers like 13...Bxc3 14.bxc3 Qxc3; but, to this human, it looks very risky to give up the dark squares around Black’s king. 14.Bh6 Rf7 15.Ne4 Bd4+ 16.Qxd4!! An unbelievable and I am sure unexpected sacrifice — and very brave since not born of desperation. After 16.Kh1 White had some compensation: for instance 16…Qd8? had to be avoided since 17.dxe6 Bxe6 18.Nxc5 would be good for White. 16...cxd4 17.Nxf6+ Kh8 Black might have tried 17...Rxf6! which seems to hold for him after 18.Rxf6 Nd7 19.Rxe6 Qd8 20.Rf1 Nc5! 21.Ref6 Bf5.

18.Ne8 Rf5 19.g4! exd5 Here 19...d3! was better with the idea that after 20.Bxd3 Rxf1+ 21.Rxf1 Nd7 22.dxe6 Qb6+, Black can capture on e6 next move.

20.gxf5 Bxf5? The losing move: but even after 20...gxf5 21.Bh5! White would be having all the fun. For example the obvious 21…Be6 runs into 22.Rxf5!! Bxf5 23.Bf7 with mate to follow.

21.Bf3! dxc4 Black cannot now save his rook since 21...Nc6 22.Bg7+ Kg8 23.Bxd5+ costs him his queen.

22.Bxb7 Qb5 23.Nd6 Qb6 24.Rae1 d3+ 25.Kh1 Nd7 26.Bxa8 Nf6 27.Nxf5 gxf5 28.Rxf5 1–0.