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

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