Author Archives: Stephen Moss

About Stephen Moss

Stephen is an author of books on cricket and chess and a journalist with the Guardian.

Daines leads from front as third team win again

Surbiton D v Kingston C, Thames Valley division X match played at Fircroft, Surbiton on 8 April 2024

The whooshing continues. Two days after beating Richmond E, the Kingston third team put Surbiton D to the sword in an away match at the refurbished Fircroft, where Surbiton have happily been reinstalled this season after a couple of years’ absence during the restoration. It was a very professional 2.5-1.5 win, with Kingston C captain Stephen Daines on this occasion putting himself in the team and enjoying an important victory on board 4.

Charlie Cooke was first to finish, winning smoothly against James Lawrence. Stephen made it 2-0 with a controlled victory against Shelia Siu, rook domination allowing him to drive home a passed pawn. But Sean Tay, having played an ambitious (but completely sound) early sacrifice against Kim Cross, then miscalculated in a key position, missed forced mate and went down to a 49-move defeat which he said as he left would guarantee him a sleepless night. The opening and Sean’s marvellous missed opportunity is worth looking at (though not necessarily worth endlessly replaying in your mind in the early hours of the morning!).

Sean’s defeat left securing victory in the hands of the reliable Ergo Nobel on board 2, and he did not disappoint, fending off Phil Goodings’ queen-and-knight attack (often a fatal combination) and earning the draw which gave Kingston the match by 2.5-1.5. Another excellent performance by a well-marshalled and highly motivated team.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Chess Club secretary

Victorious Kingston C on the march

Kingston C v Richmond E, Thames Valley division X match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 8 April 2024

“We are whooshing!,” said triumphant Kingston captain Stephen Daines after this 3-1 win against Richmond E, which backed up last week’s victory by Kingston 4 away to South Norwood. What he meant was that the players in our third and fourth teams, many of whom have been introduced to competitive over-the-board chess this season, are now finding their feet and starting to produce excellent results.

Stephen, seen in the photograph above watching his players in their four-board match, sees his role as nurturing new talent, and has done a great job this season juggling three teams across almost 30 matches. Three of the four Kingston players in this match are new to the club this season, and the team did well to beat some match-hardened opponents.

Leon Mellor-Sewell with Black lost to the highly rated Alex Shard on board 1, losing the thread as his Sicilian Defence moved into the middlegame. But his three team-mates all won. Robin Kerremans and Greg Heath beat Richmond veterans Laurie Catling and Julian Bedale, and David Bickerstaff defeated the higher-rated Thomas Brand. Truly a result to send Captain Daines to the bar in a happy frame of mind.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Chess Club secretary

Kingston newbies come of age at South Norwood

South Norwood 3 v Kingston 4, Surrey League division 5 match played at West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 4 April 2024

On the same night that the old soaks of Kingston 2 lost to South Norwood 1, a (mostly) young, boundlessly enthusiastic Kingston 4 team led by acting captain Ed Mospan strolled to a 4.5-1.5 victory against South Norwood 3. After our all-conquering season in 2022-23, we have had some setbacks this year, but here was hope for the future: the inspiring Mospan, who initiated the Kingston Rapidplays a few years ago, has returned to the club after a three-year absence, and four of the other five players are new to Kingston this season. Clubs have constantly to renew themselves, and here was renewal in action.

Ed himself, perhaps weighed down by the burden of the acting captaincy (the usual third- and fourth-team captain, Stephen Daines, was indisposed), lost a quickfire game to John Ganev on board 2, both players blitzing out their moves as if they were competing in one of Ed’s much-missed rapidplays (time for a revival surely). That gave South Norwood 3 an early 1-0 lead, but it was to be the only reverse of the night.

A succession of wins for Kingston’s new “fab four”, none of whom has played more than a handful of rated games for us or indeed anybody else, followed. David Bickerstaff (pictured above, right, alongside Captain Mospan) beat the very experienced South Norwood captain David Howes on board 3; Leon Mellor-Sewell, brimming with confidence, won well on board 4; Ergo Nobel, continuing a fine run of form, won on board 5; and Rob Taylor triumphed in a chaotic game on board 6.

Sean Tay, a veteran in this Kingston team having been at the club for a couple of seasons, then rounded off a very satisfying evening with a draw against super-solid South Norwood stalwart Ken Chamberlain after a three-hour struggle on board 1.

Kingston may have had more glamorous team victories this season, but there has been none that gave me this much pleasure: a group of players relatively new to chess bonding as a team and bringing home the spoils after the sort of lengthy journey that only members who are really enthusiastic about playing for the club are willing to make. That all-important renewal is in safe hands.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Chess Club secretary

Kingston 2 falter against determined South Norwood 1

South Norwood 1 v Kingston 2, Surrey League division 2 match played at West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 4 April 2024

South Norwood are usually a very different proposition at home compared with when they travel, and so it proved here. Threatened by relegation from Surrey division 2, they put out their strongest possible team against Kingston 2 and ran out winners by 5-2. But we had some hard luck stories, and on another night we might have come away with a 3.5-3.5 draw.

The first game to finish was a gloriously violent struggle between South Norwood’s Ronald Harris and Kingston’s Jon Eckert on board 4. Forty years ago, Ron was a 2200-level player and, now 80, has retained a great deal of his strength. He plays at rapid speed, loves to attack, will seize the initiative at every opportunity, and has probably forgotten more about chess than most of us will ever know.

Jon Eckert is now slouch either and is always up for an over-the-board punch-up. The two of them fashioned a game which, sitting next to them, I could barely take my eyes off. This was raw, kill-or-be-killed chess and is worth looking at in full – a glorious French Winawer in which both sides play with the zero regard for defence.

That made it 1-0 to South Norwood, but Kingston were soon on the board after a draw between old rivals Alan Scrimgour and Paul Dupré on board 3. Alan had made most of the running against Paul’s Alekhine’s Defence, but with time starting to become a factor he allowed his advantage to slip and by the end Black had not just equalised but established a small plus in the position below:

Peter Andrews got a good draw with Black against South Norwood’s highly rated Tariq Oozeerally on board 2 to make it 2-1 to South Norwood. Both players played with commendable accuracy in an Alapin Sicilian and peace was declared after 30 cagey moves in the dead-level position below:

Kingston’s Charlie Cooke lost a well-contested game with the higher-rated Michael Livesey on board 7 to put South Norwood 3-1 up, but I managed to win my game with White against Oliver Weiss on board 5 to narrow the gap to 3-2. I had also faced an Alekhine’s Defence, but unlike Alan did not have the courage to challenge it and played a rather anaemic opening. My opponent had a plus (at one point threateningly healthy) for most of the game, but as a messy middlegame developed he allowed me some counterplay and missed a forced mate in two in a position where with best play he had good drawing chances.

Beating a higher-rated player has been such a rarity for me this season that I have analysed the encounter in the Games section, though as others have pointed out the computer-heavy nature of the annotation does hint at the somewhat threadbare nature of my mid-game analysis. I really was guessing at key moments. But it was all fine in the end thanks to my opponent losing the thread in this position:

Black played 28… Be6 here, which allows an unstoppable mate after 29. Qc1. Instead he should play 28…Qf4, which gives good (if complicated) drawing chances. The lines which might ensue are shown in my annotation of the game in the Games section.

So 3-2 to South Norwood with two games to go. David Rowson stood better against the very strong Marcus Osborne on board 1 (their game is pictured above, alongside the Oozeerally-Andrews encounter). Another Kingston stalwart, Nick Grey, was battling hard on board 6 against South Norwood captain Simon Lea, and certainly didn’t look to be worse. At that stage, a drawn match looked perfectly plausible.

It was not to be, however. Nick went wrong in the endgame as time started to take its toll. “I was playing for a win ,” he explained afterwards, “and missed the fact that liquidating both h-pawns would have been drawing.” Even worse was David Rowson’s fate on board 1, where it was the familiar story of first the win going west and then the draw slipping away as well.

David’s game with Marcus Osborne was a very classy one up to the moment when the Kingston board 1 blundered. Marcus played a Sicilian Defence, to which David responded imaginatively, leading to this position after 15 moves:

The engine has a slight preference for Black here, but the white pawn lodged on e6 is potentially awkward for Black, and David made the running hereafter, winning the exchange after a slip by Marcus and having this objectively “won” position after 28 moves:

Of course the notion of an objectively won middlegame position is ludicrous, as the Dutch grandmaster Hein Donner noted in a famous remark: “I love all positions. Give me a difficult positional game, I’ll play it. Give me a bad position, I’ll defend it. Openings, endgames, complicated positions, and dull, drawn positions, I love them all and will give my best efforts. But totally winning positions I cannot stand.”

It is when they have “won” positions that many chess players (at club level at least) start feeling queasy, while the player with the “lost” position has nothing to lose, can throw caution to the wind and will draw on all sorts of resources to try to equalise. Marcus is just such a player and he showed his resilience in the rest of the game.

David, perhaps subconsciously relaxing in that “won position”, blundered to give back the exchange and lead to a level position, but after that, as David later, said Marcus showed his ability and played the final part of the game well. Here is the denouement from move 34.

A desperate finish for David who, behind his brave facade, was very disappointed by the result. Chess is cruel – a conclusion we could draw after pretty much every match we play. But we fight on. We are not quite clear of the relegation mire yet (see table below, under the match scorecard), but once our relegation rivals South Norwood 1 and Coulsdon 2 have played on 15 April we will know exactly what we have to do against Ashtead 1 and Surbiton 1, the two strongest teams in the division. A narrow win for Coulsdon 2 would leave us having to accumulate a handful of game points to survive. We can surely manage that … can’t we?

Stephen Moss, Kingston 2 captain in Surrey division 2

Stephen Moss (Kingston) v Oliver Weiss (South Norwood)

South Norwood 1 v Kingston 2, Surrey League division 2 match played at West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 4 April 2024

My wins against players rated higher than me have been few and far between this season, so please indulge me by allowing this win against Oliver Weiss (ECF 1915) to be included in our annotated games list. My play on this evening when we had two teams playing at distant South Norwood was far from perfect – insipid opening, wrong-headed guess in a key middlegame position – and my opponent greatly helped me at the sudden denouement, but generally I thought I played OK and at least I had a few modestly creative ideas (albeit at times misguided ones). And I do need all the encouragement I can get after recent over-the-board setbacks.

The photograph above shows Kingston 4 player Leon Mellor-Sewell watching intently as he waits for his opponent to arrive. Kingston 4 beat South Norwood 3 by 4.5-1.5 in a Surrey division 5 match. Kingston 2, for whom I was on board 5, lost 5-2 to a highly motivated South Norwood 1 team. The threat of relegation from Surrey division 2 had encouraged them to get their strongest side out. We are also in the division 2 relegation mix and every game point counts, which was another reason I felt pleased by my much-needed win.

Kingston B defeat depleted Staines A

Kingston B v Staines A, Thames Valley division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 25 March 2024

Staines, missing several players because of illness, brought only half a team to the Willoughby, so we started 3-0 up, which was reassuring. Nick Grey drew with Ye Kyaw on board 1 to ensure victory; newcomer Leon Mellor-Sewell lost with Black to the experienced David Beam; and David Shalom made sure the margin of victory was a comfortable 4.5-1.5 by beating Clive Lawrence after a long struggle when the Staines player went wrong in a drawish endgame.

Kingston B continue to more than hold their own in division 2 of the Thames Valley League and some optimists are even contemplating the possibility of promotion, though Hounslow A and Surbiton B, whom we will face in our two remaining fixtures in this division, will no doubt have other ideas.

Stephen Moss

Kingston A thump Surbiton A in local derby

Kingston A v Surbiton A, Thames Valley division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 21 March 2024

Surbiton came to Kingston with a much-weakened team and had not been helped when their top board dropped out on the morning of the match because of illness. We needed to win well to keep up the pressure on Hammersmith at the top of Thames Valley division 1; we expected to win well because we outrated Surbiton by an average of 250 points a board; and we did indeed win well, with a final score of 5-1.

But those ratings averages can be deceptive. Surbiton still brought six very good chess players. Sean Butler and Graham Alcock got draws against strong opponents on boards 5 and 6; Paul Dupré blundered when ahead against Kingston captain David Rowson on board 4; rising Surbiton star Joshua Pirgon gave Peter Lalić a tough fight on board 2 and their endgame, with both players on the increment, went on late into the night; and stand-in board 1 Nick Faulks threw everything he could muster at Kingston’s Vladimir Li in their encounter.

The big news for Kingston was the league debut for the club of 10-year-old superstar Supratit Banerjee (pictured above), who was playing on board 3. He was up against Surbiton captain Angus James and played the Rubinstein Variation of the French Defence. Supratit played disconcertingly quickly and established a big time advantage, even though the players had barely entered the middle game. Angus, perhaps a little shellshocked at the speed and precision of Supratit’s play (he said afterwards it felt like a prepared line), resigned in the position below after Black had played 18. Rd5, attacking queen and bishop.

Julian Way and Sean Butler had a fascinating battle on board 5. Sean has returned to chess after a spell away, is playing a lot for Surbiton – I had seen him in action the previous night playing at home against Dorking when he drew with a 1950-rated player – and his strength is clearly returning. A draw was agreed in the position below.

This is one of those remarkable positions where everything is hanging and, with kings horribly exposed, both sides look in imminent danger of collapse, yet the probable outcome is a draw by repetition after 37…Rxf2 38. Qg3+. Julian was starting to run short of time and Sean would probably have settled for a draw against a player rated 300 points above him, so a draw it was. But this is a game that will demand a great deal of further analysis.

Peter Andrews and Graham Alcock also settled on a draw on board 6, and again time was a factor, with Peter down to three minutes and starting to fret. “For once it has been morale-building to stick the game in the machine,” Peter said a few days after the match. “It seems my play was reasonably accurate, that I had built a decent edge, and that even the final position was still better, although trying to win from +0.8 with three minutes against 50 would have been reckless.” This was the position in which peace was declared.

Nick Faulks opted for his usual English Opening against Vladimir Li on board 2 and played quickly and aggressively, attacking on the kingside while castling queenside and allowing his own king to be assaulted. It was kill or be killed, and after a 27-move slugfest this was the position.

Here Vladimir forced resignation on the spot with 27…Rxe4+ . The rook cannot be taken because of mate after the queen recaptures, so the king is forced to f1. White can play on, but Nick clearly decided that a player of Vladimir’s calibre was not going to blow an advantage of at least +3. That made it 3-1 to Kingston. Almost game, set and match.

Next to finish was the board 4 match-up between David Rowson, with White, and Paul Dupré. Paul played an enterprising French Defence and went the exchange (bishop for rook) up after David overlooked that his rook on h1 would be trapped by the raking bishop on b7. But David had some compensation in the shape of a dangerous e-pawn, and this position was reached with Black to play on move 40.

David’s win made it 4-1 to secure the match. That left Peter Lalić v Joshua Pirgon on board 2, and this was a battle royal. Peter had an edge in the middle game, but Joshua fought back well and by move 40, in the position below with Black to play, had all but equalised.

But Black makes a mistake here, playing 40…Ke7 when f6 would win the g-pawn and lead to an equal position. Peter, who had only a few minutes left on his clock and had already stopped notating (under the five-minute rule), is brilliant in these situations and never looked back after his opponent’s misjudgement. It took another 30 moves, with both players operating on the increment in a frantic denouement, but Peter was not to be denied and Joshua was forced to concede.

That made it 5-1 and allowed us to edge ahead of Hammersmith in the division 1 table (see below, beneath the match score). But with a match in hand and a superior game difference (the chess equivalent of goal difference) they remain favourites to win the title. Nevertheless, we have had a good run of late, and are at least making the Hammers work to take our crown.

Stephen Moss

CSC/Kingston 1 suffer dual loss at 4NCL

The promotion push by CSC/Kingston’s first team suffers a double blow and the second team continue to struggle, but at least the unsung thirds are holding their own

Not the best of 4NCL rounds (held over two different weekends at two different venues) for the CSC/Kingston squad. The biggest sufferers were the first team, playing in Telford, who lost both their matches – by the same margin, 5-3 – to two strong fellow promotion-chasers in division 2, The Audible Checks and Barbican.

The final long weekend, on 4/5/6 May when the first team will be in Daventry, now promises to be very tense, with CSC/Kingston 1 third in the table (three go up to division 1) but with five other teams snapping at our heels. Barbican and Audible Checks, first and second in the table, look nailed on to get promoted.

We outrated Audible Checks, so to lose that match on Saturday was disappointing. IM Martin Jogstad’s loss to Steven Jones on board 1 was a key defeat. Martin has been the side’s talisman and performed brilliantly over the past couple of seasons. Losses for Peter Finn and Luca Buanne, who had been winning for much of the game, sealed our fate, though there were high spots, notably a win for David Maycock (pictured above) against FM Jonathan Blackburn and a draw for Helen Frostick against the highly rated Lewis Turner. Peter Lalić and Vladimir Li, two Kingston Chess Club stalwarts, also secured solid draws, as did Ewan Wilson on board 6.

The loss on Sunday to league leaders Barbican was less surprising. Barbican are a division 1 team in all but name. David Maycock got a draw with grandmaster Jonathan Parker on board 2; Helen Frostick had a good win on board 8 to complete an excellent weekend for her; Martin Jogstad drew with Black against strong IM Alan Merry on board 1; Peter Finn and Peter Lalić drew against strong opponents; but losses for Vladimir Li (who erred in a level endgame), Ewan Wilson and Luca Buanne meant a second 5-3 loss of the weekend. Now we have to prepare for epic battles in Daventry in the final round of matches.

The second team won on Saturday, beating Sussex Martlets 4-2, but an unfortunate 3.5-2.5 loss on Sunday to Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg leaves the team second from bottom in division 3 and facing the fight of their lives to avoid the drop to division 4. Plaudits, though, to Tom Farrand for winning both his games, and to Mike Cresswell, who stepped in as a reserve on Sunday and got a tremendous draw against a player rated 300 points above him. Surely one of the performances of the weekend.

Meanwhile, playing in Warwick on the previous weekend, the third team continues to chug along in mid-table, losing 3.5-2.5 to Oxford 3 on Saturday but bouncing back to beat She Plays to Win Uni on Sunday. I missed a clear win (in time trouble, he adds hurriedly) on Sunday against youngster Navieinaah Haridas, but, having been under intense bombardment earlier and only narrowly managing to survive, I can’t really complain. The 4NCL is tough, as the whole CSC/Kingston outfit continues to discover.

Stephen Moss

Resilient Kingston 4 pipped by Epsom 3

Kingston 4 v Epsom 3, Surrey League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 18 March 2024

There was drama at the start of this Minor Trophy match when one of the Kingston players, Mark Sheridan, didn’t show up for the 7.30pm start and couldn’t be contacted. Kingston 4 captain Stephen Daines, nothing if not decisive, hauled new member Rob Taylor out of the bar where he was playing some social chess and subbed him in against Epsom captain David Flewellen on board 3, which was tough on Mark, who was driving to the venue and arrived shortly afterwards.

But every cloud and all that. Rob played really well in a hair-raising encounter and got a draw in what was the final game to finish. He actually had what looked a winning rook and pawn endgame, but went wrong under time pressure and allowed stalemate. Still, great performance and great debut.

Epsom were stronger than us on the top boards, and Sean Tay and Josh Lea went down to fighting defeats. Greg Heath missed a tactic that cost him a piece on board 4 and resigned on the spot. But Ergo Nobel continued his fine run of form with a win on board 6, and the fast-improving junior Jaden Mistry won on board 5 with some very astute and powerful play against Anthony Hunter’s Caro-Kann. A very good and well-contested match which ended 3.5-2.5 to Epsom. Mark will be miffed to have missed it, but the upside was that Kingston has another solid competition player in Rob Taylor.

Stephen Moss

Relegation-threatened Coulsdon 2 outgun Kingston 2

Kingston 2 v Coulsdon 2, Surrey League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 18 March 2024

Coulsdon, on paper a very strong club, have not been having a happy time of it in either division 1 or division 2 of the Surrey League and are threatened with relegation in both. In this match we felt something of a backlash because, in a last-ditch effort to save themselves in division 2, they brought a very strong team to the Willoughby that had more than enough firepower to defeat a pretty useful Kingston 2 side by 5-2.

John Bussmann, happily restored to the Kingston ranks and playing his first match of the season after injury (not chess related!), lost to the veteran Ian Calvert on board 3, and another Coulsdon old hand, Nick Edwards, outmanoeuvred Kingston newcomer Jameel Jameel on board 5. Talented Coulsdon youngster Shivam Agrawal defeated Julian Way on board 2, having a winning endgame after Julian had gone down the exchange, and on board 7 Charlie Cooke blundered in a good position against Brian Allan.

There were, though, three bright spots. David Rowson got a solid draw on board 1 against the highly rated Timur Kuzhelev. Timur played the interesting Nimzovich Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6) and followed it up with an early and aggressive b5, but the promised fireworks never materialised, pieces were traded and a draw was agreed with knight and five pawns on both sides.

Kingston’s only winner of the night was Jon Eckert, who beat Matt Darville on board 4. Matt played King’s Indian Attack (1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nbd2) against Jon’s French Defence, but Jon built up pressure in the centre, homing in on White’s backward d4 pawn, and Matt blundered a rook, forcing resignation on the spot.

The final game to finish was Nick Grey, who had Black against Paul Jackson. It was a humdinger that could have gone either way. Nick is a gentle soul, except when he plays chess, when he is tremendously attacking and often very inventive. He had a won endgame here, but was playing for a long period on the increment and couldn’t quite convert. Excellent performance, though, and a draw was perhaps fair in a game where both players battled hard and had winning chances.

Stephen Moss, Kingston captain in Surrey division 2