Masked return proves a success as outgunned Kingston survive

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 10 January 2022

Chess made a tentative return to the Willoughby Arms on Monday 10 January when Kingston B, captained by Adam Nakar, took on a strong South Norwood B side. It had been touch and go in the week after New Year whether the club would resume playing matches, but in the end the committee agreed they should resume with two important provisos in the face of the Omicron surge: masks should be worn, by players and spectators alike in the playing area unless an attendee was medically exempt, and, where possible, players and supporters should do a lateral flow test to ensure they were Covid-negative before coming along.

In the event, the match went off without a hitch: many thanks to David Howes and his team for complying with good grace. Everyone wore a mask, though some occasionally slipped beneath the nose, and no one complained about the inconvenience. It can be done! These rules are in place subject to a continual review by the club committee.

As usual, it took about 10 minutes to untangle who wanted what time control and to set the clocks accordingly: quickplay, slowplay, Fischer increments, adjournments, adjudications. We had three different sets of playing conditions across the six boards. The Surrey League seems to be oblivious to the fact it is making a laughing stock of itself with all these variations: please just establish one time control for evening chess – 75 minutes with a 10-second increment will do very nicely. The Thames Valley League, with its variable playing session lengths, is even worse. You need to be an international lawyer to understand the league rules and fathom all the possible permutations.

Anyway, on to the match itself. South Norwood were stronger on paper, as Nakar continued with his bold policy of blooding some of the new players who have joined Kingston since we started meeting again last summer. Two of those newbies, Max Mikardo-Greaves and Harry Straszewski lost to experienced South Norwoodians on boards five and six, but neither game was a hammering, and Max and Harry were still there in the bar analysing their games at 11.15pm. This is how chess improvement happens.

Another Kingston newcomer, Yae-Chan Yang, beat the 1660-rated Kaddu Mukasa on board three – a terrific result for Yae, who had travelled down from Cambridge (where he is studying physics) to play in the match. He looked suitably delighted, though was still quivering somewhat after constructing a mating attack in an attacking game where no prisoners were taken. Yae does like to play seat-of-the-pants chess.

Gregor Smith, fresh from his triumph in the Richmond Blitz just before Christmas, was on top for most of the game against South Norwood’s Mr Solid, Ken Chamberlain. The game went to adjudication, but Gregor was two pawns up in a rook-and-pawn endgame, and a few days after the match Ken conceded rather than trouble the adjudicators.

On top board, Vladimir Bovtramovich won a fine game against the dangerous attacking player Ron Harris, breaking through with rook and queen and forcing Harris to sac a bishop in a last desperate bid to survive. The effort was unsuccessful and Vladimir’s attack became irresistible. On board two, the experienced Martin Cath proved too strong for the Kingston captain, outmanoeuvring Adam and demonstrating all the positional skill he has built up during 60 years or more of competitive chess.

So, with the adjudicated game going Kingston’s way, the match stood at 3-3 and the league points were shared. A very satisfactory result for Kingston, who are trying to give new players match experience rather than win promotion to Division 3 (that’s our story and we are sticking to it). Above all, the match was a demonstration that chess in masks is practicable, perhaps even enjoyable – especially if you win. And it helps that you can dispense with the mask in the bar downstairs, it being deemed difficult to drink beer through a mask.

Stephen Moss