Thames Valley division 1 match played at the Adelaide, Teddington on 23 January 2024
At about 10.15pm we had given this match up as lost. We were 3-1 down to a highly motivated Richmond team and the two games still in progress were far from clear. But there was a glorious sting in the tale, with Kingston managing to win both those games to secure a draw that felt like a win. A truly great escape.
The first game to finish was the board 6 clash between Alan Scrimgour, with Black, and Jon Eckert, one of two Richmond players in the match who also turn out for Kingston in the Surrey League. Jon played the Grand Prix Attack against Alan’s Sicilian, and a draw was agreed when queens were traded on move 23. Will Taylor and Chris Baker also sued for peace on board 4 – another very satisfactory result for Kingston with Black. So far, so good.
But then disaster. John Foley, a late call-up to the team because of illness to another player, unexpectedly lost with White to Bertie Barlow on board 5, dropping the exchange and never really recovering. Bertie is a dangerous player if you give him the initiative, as he proved here, playing quickly and aggressively. 2-1 to Richmond and we were in trouble; in a six-board match there is very little scope for recovery.
The trouble deepened when IM Gavin Wall, Richmond’s time-honoured board 1, beat FM Vladimir Li in the battle of the titled players. Gavin as usual played the Dutch Defence, to which Vladimir responded with great vigour, building up a decent advantage. But he made one slip in the early middlegame on which the pair’s post-mortem suggested the entire game hinged. After that, Gavin was able to trade queens, break up Vladimir’s pawn structure and enter an endgame in which he cleverly engineered a zugzwang which doomed the Kingston man to defeat. A high-class game and an extremely impressive performance from Gavin.
That left Peter Lalić playing with Black against Mike Healey on board 2 and Kingston captain David Rowson with White up against John Burke on board 3. Both had to win just to draw the match. The experts reckoned David had a small plus, but that Peter might be slightly worse (a judgement not borne out by later engine analysis) in a complicated position. Perhaps we can still draw the match, a friend texted optimistically. “Unlikely”, I replied, resigned to defeat.
Happily Peter and David did not have the same sense of resignation. In the Healey-Lalić match-up, the queens were traded early (as is Peter’s wont) and there then followed much minor-piece jockeying for position. This was the situation after 23…Nf7:
The win for Peter made it 3-2. Now it was all down to Captain Rowson against John Burke. “I played the opening horribly,” says David, “wasting time and allowing him to gain a significant positional advantage, but it wasn’t so easy for him to exploit it. The pluses I had were my rook on the b-file and my light-squared bishop on the h1-a8 diagonal.”
“After my 19. Rd5, which was actually a bad mistake, I think my opponent panicked a bit and just wanted to exchange some pieces to clarify the situation,” David reflected later, “but this resulted in my winning the pawn on b7. I think it was fairly easy for me to win after that. I just tried to be careful not to allow him any counterplay. My pieces were much more active then. I hadn’t realised that Peter had won and thought we’d lost the match already, so it was a nice surprise to find that my win had drawn the match.” Disappointing for Richmond, who are currently bottom of the division 1 table, but very satisfying for Kingston when earlier all had seemed lost.