Author Archives: stephenmoss

Kingston wrap up league season with win over Ealing ‘juniors’

Despite a hiccup on top board, Kingston remain undefeated in 2022, making it 18 matches in a row without a loss

There was a suspiciously seasoned look to the Ealing Juniors team we faced when we arrived at their sports ground venue near Acton Town. The fact that several of the Ealing team had beards rather gave the game away: they were struggling, as they have all season, to get out a B team filled with bona fide juniors and were filling in with older Ealing club members.

One junior did show up, however, played on top board and enjoyed a very good night. Xavier Cowan beat the redoubtable David Rowson, to suggest that his 1925 rating underestimates his true strength by some considerable distance. Cowan, opening as he usually does with d4, played a well-controlled positional game before it exploded into a riot of tactics which he navigated his way through with great skill despite being under time pressure.

On board two, Jon Eckert built up one of the powerful attacks in which he specialises, and went on to convert smoothly. Ljubica Lazaravic won a complicated game on board five, and I managed to eke out a win on board six, despite being under severe pressure in the early stages after my attempted King’s Gambit had gone horribly wrong. If my opponent had had more faith in his attacking powers and hadn’t gone into his shell, I would have been in serious trouble, but his passivity allowed me first to undo the damage and then to launch a kingside attack of my own that forced mate.

These were the decisive results in the match – 3-1 to Kingston. The games on boards three and four were drawn, but in rather different manners. Gregor Smith’s solid draw on board four was fairly conventional and peace was declared early, but John Shanley’s draw on board three was anything but conventional. In an incident that only came to light while they were playing the endgame, it transpired that Shanley’s opponent, Andrew Glass, had at some point managed to take his own piece – a bishop that somehow got removed from the board while he was making a capture.

Once the error had been spotted, the game had moved on so far that the players were deep into a time scramble and had stopped recording their moves. It proved impossible to track back, so a draw was agreed. The match result was, in any case, not materially affected, as Kingston had already secured their victory. This strange draw made the final score 4-2, bringing our league season to a suitably peculiar and unpredictable conclusion.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Kingston given another walkover as Surbiton pull out

We are starting to wonder if teams prefer not to come to ‘Fortress Willoughby

The match against Surbiton B scheduled for Monday 9 May was abandoned at three days’ notice when the Surbiton captain announced that he was unable to raise a team. This raised the question of whether the match should be deferred or defaulted, and after considering both options the Kingston committee felt that accepting Surbiton’s default was the better option. We had accepted Ealing Juniors’ default in April, and, with Surbiton and Ealing Juniors locked in a relegation fight in this division, it seemed ethical to treat Surbiton in the same way. We might otherwise have been seen to be favouring our neighbouring club. A default means a 6-0 defeat, which has significant implications for board count (the chess equivalent of goal difference), and that might eventually determine who goes down to division 3. So we reluctantly accepted Surbiton’s default. Our Thames Valley division 2 campaign is truly ending with a whimper, rather than a bang, but after a long and difficult season played in the teeth of the Covid pandemic it is understandable that a degree of exhaustion is setting in. It many ways, it is a miracle that clubs have come through this transitional year intact, and one hopes that next season will be a little less testing – in every sense!

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Graeme Buckley v Alan Scrimgour

Cavendish 2 v Wood Green, London League division 1 east, Millman Street Community Centre, London WC1, 7 April 2022

In a recent blog, Kingston stalwart Alan Scrimgour recounted his lifelong love affair with the Sicilian Defence. In this game, played for his London League team Cavendish, he demonstrated its potency by downing IM Graeme Buckley, who was playing for perennial London League champions Wood Green.

Ealing Juniors default hands Kingston Thames Valley promotion

A walkover adds a touch of bathos to Kingston’s rise to division 1, but we’re not complaining. We’re just happy to get there and are ready for the challenges ahead

It was not the way we would have wanted to claim a place in the first division of the Thames Valley League – an email from the captain of Ealing Juniors’ B team announcing they were unable to raise a team for a match due two days hence – but we’ll take it all the same. Ealing Juniors’ default gives Kingston an automatic 6-0 victory, and that is enough to confirm us as champions of Thames Valley division 2.

Ealing Juniors B are bottom of the division and, on paper, this was going to be a mismatch, so the default may have been for the best. No matter how quickly their standard of play is improving, there is little point in juniors coming up against players rated 700 points or more higher than them. Next season we will face Ealing Juniors A in division 1, and with their battery of 2000-plus players that will be a very different proposition.

Kingston have secured promotion with two games in hand – a terrific achievement and testament to how much stronger we have become this season. Thanks to everyone who played and contributed – as setter-uppers, packer-awayers, spectators, supporters, friends, allies. The team has been very easy to manage and the spirit at the club has been tremendous this season, which bodes well for the tougher challenges ahead next year in division 1, where strong outfits such as Hammersmith, Richmond and Ealing, as well as those pesky 2200-rated juniors, await us. Thanks also to Rick and his team at the Willoughby Arms, our home venue, for putting up with us.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain (thankfully non-playing, except in dire emergencies)

The season is not yet over, but Kingston are promoted with two games in hand

Maycock takes second place in Southend

Kingston star shines brightly in a tough Easter congress, showing his fighting qualities to score six out of seven

While most of us were taking it easy over the Easter weekend, the more committed among the chess fraternity were fighting it out in two tough congresses at Daventry and Southend. GMs Danny Gormally and Mark Hebden led the way at Daventry, but at Southend – in a field which, though lacking any GMs, was still very strong and had its fair share of IMs, FMs and 2200-plus players eyeing titles – Kingston’s very own David Maycock enjoyed a productive weekend, taking second place and gaining a hatful of Fide rating points.

Maycock, with a Fide rating at the start of the event of 2183, was the ninth highest-rated player in the field, but he blazed a trail with four successive wins and ended the second day of the four-day, seven-round event in the outright lead, ahead of three players on 3.5/4 – Julius Schwartz of Scotland, England’s Thomas Villiers and the Swedish FM Joakim 2000 Nilsson (who seems, bizarrely, to have added his birthdate to his name – perhaps it’s a Swedish thing).

Maycock and Villiers met in round five. The latter, with White, ambitiously sac’d a piece but David coolly negotiated the resulting complications and attendant time trouble to simplify down to an endgame in which his bishop prevailed over Villiers’ extra pawns. That made it 5/5 and David could start dreaming of winning the tournament.

The dream didn’t, however, last long. He had the misfortune to have the black pieces again in the afternoon and to face another Catalan, this time against 2000 Nilsson (all Kingston players will henceforth be adding a number to their names to suggest unbending robotic efficiency). Maycock was doing well – his opponent even offered him a draw on move 10 – but, after a series of trades, the Swedish player created a passed a-pawn, the black rook was tied down in defence, and the more mobile white rook did the rest.

Maycock’s decision not to take a draw, which he revealed immediately after the game, caused some consternation among Kingston club members, who had been eagerly following and discussing the game on What’s App. Of course he should have taken the draw, some argued. He would have retained the lead in the tournament, and a short draw would have given him some rest ahead of the seventh and final round. The laconic Maycock had a neat answer to the draw advocates: “If I start taking short draws, it might become a habit.”

David Maycock, foreground left, in action against Epsom earlier in the season playing Kevin Thurlow

Some research by another Kingston star, Peter Lalic, revealed that in 54 rated games (classical and rapidplay) this season, Maycock has had only four draws. He’s a fighter who believes in playing to the bitter end, subscribing to American GM Ben Finegold’s view that you learn and get better by playing chess rather than not playing chess. “Never offer a draw; never accept a draw,” insists Finegold. “You don’t get better at chess by drawing. You want to go to king versus king. If you sat there and didn’t play chess for a year, you wouldn’t be a better chess player. You play 15 moves and you agree to a draw instead of playing 15 more moves, you just took away chess you could have played. Never even think about a draw; think about what chess move you should make. Live like a man; fight like a dog.” Maycock is a streetfighter, and more power to him. Lalic reckons his opponents will fear his reputation for never suing for peace.

He got his reward in round seven with a fine technical win over Fide master David Haydon (see game below). That victory secured second place for Maycock, who finished on 6/7, half a point behind Nilsson 2000. A great result for Maycock 2003, who ended up with some prize money (always welcome when you’ve shelled out on accommodation over Easter), a tournament performance rating of 2412, and 37 extra Fide rating points, taking him to elo 2220. An FM title (and more!) surely beckons for this most impressive young player.

Stephen Moss

Win over Richmond fuels Kingston 2’s late promotion drive

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Adelaide, Teddington on 12 April 2022

Kingston 2, after a slightly up-and-down season, finally came good in the sixth and final Centenary Trophy (Surrey League division 4) match at Richmond’s excellent new venue – the Adelaide Pub in Teddington. Our team of Jon Eckert, John Shanley, Stephen Moss, club president Lju Lazarevic (in her first game for the club in 2022), Adam Nakar and Jake Grubb proved too experienced for a Richmond side studded with new members. The latter were players who had been enthused by the game during lockdown, had played online and were now making the transition to OTB chess.

Richmond proudly announced last week that they had just signed up their 50th member – their highest level of membership for many years. They are one of the clubs that have returned stronger from lockdown than they were before – there has been quite a power shift among clubs in south-west London. Richmond seem to have gained more than most from an influx of new members who got enthused by chess during the pandemic (insert obligatory reference here to the pulling power of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit). The loss of their previous venue at the start of this season seemed to have dealt them a mortal blow, but it’s actually done them a huge favour as they now have what, in chess terms, is a pretty well perfect venue. We are trying not to be too jealous of their good fortune.

The Adelaide pub in Teddington: Richmond’s excellent new venue has given the club a major boost

Richmond had surprised us at the Willoughby Arms last week, coming back against what was on paper a stronger Kingston side to draw 3-3. There was to be no such Lazarus-like revival for them this time, though, as their inexperienced team – well done to Richmond for having the courage to blood their new players by the way – were dispatched by the more battle-hardened Kingstonians.

The first win came on board six from Grubb – one of Kingston’s very own post-pandemic arrivals, here notching up his first victory for the club. He won on time – there was a huge disparity on the clock – but he was four pawns to the good and his position was commanding. I secured the next victory, winning a piece early on and patiently (for me at least) building an attack before crashing through with the heavy artillery to embarrass Black’s naked king. 

That was followed soon after by a draw on board three for Moss, finishing with king and five pawns and symmetrical structures on each side. Moss’s opponent, Michael Robinson-Chui, was one of the Richmond newbies – he even admitted to having been inspired by The Queen’s Gambit! – and this was only his seventh rated OTB game. He had lost his first four and won his next two, so this was his first ever draw in a rated game. Nor was it in any sense a fortunate draw. Robinson-Chui had greater activity in the final phase of the game, when each player had rook and bishop, and Moss had to make some unnatural-looking moves to hold the position. After struggling against this up-and-comer, Moss is now considering his team-mates’ ever more explicit suggestions that it may be time to call it a day. Like a boxer who has endured one or two fights too many, it would at least save him further punishment.

That draw on board three made it 2.5 to 0.5. Who would take Kingston over the line? Fittingly, it was Kingston talisman (and former Richmond treasurer!) Jon Eckert, playing on top board. He went a piece up early on, always held the upper hand, but was pressed hard by Levente Lencses, and was only sure of securing the point once he had forced an exchange of queens.

That was the match in the bag. Now it was about trying to win by as big a margin as possible to maximise our chance of getting promotion. That will be decided by the match between South Norwood and favourites Epsom 3 at South Norwood on 28 April. If Epsom win or draw they are promoted, but, if they lose to South Norwood, all three teams will finish on 3.5 points and board count comes into play. Thanks to our 5-1 win over Richmond, South Norwood will have to beat Epsom by 6-0 to go past us. As one of our members said on the Kingston What’s App group, if that happens we will be demanding a stewards’ inquiry.

On board two, John Shanley had been the exchange up and was pressing for a win, but he went wrong and the game came down to a knight v knight – plus some hard-to-defend pawns – endgame that was inevitably drawn. Meanwhile, on board four, the president was not having things all her own way against yet another chess-playing product of the pandemic, Ronvir Bilkhu. Lju had sac’d a piece for what she thought would either be a mating attack or a hatful of pawns. She got the pawns but not the mate, and faced a tough endgame with five widely scattered pawns pitted against bishop and two pawns.

A bishop is worth three pawns – unless they are on opposite wings. White to play in the game between Ronvir Bilkhu and Kingston president Ljubica Lazarevic. Lazarevic’s pawn posse eventually prevailed

Moss had had (and, playing with the extra pawns, lost) that precise endgame in a tournament at Bournemouth in 2012 – it features prominently in his book The Rookie. He confidently told Jake Grubb, when Grubb said he preferred Lju’s position, that the bishop would prevail. Moss was wrong and Grubb was right. Lju advanced her pawns on both wings and eventually forced Bilkhu to give up his bishop to stop her a-pawn, leaving one of the two connected pawns on the opposite side of the board to march home against a frustrated White king. An important victory for the Prez in the light of the divisional maths. Now it’s all down to South Norwood doing Kingston a favour.

This match concludes the Centenary Trophy season for us. Thanks to all the players who played across the six matches: Peter Andrews, Vladimir Bovtramovic, John Bussmann, Jon Eckert, Jake Grubb, Ljubica Lazarevic, Ian Mason, Max Mikardo-Greaves, Stephen Moss, John Shanley, Gregor Smith and Yae-Chan Yang. The team was entered to give both new players and returning stalwarts a few matches to bed back into league chess after a season and a half out, and it did its job well. The opposition was limited in the small league, but provided tough competition – as demonstrated by the fact that promotion is still in the balance and could go to any one of three teams. I hope everyone returns for 2022/23.

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

Li makes successful debut as Kingston whitewash Hounslow

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 11 April 2022

This is probably a terrible hostage to fortune, or perhaps a statement of hubris that invites nemesis, but Kingston are undefeated so far in 2022: we have played 14 matches, winning 11 and drawing three. When you look at the team we fielded in this match, the reason becomes obvious: the first team is suddenly enormously strong; far too strong for the second division of the Thames Valley League.

Hounslow brought a perfectly respectable team to what we now like to call Fortress Willoughby. A few years ago, this would have been a tight match, but the arrival this season of David Maycock and Peter Lalić, two young players who can gain master titles in the years ahead, have transformed the club’s fortunes, adding two 2200-plus players to the core of 2000-strength players the club has always been fortunate to have. With Vladimir Li, a welcome returner to chess after more than a decade, making his debut here with a conservative estimated rating of 2130, backed up by the hugely experienced David Rowson, Peter Andrews and Alan Scrimgour, this was a tremendously strong team and one we were proud to field.

Hounslow, to their credit, fought hard, despite being outrated by almost 300 points a board. Hounslow’s captain, David White, essayed a King’s Gambit against Li and gave the debutant some serious thinking to do. Indeed Li, who accepted the gambit and played the Schallop Defence, thought for half an hour on his sixth move – almost half the time he had for the entire game. His captain was at one point worried that he had misunderstood the time control. But after a middle-game tussle with the experienced White, it resolved into an endgame where Li had an active knight pitted against a hemmed-in bishop, and a passed pawn eventually settled the game in Black’s favour.

The post-mortems by Peter Lalić (standing) and Vladimir Li (foreground right)

The veteran Leon Fincham gave Peter Lalić a very tough game on board two, with the latter prevailing only as mutual time trouble took its toll. David Maycock, unfurling the Paulsen/Kan variation of the Sicilian Defence, played superbly to win with Black against his highly rated rival on board one.

On board five, Peter Andrews created an early queenside pawn bind and, in an effort to break the logjam, his opponent sac’d a bishop on move 35 to break up the position. The piece advantage looked decisive, but his opponent continued to blitz out moves and Andrews came under considerable time pressure – he reckons people are playing faster this season after two years spent playing almost exclusively online. With Andrews’ king in mid-board and his opponent seeking a perpetual, it looked at one point as if the game might end in a draw, especially with the increment threatening, but in the end the bishop answered Andrews’ prayers by blocking the white queen, the checks ran out and he was able to bank a win. (Apologies for that absurdly pun-filled sentence!)

Meanwhile, on board four, David Rowson had marooned his opponent’s pieces on the queenside in an Advanced French Defence and was launching a kingside attack that resulted in a gain of material decisive enough to force resignation. To complete the clean sweep, Alan Scrimgour – fresh from downing IM Graeme Buckley in a London League match – took control of his board-six game and created a passed h pawn whose imminent queendom forced another resignation.

The result, perhaps predictable given the rating differential, was 6-0, but none of the games finished quickly and the Lalić and Li games were especially hard fought. Kingston need to win one of their final three matches to be guaranteed of promotion to the first division of the Thames Valley League. If we do get there and can keep in place this wonderful team, backed up by a group of other very strong and experienced players, we have absolutely nothing to fear. Kingston have traditionally been a “yo-yo” club, bouncing between divisions one and two in both the Thames Valley and Surrey leagues. Could it be that for the first time in 20 years we can actually cement a spot in the top flight and even challenge for the title? More hubris!

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Tariq Oozerally (South Norwood) v Peter Lalić (Kingston)

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

This was the decisive game in the crucial match between Kingston and South Norwood that effectively determined who would win the second division title in the Surrey League. As ever Peter Lalić, playing black against the very capable Tariq Oozerally, proved nerveless, first building a small advantage, then losing it with an error, but finally outplaying his opponent in a time scramble after boldly turning down a draw to claim the vital point. Peter’s detailed annotations capture the ebb and flow of that critical game, and the visceral excitement of its final passage of play.

The crucial position around move 41

Covid-hit Kingston 2 let Richmond off the hook

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

Kingston’s season in the Centenary Trophy – division 4 of the Surrey League – has been rather stop-start. Promotion has always seemed just out of reach, though there remains a theoretical possibility. Epsom 3 remain favourites to go up, but their final journey to South Norwood will not be easy.

It wasn’t then quite clear what we were playing for – were we promotion contenders or not? A further complication was that Kingston 2 captain Adam Nakar had gone down with Covid, leaving the admirable Greg Heath to make his debut as captain. His first decision was to axe himself from the team, making way for Jake Grubb, who, having secured a draw on board six, then announced he had had no sleep the night before and was utterly spent. Well done on the half-point Jake.

The high spot of the match came early for Kingston, with a terrific win by Jon Eckert on board two – sacrificing pieces all over the shop in his pursuit of a mate which did eventually materialise. A super win by a player who is never afraid to play adventurous chess. 1-0 to Kingston.

That soon became 2-1, with Jake’s draw and a draw by Ian Mason, making his club debut, on board four. Jake and Ian both had the black pieces, so this was solid Soviet-style chess. It was looking even better when John Shanley won on board three to make it 3-1. The match could not be lost now, but could it be won?

It certainly should have been. Kingston’s Yae-Chan Yang had a nailed-on draw on board five, with bishop and five pawns against knight and five pawns. His opponent was even ready to sue for peace, but Yae then unaccountably left his bishop en prise to an unbridled horse and the (k)night had taken an unexpected turn.

That left Vladimir Bovtramovich to try to secure the all-important half-point on board one, but things were not looking good. His pieces were uncoordinated and his young opponent, Otto Weidner, was throwing the kitchen sink at the white king. Weidner was playing off an estimated rating of 1750 – 180 rating points lower than Bovtramovich – but, judging by his recent results and his play in this game, he is a good deal stronger than that. Bovtramovich fought valiantly and Weidner almost confused himself with the multiplicity of variations that seemed to seal White’s fate. Eventually, though, he found a clear path to victory, and the match ended in an honourable 3-3 draw.

We felt this was one that got away, but credit to Richmond, who were heavily outrated, on securing a draw in the match. We play the return leg away to Richmond next week, and, if we manage to win, will then be waiting eagerly for the result of South Norwood 2 v Epsom 3 on 28 April. Promotion from this division would be the sweetest of all because so unexpected.

Stephen Moss

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 two, Nick Faulks, who resigned a difficult position against David Maycock but one which didn’t quite seem terminal yet. On board five 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 seven 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 two 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