Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Ee Aye Addio, We've Won the Cup!

I don't know why all those Scousers were getting so excited last night at winning a mere Semi-Final in kickball or whatever it's called. The real excitement was to be found at Tyseley Working Men's Club where the mighty KCC were triumphant in the Final of the Leamington League Knock-Out Cup on a night of high drama. Regrettably not even our most avid supporters (Dave and Ben Bonkers) were able to make the long trip to see us beat Olton 3.5-1.5 and pick up the Cup for the third time in four years and the seventh in all.

I sensed that it might be our night when I caught sight of a road-sign on the way to the match. With amazing speed and dexterity, fellow passenger Mike was able to grab a quick photo.

The uncannily accurate Predict-a-score road sign. (My attempts to find a matching one saying Kenilworth 3.5 have sadly failed!)
We had our strongest side out (given the small matter of Paul's unavailability and ineligibility!) for the battle against our perennial rivals Olton, but we did face an especially tough task on the top two boards where Olton are especially strong. I was hopeful, though, that our powerful engine room on Boards 3, 4 and 5 would pull us through. If any extra motivation were needed, Olton had just pipped us by a single point to the league title, despite us taking 3 points out of 4 against them this season.

Enough of this waffle - to the match!

Such is Joshua's style and tempo of play that he nearly always finishes first, and this match was no exception. He played one of his pet unsound openings as Black against Richard Reynolds on Board 4. Almost inevitably, though, Joshua got plenty of play for his pawn sacrifice and a sufficiently unbalanced, dynamic position to pose major problems on the board and on the clock. He won his pawn back and provoked a major weakening of White's kingside, all the time building up a massive time advantage. I missed the conclusion, but I imagine time pressure induced a serious mistake from Richard and we had our first point.

This was followed soon after by a second win for us, as Andy despatched Mark Cundy on Board 3 in a highly entertaining game. Andy lurched forwards with his pawns on both sides of the board against Mark's Leningrad Dutch and gained a shed-load of space. But there were a few holes in Andy's position, and he needed to be careful. However, we needn't have worried as Andy played the crucial phase of the game splendidly, and made decisive inroads into the Black centre and kingside - a knight on g5 proving especially dangerous to the Black king, which suddenly found itself threatened with the move Rh7 mate. This could only be averted at significant material cost and so Mark resigned.

Meanwhile on Board 5, Mike had been nursing an edge against Rob Reynolds from a very early stage of a Catalan structure, where Black failed to solve the eternal problem of such lines, his light squared bishop. But Rob is devilishly difficult to beat, and he dug in and defended his worse position defiantly, right into a bishops of the same coloured ending where there was no way for Mike to get his king into the Black position.

So 2.5-0.5 to us, but we could still lose the match on Board Elimination if Olton won the top two boards. But there seemed no danger of this, as although Andrew was struggling against Alan Lloyd on Board 2, I had got a completely winning position against Phil Holt on top board. So what could possibly go wrong? Read on....

Andrew did indeed fall to defeat against Alan, after White played an exemplary game against the Dutch - not a good night for that opening! When Andrew had to make the double retreat Nc6-b8 and Be6-c8 in the first 10 moves or so, it seemed clear that something had gone badly wrong. He never managed to free himself against Alan's pressure, with the White bishops particularly dominant. So now it was 2.5-1.5, and all to play for in the final game.

I had not played a great opening after Phil surprised me with an unusual variation of the Alekhine, but with the position about level he went wrong and almost accidentally I was suddenly threatening a queen sac to win a piece due to Black's weak back rank. To escape this Phil had to allow me to get a knight into d6 followed by Rxb7 winning a pawn and reducing the Black position to total passivity. Indeed his rook had to go to f8, and his two knights on a6 and c7 were completely useless. In true Phil style, though, he managed to get his queen active and threatened perpetual. I could have let him, as it would have won the match for us, but this would have been wimpish in the extreme - and I'm desperately in need of the grading points after a disastrous few months. (Moreover, as Phil famously turned down Paul's draw offer when it would have won the match for Olton in a previous cup final against us, I guess he wouldn't have taken the draw anyway.) So we played on and my position got even better. I was completely winning and then …. as time ticked away - one good move would seal the deal but ...… instead a blunder and from nowhere Phil uncorked Ra8 which contained a killing threat of Ra1 with what looked like unstoppable mate on f1, g1 or h1. I played a move to stop it and he then uncorked a tremendous knight sac to force the move anyway. I broke out into a cold sweat. It felt as though I had cost us the Cup. I had to give my queen up for a rook and knight, and hope that my passed b pawn could pose enough of a threat to stop his queen running amok. Instead of grabbing a pawn to give himself a passed d pawn and a guaranteed perpetual at worst, Phil tried to win my b pawn which constituted my only active play. But he couldn't do it and I succeeded in establishing a kind of fortress where my rook, knight and b pawn had his queen incarcerated on b7 and b8. Even now it should still have been a draw I suspect, but in a desperate attempt to win Phil flashed out a g5 push only to recoil in horror when I played Rc7+, as his queen was on b7 and he'd walked into a skewer. Talk about drama! All we needed was a fat lady singing, to bring down the curtain on an epic night. Why can KCC never do anything the easy way?

Four of the triumphant/self-satisfied five: (l to r) Joshua, The Club Organiser, Andy, Mike
(Andrew having already departed with his tail between his legs)
So this means double success for the club this season, with the KO Cup victory to put alongside the B team's Division 2 Championship. (And we were within 1 point of the Division 1 title, too!) Now we have two reasons for an end of season celebration. If only we had a Social Secretary...….. well, hopefully after next Monday's AGM we will!!

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