Author Archives: Gregor Smith

About Gregor Smith

Gregor is captain of Kingston's second team in the Surrey League. He is also assistant Secretary of the Club.

Kingston B fall short in promotion tussle

Kingston B v Surbiton B, Thames Valley division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 29 April 2024

After a fine season in Thames Valley division 2, we found ourselves in with a chance of promotion going into the final game of the season against neighbours Surbiton B, who also faced exactly the same prospect. We spent most of our preparation for the match undecided if getting promoted would be a wise idea or not for the club. On the one hand, you always want to win and play at the top level, but on the other hand a second Kingston team in the top division could present logistical nightmares, not to mention produce some severe rating disparities and mismatches.

Unclear on what the best outcome would be, it would be down to fate to decide. We fielded our usual line-up of second-team regulars, with expert-level players Julian Way, Peter Andrews and Alan Scrimgour as the top three, and Stephen Moss, me and Nick Grey making up the middle order/tail (delete according to how generous you are feeling). Between the six of us, we have played 50 Thames Valley League games this season – stability and consistency, the core of a successful team. 

Surbiton brought a strong and balanced team to the Willoughby, with only 127 rating points separating their top and bottom boards (compared with our 357). There was no doubt that promotion was uppermost in their minds, especially given that their first team were set to be relegated from the top division. All was set for an intriguing match.

Alan Scrimgour, with Black, faced Paul Dupré on board 3, and was happy to settle for an early draw against a dangerous opponent. Stephen Moss then succumbed to the in-form Sean Butler on board 4 after his Smith-Morra Gambit self-destructed. Having vowed never to play the Scandinavian last week, Stephen has now said he is jettisoning the Smith-Morra as well. Quite what he will play next season is anyone’s guess – Scrabble perhaps. Nick Grey, playing Andrew Boughen for the second time in a week, made a mistake in the opening and went down on board 6, leaving Kingston with an uphill struggle for promotion. 

But all was by no means yet lost. Julian Way secured an excellent victory on board 1 against rising Surbiton star Joshua Pirgon – another great result for Julian with Black. Things were getting spicy, and on board 2 Peter Andrews faced Surbiton captain Nick Faulks. Nick deviated from earlier battles in the English, which Peter had won. He induced Peter to give up the bishop pair in return for doubled isolated pawns, leading to a tense middlegame in which Peter had a slight edge. But his time shortage, uncastled king and Nick’s centralisation gave home supporters cause for concern.

Eventually Peter blundered, but Nick eschewed what should have been a winning move to get the draw by perpetual check which meant Surbiton could not lose the match and ensured they would have a team playing in the top division of the Thames Valley League next season. “Phew!” Nick was heard to mutter afterwards. Job done – and an important job too for his club. That made the score 3-2 and Surbiton had what they needed.

Finally, I managed to swindle a victory against young Joseph Morrison. Joseph outplayed me in the opening, but had used up a lot of time in doing so. I had nothing to lose and at the time knew a win was our only hope of promotion, so fired an all-out attack on the kingside which was tricky to defend against while playing on the increment. Practically it was easy for me to make moves, and hard for my opponent to defend, and I eventually managed to break through and win, settling the result at 3-3. 

Congratulations to Surbiton for topping the division ahead of Richmond and Twickenham B, who are also promoted and will, instead of us, have the logistical and rating dilemmas of having two teams in division 1 next season. We were at the same time disappointed and relieved by the result – a complicated emotion.

Season review

I think solid is the way to sum up the season. We only lost two matches, had a healthy game difference, no thrills, no real spills! My Player of the Season goes to Julian Way. Julian has led the line brilliantly, recording five wins, two draws and just a single loss –  an impressive +4 score. His wins have always been an impressive combination of positional understanding, neat tactics and accurate endgame play. 

Julian Way (right): Kingston B captain Gregor Smith’s choice as player of the season. Photograph: John Saunders

Thanks to everyone who played this season. We had a solid core of solid players who were extremely dependable, and happy to travel, throughout the season, making team selection simple.

Moving on

On a personal note, in my second season of captaincy, I was very pleased to vastly improve on my own performance last season and finish unbeaten, with six draws and four wins in the division. However, it will sadly be my last season with Kingston (for now!), as from June I’m heading for pastures new in Oxfordshire to start a family.

I joined Kingston Chess Club in 2021, like many having turned to online chess during the pandemic. I was keen to resume playing the game that had been a large part of my early childhood. The Kingston club has had a central role in my life since. I’ve relished the competitiveness of league chess, but probably valued even more the relaxed casual games down in the bar on a Monday night.

The lectures that go over my head, simultaneous displays against elite players, the many blitz tournaments, garden chess in the rain and driving to Maidenhead will all go down as cherished memories, but it’s the people that will really be missed. Thanks to everyone for making the club a special place. I will be excited to watch Kingston Chess Club’s progress over the coming years and, you never know, I might be back. I will in any case have a similar length drive to Maidenhead from my new home in Oxfordshire, so anything is possible!

Gregor Smith, captain of Kingston B in Thames Valley division 2

Maycock wins Easter Blitz with perfect score

We celebrated the conjunction of Easter Monday and April Fool’s Day with a Blitz tournament in which each player’s opening move was randomly selected and castling was banned

April Fool’s Day landing on an Easter Monday club night at the Willoughby Arms called for something a bit different. So inspired by an invigorating talk by the late IM Michael Basman in 2022, where he made players roll a 20-sided dice to randomise their opening moves, this Easter blitz tournament had a bit of a twist. Before a game each player drew their first move by random, and, just to ensure general opening theory was completely blown out of the water, players were also not allowed to castle. Crazy openings and exposed kings – what fun ahead!

There were 23 participants, with friends from neighbouring Surbiton Chess Club joining us for six rounds of 7+3 blitz. Despite the first opening combination drawn out the hat being the “not in the spirit of things” 1. e4 e5, this was quickly followed by the moans and groans of the recipients of a4, Nh6 etc. As tournament controller, I noticed without fail that about one minute into each round at least one player would exasperatedly gasp “Oh ****, I forgot I can’t castle!”

It was interesting to see how people dealt with this change to usual chess principles. Many would leave the king in the middle and go for the kill. Others would try to create a safe square for the king on their third rank, the younger players inspired by the Bongcloud! Manual castling was also attempted, but often felt too slow, while many tried to create a fortress – I was impressed by Ben Hambridge’s attempt below.

The ultimate fortress: Ben Hambridge (left) surrounds his king with pieces in his game against Rob Taylor

Interesting games proceeded throughout the evening, with many kings mated in the middle of the board, but all the players agreed it was a fun night of blitz with lots of strategic lessons to be learned. Kingston’s David Maycock prevailed, with a perfect score of 6/6, closely followed by Surbiton’s Chris Briscoe and our very own Peter Lalić. All notably strong players of course. Which proves that no matter how you tamper with the rules, quality will out.

Gregor Smith

Prize winners

1st: David Maycock (6/6)
2nd: Chris Briscoe (5/6)
3rd: Peter Lalić (4.5/6)

U2000 grading prize: Ernest Robinson (4/6)

U1600 grading prize: Ben Hambridge (3.5/6)
U1400 grading prize: Leon Mellor-Sewell (3/6)
Top junior: Joe Inch (3/6)

Easter Blitz winner David Maycock (left) receives his £50 cash prize from tournament controller Gregor Smith

Richmond beat Kingston for second night in a row

Richmond B v Kingston B, Thames Valley division 2 match played at the Adelaide pub, Teddington on 13 February 2024

We arrived at the Adelaide pub in Teddington to be met by a very strong Richmond B side. Richmond’s A team are struggling in the top division of the Thames Valley League, and apparently their cunning plan is to put out strong teams in division 2 to compete for promotion in order to give them a safety net in case the unthinkable happens. This meant that their bottom board was higher rated than our third. 

With this probably playing on my mind, given the 200-point rating disparity I faced against my opponent Bertie Barlow on board 3, I offered a draw after 25 moves when I felt Bertie had equalised as Black in the Scandinavian Defence and had thwarted my main plan to attack down the queenside. He accepted.

Alan Scrimgour drew shortly after on board 2 against John Burke. He felt he had equalised, but could see a flurry of exchanges that he felt left him without much of a plan to make progress and offered a draw which was duly accepted. 

Kingston newcomer Jameel Jameel (left) on his way to victory against Pablo Soriano

Jameel Jameel, a newcomer to the club this season, produced the fireworks of the night, wrapping up an impressive 19-move victory on board 6. He played the Accelerated Dragon, and, with his opponent castling queenside, Jameel went for the kill after the c3 pawn was ominously pushed. With White cramped in the corner, Jameel was able to sac his queen on a2 and mate on the flank with his lifted rook, with all flight squares covered by his bishop and his opponent’s pieces. A lovely sequence and a great victory for Jameel, who is coming on leaps and bounds. This is Jameel’s first published game.

Nick Grey looked to be doomed as Sampson Low got the better of the opening, stopping Nick from castling and winning a pawn. But these dynamic positions are the ones Nick likes and he managed to get some tricky counterplay that, if played incorrectly, could have been disastrous for Sampson. Sampson negotiated the situation well, but Nick had regained equality and a draw was agreed, with neither side fancying the unclear endgame. 

David Shalom played accurately against Alastair Armstrong on board 5, building up a nice edge after he managed to blunt his opponent’s early g5, which led to a big hole in his kingside. However, David felt he didn’t manage the position well, and the game flipped suddenly, with the Richmond player capitalising on some unsound tactics. This levelled the match at 2.5-2.5.

The last game to finish was on top board between John Foley and Maxim Dunn. John was pressing down the kingside with a chain of pawns dominating the white squares and doubled rooks on the h-file. However, Maxim defended the position well, managing to mitigate John’s attack and, as John fell into time trouble, picking up a pawn on the queenside. Running out of good moves, John flagged, Maxim was victorious and Richmond had prevailed.

Gregor Smith, Kingston captain in Thames Valley division 2