Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Good, but not Great!

The A team climbed to its highest league position of the season (a none too exciting third place) after a 3-1 away win at Leamington last night. We fielded a strong team, thanks to a rare sighting of Andy B, and duly annexed the two points but, as usual, the final result didn't necessarily tell the whole story.

Mike continued his excellent run of form (goodness knows how strong he'll be if he ever returns to full fitness!) by demolishing Rob Gill's patent 1 b3 on Board 4. He built up a clear advantage from the opening and into the middle game, and then jumped into the White position with a crushing Nxf2 sacrifice which led to a speedy conclusion. A nice clean and correct game.

Which is more than can be said about the Board 3 encounter. I eventually brought home another full point by beating Tom Darling's rare (for a good reason) Elephant Gambit. (Seeing an opening like this, it was almost like having Joshua back in the room!) I was comfortably better with an extra pawn when I saw a flashy brilliancy which, while indeed flashy was not at all brilliant. In fact with best play it should have left me a piece down for three pawns. But best play was a bit beyond both players, and instead it just became a completely winning position for me, with two extra pawns, one of which was a monster passed e pawn. Black's king was also rather unsafe, and on move 36, Tom kindly walked into mate in one which speeded things up no end.

Andrew P then drew on Board 2 against Ben Egid, after a rip-roaring encounter. Andrew was two exchanges up, but White's bishops were rampant and he had to give one back. It got very complicated, with Andrew's king going on a voluntary yomp up the kingside straight into White's waiting army of pawns and a queen. Eventually a truce was declared for reasons I failed to notice. Andrew still had an exchange, but White had a passed c pawn. It may just have been too difficult for both players to carry on!

And then proceedings were brought to a close when the top board encounter between Andy B and Andy Collins ended in another draw. Our man had not exactly ever got up any head of steam, and after regular exchanges it came down to a bishop v knight ending (we had the bishop), where the pawn structure favoured the knight. But our Andy's king got to a very strong square and with the number of pawns rapidly dwindling there was no way for either Andy to make progress.

So, almost April and two matches still to play, but with no Europa League place on offer, we only have pride left to motivate us. Let's make that third position ours!

Monday, 26 March 2018

Long evening in the snow and the rain

Once the snow had finished with Kenilworth, the rain took over. When we got to Whythall we found that they still had both.

Ben's game with white was a long and complex sicilian agisnt Gordon Christie. Eventually this simplified and petered out to a draw.

Mike's game against John Freeman was a two score sheet affair. Black got to the ending with an extra pawn but even by playing 70 or more moves, he wasn't able to win the minor piece ending. Game drawn.

Phil played Frank Jimenez with the white pieces. White's opening advantage left him with an extra pawn in rook and minor piece ending which he eventually won.

Dave was playing Kim Gilbert with black. Both players chose irregular variations of the English e4 opening line. Unfortunaltey whilst paying attention to the longer term white missed the cheaper tatics on offer and reached an ending an exchange down. Black managed to establish a rook on the seventh with ultimately allowed him to win.

A long return trip in the rain was enjoyed by all especially the closure of amount three miles of the A46.

Beware of teams facing relegation

We had been hoping to repeat our score against Solihull C. Unfortunately the spectre of relegation had galvanised Solihull into sheer tenacity.

Ben was an exchange up in his ending but his opponent Paul Smith and managed to lock down the position so tightly that anything that black might try would have probably led to a loss. Game drawn.

Mike was playing John Green who came out fighting. Unfortunately some inaccurate oppening play led black to get himself tied up without hope of developing his light squared bishop. White not only won this piece but also emerged into the ending with extra material.

Phil was playing black against Rob Anderton. Well I think it was Rob, but the style of play wasn't Rob at all. Sacrificing a knight on g6 to open up black's king side was probably unsound but it did provide a number of tactical oppertunities. White converted one of these into a win.

Dave had white against Dennis Horsley. Black opted to push his pawns on both flanks but eventually had to castle king side. White managed to infiltrate the king side with queen and knight and win whites's e pawn. Once the queens were exchanged, the ending should have been straight forward. Unfortunately, some carless play by white and excellent defending by black meant that the point was shared.

So that was it, match drawn. So only a single point for Kenilworth and worse still (for Kenilworth C) a point for Solihull.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

We have won the Cup!

For the first time in Kenilworth’s history, we are the proud winners of the Coventry KO cup, following Tuesday night’s heroics against Rugby. We add this to our third place position in the Coventry League and inaugural victory in the Coventry Divisional Cup a few weeks ago. It can truly be said that we are Coventry’s number one team, when students who only get out of bed in time for Countdown, are excluded from the reckoning!

The omens did not look good when we set out to the Massey Ferguson Club (neutral venue) with an injury hit team. Having beaten Nuneaton in the semi-final the previous week, fielding a line up with an average grade of 172, the absence of Mark (holiday) and Carl (work) meant that our average grade for the biggest game of our season was down to 153 (versus 171 for Rugby.) Dave and Rod came into the team, both fresh from Divisional Cup glory and ready to go. What we lacked in rating points, we made up for in hunger. Having lost a Cup final we really should have won two years ago at the same venue, we knew this was a chance to put things right, to carve our names in history.

The evening started well. I built up an extremely good position against James Kearney and Dave was also moving nicely. Rod was battling away, Mike’s position looked the trickiest but his form has been outstanding so all things started to seem possible. I came within a whisker of beating James, as I built up a crushing King side attack. However, my Rook sacrifice left a resource I had overlooked and by giving the material back James weathered the storm. It was still complex, but hard for either of us to make much progress. I was left dreaming of what might have been. Frustrating, but we still had our first half point.

Dave was next to finish, with the game of the night against Patrick Reid. It was a truly awesome sight as Dave made light of the rating differential to bring home a victory that was beautiful to watch. He seemed to rip open Patrick’s Queen side (where Patrick’s King had been seeking shelter) minor and major pieces swarmed and his Knight delivered the final blow to put us 1.5 – 0.5 up in our games with the White pieces. A superb man of the match performance as Dave signed off his campaign in style.

At which point anything still seemed possible. Rod was battling hard, but now losing, down a pawn in an opposite Bishop ending. Unfortunately, Bob Whilding had a passed pawn and a bit of a grip on Rod’s King so it looked difficult. Mike was also down a pawn to Simon Turner. All four players were in time trouble. Mike was stoically chewing his way through cough sweets. I was pacing. The Coventry members involved in their own matches were averagely vocal. A betting man would have kept his money in his pocket.

Then finally it turned. Mike, won his pawn back and went from worse to better in about the time it would have taken someone to eat one of his throat lozenges. A draw was agreed and suddenly we had two points gained on boards 1, 2 and 3 which meant we’d won on board count! Rod battled brilliantly but went down soon after. It didn’t matter though, as all had played their part in a famous night. 2 – 2 but the silverware was ours!

Another big step in our Coventry journey… Here’s to next year!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Short but not Sweet

We lost 3-1 at home to runaway leaders (and already Champions) Olton A last night. Andrew P had a good draw with Phil Holt on Board 1, though for most of the evening it looked like he was going to go a pawn down for nothing. Mike drew against Richard Smith on Board 4 in a crazily exciting game which featured a wide range of material imbalances at different moments. I thought he was winning, but it was not quite to be. Carl then played like a man who has a 7.15 plane to catch the next day, as he saw the chance of a piece sac and went for it. It looked totally unsound to me, and I think he knew it, too! Inevitably Mark Cundy reeled in the full point.

And then there was me on Board 2, needing to win against my perennial nemesis, Alan Lloyd, to save the match. I thought I was better in a R&B ending, but I just couldn't find a way to round up a passed c pawn which Alan was tied down to defending. I forced the rooks off (maybe wrongly) and then without thinking offered a bishop exchange thinking the K&P ending was won for me. But it was a massive hallucination, as in the rook exchange his king had come a square closer to the passed pawn, and instead of me winning it, the pawn won the game. Drats. So instead of a 2-1 draw, it was 3-1 and Olton moved to 12 wins from 12 matches.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Double Dutch

Not a reference to my usual communication skills, nor a crafty way to slip in another of my much cherished Double D titles, but rather acknowledgment that in our two big matches this week it was Mike's two victories against the Dutch that made the biggest contribution to our double success.

First on Monday, he won nicely against Arran Gundry to help the A team to a 3-1 victory over second placed Banbury A. Despite reaching an ending a pawn up, it looked as though Black had enough play to draw, but Mike cleverly gave up his passed a pawn to construct a mating net with rook, knight and pawn which forced the win of an exchange, and he then made no mistake in winning with his extra material. Carl weighed in with an effortless win on Board 3 against Mr D. Fault, and I also added a point, though not without some decidedly dodgy adventures, by beating Gary Jackson on Board 2. Our only reverse came for Andrew P on Board 1, where he found himself giving away 42 grading points against James Jackson. I think he sacked a pawn with a plan to get a knight into e3 forking the entire White army. But this never happened and the game seemed to finish badly with a back rank accident.

Mike was an even bigger part of our success the following evening, when he secured the only decisive result, to give us a 2.5-1.5 Coventry KO Cup Semi-Final win against Nuneaton B. In the process we avenged ourselves for two league losses against them during the season. Mike got a very strong position out of the opening against Mike Maher and won a pawn. Black seemed to get no counterplay at all and White won in a double rook ending. Elsewhere it was all square. Ben caused an audible outburst of displeasure from Tony Green on Board 2 by playing the London System, and a draw did indeed result, though not without some interest along the way. Ben tried to set up a queen and bishop battery against hy7, and threw in an h4 push as well, but a draw it was anyway. Carl, fresh from his perfect performance the evening before, drew against Dave Kearney. He tried to make something happen with the Black pieces against a rather passive opening set-up, but White successfully defused all Carl's attempts to make the game interesting.

I could fill a book with the report on my game against Phil Briggs. He surprised me with almost every move (1 d3 was the least outrageous of his moves!), and though I tried to play classically in response, the madness in the air seemingly affected me, too. At one point White got knights on f1 and g1, while Black had knights on b8 and a8! I ended up with a totally winning position, but failed to put the boot in at the crucial moment before the time control. White equalised but then went wrong again, only for me to miss a very strong move that would have snuffed out all White's activity, and suddenly I was in trouble. Luckily though, the White king was exceedingly open and a virtual perpetual appeared on the board.  Then White went wrong again and I had a forced win, but I checked from the wrong square. White offered a draw and after realising I had no way to win, I accepted to secure the match win for us.

In the final next Tuesday we will play Rugby A, so fingers crossed for another KCC trophy win this season.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Smug: (adjective) Having an Excessive Pride in One's Achievements

So what's wrong with a little bit of self-satisfaction, anyway? Because right now, I've got a lot to be smug about. On Tuesday I beat Dimitar Daskalov of Warwick University A in our final Coventry League Division 1 fixture. He just happens to be graded 225 and, before our game, to have a Cov League record over the last two seasons of Played 22; Won 19; Drawn 3; Lost 0. Paul, twice, and myself, once, have hitherto been the only people able to avoid defeat against him.

On Tuesday against me, though, he had a real off-night, and by making an automatic recapture instead of first prodding my knight away from b5 with a6, he was quickly forced to give up his queen for a rook and bishop. Plus his pieces were hardly able to get off the back rank. Although I made hard work of realising the advantage, I got there in the end. In the process, Dimitar became the strongest player I have ever beaten. That honour previously belonged to an American called Jay Bonin who weighed in at a USCF rating of 2388 when I lowered his colours two days after my 30th birthday in 1984.  Given my subsequent steady descent into senility, I had long since abandoned hopes of ever topping that, but a quick calculation converts a 225 ECF grade to an ELO of ........ 2388! But everyone knows ELO ratings are stronger than the same USCF grade, so I am claiming a new personal best, come what may! And there's more, because I see that when Paul beat James Jackson in a Leamington League match against Banbury in 2015 he "only" gained the scalp of a mere 224 rated player! So I am also claiming a new KCC record - at least in  the modern era. (Which I define as when I joined the club! It's a bit like the way the Premier League tries to ignore the previous 100+ years of Division 1 football.)

But enough of me (is that possible?), what about the match? Well, we lost 3-1, but that was hardly a surprise (except that it wasn't 4-0), because the record breaking wasn't restricted to me on the evening. University A almost certainly set new records as both the strongest team ever fielded in the Coventry League and the strongest team ever to play against Kenilworth. They managed to get their four top players out on the same evening for the first time this season (in a meaningless match against us! - should we be flattered?) so that they averaged 215, with all four boards over 200. Now that is what you call a strong team!

Mike played a tremendous game against Guy Moss on Board 4, and seemed to have equalised from the opening and well into the middle game. But then a queen and bishop ending arrived in which White's queenside pawn majority suddenly came into play. Material was still level but White got himself a juicy passed pawn on c6 which Mike had to blockade with his queen on c7. The Black king couldn't get round to the c8 square because of a mate trick, and so White was able to march his king all the way from g1 to support the c6 pawn, while Mike was forced to remain passive. The arrival of the king broke the blockade and after a few checks had been avoided by White, the pawn was able to queen, just as Mike was losing on time. A very close run thing, and a draw would have been richly deserved.

Which is more than I can truthfully say about the games on Boards 2 and 3, where Ben and Carl did not do themselves justice against their very strong opponents, played probably their worst games of the season and lost rather disastrously. Enough said.

Nevertheless, this result, and Coventry Academy A's victory over Nuneaton B, ensured that we finished - as exclusively forecast here! -  third, for our best placing yet in the Coventry League. That alone would almost be an excuse to justify an end of season social, but as we have secured an actual trophy by winning the Coventry League Divisional Cup, we fortunately already have sufficient cause. Is that another curry I can smell, or perhaps the aroma of an alternative cuisine? The Social Secretary is doubtless already plotting a suitable celebration. I can hardly wait.