Friday, 18 October 2019

The Division One Carnival

For the B team, finally making it into Division 1 this season, has already been something of a roller coaster. (You see what I did there..) Having lost narrowly to last year’s runners up (our own A team), we had followed up with victory against the champions Olton A. My own contribution to this fantastic achievement consisted of asking Dave to captain and cheering the team on from 3000 miles away. Given that, I really wanted to put on record another massive well done to Joshua, Mike, Dave and Jude for their amazing achievement. The question was, could we follow that against a Banbury A team who had an International Master (James Jackson) on Board one and Carl Portman, fresh from his battle with Karpov on three. (See this month’s Chess for more on Carl’s exploits – I hear there are lots of other interesting reads as well!)

They always say that Division 1 has something of a carnival atmosphere (ok no one ever does) but we were still somewhat taken aback to find an actual carnival in full swing in the centre of Banbury on arrival. Had the local residents heard of our triumph against Olton A? Were our achievements seen as being on a par with Norwich’s triumph over Man City? Was the town in a near frenzy of excitement, because of us? Possibly, possibly, albeit the candy floss and rides proved too much of a draw and we did not get any spectators – they were obviously all content to wait for this write up…

It had been a slightly bizarre week on the selection front with A, B and C matches taking place and a Coventry League game (which was ultimately cancelled) but we had Mike on one, me on two, Phil standing in on three and Jude on four. Their grade average was nearly 30 points higher than ours, slightly distorted by James’s whopping 226, but we still had a lag of between 15 and 19 points on the other three boards. It was always going to be tough, and so it proved, but what an effort.

After 45 minutes, Jude and I were level, Phil’s position was unclear and Mike was playing brilliantly against James. As the evening progressed, Jude was the first to finish, drawing comfortably with the uber-strong Dan Rowan. Jude played simply and sensibly with incredible maturity and Dan never looked like making anything of white. A calm, controlled game, which just underscores how comfortable Jude is at this level – and what a great start to the season he has made.

I was next to finish on two, against Georgs Vikanis. A rare first for me, in that I don’t think we have played before (but happy to stand corrected.) Against a N-f3, c4 set up, I managed to get quite active, with a strong bishop and some nice pawn levers. Georgs pushed a bit, but I had a very well placed defensive knight on d6, and a possible queenside push that made him reluctant to fully commit to an attack. Equally, with everything fully under control, I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to go all in either, so a draw was probably inevitable.

Mike seemed to get a super strong position against James, with his queen and knight angrily massed close to James’s king. Equally, James’s queen seemed to be marooned in the middle of the board and very short of squares, with Mike’s rooks well placed to attack it. I did not see exactly what happened, but listening to Mike and James discussion afterwards, it seems that possibly a slightly too passive knight move gave James a moment to breath and turn the tables. Eventually a bishop (James) v knight (Mike) endgame ensued. Unfortunately Mike had a much more fragmented pawn structure and it was a great board for the bishop with pawns on both sides of the board. Even so, James technique (despite Mike’s strong defence) was impressive to watch. Fair to say from the way he closed it out that James is not 226 for nothing!

On Board three, Phil was the last to finish. I didn’t see how Carl managed to get on top, but he ended up in a position with rooks and queens honing in and a knight really making things awkward. I thought Phil was done for, but strong defence saw him push Carl back. However, the material cost was too high and ultimately the three pawns Carl picked up were more than enough. With an exchange of queens inevitable, the game was done. Nice play by Carl, but Phil definitely made him work for it.

So 3-1 to Banbury A, but we were by no means outclassed. A number of their players remarked on how strong all the Kenilworth teams seem to be this year, which is always nice to hear. The B team now has a double header coming up, away to Solihull A and then home to Solihull B. Something to look forward to. We certainly look like we are making the transition to Division 1. Who knows, we might still need a B team float at the Kenilworth carnival at the end of the season, to celebrate our triumphs. Or at the very least – the effort we are putting in. Division 1 may not be a piece of cake, but we all earned at least a stick of candy floss last night.

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