Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Still in the hunt

After our somewhat unimpressive start to the league season (2 defeats in three matches), it once again looks like Kenilworth's best chance of some silverware this season will come from the cup competition. With that in mind, our first round tie against Olton, who we have already lost to once in the league this season, took on extra significance. Running through the boards in order:

Phil Holt - Paul Lam. As per usual, Paul and I are going to have a fundamental disagreement about the quality of one of his openings with black. He thought he was slightly worse, but in general was quite happy with his position and felt he had a clear plan for what he was aiming to do. I on the other hand, thought he was just worse more or less straight away (imagine playing a Ruy Lopez 2 or 3 tempi down, having exchanged one of your more important minor pieces). However, what cannot be denied is that, after Phil blundered in time trouble just before the first time control, Paul emerged an exchange up, with queen and rook against queen and bishop, with 3 pawns apiece. Not a trivial win, but one we would nevertheless expect him to convert. Unfortunately, a couple of unusual tactical oversights led to him blundering first one pawn, and then his remaining two, meaning it was now queen and rook versus queen, bishop and 3 pawns, and a whole lot less clear. Wisely, Paul now decided to offer a draw before he also put his rook en prise, and the point was shared.

Andrew Paterson - Alan Lloyd. A Kings Indian player with black himself, it was almost inevitable that, finding himself on the white side of the opening this time, Andy would choose the most boring line possible, the exchange variation. A virtually symmetrical pawn structure results, with white having very slightly greater piece activity, but the vast majority of games will slowly wind down into draws. However, white always has the hope that his slight space advantage will open up tactical possibilities, and so it proved here as Andy was able to grab a pawn on the queenside, and gradually convert this advantage to a very smooth success.

Mark Cundy - Mark Page. Mark's game, I think it is fair to say, was perhaps a little less smooth, even if the same overall result was ultimately achieved. Fresh from his first coaching session at the age of (insert insulting number here) we were all hoping for a smooth positional victory, hopes that were somewhat confounded when, on the black side of a Najdorf defence, he found himself a pawn down after only around 15-20 moves. He was ultimately able to win it back, but only at the expense of an inferior position where it appeared his opponent was going to able to slowly press for the rest of the game, with a draw the best result we could hope for. However, clearly Mark's coaching has at least taught him some cheap tactical tricks, as an oversight by his opponent was swiftly punished, and the most likely result reversed in the matter of a few minutes.

Joshua Pink - Francis Batchelor. This game very nearly went down as a smooth victory, as from the white side of a Sicilian Dragon, I found myself a few tempos up on the normal move order, and hence my kingside attack was crashing through long before black got any real counterplay going on the queenside. Sensing imminent catastrophe for his king, my opponent started throwing all his pieces forward in a flurry of unsound sacrifices. Unfortunately, in my attempts to be ultra-cautious and not spoil my fine position, I kept declining material, and soon found myself under severe attack without even having as many pieces for it as I could have done. A flurry of very concerning tactics around the time control (you know things have gone really wrong when I find myself with less than a minute for 4 moves - not my usual style) eventually, and fortuitously, resolved themselves in my favour and, after a series of mass exchanges, we ended up in an endgame where I had a knight and 5 pawns, and my opponent a rook and 2. Most likely a winning advantage, but a difficult one to convert, requiring precise play to avoid the rook becoming too active. Or, alternatively, my opponent might just blunder the rook and give me the game for free.

Richard Smith - Carl Pickering. A slightly confusing game this one. Carl's opponent played a very aggressive line against Carl's Dutch defence (1. d4 f5 2. h3 Nf6 3. g4) but, after Carl declined the gambit, entirely switched strategies and started to play extremely passively. This gave Carl ample time to build up a fine position, win a pawn, and transition into a close to winning heavy piece endgame. Some good defence meant he was unfortunately unable to convert, but a well played game where I don't think Carl was worse at any point.

Final score: Kenilworth 4 - 1 Olton

The score could perhaps have been even more impressive at one stage, but nonetheless, I don't think this is a result we can complain about. Next up is either Solihull or Stratford in the semi-finals.

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