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 three. 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 four, followed by another draw on board one for Andrews. First blood then went to Kingston, with Smith pulling off a nice win on board five – 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 two. 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