Wednesday, 30 March 2022

By Jupiter, Forgot!

"By Jupiter, forgot! I am weary; yea, my memory is tired. Have we no wine here?"
Coriolanus, Act 1 Scene 9.

But I've remembered now, and so here is the report of last Monday's final Leamington League Division 1 match of the season. Nothing of real importance was at stake, as we had wrapped up the title a couple of weeks back, but there was one last challenge - maintaining our unbeaten league record. And as our Coventry League team had lost its own unbeaten record - and the league title - in the very last game, we really needed to make sure that history did not repeat itself. It was all about pride.

In all our matches this season we have fielded the Three Ps plus AN Other, and this pattern held right to the end, as Messrs Page, Paterson and Pink were joined by the recently rediscovered Andy Baruch. Our opponents were Solihull A, led this year by Don Mason, who had run us mighty close in our earlier encounter and had a victory over Olton to their credit.

Things did not start well. I walked straight into some ferocious opening preparation from Don, and I was already losing/lost by move 10. I didn't expect to make it to move 20, so the fact that mate only arrived on move 34 must be considered something of a moral victory for me. Though, regrettably, moral victories do not count on the match scoreboard. Still, never mind, as Joshua had been winning easily against Paul Roper on Board 3 and looked likely to finish even before me. Wrong! He had reached a rook and pawn ending two pawns up and with 2 connected, passed kingside pawns, when he decided to jettison them to win White's last two queenside pawns.  But this left him with just doubled b pawns of his own, and when Paul managed to get his king back to b1 the draw was inevitable.

So now things looked decidedly dodgy, since Andy B's position on Board 2 against Tony Sadler looked to have gone from very promising to totally lost. I took a look at the board and counted two White pieces and one White rook under attack - try saving all those at once! But somehow he scared Tony into not taking the material, and it ended up in a rook and 4 v rook and 4 ending. Tony was in desperate time trouble, though, and swapped off into a king and pawn ending that might just have held with very precise play, but his clock situation ruled that possibility out and Andy duly queened a pawn and won. His first victory for two years! (Though in fairness, in only his second game!)

Which left the other Andrew in play on Board 2 against Ray Carpenter. He seemed to be winning Black's bishop in a minor piece ending thanks to a passed d pawn, when Ray suddenly created mayhem to get a passed pawn of his own on the b file. For a moment I was in panic, as I thought this pawn couldn't be stopped, but Andrew kept his cool and moved his king away from the path of the pawn, so there were no tempo gaining checks en route to the queening square, and brought his knight back to stop the pawn. This was enough to win, as in order to cause the mayhem, Ray had had to give White another passed pawn on the a file, and his lone bishop couldn't prevent either this or the d pawn from queening.

So not only did we finish unbeaten, but we also finished victorious in the match, squeaking home by 2.5-1.5. Coupled with yet another Olton defeat (0.5-3.5 against Shirley A) the same night, this meant that our final winning margin was a massive 7 points. We dropped only two points all season, when drawing with our B team and Olton A, and ended up with a game point difference of +17. By any measures, this was a comprehensive success!

Massive kudos goes to Andrew, for a stunning performance on Board 2. I, on the other had, need to do considerably better! Joshua's impressive hit rate was slightly affected by him missing out on one game due to an opposition default. Lionel, Jude and Andy didn't do badly either, while Mike kept me company on 50%.

No particular reason for this week's song, though I don't think Poco have ever featured here before, and that omission needs to be remedied immediately!

Friday, 18 March 2022

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Its been a week of very mixed fortunes in KCC-land, and how it all stacks up in the end depends on whether you are a "glass half full" or a "glass half empty" kind of guy.

Which sort are you?!

At the end of it all, we have two trophies confirmed for the season, but strangely it is the one that got away which will likely live longest in the memory. Proof, if it were needed, that some people will never be totally contented with life.

It all started on Monday, when - in what was scheduled to be a Leamington League Division 1 decider against Olton A - we drew 2-2 in an ultimately unimportant encounter, as Olton had contrived to gift us the title by losing their previous match at Banbury. So all that was at stake was a bit of local pride, and our unbeaten record. It was honours even on the night, but as Olton played without regular Board 1 Phil Holt (get well soon, Phil - I know you're reading this!) maybe they had more reason to be happy. Joshua was our sole winner, seeing off Mark Cundy's King's Gambit in most assured style by quickly transposing into a pawn up minor piece ending. The rarely sighted lesser-spotted Baruch then chipped in with a draw on Board 4 against Gary Hope. In normal circumstances this would have been a disappointing result, but given it was Andy's first game since March 4th 2020 (740 days by my reckoning) it was a minor miracle he even remembered the moves. Andrew followed up with another draw against Bruce Baer on Board 2, after a game in which he was a pawn up for most of the time, only to fall into a perpetual check when the win was in sight. Which left me needing a draw to win the match.  But I was playing Alan Lloyd, against whom I have a record of Played 8, Won 0, Drawn 4, Lost 4. It didn't matter that I got into a rather good position, where I was the only one who had any winning chances, as it was inevitable that I would completely misplay things at several key moments and end up losing a rook and pawn ending after a zillion moves on the increment. Some things are just meant to happen, and me losing to Alan is one of them.

Tuesday evening saw a rather more critical encounter, as we took on Coventry A in the final of the Coventry League KO Cup, a competition we have won once before, in 2018. As we had done the double over Cov A in the League our hopes were high, but things proved to be less straightforward than we might have hoped. All 4 games were still in play late into the evening when we had a massive stroke of good fortune, as Bava Manickam contrived to walk into a one move mate against Mike in a rook and pawn ending. Mike was a pawn up, and assures me he was winning, but mate in one certainly saves a lot of effort, technique and agony for the spectators. As soon as mate appeared on the board, I offered Ed Goodwin a draw on Board 2. I had been in all sorts of trouble a few moves earlier, but thankfully I was let off the hook and it was almost dead level in a double rook and pawns ending when we shared the point. I knew that this essentially assured us of the Cup, as Andrew was a pawn up against Joshua Pink (you'll have noticed how I can't bring myself to be on first name terms only with those KCC players who have split loyalties!) in a rook and 4 v rook and 3 endgame. Andrew then even gave up his extra pawn to make it so drawn that even Joshua Pink couldn't find any excuse to play on. This made Ben's loss against Warwick Scaife on Board 4 irrelevant, as we were going to be winners on board count in the event of a 2-2 tie. The Cup was ours - though I doubt we will see quuite the same scenes as these on the streets of Kenilworth when we bring the trophy home!

And so to Wednesday, and the same 4 were back in action in our postponed Coventry League Division 1 encounter with Warwick Uni A, which had become a title decider - where we had draw odds, as we were 1 point clear of the University team. Now they have a lot of very strong players to draw on, but thankfully they don't often get them all to play, so we went into the match with every chance of securing a first ever Coventry League title. But its the hope that kills you, isn't it?

First blood went to our opponents, and it was a bitter pill to swallow when Mike went down to Simeon Bott on Board 3. Mike had played a typical Rxc3 exchange sac and got a pawn and lots of compensation for it. But the position was very messy, and Mike had a bishop stuck on h8 behind a White pawn on f6. Mike tells me he was winning for about 20 moves, but it was anything but straightforward while that bishop remained stuck. Which it did. Seemingly for eternity. Or check mate as its known. A disastrous result for us, as Mike went from Tuesday hero to Wednesday zero. Still, I remained confident, as Andrew was an exchange for a pawn up on Board 1 against Joe Varley and seemingly cruising to victory, and while I was still down the pawn I had sacked in the opening, I had definite compensation with Black's queen, king's bishop and rook all either back or still on their starting squares at move 30. Somehow I just knew I was going to win!

So when Ben lost a very strange game on Board 4 against Vikas Sajanani, I was still more than hopeful. Ben had a queen against a rook and bishop (and maybe a pawn?) and I had been hoping we weren't losing, but his departure from the room at 100 mph and 100 degrees centigrade told me a different story. Now it was most definitely down to me and Andrew. The first part of the task went well, as the position just got too difficult for the players in my game, and in serious time trouble my opponent, Ivan Nikolov, couldn't defend when I got a pawn all the way to a7. This was a seriously heavyweight game! But something awful had happened in Andrew's game. I thought he was going to double on the seventh rank and deliver mate, but he was scared that White's passed d pawn might queen first, so instead swapped off a pair of rooks and ended up with rook and three (h, f and a) against bishop and three (h, g and a). It seemed like an obvious win, but Andrew had to be careful that when he went active with his rook, the White king couldn't munch the weak Black pawns on h6 and f6 and queen one of his own. I'm pretty sure there was a win if he had brought his king around to attack the White kingside pawns from behind before going after the White a pawn, but in increasingly desperate time trouble he went straight to the a2 pawn with his king and after various captures ended up with a rook against a lone White h pawn - but with the Black king several miles away from the action on a1. By a tempo it was a draw, but knowing that a draw was not good enough, Andrew tried one last trick and instead of sacking his rook, he allowed the White pawn to queen thinking/hoping he could then deliver mate with his rook. Unfortunately, White had one move which both stopped the mate and saved his queen. And he found it. And a few moves later he won the queen v rook ending which had ensued. Heartbreak for Andrew, and for KCC, who had come so close to a first Coventry League Championship. Chess is a harsh mistress.

But never mind. Two out of three is not so awful, is it? Vegetarians please look away now - Meat Loaf is about to be served

Wednesday, 9 March 2022


Well, that was an incredibly painful way to spend three hours, but somehow - at the very last moment - we stumbled across the line to win our Coventry League KO Cup Semi Final against Division 3 side, Coventry E by the required handicap defeating score of 3.5-0.5. But it was an evening of pure agony.

Andrew is exempted from all/any criticism, as he was the only one who played anything like a good game, throwing in plenty of tactics on his way to a convincing win over John Conway on Board 1. John lost on time at the end, but his position had completely gone by then.

But the rest of us. Oh dear, oh dear.

Ben eventually won decisively on Board 4, being oodles of material up against Joshua Rivett, but his opening play looked anything but convincing and I reckon he was in serious danger of being worse for quite a few moves.

Mike then offered a draw against Pablo Kelly on Board 3. His position had been going progressively downhill, as his two bishops looked pretty impotent against a big queenside pawn advance by White. I guess out of desperation he gave up a piece for a couple of pawns, but his young opponent was glad to take the rating points and a draw when they were offered.

But, of course, this then meant I had to win on Board 2 against Dave Filer. From a position where I was absolutely not better at all. And behind on the clock. I have no idea what had gone wrong, as I was almost winning straight out of the opening, but then I kept taking wrong decision after wrong decision. With Dave playing very assuredly, and consistently forcing pieces off the board whenever the opportunity presented itself we ended up in a dead level rook and knight ending. And then he forced the rooks off. It was move 49. It was knight and 4 against knight and 4. There were no passed pawns. It was almost 10.30. And the engine evaluation was 0.00. For all intents and purposes we were going out. And then Dave cracked. I had ramped up the clock pressure as a last try, and he had fallen behind, and at the crucial moment he allowed a trade of knights which gave me a winning king and pawn ending. Phew!

I didn't deserve to win. We didn't deserve to win. But I/we did, and next Tuesday we will play either Rugby A or Coventry A in the final.

No contest for this week's song. It's the only one I could think of that was depressing enough to match the mood of last night!

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Chairman Skis to the Rescue

 What's that coming over the hill, is it a monster?

No. it's the Club Chairman skiing to our rescue!

Fresh from his recent week schussing and slaloming on the slopes in France, he glided to the rescue of our Coventry League team last night, as we nervously edged home 2.5-1.5 against Warwick University R. (Yes, R, but I'm not going to bother explaining that again!) With our top two boards having clearly applied the wrong wax for the conditions, it was our engine room on Boards 3 and 4 which got us over the line to collect another two valuable points in our quest for a first ever League title. A quest which will now go to the last, rearranged match against Warwick Uni A.

Mike got the ball rolling for us with a very convincing win as Black against James Parkinson. White had sacked a knight on f7 but never seemed to have anything for the piece, and Mike wrapped up victory in short order. I was next to finish on Board 2, when sharing the point with Jonathan Fowler. This was a massive relief, as I had suffered the tortures of the damned after going wrong almost straight from the opening. My position was undoubtedly busted, but he went for a loose pawn with the wrong knight and suddenly I was OK in a bishop and knight ending.

I adjourned to analyse with my opponent, and shortly afterwards a clearly happy (dare I say smug?) Chairman emerged from the playing room to announce he had won and so clinched the match for us. This was somewhat surprising news, as he seemed to have been on the defensive for what little of the game I had seen, and at one point I distinctly heard him offer a draw. It was a massive stroke of luck for us that Ansh Batura decided to play on. (This echoes another crucial win for the Chairman earlier this season, when a crude knight fork gave us a draw against Nuneaton A, after Colin Green had also turned down a draw offer. Lightning does strike twice!)

And all this was just as well, because Andrew's inexplicably poor record against students this season continued with a loss to Partha Mulay on Board 1. For once his solid Slav type set up failed to go sproink and he was always rather short of space and counter-play. White clinched the win using two bishops against a bishop and knight to annex a couple of pawns. So its now 4/4 against non-students, but just 2/5 against Warwick Uni this season. With yet another encounter against academia to come. Aaarrgh!!

But for the time being, let's concentrate on the positives from last night's match. Which is where our second tune of the week comes in. (And make sure you admire the action shot of Bernard in full flow at around 32 seconds.)  

BTW, if anyone wants to hear my excellent dyslexic skiers joke, feel free to ask at any club night!