It was almost like a Kenilworth club night at Solihull on Wednesday evening, with our A and C teams both in action against their exact Solihull counterparts. The evening ended with a slight advantage to Kenilworth - though probably not in the way that might have been expected.
The Solihull A v Kenilworth A encounters last season were real heavyweight matches. In our home game against them, for example, I played Ray Carpenter on Board 4, whereas last night we faced each other again on Board 2. From which you can surmise that both teams are struggling to get their strongest players to the board on a regular basis. But it was a very hard fought match, nonetheless.
Ben got us on the scoreboard by drawing with Black on Board 4. Neil Clarke started with a very conservative queen's pawn opening (2 e3 and 3 Bd3) but it got a bit livelier when Ben opened up the centre with a c5 break. On my rare sightings of the game it looked dynamic and unbalanced to me, so it was quite a surprise when it ended up as a relatively early draw.
Then things took a turn for the worse. On Board 1, Andrew - defending his 100% league record this season - found himself playing Solihull's temporary German visitor, Simon Kreuger. I suppose that if he had to see his record end, it was appropriate that he should be downed by a clever zwischenzug. This forced him into the loss of the exchange and then in zeitnot he lost more material. Regrettably, though, zugzwang never came into it. And so it transpires that chess is not that dissimilar to football - only here you play 3 hours and then the Germans win.
Shortly afterwards, Bernard's game on Board 3 against Paul Roper ended in a draw. He voluntarily took on doubled isolated f pawns out of the opening, but had some queen side initiative and some sensitive squares to aim at. Even though the game took place a matter of inches away from me, I then lost sight of it for about an hour, so whether we should be happy or sad at the peaceful outcome I've got no idea!
Which left me in play on Board 2. It was a very tense and complex game, arising from a 3Qxd4 Sicilian - Paul's old favourite! I got the two bishops, but White started pressing on the king side, and it looked quite threatening. But I actually defended well, and managed to get a very slight edge. Then all hell broke loose. Both of us got into terrible time trouble - I had 15 moves to make in 2 minutes, and then about 10 in 50 seconds, and Ray's clock situation was not much better. Suddenly I was completely winning as his king side attack ground to a halt. But with micro seconds remaining, and both of us moving instantly, I made two horrendous blunders - either of which should have lost on the spot. Fortunately, Ray missed them both and we continued to bash out the moves until I noticed that his time had elapsed. We recreated the game, but he was well past 35 moves so there was no loss on time. I had repeated moves twice to make sure I got to the time control, so as the smoke cleared, Ray optimistically offered me a draw. I couldn't accept because we would have lost the match, but I had also noticed that the time scramble had left me two pawns up in a queen ending. It was quite easy to avoid any perpetual check and sprint my h pawn down the board to force the win, and secure a rather dramatic drawn match. A bit lucky for us, maybe, as it could certainly have ended up as a loss.
We stay third behind Olton and surprise packet Shirley, while Solihull are slightly off the pace in the defence of their title.
And so to the C team, who picked up an excellent 2.5-1.5 win against second placed Solihull C, and in so doing catapulted themselves - improbably - to the top of the table, where they now lead from our B team!
Heroes of the night were Nick F and - believe it or not - Roy, who scored wins on Boards 1 and 4 respectively. Nick F continued his tremendous OTB debut season by outplaying Dave Cheshire, who I recall giving Joshua a right going over in an A team game a couple of seasons ago. He made a (very) long term exchange sac in the opening to keep the Black king in the middle of the board and developed his remaining pieces very actively, chasing the Black queen around. An excellent scalp eventually ensued. Roy made light of a good few rating points disadvantage - and a rotten opening - against John Green to pick up our second win, and while Mike J went down to Nigel Byrne on Board 3, Nick M won the match by drawing from a pawn down against Geoff Stokes. So a great success for our adoption of, if anyone remembers him, the Jim Davidson strategy on boards 1 and 2 - Nick-Nick! Its the way I tell 'em.