… and maybe now living on more than a prayer! Why use a visit from Stratford to quote Shakespeare, when a line from Jon Bon Jovi sums it up perfectly! We ran out 3-1 winners on Monday against Stratford A, to complete the second leg of our four leg challenge. Namely, to beat Solihull, Stratford, Shirley and Leamington to claim the Division 2 title. Given the subsequent Division 1 debacle against Banbury, this is now our only shot at League Silverware – albeit we also have a Cup Final to look forward to.
The game was far from a dead rubber for Stratford, as they started the evening second from bottom, with Leamington closing in on them, and this was their last game of the season. Hence it was no great surprise to find we were facing a strong team. Richard McNally, Colin Searle making a welcome return, Richard Dobedoe and Steve Henderson showed up, meaning the average grade difference was insignificant and we were outgraded on 1 and 2.
However, in practice it was one of those nights when it always looked like we were going to win. Regular readers will be shocked to hear that Mike finished first against Colin Searle, with a draw. But actually, that doesn’t do justice to what was a good game. Moreover, Colin’s speed meant they played a lot of moves. Mike said. “Black’s play may have overturned a view of the opening repeated in all books that the line [of the Dutch Stonewall that was followed] is good for White based on the classic game Petrosian-Korchnoi Leningrad 1953 (which both players knew.) Instead of Q-e7, Colin played what turned out to be an often used pet line featuring an early Rf6-h6. The repeated threat to penetrate along the h-file in several complex ways, and despite White getting an ideal Nd4 v B-d7/ pawns c6 and e6 set up, hindered White’s queens-side break with b5. Of the 11 opportunities to play this move only one was winning even though this opened the a-file against my King. Missing this by attempting to exchange queens meant when b5 was threatened, and even when White plays Kh2-a6 the Stonewall held and there was no way through hence a draw was agreed. Disappointed to miss yet another win but Colin thought the game was a very good one.”
Dave was next to finish on Four. His position was magnificent out of the opening and whilst Steve did well to hang in there for a long time, it looked pretty brutal to me. Dave said – “Playing White my opponent chose the Alekine’s defence. I think that his choice of opening may have been influenced by the fact that we had already played four times in the last two years and he wanted to play something different. Unfortunately, his choice of move order allowed me to wind a pawn and forced him to sacrifice a second to allow him to castle into safety. After this the game settled down but black was unable to avoid me exchanging off pieces to get into a double rook and opposite coloured bishop ending. I succeeded in getting my rooks onto the a file and won a third pawn and then doubled my rook on the seventh rank leaving black with a very passive position. With three additional pawns the game essentially played itself and I won in 55 moves.
I didn’t see much of Phil’s game – but it looked like another ruthless demolition job. Phil is on fire at the moment!
I was the last to finish on Board 1, with the points already in the bag for the team, after a long struggle with Richard McNally. For a long time, I’d been looking at the fact that Dave and Phil were heading for wins with some relief as my position was terrible. Richard clearly knew the opening better than I did, and I was left with my King hopelessly trapped in the middle of the Board with Richard’s Rooks and minor pieces looking poised for the kill. I found a few “only moves,” to hang in there. Richard then seemed to miss a great shot, which I think would have been overwhelming for him and the game turned. He snatched at a pawn and I ended up trapping a piece. After a forced set of moves he had three pawns for the piece and we were in an ending with Rook, Knight and 3 pawns (me) vs Rook and 6 pawns him. Suddenly, I was the one going for the win. I positioned the Knight and King extremely well and was making a lot of progress – even picking up a pawn on the way. I’m pretty certain I missed a win of my own and Richard was able to construct a fortress. I couldn’t keep enough pawns on the board, and as he forced those off, my winning chances receded. It was impossible for me to make progress with the Rooks on and with the Rooks off, I thought I would be probably losing. I’m sure a computer would have put me ahead at the end, but we’d won the match and given how delighted I would have been with the draw earlier in the evening, it still felt like a reasonable effort.
So 3-1. Next up Shirley!