Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Damn Close Run Thing!

Prescient chap that Duke of Wellington - even if he never actually said or wrote the famous words. Far from referring to the Battle of Waterloo, I think he was actually looking forward to September 17th 2016, and our away KO Cup match against Banbury.

In this repeat of last season's final (which we won 3.5-1.5), our hosts had considerably beefed up their team with the inclusion of James Jackson on Board 1, while we fielded virtually the same side except we substituted Andy P for the inevitably absent Andy B. This meant the two teams were almost evenly matched on average grade, even though there were large discrepancies on some boards.

Carl was first to finish on Board 4. With Carl playing Black against the whirlwind Chris Evans, I was very glum when I first looked at the position. Material was dead level, but Carl's king (castled on the queenside, was under what looked like a big attack with a horrible knight fork on b6 threatened. Then I realised that it was actually Carl's move and that the dangerous knight was en prise. So, Carl was a piece up, and a few minor alarms later we had the first point in the bag. (BTW, Carl had hotfooted it to Banbury straight from work and, immaculately suited and booted, effortlessly also won the best turned out prize.)

I was engaged in a Cup Final rematch against Dan Rowan, and we played the same variation as twice before - both of which I had won. He improved on his previous play, but still the Black position was hanging by a thread as his king got stuck in the middle on an open e file. He bailed out to a double rook and bishop ending a pawn down but then blundered what we both thought was an exchange, though it wasn't. Nevertheless, his resignation was correct as he was about to lose a second, and probably third, pawn anyway. 2-0 to Kenilworth.

At this point I was pretty confident, although Board 1 was a concern, as Paul had done his usual impractical thing of spending far too much time in the opening. He emerged with an advantage, as Black's entire queenside was virtually stuck, but he then opened the game too early instead of applying a squeeze, and Black's pieces came to life as the massive clock discrepancy proved crucial. Score now 2-1 to us.

Still, I wasn't worried, as Ben seemed to be playing a good game against Gary Jackson on Board 5, and was definitely doing all the pressing. A temporary pawn sac seemed to have really clogged up Black's position and I was hopeful of a full point. But when I looked again, Ben was a pawn down in a double rook ending and although I was hoping it was still a draw, it didn't end that way, so the scores were all tied up at 2-2.

But even now, I was supremely confident. On Board 2, Andy had been well on top against Paul Rowan from just out of the opening. He grabbed the open c file, hopped in with a knight, won a pawn and penetrated to the seventh rank. The White position collapsed and further material was lost - game surely over in our favour? Not so fast! When I returned from my post-mortem a hurricane had blown through the position. Andy was queening a passed f pawn (crucially with check) but White had somehow created connected passed e and d pawns which were not only going to yield a queen, but also win a bishop. And Andy was well down on the clock. With a large crowd watching, and our man apparently completely unaware of the match situation (or the tie break rules), he reached an ending of Queen and 3 pawns against a queen and knight. Thankfully Andy had a perpetual (he so nearly had a forced win of the White queen) and now my only worry was that he'd think he needed to try to win - hardly practical with about a minute left! - but, still in blissful ignorance of the match situation, a handshake signalled the ending of hostilities and the match was tied 2.5-2.5.

I had taken the precaution of checking the rules to establish the tie break method.  If it had been Board Count, we would have lost 6-7, but - praise the LDCL Committee - it is actually Elimination, so with Banbury's win on Board 5 removed, we were the victors and we had, just, cleared the first hurdle in our defence of the Cup. And so its on to a Semi-Final at the end of January against either Leamington or Solihull.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

That's Better

Attentive readers may have noticed that there was no match report of the A team's season opening 2-2 draw with Shirley, but given my loss from a completely winning position, the more sympathetic amongst you might understand my reluctance to relive the depressing experience.  So the fact that I am now reporting on our 3-1 win away at Banbury B yesterday evening should tell you that I'm feeling a bit happier with the world.

Paul was unavailable, so Ben joined the team and the rest of us moved up a board from last week to make room for him. Our opponents were fresh from a shock 3-1 win over their own A team, and fielded a team which had a grading spread of just 6 points from top to bottom. The first thing I noticed was the bizarre happenings on Board 1, where our Player of the Year, Andrew Paterson, opened with the moves 1 c3; 2 h3 and 3 d3. Revolutionary stuff. It certainly worked, though, as by move 12 he was a clear pawn up. A bit later on this extra pawn had captured its way, from g4 via f5 and g6 to h7, and Black was so tied down by this monster that he couldn't prevent further material losses on the queenside.

I played rather more conventionally against Carl Portman, and after a serious positional error by Carl conceding his good bishop, my pawns yomped down the centre towards his king which was stranded in the middle. With Carl in serious time trouble (and boy do I mean serious!) I found a nice combo which won the exchange, and in attempting to avoid this White walked into something even worse and lost on time a couple of moves later a whole rook down.

This all came after our Carl had rather grovelled his way to a draw against Nick Martin on Board 3. He played the opening nicely against Nick's Dutch Defence, but then seemed to play without much of a plan. Nick was able to redeploy his entombed light square bishop and attack the White king with queen and rook, and I had mentally written the game off as a loss. I have no idea how it came to be agreed drawn a few moves later - even though I was sat next to the game!

The rest of us then abandoned Ben who was struggling along on Board 4 with a queen against 2 rooks. It looked bad, and he tells me he was lost at some point, but he hung in there and eventually secured a draw by perpetual - queens are quite good at doing that after all!

So an excellent, if slightly flattering, scoreline. On another day it could easily have ended 2-2. Let's hope the Chess Gods smile on us again when we have to revisit Banbury next week for a KO Cup match!