Alexander Cup first-round match played over 10 boards at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on Monday 3 October 2022
This was the first match of the new season for Kingston and a very important one – the first round of the Alexander Cup, Surrey’s premier knockout tournament, which Kingston won last season for the first time in 46 years. To have fallen at the first hurdle would have been a little embarrassing, but despite odd moments of doubt that never really looked likely on a night when a very strong Kingston team emerged as 8-2 winners. South Norwood fought hard, but in the end their lack of strength in depth told.
Top board saw a clash between Kingston’s David Maycock and South Norwood’s Marcus Osborne. Osborne had White and played an Open Catalan, but Maycock gained a slight edge out of the opening. He missed an opportunity to consolidate his advantage in the middle game, and the position resolved itself into a queen and rook endgame in which Maycock had an extra pawn. The players decided that, despite the pawn advantage, a draw was inevitable and repeated moves. Later computer analysis taking the game to more than 170 moves suggested they were right. That pawn was never going to break free.
On board two, the ever dependable Peter Lalić, with White, had a surprisingly straightforward victory over Tariq Oozerally, who was in effect lost after move 16 when his queen was trapped after an overambitious foray into enemy territory. Michael Healey had a much tougher time of it on board three against Owen Phillips, and admitted he was fortunate to escape with a draw. Phillips had two connected pawns running and looked certain to break through, but Healey kept fighting, time became a factor, Phillips went wrong and the pawns never quite made it to the eighth. A let-off for Kingston.
South Norwood were hugely outrated on the lower boards, and Peter Andrews and Alan Scrimgour proved too experienced for their opponents, giving Kingston an early 2-0 lead. The ever resilient Ken Chamberlain made Julian Way work harder for his win, and took the game to a rook and bishop v rook and knight endgame. But Way, as he usually does in endgames, found a way, his knight proving too mobile for Chamberlain’s blocked bishop. The “bad bishop”: is it my imagination or does that determine the outcome of about 50% of all chess games?
On board five, Will Taylor played a nicely controlled Petrov’s Defence to manoeuvre a positional edge over veteran Roy Reddin before trapping Reddin’s bishop and prompting immediate resignation, while David Rowson, with White on board six, saw off another South Norwood stalwart, Ron Harris, in a closed Sicilian. Harris, who loves to attack, accidentally mislaid a knight, but it turned out to be an interesting positional sacrifice, not sound but sufficient to conjure up an attack which got him back to near-equality. The canny Rowson was, though, unflustered in defence, his rook outgunned Harris’s bishop in the endgame, and White mopped up Black’s doubled pawns to make resignation inevitable.
That left two terrific attacking games – one of which went in Kingston’s favour while the other didn’t. Vladimir Li, playing White, had a tactically sharp encounter with Mohammad Sameer-Had which, once the dust had cleared, resolved itself into an endgame in which Li had knight against bishop plus an extra pawn. With all the pawns on both sides disconnected, Li used his knight – it was a night for mobile knights – to force Black’s bishop offside to allow the White king to capture the crucial c-pawn and open the path for a passed pawn.
In the other game, the only game which Kingston lost, our president John Foley was downed by South Norwood captain Simon Lea. The game hinged on the thematic breakthrough d5 against the Slav.
White has just played 19. d5. This move is the culmination of White’s strategy and if it works (which in this case it did) White has an open game with free-flowing bishops and a clear advantage. However, Black had correctly prepared for this move and had 19…Nc5! up his sleeve. The game could have proceeded 20. d6 Bg5 21. Bxg5 Qxg5 22.Re3 Nxb3 (taking out the strong bishop) 23. Qxb3 Nd3 24. Rf1 Nf4 and Black has tricky counterplay.
The reason Black hesitated is that he was concerned about the advanced d-pawn. In practice, it would not be able to survive being so far from support. Black decided to exchange pawns first, which precluded the knight from reaching c5. The resulting open position played into White’s hands, and Lea conducted the final stage con brio.
24. Bd6 is winning. Afterwards, John surmised that often it is better to continue with one’s plan and rely upon favourable tactics rather than be diverted by fear that the opponent may have obtained a benefit – in this case an advanced pawn. A strategic hesitation and the game was lost.
Happily for Kingston, the assassination of the president did not presage collapse. The lesser citizens were doing enough to carry the day, and Kingston were through to a semi-final against Wallington or Streatham. The dream of back-to-back Alexander cups is still on.