In Level 4, Bert Van Kerckhove and Johan Segers awaited the winners of the Level 5 duels Guy Van Middelem and Itzhak Solsky. In Level 5, Maurits Pino and Alain Chif played their Barrage duel.
Based on recent Performance Rating (PR) performances Bert had to be the favourite against Guy, but the latter is known for his competitiveness and never-give-up attitude. Bert took a good start, winning match 1 (M1, 7-3) with a far better PR: 2-0. Guy regrouped in M2, winning 7-5 and taking advantage of Bert’s below-par PR to score two points: 2-2. All to fight for in M3 then. Guy, who is always at his best when he smells victory, rolled Bert off the board (7-0) and found a decent PR of 7,28. Not enough though to take the two points, as Bert rose to the occasion with a World Class PR of 4,10 (!), thus securing a 3-3 draw and a win based on Overall PR. This means that Bert progresses to Level 3 where he will meet Paul van Dijke. Guy’s aim from now on is to consolidate his conquered ground in Level 4.
The second much anticipated Level 4 duel was played at Johan’s place in Korbeek-Lo. His opponent was the upstart phenom Itzhak Solsky, who steamrollered the opposition in last year’s RBL Qualifiers (RBLQ) and hammered Maurits Pino in Level 5. Nobody could predict the outcome of this duel and a tense affair it was to be. Itzhak won M1 (7-4), but his 6+ PR was not good enough to take a second point as Johan came up with a strong 4,8: 1-1. After lunch on the shady garden terrace, both players saw the roles reversed in M2: Johan took a 6-0 lead, but Itzhak came back: 6-6. Johan ended up winning the agonizingly difficult DMP game, but his 6+ PR was not enough to beat Itzhak’s extremely strong 3,73 PR (!!): 2-2. With OPR’s now extremely close, M3 was going to be decisive. Johan won it comfortably (7-0), but would he be able to outperform Itzhak? He did, with a stellar 1,46 PR (!!!): 4-2. Itzhak accepted defeat with grace and rewarded both Johan and me (TR) with fantastic impromptu renderings of Chopin and Beethoven on Johan’s home piano, leaving both watchers grateful and visibly moved. Johan now progresses to Level 3 where he will meet Paulus van Rooijen (3 September), whereas Itzhak will play Guy in the Level 4 Barrage duel.
Having lost their first-round duels in Level 5, Maurits and Alain now need to start winning if they want to stay in the RBL. The duel took place at Maurits’ spacious and airy apartment, optimal playing conditions for a crucial RBL encounter. Maurits won M1 (7-3) with a strong 6+ PR, leaving Alain trailing 2-0. Alain, who staged last season a memorable comeback from 1-5 down against Nick De Ruyck, was not intimidated and won M2 (7-3) with a PR of 9,93, beating Maurits’ PR of 9,99 with an excruciatingly small margin of 0,06: 2-2. Since nobody could be sure if these PRs would hold under the sharper XG ++ analysis, both players remained in the dark as to the exact score, 2-2 or 3-1. That is, however, part of the format as there is no time between matches to do the time-consuming re-analysis. Maurits left nothing to chance in M3: he produced his best PR of the season (5,57!) and eventually won the match after some harrowing turnarounds: 4-2. Note: XG++ did reverse the PRs of M2 to 10,38 (Maurits) vs 10,42 (Alain) yielding an official result of 5-1.
Maurits can now secure his spot in Level 5 by winning against the loser of the Guy v Itzhak duel, whereas Alain is set to play the winner of RBLQ in the spring of 2024.
Upcoming program: Paulus van Rooijen v Johan Segers (L3), Paul van Dijke v Bert Van Kerckhove (L3) and Guy Van Middelem v Itzhak Solsky (L4 Barrage).
For RBL — Michel