Monthly Archives: March 2022

Kingston overcome spirited Surbiton to complete clean sweep

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 29 March 2022

After the knife-edge drama of our narrow wins against Epsom and South Norwood, and with us having already won the division and promotion, the match against Surbiton 2 was always likely to be a little anti-climactic. Nevertheless, I think I can speak for the team in saying that we were determined if possible to make it five wins out of five.

Surbiton put up some stiff resistance. Mark Hogarth, for example, was generous in offering me a draw in a position where he stood well. He’d cunningly chosen the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, which I happen to hate playing against, and I’d tried to take him off the beaten track by playing 4…bxc6 instead of the standard 4…dxc6. As things transpired, I came to a deep understanding of why bxc6 is off the beaten track.

Another Surbiton player who might perhaps have played on was their board 2, Nick Faulks, who resigned a difficult position against David Maycock but one which didn’t quite seem terminal yet. On board 5 Alan Scrimgour gave the Benoni another outing (he had had a spectacular success with it against South Norwood). This time there were no fireworks and he soon agreed a draw, to make it 2-1 to Kingston.

John Shanley on board 7 outmanoeuvred his opponent in an English to win a pawn, and showed good technique in successfully converting this: 3-1. Three games were now left, and these were the hardest fought. Peter Andrews was slowly increasing his space advantage after opening with an English, when he grasped the chance to play a winning combination instead of a routine recapture. This gave us the match, but the two remaining games still drew groups of spectators, as they were the tensest of all.

Jon Eckert had won a pawn but had the kind of position where it’s not easy to make progress. He was also understandably tired after making two 4NCL car trips at the weekend. His opponent, David Razzell, seized his chance to launch a queen and rook attack down the h file aimed at Jon’s king. At first it seemed, to me at least, that Jon could secure a draw by repetition, but that was shown to be a superficial assessment as Razzell forced a win.

Peter Lalić in action earlier in the season: A player with nerves of steel and an unrivalled will to win

The final game to finish, naturally, was Peter Lalić’s. His will to win is probably unrivalled by anyone else in the team, and most likely in the whole division. He’s also blessed with nerves of steel, which enable him to play on increments for as long as it takes to grapple his opponent to the floor – I think the wrestling metaphor is not inappropriate here.

At the climax of the game the caretaker was about to appear demanding that the room be closed up for the night, and Stephen Moss and I were speculating that he had no chance of doing that before Peter achieved his win. Angus James was actually in the game right up to the point when it became a minor piece ending, but then lost a pawn and finally had to concede, sadly denying us the contest between Peter and the caretaker. 

Farewell to our Beaumont Cup season

This 5-2 win was the conclusion of our successful season in division 2 of the Surrey League: five wins out of five, first in the division and promotion to go with it. From the start we had such a strong squad (further increased in strength by the welcome addition of Peter Andrews, supersub, halfway through the season) that we were expected to do well, but in chess you can’t take anything for granted.

Crucially, apart from the combined playing ability, we were blessed with high levels of motivation and team spirit. A good example of this was the willingness of our top three players, Mike Healey, Peter Lalić and David Maycock, to turn out on occasions when they might have thought that there was little in it for them in playing weaker opposition. 

I’m also very grateful to the “engine room”, as Stephen Moss calls John Foley and Alan Scrimgour (and I should certainly add here Julian Way and Jon Eckert) for being so collectively reliable that even on the rare occasion when one misfired the others scored their points.  Add to this the pleasure of watching creativity at work – Will Taylor’s win against Epsom was especially noteworthy.

This section has already turned into the most clichéd of Oscar awards speeches – though happily with no slaps and no tears – but I would like to acknowledge too the contribution of our drivers (especially important in the case of the long day’s journey into South Norwood) and the great work that Greg Heath does to get everything ready at the Willoughby. Last but far from least, my thanks to Stephen for being our superfan/mentor/manager.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

A fantastic night – except for aphantasiacs

Inspired by David Maycock’s theory that spending too much time looking at the board is inhibiting, we spent an evening playing chess in our heads … and our imaginations

John Foley

At our club night on Monday 28 March, we explored the theme of playing chess without looking at the board. The evening started with a talk from David Maycock on how he has been developing this technique over recent months. His argument is that if you can visualise the board, then calculating variations becomes much easier. As a simple example, when you are staring at the board and start to analyse a variation you might move a piece in your head but when that piece still remains in vision it interferes with the thought process and you falsely place it on its physical square rather than the square it moved to in your head.

David Maycock not looking at the deliberate mistake on the board

The argument for blindfold chess would be convincing but for the reluctance of many people to give it a try. Hence, we prepared to overcome this reluctance by means of some simple exercises devised by Peter Lalić, who is also a becoming a proponent of the “no looking” approach to playing chess. Peter prepared exercises in which players were paired with each other to play blindfold a simple pawn game on a 3×3 board. This was then followed up by a pawn game on a 4×4 board. Of course, there were no boards – all the physical equipment was removed before the exercises.

It should also be pointed out that “blindfold” does not mean that the players were wearing a mask around their eyes but simply that they were not looking at a physical board. When Magnus Carlsen was featured playing a simultaneous display against players from corporate America, he wore a substantial blindfold. However, this was more to suit the cameras than out of necessity. It looks impressive, but the blindfold is not necessary.

Some of our leading club members suffer from aphantasia – the inability to form any mental images. Stephen Moss readily accepted that he suffers from a mild form of this affliction but did manage to get through the 3×3 game stage, although the 4×4 game was going too far and he lost comprehensively, choosing the wrong one of two possible pawn moves and seeing (or rather not seeing) his opponent clean up.

We had an interesting discussion about why many of the world’s top players get up from the board and wander about. Clearly they are still thinking about the game. Sometimes they return to the board only to make their move. Our inference is that the ability to visualise the game is an important indicator of chess strength. At some point in every game, a critical position is reached. It is necessary to carry out some serious analysis. In these circumstances, it must be a huge advantage to have a clear mental vision of the board in order to construct a variation tree. Strong players are invariably good at blitz chess – perhaps this quickness of vision is also related to their visualisation ability.

Vladimir Li recalled a point made by Jacob Aagaard, the Danish grandmaster and former British champion, in one of his books: that to be an efficient mental analyst you should not keep reverting to the current position. Instead, you should analyse ahead to the critical position and thereafter use that as the staging post for subsequent analysis of variations. It would be a significant advantage for a player to be looking ahead several moves not from the current position but from a future position derivable, perhaps through forced moves, from the current position.

The evening ended with a grand final of blindfold non-consulting pairs. This paired John Foley and David Maycock against Peter Lalić and Alan Scrimgour. The pairs were not permitted to talk to each other – only to give meaningful glances which could be misinterpreted. I have never played blindfold chess previously, so did not fancy our chances, but surprisingly managed to find some moves which were not terrible.

Squeezing their brains playing blindfold chess

The four players sat alongside each other in a state of mental distress, with the display board behind us being operated by David Shalom and Vladimir Li. As we called out our moves, the assembled audience veered from fascination to amusement and finally admiration regarding the match. The game would not merit being featured on the Games section of the Kingston website but is a droll divertissement for the blog.

Michael Healey (Kingston) v Marcus Osborne (South Norwood)

South Norwood 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 2, West Thornton Community Centre, 17 March 2022

This was the board 1 showdown for a crucial South Norwood – Kingston encounter, to see who goes up from a trio of ridiculously strong teams in Surrey’s division two (Epsom being the third). Mike is a former South Norwood player, and says it was good to see them fielding such a strong team.

Kingston hammer Richmond B to bring TVL promotion closer

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Adelaide, Teddington on 22 March 2022

It is never nice to be bagelled (as they say in tennis) 6-0, and on the surface this does look like a runaway win for Kingston over Richmond B. But raw statistics sometimes lie, and there was some excellent fighting chess in this match before that very satisfying (from a Kingston point of view) scoreline.

This was Kingston’s first visit to Richmond’s excellent new venue, the Adelaide pub in Teddington, and we were mighty impressed. There were two matches in the playing room – Richmond were also entertaining South Norwood 2 in the Surrey League – which made it busy and intense but not too congested. With social chess being played in the bar downstairs and a general air of a club that knew its business and had found a fresh focus, Richmond are clearly on the up. As their near neighbours, we have been warned.

This was an A team up against a B team and we were expected to win handsomely. But Richmond were by no means weak, and Alan Scrimgour on board 5 was immediately in some difficulty with his trademark King’s Gambit against Serhat Abay. “The opening went wrong somewhere and I was lucky,” he said later.

Alan Scrimgour v Serhat Abay

I thought there must be an element of false modesty in him saying this because, in a horribly double-edged position with Black only a move or so from proclaiming mate himself, Scrimgour launched a powerful attack on Black’s exposed king and got there first to make it 1-0 to Kingston. But, admirably honest about his own play, he insisted there was no false modesty. “Having looked at my game,” he told me, “I can confirm that I was lucky. It was a messy game, and I missed a clear win earlier. We both made some terrible mistakes, but my opponent made the last one. As Savielly Tartakower said, ´The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake’.”

David Rowson, playing his usual brand of classical positional chess – winning a pawn early and building a series of incremental advantages – won smoothly on board 3 against Pablo Soriano to make it 2-0. And Peter Lalic, playing as so often for a long period on the 10-second increment, then won a dynamic attacking game against Raghu Kamath on board 1 to put Kingston 3-0 up with three games still in progress.

The way Peter plays such beautifully controlled chess on the increment is a wonder to behold, though he said he was fortunate to stumble on one tactic at the height of his time trouble and chided himself for being “unprofessional” in once again having to rely on the increment. For all that, however, his results and the general standard of his play suggest he is doing something right. He is a perfectionist in the opening – hence his tendency to fall into time trouble at the short controls that apply in evening chess – and the depth of thought early in the game seems to stand him in good stead for later tactical complications.

Playing White: Peter Lalić (top) and David Rowson (nearest)

David Maycock won a bafflingly brilliant game on board 2 against Ieuan Fenton, sacrificing a knight for an obscure positional advantage that nobody could really understand and magically not just getting the piece back 15 moves later but going a whole bishop up soon after that, without his opponent making any obvious blunders. It really was sorcery.

Ieuan Fenton v David Maycock

In the analysis afterwards, David doubted whether the sac was truly sound, but, as he said, “not all Tal’s sacs were sound”. (David is a modest fellow and you should not get the impression he was comparing himself with Tal; he was just making a general point that there were so many complications and possibilities he had a gut feeling something would turn up, which it duly did.) He also explained that he is practising playing without looking at the board – he feels seeing the pieces makes them too static and he prefers to imagine them moving in his head. I feel we have a genius in our midst.

It was 4-0 and the match was won, but Kingston weren’t finished yet. John Foley got the better of Victor Bluett in a hard-fought game on board 4, with Foley maintaining a slight edge throughout before eventually trapping Bluett’s knight. Jon Eckert then completed a clean sweep for Kingston with an efficient win on board 6, his opponent resigning in the face of Eckert’s three connected passed pawns driving ever closer to the finish line. A memorable evening that puts Kingston top of Thames Valley division 2 and, with games in hand, eyeing promotion to the premier division.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Simon Lea (South Norwood) v Alan Scrimgour (Kingston)

South Norwood 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 2, West Thornton Community Centre, 17 March 2022

This game was played on board 6 in the match South Norwood v Kingston which determined who won the Beaumont Cup (second division) of the Surrey League and hence which team was guaranteed promotion. Each game was tough and none resulted in a draw. This game gave confidence to the Kingston team. We didn’t know why Alan was the exchange down – maybe he sacrificed the exchange for an attack is always the best interpretation. White seemed to escape the king hunt but was not out of the woods. Kudos to Alan for a well-played game. In Alan’s annotations, he includes some possible lines which end in nice mating patterns which he only discovered in later analysis, so he is not claiming that he saw all these at the board.

Kingston beat South Norwood in thriller to ensure promotion

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at West Thornton Community Centre on 17 March 2022

An epic match: twists and turns on nearly every board, luck (it can happen in chess) playing a crucial role, and the outcome unclear until the final game was decided, the players down to 10-second increments. This more than lived up to its significance as the encounter that would determine the Beaumont Cup winners.

Hannibal crossing the Alps, Napoleon’s trip to Russia … prior to match day, the Kingston team’s concerns were all about the logistics of getting to the South Norwood venue, due to the distance to be covered and the potential public transport complications. In the event, there were no problems and all the players arrived on time. However, that was when we suddenly realised that the real challenge was actually matching the strong opposition team facing us over the board. The arrival, not the journey, mattered.

If we could win this match, we would be Beaumont Cup champions with the prize of promotion to Surrey’s top division. So far, the plan we might have envisioned at the start of the season had been, if not a doddle, at least followed to the letter, and the team had built up a confidence in its own strength. Hubris? Our collective confidence was very soon shaken, as our two “banker” players, John Foley and Jon Eckert, both lost without really getting into their games. It was John’s first classical chess loss for three years, and for Jon it came on the back of a 10-victory run.  Were we about to be found out?

I redressed the balance to some extent by winning against Paul Dupré. He played the quirky Lion variation of the Philidor, advancing with h6 and g5 just out of the opening. I risked exposing my king with f4, giving his rook the g file after the pawn exchange. The first 14 moves were a rerun of a game we played about three years ago, when I won a piece with a two-move combination. Paul remembered that and varied, but my control of the centre made it very hard for him to coordinate his pieces in the long run.

Mike Healey (white) and Marcus Osborne absorbed in a complex battle on board 1

On board one Mike Healey had opened with his favourite Polish, and a strategically complex battle was under way. Suddenly, those observing were taken aback to see that Mike was a queen to a piece and some pawns down. His reputation is such that we thought this had to be a brilliant sacrifice, and waited expectantly for the compensation payoff to be revealed. Sadly, as Mike admitted afterwards, it had all been a mistake, and Marcus Osborne avoided any tactical traps to win and make the score 3-1 to South Norwood.

So we needed an unlikely three wins from the three remaining games to win the match, and they were not looking good for us. On board 6, from an unusual Benoni (White castled queenside), Alan Scrimgour was the exchange down. Initially it wasn’t clear if he had compensation for this, but, after he downed a three-spoonful cup of coffee, Alan’s pieces managed to open up lines to attack his opponent’s king. A discovered check sequence led to that king having to run to the other side of the board, where Alan found a neat forced mate. 3-2 to South Norwood.

Julian Way had not originally been down to play in the match, but when Peter Andrews unfortunately had to drop out due to illness, Julian very decently stepped in as a replacement.  A super-sub for our super-sub. Julian has recently been trying out Alekhine’s Defence, but this time he found himself in a rather passive position, with Roy Reddin’s pieces massed around his queenside-castled king. At the start of play Roy and Julian had opted for adjudication. Now, with Roy about to win a pawn and time nearly due to be called, things looked ominous for Julian. There might be no point in sending the game off for adjudication. But on move 35 Roy sat tight and didn’t make the last move required by the time control. When his flag fell Julian pointed out politely that his opponent had lost on time. It turned out that Roy had missed writing the moves on one line of his scoresheet, so thought he’d already made 35 moves. Terrible luck for South Norwood, but this was the fillip which Kingston needed. We had drawn level, 3-3, with only board 2 to be decided.

Peter Lalić was so absorbed in his game that I couldn’t find an opportunity to tell him the match situation. I think that he had already turned down a draw offer. Should Kingston be cautious and accept a tied match, instead of risking defeat, having come back from the nearly dead? Peter had been pressing, but Tariq Oozeerally found a combination to win a pawn. In compensation, Peter’s pieces, rook, knight and king, had a grip on the centre of the board. As players from both teams gathered round to watch the tense finale, Peter and Tariq barely had more time on their clocks than the 10-second increments per move. All the while John Foley was hammering out updates on What’s App for the Kingston members who had not ventured over to South Norwood.

Tariq Oozeerally (white) and Peter Lalic play out the decisive game, with Lalic winning in a time scramble

In time trouble situations like this, games turn on the proverbial knife edge. Tariq allowed Peter to win back a pawn and the latter, coolly and accurately upping the pressure despite his time shortage, won White’s bishop and then efficiently saw off Tariq’s final attempts to fight back. South Norwood had tested us to the limits and were very sporting in defeat. Against all the earlier run of play, Kingston had won 4-3, and were the Beaumont Cup champions with a match to spare. We still have Surbiton 2 to play, but we can already celebrate.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

Kingston topple league leaders Maidenhead in hard-fought encounter

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 14 March 2022

Maidenhead A came to Fortress Willoughby sitting proudly atop division 2 of the Thames Valley League, having pushed past long-time leaders Richmond B. They had come well prepared too, with a team averaging close to 2000 in rating terms. Maidenhead have not always been the best of travellers – they do, after all, face a lot of long away journeys – but this season have been performing well and this was a good team to muster for an expedition to Kingston in mid-March. It was certainly stronger than the team that lost 4.5 to 1.5 away to Surbiton B a month ago. Some stops had been pulled out as they eyed promotion.

But we were also strong, with Peter Lalic and David Maycock – the two young players whose arrival has galvanised Kingston this season – on boards 1 and 2 and a matchless set of Kingston stalwarts on boards 3 to 6: FM Julian Way, club chair John Foley, club secretary (and Scottish international) Alan Scrimgour and Jon Eckert, who had been in tremendous form this year. All marshalled by another great Kingston veteran, Nick Grey, in the continuing absence of yours truly, who is still trying to get over brain-deadening Covid and writing this report on the basis of scraps of information what’s-apped by Nick and the faithful band of Kingston supporters on the night. We have actually been doing rather well in my absence, and I sense a growing movement to keep me locked away at home.

Maidenhead (players on the outside) facing an uphill struggle at Fortress Willoughby

We had lost to Maidenhead when we made the reverse journey at the start of the season, but we had been without Lalic and Maycock that night, though the other four had all played. Having the two young guns on the top boards, though, changes the complexion of the team, and we surely started as warm favourites, despite the wealth of experience in the Maidenhead ranks, animated by their excellent captain Nigel Smith.

That prediction was rapidly born out. Playing White, David Maycock made short work of beating Anthony Milnes on board 2 in an Advanced French, and Alan Scrimgour, playing a sharp line of his trusty Sicilian, put Kingston 2-0 up with a smooth success against another veteran, Nigel Dennis, on board 5. With Jon Eckert a piece to the good on board 6, it all looked very promising for Kingston.

Eckert eventually overcame his opponent’s concerted efforts to get a perpetual and converted his winning position, and John Foley, appropriately given his pivotal position at the club, secured the draw against Nigel Smith that took Kingston over the winning line. There was, though, a sting in the tail, with Charles Bullock beating Julian Way on board 3 in a Benoni that had at one point seemed to favour Black, and Stephen James making light of a 200-point rating difference to get a draw with Peter Lalic on board 1.

That made the final score 4-2 to Kingston, who are gradually manoeuvring themselves into the promotion fight and can start to dream of a berth in the bearpit that is Thames Valley Division 1 next season. But there are five tough matches still to come, with a crucial visit to promotion rivals Richmond B looming next week, so the ginger beer has not yet been put on ice.

Stephen Moss, (still indisposed) Kingston Thames Valley captain

The art of annotation: the Lalić Challenge

Annotating your own and other players’ games is a crucial part of helping you develop your analytical skills

John Foley

At the end of last year, Peter Lalić – one of Kingston’s highest-rated players – embarked on a series of blitz chess tournaments which saw him play an intense sequence of 45 Elo-rated games in six days. He performed extremely well and won the blitz tournament at the London Chess Classic on Sunday 5 December with an impressive 9.5/11, half a point ahead of Harry Grieve and two points ahead of grandmaster Keith Arkell, who was the top-rated entrant (2398). His overall performance exceeded his prior rating. We would (perhaps self-regardingly) like to attribute this to the new disciplines imposed by Kingston Chess Club – regular opponents and very detailed game analyses.

Peter was so exhausted by his week of top-level blitz that he mooted the idea of someone else annotating his games, all of which remarkably he was able to reconstruct from memory, and the club offered this opportunity to the members as a challenge. Here are three of the annotations that resulted: by the verging-on-master Michael Healey; by me, a strong club player; and by the rather more engine-dependent Stephen Moss. With only five minutes for each player, one cannot expect deep analysis, but nevertheless each game brings out some lessons.

The other aspect which is relevant is that Peter is averse to online chess and hence has not got into any bad habits. The theory is that, by taking chess seriously, even blitz moves are of higher quality: the surfeit of online blitz may lead to a routinised form of play. Time spent studying is more useful than mindless play, and time spent analysing and annotating is always time well spent.

Annotating a game tells two stories: the what happened and the what might have been. The first story is about how one player outwits their opponent at a critical juncture. One should not be tempted to present the moves with the benefit of hindsight – all moves are played under pressure and even an obvious move may require careful scrutiny. The second story is getting beneath the surface to carry out a post-mortem (or should that be post-ludum?) where we explore what might have been if only we had played differently. Each story is important to how we perceive a game, as we balance the conscious with the unconscious.

Annotation by Mike Healey

Annotation by John Foley

I am acquainted with both players, having captained Matthew when he was a junior playing for my 4NCL team and having known Peter from when we played a memorable game in the Surrey League and subsequently since he joined Kingston Chess Club. Both are talented and even a blitz game between them is likely to be hard fought.

Annotation by Stephen Moss

Kingston surge past Ashtead to reach Lauder Trophy final

Lauder Trophy semi-final played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 10 March 2022

Full disclosure: this is a somewhat imperfect report on a wonderful – and clinical – 5-1 victory for Kingston over Ashtead in the semi-final of the Lauder Trophy, because despite being the proud team captain I wasn’t actually present, having tested positive for Covid a few hours earlier. David Rowson, who was playing on board 1, stepped into the breach as captain, and FM Julian Way, who was lending his support to the team at the Willoughby Arms, kept the wider membership informed of developments via What’s App. I have accordingly pieced together this brief report from his excellent dispatches on the night.

Ashtead captain Bertie Barlow marshalling his troops

Rowson, with White, was up against Ashtead captain Bertie Barlow on board 1. Bertie opted for what Julian called his “trusted Alekhine” and the game was a fairly sedate draw. Board 2, featuring Kingston’s rock-like veteran Alan Scrimgour and Ashtead’s Jonathan Hinton, author of the highly regarded anthology of chess games A Gnat May Drink, was also drawn, but it was far from sedate. Hinton responded to Scrimgour’s time-honoured Sicilian with the Wing Gambit – an opening Alan considers dubious – and the game descended into what Way described as “chaos”. But when the smoke cleared, both players were still standing and they agreed a draw. “Unfortunately I have now lost my 100% record against the SWG [Sicilian Wing Gambit],” Scrimgour emailed me later. “I was previously 6/6, which was good as some strongish Scottish players used it.” Alan learned his trade in Scotland and plays for the Scottish senior team.

The top boards were always likely to be tense battles and it was no surprise to see honours shared, but Kingston certainly had the edge on the bottom boards. Nick Grey, another Kingston veteran but playing his first game of the season for the club, swept to victory on board 4; Yae-Chan Yang played what Way described as a “beautiful” game to win on board 5, and Gregor Smith won on board 6. There was a blip in the middlegame where Way felt Smith’s opponent, Nick Thynne, was getting some counterplay in exchange for two pawns, but Smith, who is having a terrific debut season for Kingston, had it all under control and won smoothly.

Kingston pulled ahead on the bottom boards, where Gregor Smith (right) and Yae Chan Yang (in black) both won

Board 3, with Jon Eckert as White up against the dangerous Ian McLeod, was a dramatic clash between two players who know each other’s games well. McLeod played the Scandinavian and went the exchange up. But Eckert had three pawns as compensation, and in the end they told. That made it 5-1 to Kingston – a result far beyond my wildest brain-befogged expectations. We now face new-kids-on-the-Surrey-League-block Chessington in the final, which is likely to be played in early May. We won the Lauder Trophy in 2018/19 and would dearly like to get our hands back on the cup, but we aren’t counting our chickens yet. Chessington put out Lauder specialists South Norwood in their semi-final, are nurturing some capable juniors and will be no pushovers.

Stephen Moss, (indisposed) Kingston Lauder Trophy captain

Epsom thwart Kingston 2’s late promotion drive

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 7 March 2022

This was the clash of the Centenary Trophy titans. League leaders Epsom 3 arrived knowing that a win would clinch the Surrey division 4 title. Kingston 2 had fielded a largely novice team when visiting Epsom in November, but this time selected four players with grades of 1800+ as we looked to secure a victory that would blow the title race wide open.

Kingston fielded Peter Andrews, John Bussmann, John Shanley, Gregor Smith and Max Mikardo-Greaves, with captain Adam Nakar coming in as a late substitute on board 3. We had been confident ahead of the match, but Epsom had come well prepared and the two strong teams soon started to cancel out. 

There was a drawish Sicilian (or as Shanley preferred to call it, perhaps implying he had found the line a little baffling, a “Sardinian”) on board 4, followed by another draw on board 1 for Andrews. First blood then went to Kingston, with Smith pulling off a nice win on board 5 – 2-1 to the home side. Epsom, however, stormed back. Mikardo-Greaves is surely now only one game away from his first league win, but here he lost a “won” endgame in time trouble against a far higher-rated opponent – 2-2.

Disaster then struck for the home team on board 2. Bussmann’s offbeat opening put him under severe and sustained pressure on his queenside against former Kingstonian Chris Wright, who is surely stronger than the grade of 1700 off which he was playing here. Despite a valiant effort, Bussmann couldn’t hold the position: 3-2 to Epsom, who now had at least the half-point that would keep them on top of the table.

That left me – up against Michael Wickham, who had won both the previous games we had played. I am rather fond of dubious gambits (Halloween Gambit, anyone?), but on this occasion it was my opponent who opted for the imaginative route, playing the Urusov Gambit (1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4). Unfortunately for him – and happily for me – it didn’t really work out, and he was on the back foot throughout. My play was more patient than usual and I managed a match-saving win.

But it was still Epsom who were the happier with a 3-3 draw. We have to win our last two matches, both against Richmond, to have any chance of catching them, but if Epsom beat South Norwood 2 away in their final game they will lift the trophy and gain promotion to division 3. Our destiny is no longer in our own hands, which is never a pleasant feeling.

Adam Nakar, Kingston Centenary Trophy (Surrey League division 4) captain