Kingston beat Ealing to kickstart Thames Valley title challenge

Thames Valley League division 1 and Surrey League division 2 matches played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 23 January 2023

A full playing room for the double-header v Ealing and Ashtead. The flags are a hangover from the World Cup

It was a busy night at Fortress Willoughby, with the first team in action against Ealing A in Thames Valley League division 1 and the second team facing Ashtead, runaway leaders of Surrey League division 2. Both matches were extremely one-sided: Kingston overwhelmed Ealing, who were missing several of their stars and defaulted on board six, 5.5-0.5, but Ashtead had no difficulty brushing aside Kingston 2 6-1. The win over Ealing keeps our title hopes alive, but the heavy defeat to Ashtead leaves us rooted to the foot of division 2.

In the Ealing match, David Maycock (despite being under the weather), Peter Lalić and Vladimir Li kept up their extraordinary winning run on the top boards. Black on board 1, David gained an edge in the opening and marooned White’s queen uncomfortably in the middle of the board. His opponent, Tony Wells, gave up the exchange in a bid for counterplay, but it never really materialised, and David found a neat tactic to win the other rook and bring the game to a speedy conclusion.

On board two, Peter Lalić, following on from a supremely confident tournament victory at the weekend, also gained a nice edge in the opening, and then sac-ed a rook to force mate (see below).

25. Rxb7+ wins. 25… Kxb7. 26. d6+ Kc8 27. Qa6+ Kd7 28. Qb7+ and Black resigns. Mate in one is unavoidable.

Vladimir Li, with Black on board 3, had a sharp game with Mark Winterbotham. Li got the better of the opening and had a central pawn phalanx heading for promotion, but with time running short Winterbotham conjured up a counter-attack that looked promising. Eventually, though, Vladimir snuffed it out, exchanged queens, and his connected passed pawns were unstoppable.

Kingston board 3 Vladimir Li (foreground, right) got the better of Ealing’s Mark Winterbotham in a sharp struggle

Will Taylor drew on board 4 against an old-school opponent who insisted on slow play – just 35 moves on the night with the option of adjourning or adjudicating. Neither was necessary as they agreed the position was drawn. On board 5, Kingston captain David Rowson had a nailbiting game against Harry Symeonidis, who played the very imaginative Nxh7 in the position below.

Unfortunately for Symeonidis, he failed to follow it up in the optimum way. “He should have played 20. h5, not g5,” explains David. “The position was a bit messy after that and I was anxious, even though I was piece for pawn up. However, he didn’t find a way to complicate my life too much and I was able to simplify to a won ending.” With the Ealing default on board 6, that made it an emphatic 5.5-0.5. An impressive win by David and his team.

The high spot of the second-team match, for Kingston at least, was Peter Andrews’ draw with the highly rated Phil Brooks on board 1, after opening fireworks produced a level middle game and peace broke out. On board 2, Jon Eckert lost to another very highly rated player, Gareth Anthony, in a keenly contested French Winawer. On board 3 John Bussmann, playing his first league game of the season, succumbed to the experienced Dan Rosen. John was plus 2 early on but said he played too timidly, failed to open lines of attack and got into an ugly closed position.

Another veteran, Jonathan Hinton, beat the promising Kingston youngster Max Selemir on board 4; Bertie Barlow and I had a short draw on board 5 – I had a slight edge and a braver man would have played on; Wayne Clark’s Vienna Gambit on board 6 allowed him to build an irresistible attack against Kingston’s Charlie Cooke; and on board 7 Byron Eslava faced a tough league debut against another strong Ashtead regular, Ian McLeod. Byron lost, mislaying a few pawns en route, but was far from disgraced. All very character building. Possibly.

Stephen Moss