Thames Valley League division 2 match played at Egham Constitutional Club, Egham on 7 December 2023
On paper this looked straightforward for Kingston B, who put out a strong team against bottom-of-the-table Staines A and enjoyed an average ratings advantage of more than 200 points a board, but in reality it was anything but. The result was in doubt until the conclusion of the final game at the end of the three-hour playing session, and we only just got across the line – winning by 3.5-2.5 to go third in Thames Valley division 2.
Losing with Black on boards four and six did not help the Kingston cause. David Shalom lost to Stephen Payne on board 6, ceding a space advantage to White that resulted first in the loss of a pawn and eventually in an attack by the white rook and queen that would either force mate or drive home a pawn.
I played very loosely on board 4, unsoundly sac-ing a piece in the opening and allowing my opponent, Siddarth Ramaraju, to build a winning position. I somehow contrived to fight back, trapping White’s queen to win back some material. But even then, while I felt I was back on at least level terms, engines confirm I was still behind, and in the position below White finds a tactic which more or less seals my fate.
28. Nxf4 doesn’t just win a pawn here. More importantly, it frees up White’s very cramped position, allowing him to rebuff what at one point looked a promising counter-attack. I kept pushing the h-pawn , but now he was able to marshal his defences and, after a further blunder by Black, it eventually fell. In truth, defeat was what I deserved for such a wild performance.
Kingston captain Gregor Smith had won quickly on board 5, making it 2-1 to Staines on the bottom three boards. It was then left to our three highly rated players on boards 1 to 3 to bring home the bacon, and they did not disappoint.
David Rowson got the better of Staines captain Derek McGovern on board 1 in the closed version of the Breyer Variation of the Caro-Kann. Black had a space advantage in the opening, but made the mistake of locking down the centre and allowing David to launch an attack on the kingside. On move 39, in the position below, David delivers the killer blow.
Here David plays 39. Nxe5! “Not a hard move to see,” he says modestly, “but satisfying to play.” If 39…Qxe5 40. Bf4 wins the queen, but the alternative as played is also losing: 39…Bd6 40. Nxg6+ Ke8 41. Qxe6+ 1-0. In fact, everything is losing. The apparently slow-burning Breyer has done its work.
Alan Scrimgour and Staines’ Ye Kwaw had a bruising encounter on board 2, with Alan launching a violent attack in the opening which at one stage looked as if it might result in another quick Kingston win. But Kwaw fought back and the two reached a position in which each had queen and a rook, with Kwaw menacing the white king. With time running short, Alan was finding the noise in the venue – the bar is rather too close to the playing area for comfort – increasingly irritating, and he was eventually happy to agree a draw.
The score was now 2.5-2.5, which meant the match hinged on the game on board 2, where Kingston’s Julian Way had Black against Jon Barnes. It looked level for a long time, but never underestimate Julian in an endgame. He is expert at squeezing out a win and, a pawn up in a rook and pawn ending, he did it again here. It can be very hard to convert a pawn advantage in such endgames, but Julian played with his customary accuracy and his opponent was eventually forced to concede. A welcome and very hard-earned away win for Kingston.
Surrey League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms on 4 December 2023
Keeping Kingston 2 in division 2 of the Surrey League, which is populated mainly by other clubs’ first teams, is usually a struggle, but there are encouraging signs that this season may be different (famous last words). After a surprise away victory at Coulsdon (admittedly against Coulsdon 2), this was an emphatic and vital 6-1 win against South Norwood 1, who are rooted to the foot of the table. There is a long way to go, but at present Kingston 2 are well placed to avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.
We were helped by South Norwood defaulting the bottom two boards, and our top five – David Rowson, Peter Andrews, John Foley, Julian Way and Alan Scrimgour – were very strong. Julian Way was quick off the mark with a 21-move win against South Norwood captain Simon Lea. Simon played the Modern Variation of Alekhine’s Defence (1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4.Nf3), and all was going swimmingly until he erred on move 18.
Black actually has a good move here – 18…Bd4! Taking with the knight is bad for White: 19. Nxd4 Nxd4 20. Qxd4 Nxb3 forking queen and rook and giving Black a small advantage. But instead Simon played 18…Rac8, which achieves nothing and ignores the pin which Julian is about to exert by moving his bishop to b5. The end was horribly swift: 18…Rac8 19. Bb5 Be6 20. Na2 Be7 21. Nb4 1-0 This was the position in which Simon resigned.
Black is losing a piece and his position is in ruins. Remarkable how such a downpour can emerge from what looked a relatively cloudless sky. With the two defaults, that made it 3-0 to Kingston and we were virtually home.
South Norwood’s Ken Chamberlain was outrated by 200 points on board 5, but he fought stoutly against Alan Scrimgour, who launched an early kingside attack and never let go. Alan’s attack is building nicely in the position below, and the defensive forces are getting harder to marshal.
25. Rg1 is essential here to shore up the defence of the king, but Ken optimistically played 25. Bd2, hoping to counter against the black queen. 25… e4 is a deadly response. The pawn can’t be taken because Qe5+ would win the bishop. White is effectively lost, though Ken battled on for another 15 moves. That made it 4-0 to Kingston and victory was ours.
Peter Andrews defeated his old adversary Ron Harris – they have been meeting each other across the board for more than 40 years – in a rook and pawn endgame. But the win was by no means straightforward. Harris, with Black, playing quickly and fluently as usual, had an advantage for much of the game, and in the position below has a clear edge.
Perhaps eyeing the a-pawn as a target for his rooks, Harris chose to exchange queens here with 19…Qa4. But the exchange helps White. The move which would have consolidated Black’s advantage is 19…d5, getting his knight into a powerful central position on d5 after an exchange of pawns and preparing to dislodge the white queen by launching a rook down the b-file. Exchanging queens took all the immediate heat out of the situation and reduced Black’s advantage.
White was by no means out of the woods, however, and Peter felt the error he made in the position below could have proved fatal with best play by Black.
Here Peter plays 28. Kf3. In chess, such tiny misjudgements can be costly. 28. Kg3 would be level, but Kf3 potentially allows a rook to get to f1, winning the knight. Stopping that happening is equally problematic for White. Either way, 28…Ra1 is winning for Black, but luckily for Peter (and his team) Ron failed to spot the opportunity and played the innocuous 28…Rc3, leading to an exchange which produced a rook and pawn endgame in which Peter had an extra pawn. Like all such endgames, it was objectively drawn, but Ron went wrong in this position.
36…Rc5 here draws, but Ron chose Rc1, allowing Peter to pick up another pawn. Eventually, despite harassment from the rook and an unfortunate incident in which Peter (in extreme time trouble) realised the clock was not adding the stipulated 10-second increment, he got his h-pawn home and Ron resigned. Unlucky for the South Norwood veteran, but a resilient performance by Peter, who was under the cosh for long periods and is an astute enough reader of the balance of power in a game to know there were moments when he was close to lost.
Kingston’s one reverse came on board 1, where the highly rated Marcus Osborne got the better of David Rowson. Marcus played an English and David was doing fine until move 29, when he blundered the exchange. This is not something you can do against a player of Marcus’s quality, and eventually he made his two rooks tell against David’s rook and bishop, which could not defend Black’s rather ragged pawn structure.
The final game to finish was Kingston president John Foley against the always combative Paul Dupré on board 3 – an encounter which John has annotated in the Games section. It was a thrilling game in which both sides played with great aggression and a pleasingly devil-may-care attitude. John eventually won it after a three-hour struggle to make it 6-1 to Kingston. You can, though, be sure that South Norwood will be stronger and will not default boards when we make the reverse trek in April. There will be no counting of chickens yet in this division.
Stephen Moss, Kingston captain in Surrey division 2
Surrey League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms on 27 November 2023
The manoeuvres for this match, between the two highest-rated teams in the Surrey League, began before kick-off. Both sides adjusted their board orders to confuse opposing preparation and avoid specific match-ups. An illness to FM Vladimir Li and a late call-up for IM Ameet Ghasi meant that our team was even harder to guess than Epsom’s. When the names finally hit the teamsheet, we were delighted to find that we had a rating advantage on board 1 and 4 to 8. But that was as good as it got.
One of the first games to finish, on board 8, set the tone. John Foley, who has started the season well, got an edge against Epsom’s energetic president Marcus Gosling, but then inexplicably left a rook en prise. That shock led some others to try too hard to win in our usual crop of time scrambles, rather in the way that a football team 1-0 down in the closing stages is vulnerable to breakaway goals.
David Rowson on board 7, with Black against former Kingston player Chris Wright, defended the English opening with e5 and f5. His position was compact but did not offer many prospects for attack. He had a little work to do to disentangle his pieces, but in this position his choice of 26… Nd4 27. Qd3 Kh8 28. Bxd4 exd4 29. Be6 Rde8 led to simplification and a draw. Interestingly, David’s engine likes Nd4, while Stockfish on my Lichess thinks it is not best and would have preferred Kh8 followed by Bh7. This is an example of the sort of position in which engine lines are not always convincing – various long sequences of moves are possible without the tactical flashes that the machines unerringly spot. David’s solution certainly worked over the board.
Ameet Ghasi on board 1 against IM Peter Large tried a risky-looking sideline in a Bb5 Sicilian to avoid the sort of position with doubled c-pawns seen in a couple of the 2018 World Championship games. Eventually the position converged on something resembling a Kan variation (in which Black plays e6 and a6/b5), but simplified to an objectively level queen and minor piece ending in which Ameet was also well behind on the clock and without much to hit, so a draw could not reasonably be refused.
Silverio Abasolo had volunteered to play board 3 against IM and five-times British women’s chess champion Susan Lalić, who played quietly but achieved a permanent squeeze when Silverio was obliged to defend his f7 pawn with a bishop on e8, which in turn needed constant defence. It was the kind of position in which one slip could be fatal. Silverio realised that he had made one and resigned in this position after 25 …. Qb1+. After 26. Kh2 rook anywhere, he cannot prevent Be6. Then if the bishop is taken, White has Qg7 mate, and otherwise f7 collapses.
That left the time scrambles. On board 4, Mike Healey had White against Zain Patel, the eighth-ranked under-13 in the country, whose rating has risen more than 500 points in the past two and a half years. The position was blocked for a long time, and I was concerned that Mike might be left with the wrong minor pieces. He broke out of the blockade, but his opponent kept things together well enough to reach a textbook drawn rook and pawn ending a pawn up. Then there was one of those slips explicable only by time pressure and fatigue, and Mike succumbed. A bitter pill to swallow in an ending he has probably taught many times to youngsters like Zain.
David Maycock on board two against IM Graeme Buckley was aware that the match situation was unfavourable, and pushed hard for the win in a fascinating ending. There were multiple opportunities for both players – in football speak, the “expected goals” for both sides were high. Just to give a flavour of the tricks players at this level can generate, we start with White to play move 30.
Most club players would choose between Bxh4, avoiding the threat of Rg8 forcing the bishop away and winning the g-pawn, or Rxh4, leaving that threat open but countering on the black h-pawn. David found Rf4!, allowing 30….hxg3, but then Rxf7+ and Rxb7 would square up the material with a crushing advantage. The rook cannot be opposed on the seventh and can mop up pawns at will. IM Buckley found the correct defence: 30 … Rf8! 31. Bxh4 f5, but that finesse gave David an edge for a few moves. The next opportunity came on White’s 34th move.
34. Rb6 would eventually have won a pawn here, because the rook on b8 is tied to defending the knight. Play might go 34. Rb6 Rg8 (counter-attack on the g-pawn) 35. g3 a5 36. a4 Rgc8 37. Rb5, and if Black tried to hold all the queenside pawns, White can exploit the weak h-pawn instead. It is quite difficult to judge in positions like this where the defending side is just holding on to all the weaknesses whether it will eventually crack. For many moves, both sides had to evaluate whether Black could take White’s d-pawn, eg after 34. Rc4, the move David actually played. The answer was always no, because after Nxd6 the knight would be pinned and White can always exploit that, in this case with Bxc5.
However, after 34. Rc4 Black was able to wriggle out and counter against White’s own weak pawns. He established an advantage until David spotted a chance here:
Black has defended his h-pawn, but the pin on the e-pawn allowed 45. Rxf4, which should draw. After 45. Rxf4 Rg2+, White has a choice of three king moves. Kd3 and Kc1 are both level. Tragically, Kd1 as played loses, because Rb8 both breaks the pin on the e-pawn, threatening the black rook, and threatens mate by Rb1. A sad end to a very complex endgame.
The most exciting game of the evening was the battle on board 6 between Will Taylor and Peter Lee, who won the British championship in 1965. A fuller version with Will’s annotations is in the Games section. Unfortunately Will was only able to record half the game due to extreme time pressure, so we can only enjoy the starter and main course, as it were.
Both sides had already erred in a sharp line in the French when this position was reached after nine moves.
Intending to punish Black’s earlier errors, White now played 10. Bg6, pinning the black queen, and so forcing hxg6. The h-pawn is also pinned, and after 11. Qxh8 White has won the exchange and messed with Black’s pawn structure. But this might have been a punishment that helped the recipient more than the perpetrator. After 11…fxe5, opening up an attack by the queen on White’s knight on f4, and also piling up against d4, Black will get a second pawn for the exchange, with a powerful-looking pawn centre. But his king is stuck in the centre, and he has weak pawns at e6 and g6 which the white knights can arrange to attack. All that made the position difficult to evaluate. At this point the machines think Black stands better, but Will found a logical sequence with his knights which made that assessment look doubtful. This was the critical position.
Black is under pressure, and tries to break out with 19…Nc6, but after 20. Bxf8 Kxf8 21. Nxg6+ White had a material edge as well as active knights, and Black could no longer castle. 19… Rc8 would have been better, although 20. Nh7 would have kept the pressure up. 20…. Rxc3 21. Bd6 Rc6 22. Bxe5 and Black looks horribly bunched up.
Understandably given the complexity of the game from an early stage, Will was unable to record (under the five-minute rule which allows players to stop notating) or remember the second half of the game. Suffice it to say that the position simplified to an ending with two rooks v rook and knight and by then equal pawns, and even playing on the increment for 20-plus moves Will managed to avoid traps and bring home the win.
If that was the 4-3 thriller, Peter Lalić’s board 5 game v Robin Haldane was the equivalent of the 0-0 which is last on Match of the Day (and in this report). Knowing Robin’s love of (metaphorical) bloodshed, Peter went for an exchange of queens on move 4 and a rather dry middle game. This was the position after Black’s move 31, by which time Peter had stopped recording:
Peter’s memory is such that he was nevertheless able to reconstruct the remaining 51 moves in the game, in which not much happened over the board but the players were able to accrue extra time through the 10-second increments. The three-hour playing session ended in this position with Black to play:
Black has won a pawn, but the engines give him an advantage of only 0.6, ie he cannot make a decisive breakthrough. So the game was agreed drawn without the need for adjudication.
Overall a 5.5-2.5 win for Epsom despite being outrated by an average of 100 points per board. A bad one for us, with blunders affecting several boards. But the season is still young. We seized on David Maycock’s Mexican dictum Vivimos para contar otro dia – “We live to tell one more story”. Let’s hope that story is told on 11 March, when we venture to Epsom.
Peter Andrews, Kingston 1 captain in Surrey League division 1
Surrey League division 5 (Minor Trophy) match played at the Haywain Brewers Fayre, Epsom on 27 November 2023
This Minor Trophy match, away against Epsom 5, was played on the same night as Kingston 1’s first-division encounter with Epsom, played at Kingston, and sadly the result was the same. A victory for Epsom who, after reforming under the ambitious leadership of Marcus Gosling in 2018, are proving to be a force to be reckoned with.
Jameel Jameel was making his debut for Kingston on board 1 and was well placed against the veteran Michael Wickham, but miscalculated while launching an attack on the uncastled black king and suffered material losses from which he was unable to recover. Jameel, a great addition to the club, blamed over-ambition and impulsiveness on his debut.
Josh Lea, Jaden Mistry and captain Stephen Daines all went down fighting against the home contingent, but Ergo Nobel, a new player who has made an impressive start to his Kingston career, won with a French Defence on board 6, benefiting from several killer pins, and Jimmy Kerr, yet another player new to the club this season, secured a draw on board 3. That made it 4.5-1.5 to Epsom on the night.
Jimmy was two pawns down in the opening but had plenty of compensation and was able to equalise down to an endgame with same-coloured bishops and six pawns each. He had a significant time advantage and considered playing on, but in the end felt it would be impossible to gain a decisive advantage.
A tough night for the team in a competition we have entered for the first time this season, but great to see so many new players getting game time (the reason for fielding a team in Surrey division 5) and making a mark. Thanks to Stephen Daines, who is doing herculean work running three teams this season, for captaining and getting the team over to Epsom.
Difficult start for newly promoted CSC/KIngston 1 and 2 at the first weekend of the new 4NCL season, but new additions to the squad suggest better to come
CSC/Kingston, the combined team which represents Chess in Schools and Communities and the Kingston club, are running three teams at this year’s 4NCL – in divisions 2, 3 and 4. This is a huge amount of work for team organisers Kate and Charlie Cooke, but does mean that everyone in the squad, which ranges from players rated 1600 up to IM-strength players, can find a berth.
The opening weekend was far from easy. The first team, now playing in the highly competitive division 2 and with Kingston stars David Maycock and Peter Lalić making their debuts, went down to defeat against Schach Attack, who are strong but not so strong that we expected to be beaten by a margin of 5.5-2.5. CSC/Kingston 1 bounced back on Sunday to beat Cambridge University 2, the weakest team in the division, by 7-1.
There will be sterner tests ahead, but equally we hope to be a little stronger on future weekends and feel we have the firepower to survive in this testing division. David Maycock enjoyed an encouraging first weekend for the team, drawing on Saturday with IM Nagpal Vardaan and winning on Sunday against the highly rated Manmay Chopra. There were also wins on Sunday for Peter Finn, Ewan Wilson, Clive Frostick and Helen Frostick.
CSC/Kingston 2 narrowly lost both their opening matches in division 3, frustratingly by the same tight scoreline – 3.5-2.5. The bright spot in Saturday’s loss to local rivals Surbiton was Petr Vachtfeidl’s win against Andrew Boughen. Petr won again on Sunday against MK Phoenix to complete a spectacular weekend for him, and on board 1 young Luca Buanne, another CSC/Kingston debutant, defeated the highly rated Alan Brown. The team are bottom of the table after their opening two matches and may also need to beef up a little to avoid a season spent confronting the threat of relegation.
CSC/Kingston 3 enjoyed an excellent win against Apprentice Woodpushers on Saturday, with victories by stalwarts Nick Grey, Mike Cresswell and Julie Denning. Sunday was more of a challenge, up against a strong Lancaster team which had IM Gediminas Sarakauskas on board 1 (luxury casting in division 4!), but the team did well to get close to the Cumbrian team, only going down by 3.5-2.5. Hamish Sloan won on board 6, and Stephen Moss, Nick Grey and Julie Denning all drew against much higher-rated opponents.
Surrey League division 4 match played at the West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 23 November 2023
It honestly could have gone either way, and in the end Kingston were a little disappointed to be beaten 3.5-2.5, But there were plenty of pluses for the third team in what is shaping up to be a tough division.
The very experienced Ron Harris got South Norwood off to a flying start on board 1. Ron is a youthful 80-year-old who used to be graded above 200 (in old ratings money), He plays quickly, fluently and aggressively, and Stephen Moss was soon up against it with his rather pedestrian Nf6 Scandinavian, which he has been saying for at least five years that he intends to bin.
Harris, with White, played a nice – if fairly straightforward – rook sac in this position:
The game proceeds Rxh7, Kxh7, Rh3+, Qh6, Rxh6, Kxh6, Qxc5. White is better, but it is not terminal for Black, though Stephen said afterwards he felt deflated and believed the position was worse than it was. In a sense he colluded with White in the win, because in the position which has now arisen he plays a move which guarantees defeat.
Here Black plays Rad8, which allows White to prop us the d6 pawn via a simple sequence: Qe3+, Kh7, c5. The game continued for another 15 moves or so, but Black may as well have resigned after Rad8, which allows the white pawns to be connected and eventually produces a near-zugzwang. The only viable move to play in this position is b6, which keeps Black in the game. The rooks will eventually pick up the dangerous d-pawn, and there are good drawing chances, though it would be a tricky endgame to play against someone as fast and skilful as Harris.
On board 2 Nick Grey lost in a French Winawer to Oliver Weiss, a strong new recruit at South Norwood. On board 3, David Shalom was having the better of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted until he blundered. Later he said he thought it was the result of feeling too relaxed about his position – often a moment of danger.
Kingston thus lost on all three top boards against higher-rated opponents, but they fared far better on boards 4 to 6. On 4, Charlie Cooke outmanoeuvred the always solid Ken Chamberlain to get a point back for Kingston, and on 5 Ed Mospan continued his good run of recent form with a win against John Ganev, going two pawns up and never relinquishing his advantage.
That left board 6, where I had a frustrating game. I positionally battered my opponent, South Norwood veteran David Howes (rated 91 points above me), in the opening (Queen’s Gambit Declined) and middle game, but failed to break him down and had to settle for a draw. So victory for South Norwood and a tale of what-might-have-been for Kingston. The Centenary Trophy (division 4 of the Surrey League), is no walk in the park, and we are now 0/3, but despite defeat here there were some positive signs and hopes of better times ahead.
Surrey League division 2 match played at Coulsdon on 20 November 2023
At 2-0 down just over two hours into the match, this looked bleak for Kingston 2 against a strong Coulsdon 2 side, with six players of 1850 strength on boards 2 to 7, and a 2000-plus player, Ian Calvert, on board 1. Frankly, with my position against Nick Edwards on board 5 going downhill fast and other games unclear, I feared a thrashing.
John Foley had gone wrong in a tactical melee on board 2 and lost to Paul Jackson. With White on board 6, Nick Grey played an Alapin Sicilian and said afterwards that, after what he considered Black’s inaccurate 2…Nc6, he was dreaming of a sequence he had seen in several games: 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. Nc3 dxe4 6. d5 Ne5 7. Qa4+ Bd7 8. Qxe4 Ng6 9. Nb5 Nf6 10. Nd6#.
Very nice, but sadly it remained a dream. Black played the more conservative 5….e6 and Nick’s dreams of a brilliancy were stifled. He nevertheless continued to believe he could exploit what he considered a dodgy move order and went for a big attack against Black’s uncastled king. But he couldn’t quite make it work, and down on both material and time there was no way back once the assault had been neutralised.
So 2-0, but now the fightback began. Alan Scrimgour, with Black on board 3, played expertly to get on top in a tight game. “Playing against a Closed Sicilian,” Alan explained afterwards, “I got some piece activity at the cost of an isolated queen’s pawn. The position was finely balanced until my opponent unwisely exchanged his fianchettoed bishop for a knight, only realising afterwards that it didn’t win a pawn. The subsequent white square weaknesses proved difficult to defend, and while I missed a win I still had a good position. White’s efforts to bolster his kingside white squares left the black ones weak, allowing my queen to enter, winning a piece and the game.”
On board 4, Jon Eckert with White essayed a Grand Prix attack against yet another Sicilian. This position was reached:
Here Black made a key error. He played 10. dxe4, but that hands White a healthy advantage. The best move was Ba6, which is still marginally better for White, but gives Black plenty of counter-chances. As it was, the move played allowed Jon to dominate the centre of the board with his queen, attack the black queen along the d-file and plant a knight on e5, attacking the loose pawn on c6. The bishop can never take the knight or Black becomes horribly vulnerable on the dark squares. Jon went on to win the exchange, and, despite his opponent’s valiant efforts to create complications, eventually the game, with his two rooks harassing the black queen on the seventh rank. An excellent Eckertian effort to make it 2-2.
Peter Andrews was playing Ian Calvert in a high-class match-up on board 1. The two had played many times previously and Peter had not managed to win with Black in four previous encounters. Calvert played the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack (1. b3), and they reached this already complex position after 7. Qh4:
“I’d had up to here the last time I had Black against Ian and played Bd7, which led to early exchanges and a draw in 29 moves,” Peter recalled. “Looking at the game afterwards (with digital help I admit – I have no books covering this) I found that exf4 gives a much sharper game, of the sort which a 1. b3 player might be trying to avoid.” This more double-edged line soon led to this position:
The game proceeded: 11. Nbc3 Qf7 12. Bxc6 bxc6? “A serious mistake,” says Peter self-critically, “since Qf2 would give White a slight edge, Black being better up to here. I had planned c5 and then d4, blocking his black square bishop long enough to activate my king’s knight, missing that after 12. Qf2 c5 13. b4 d4 14. Ne4 Black’s game is falling apart. White presumably made the same oversight, because he acted to deter c5. Bxc6 was correct and still slightly better for Black.”
White then made a miscalculation of his own, playing 14. d4 in this position:
“This is a mistake,”says Peter, “after which I kept reasonable control of the game. His bishop diagonal is blocked and I can at last develop my kingside: 14…Bxa4 15. bxa4 c4. There is a nice trick here, but both players missed it: Ba3 is possible because after Bxa3 Qh3+ recovers the piece. Black is still better, but less so than the game.
After White’s 23. h3, Peter felt he was on top and ready to attack:
“White’s pawns on d4 and f4 are weak and Black has more entry points on the kingside than White on the queenside,” he explains. There was still an almighty time scramble, but pieces were exchanged and the position resolved itself into a rook and pawn endgame in which Black was clearly better. A crucial win, giving Kingston a 3-2 lead in the match.
Gregor Smith had good drawing chances on board 7, but blundered in time trouble in another rook and pawn endgame. Forget everything else – just learn to play rook endgames! That left the score at 3-3, with just the two captains left standing – me and veteran Nick Edwards. It felt like a spaghetti western.
In truth, Nick completely outplayed me, torturing my rooks with his knight while I could find no decent squares for my own knights. I felt I was being given a positional masterclass. In the position below I started to worry that White’s Nf5 would lead to a sac followed by mate:
The engine suggests the calm Nf8-g6 to staunch the attack, but instead I became fixated on getting the queens off, even though I knew I would stand worse afterwards. I fear I was opting for a slow death rather than an embarrassingly early exit. So I played 19… Qb4. What follows was worse than I feared: 20. Nb5 Qxd2 21. Rxd2 Re6 22. Nxa7 Rce8 23. Nb5 Rc8 24. a4 g6, producing this position where my pieces are hopelessly uncoordinated and my rooks still under the spell of the knight on b5.
The position above felt lost to me, not least as I was well behind on the clock and almost down to my last five minutes (when players are allowed to stop recording their moves, given that the increment is only 10 seconds). But I kept fighting and repositioned my knights, using one as a (very ugly) defender and the other as a (very speculative) attacker. After my 30th move this was the position:
It is still bad for Black, but marginally less bad than it had been five moves earlier. Nick knew he had a plus, but was a bit slow to exploit it – he needed to infiltrate with his other knight. I managed to get some counterplay and my time trouble seemed to affect my opponent more than me – a not uncommon occurrence, especially when one side has to score (because they still have more than five minutes on the clock) while the other doesn’t. An opponent of mine in a tournament long ago complained loudly about this injustice (after he had lost a drawn position), and I can see his point. Perhaps both players should be allowed to stop scoring – in effect to play blitz – once one of them hits the five-minute line.
As it was, my opponent unexpectedly blundered a piece and I was suddenly – and quite undeservedly – winning. Now I just needed to keep my nerve and hold the endgame, where I had rook and knight against bishop and knight – and an extra pawn to boot. Easy-peasy, except that my endgames are notoriously ropey. Or as Peter Andrews tactfully put it, “We know Stephen’s endgames can go off track.” “For a while I was too nervous to watch,” Peter said later, “so went to the kitchen for a coffee. But I could not control my hand sufficiently to get the powder from the jar into the cup without jerking some of it on to the counter.”
Luckily I was not aware of the powerful emotions being stirred (or in this case not stirred) behind me, and felt relatively calm as I went about exploiting my advantage. No doubt there were cleaner, less gut-wrenching ways to win, but I found a route, boiling it down to a king and pawn endgame in which I had the passer. I had beaten a very good player, though not without an enormous slice of luck, and we had won 4-3 in a crucial match – a victory that gives us a fighting chance of survival in a tough division dominated by other clubs’ first teams. Now I think we all deserve that cup of coffee.
Stephen Moss, Kingston captain in Surrey League division 2
Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 16 November 2023
I often feel over-the-board league chess has close ties to Test cricket. Both are long, tactical games, with players trying to strategically overcome their opposite number at the other end. Some may say (Magnus Carlsen included) that classical chess is outdated, left in the dust by more the trendy versions of blitz and bullet. Much like the gluttonous marketeers of the cricketing world who have attempted to make Twenty20 and The Hundred the new norm.
But there was something wholesome and authentic about this meeting of Kingston and visitors Richmond and Twickenham at the Willoughby Arms, facing off using the Thames Valley League’s new, longer time control of 80 minutes plus a 10-second increment, allowing for a more “relaxed” three-hour playing session.
Kingston’s team could be likened to the make-up of England’s Test team of the late 1990s, who, despite having great strength at the top of the order, were often said to have a “long tail”. We had 2000-rated John Foley, Julian Way and Alan Scrimgour opening the batting, with 1700-rated Stephen Moss, me and David Shalom hoping to provide a bit more firepower than England’s lower order of Andrew Caddick, Alan Mullally and Phil Tufnell did 25 years ago.
This was in stark contrast to the the Richmond and Twickenham side, which appeared to be more aligned with England’s modern-day, Bazball approach to Test cricket, with consistent firepower right throughout the order, so much so that there was less than 100 rating points between Sampson Low (1869) on board 1 and Pablo Soriano (1779) on the bottom board.
Kingston’s top order batted sensibly, Atherton-esque, all securing important draws. However, John Foley and Alan Scrimgour’s innings were far less eventful than Julian Way’s on board 2. He had an explosive encounter with Kingston Surrey League team-mate Jon Eckert, who played with great aggression and imagination, winning the exchange and causing problems for Julian all over the board. But Julian created enough counterplay with a kingside assault of his own to sow a seed of doubt in his lower-rated opponent’s mind and eventually, with time and exhaustion becoming factors, a draw was agreed. Jon may have felt Julian could force a perpetual check, but objectively he was still winning.
It was a tremendous game, and one of those occasions where Jon will be wondering whether to take solace from the many fine attacking moves he played or ultimately be disappointed that he let his opponent off the hook. In chess, keeping a sense of perspective and learning to be philosophical are essential. So often, especially at club player level, games you deserve to win end in disaster, and games you deserve to lose are somehow salvaged from the wreckage. Nothing ever quite goes according to plan.
There was another quiet draw on board 5 as my Accelerated Dragon was met by Simon Illsley’s Maroczy bind set-up . This eventually led to the swapping of queens and an agreed draw, with both players feeling insecure about their chances in the endgame.
But it was indeed Kingston’s lower order who stepped up to put the crucial runs on the board. Tailender David Shalom emerged better after his opponent made a tactical error in time trouble and managed to force home victory. And on board 4 Stephen Moss, clearly scarred from two recent endgame nightmares (where poor technique and blind panic had turned level games into losses), was relieved to make his piece advantage tell in a time scramble, securing the point that clinched the match.
This made it 4-2 to Kingston – the first second-team victory of the Thames Valley season. Credit to Richmond and Twickenham who battled well, especially at the top of the order where they were heavily outrated. For Kingston it was a satisfying night, but there will be even tougher tests to come.
Gregor Smith, Kingston 2 captain in Thames Valley division 2
Thames Valley League division 1 match played at St Luke’s Community Hall, Maidenhead on 13 November 2023
I wasn’t at this match, being otherwise engaged in a second-team encounter, so the news when it came through on the club WhatsApp group that we had only managed a draw came as something of a surprise. We had sent a strong team to Maidenhead, who have themselves struggled in the opening rounds of Thames Valley division 1. But when we saw the team they had assembled, all became clear, especially with the very strong IM (surely soon to be GM) they fielded on board 1. Matthew Wadsworth’s surprise inclusion showed they were taking this match very seriously.
Kingston captain David Rowson takes up the story. “There were several surprises and edge-of-the-seat moments last night,” he emailed me the next day. “First, of course, their team line-up. Charles Bullock, on board 1 in one of their previous matches, was on 5, and their board 1 was a bit of a shock.” That said, Wadsworth’s inclusion and the strength of both teams made for a fantastic match, with a 3-3 draw in the end a fair result.
On board 1 David Maycock, with White, was level against IM Wadsworth’s Caro-Kann, and they had reached this position by move 15:
Here David played the somewhat speculative 16. Qc7, perhaps hoping to induce a pawn move that might result in a weakness. But instead Wadsworth played the simple 16…Qb5, winning a pawn: 17. b3 Rac8 18. Qg3 Bxb3 19. axb3 Rxe2. 17. b4 would have been a slightly better option for White, but Black would still have retained an edge.
As it was, the variation David opted for led to the loss of a second pawn, and Wadsworth boiled down the position to a rook-and-pawn endgame in which he was two pawns up:
Because Black had two sets of doubled pawns David played on for another 20 moves, but IMs have that title for a reason, and Wadsworth calmly consolidated his advantage and created a passed c-pawn.
On board 2, Kingston FM Vladimir Li, playing Black, had a complex game against Andrew Smith. Vladimir was the exchange down, but he felt the position of his knight in the position below gave him some compensation, and the engine agrees, though clearly White retains an edge.
The game proceeded: 25. Rd6 Nxa2 26. Nxa6 Rxc2 27. Rd8+ Bf8 28. Rb8 Rc6 29. Ra3 Nc1. White is winning here, but both players were short of time and he chose what might be thought the obvious – but incorrect – move:
White played 30. Rxb5 – grab that pawn?! But much better is 30. Kf1, to cut off the knight’s escape route. The knight’s inability to move would have been likely to be decisive, but White’s error gave Black a chance: 30. Rxb5 Ne2+ 31. Kf2 Nxf4 32. Rb8 Kg7 33. Ra4.
This is another mistake – this is a time scramble remember – and if Black plays 33…Rc2+ here, picking up the g-pawn as well, he will have the edge. But Vladimir was perhaps concerned about White’s b-pawn and shored up his defences with 33…Bd6 instead. The position is now dead level. A few more moves were played, but a repetition of rook checks by Black in the position below produced a drawn game.
Peter Lalić, with White on board 3, enjoyed a surprisingly painless win against the talented junior Soham Kumar. Peter, who loves peculiar openings, so surprised his opponent by withdrawing his b1 knight back to its home square from c3 on move 5 that Kumar gave up his pawn on e5 for nothing. Peter never looked back, and by move 26, in the position below, he is completely winning thanks to the advanced e-pawn:
A few more moves were played, but Black’s position in the face of what became a pair of connected pawns is hopeless, and the youngster resigned. So 1.5 apiece on the top three boards.
On board 4, Kingston captain David Rowson had Black against the experienced John Wager. “It was a story of what-might-have-been,” said David afterwards. “The opening four moves were interesting – a slight variation from my usual Old Indian, known as the Wade System: 1. c4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Bg4 4. e3 Nd7.” Bg4 is the key move of the variation; it’s then a question of whether it’s good or bad for White to chase the bishop away, as he did. It should have been not so good for him in this case.”
In the position below David has a healthy edge, but he should have played 20…gxh4 immediately rather than throw in an attack on the white queen with Bf8. The position was level after that and, with time running short, a draw was agreed.
On board 5, Peter Andrews, with White against Charles Bullock, triumphed in a manic time scramble which could have gone either way. This was the position after some early tactical complications:
“At which point,” Peter explained later, “you could say that it slowly dawned on me that my position was more problematic than I’d realised, with g4 and d3 both weak. But I also had attacking chances down the h-file and (as became apparent later) down the f-file. After Qa6 I had to worry about Nd4 followed by Ba4 which could trap my queen unless I got some stuff off the back rank, and Ba4 was also going to be a problem if I played Rb3 (with his knight on e5). Trying to protect the weaknesses while making a kingside counter-attack happen was too complex for me, so I burned all my time, but also for him, hence several mistakes on his part towards the end.”
Scroll forward and we arrive at this position after White’s 29th move:
Black is actually much better here, but again time is short and he will of course be fearful of being mated on the h-file. In the complications which ensued. Peter won a piece and, by threatening a back-rank mate, also secured Black’s dangerous passed pawn. A vital win for Kingston.
Peter reminded me of a nice coincidence later: “You might also remember writing in your report of the second-team match at Maidenhead in May, in which I mated the same opponent in mid-board with a minute left on my clock, ‘How can two such mild-mannered characters engage in such brutality over the board?’ Well, I think this was even more bloodthirsty. I’m certainly very fortunate to be 3-0 against him after three of the worst time scrambles I’ve had in the past year.”
That made it 3-2 to Kingston, and the result hinged on the bottom board, where Kingston’s Gregor Smith was outrated by almost 300 points and playing Black. But this does not faze Gregor, who is nothing if not resilient, and he fought hard against another talented Maidenhead junior, Bohdan Terler. Playing a Sicilian and after an early exchange of queens, Gregor had a small plus by the middlegame, reaching this position after White’s 23rd move:
Gregor continued to play sensibly and entered a rook-and-pawn endgame a pawn up, though engines suggest that (as usual in rook-and-pawn endgames) it is a theoretical draw. But rook endgames are nightmarish, and heartbreak was lurking for Gregor: under time pressure, he went wrong in the position below:
Here he played 51… Rb6, forgetting that White’s 52. Rf1+ would both win a pawn and put Black’s king offside. White’s advantage thereafter was decisive, and the Maidenhead youngster, who hails from Ukraine, showed good technique to convert. And the move Gregor should have played to secure the draw? Can you see it? It’s 51…e3! Then if 52. Rf1+ the game proceeds: 52…Kg3 53. Kxe3 Rxd5 and, despite Black’s extra pawn, the game will be a draw because the black king is too far from the pawn to give it support.
Gregor’s defeat made the match 3-3, but Kingston had the consolation that the draw left us on top of the table (see below, under the scoreboard for the match) with 3/4 in a very competitive Thames Valley division 1. The season is, however, young and there is all to play for among seven very well-matched teams, all of whom can be strong if they get their best players out. Defending our Thames Valley title this year will not be easy, as the opening batch of matches and the fact that our rivals are upping the ante has proved.
Surrey League division 4 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 13 November 2023
Despite the one-sided scoreline, this was an enthralling match. On paper, the two teams were fairly equally matched, but Guildford had most of the breaks and emerged as 5-1 winners. We thought we deserved more than that, but we would say that wouldn’t we?!
Charlie Cooke got an excellent draw on board 4, defending well against his opponent’s kingside assault. Nick Grey had a promising attack on board 2, but his opponent achieved parity in a fiercely fought contest. That secured Kingston’s other half-point.
On board 6, Josh Lea went a piece down early on and never really managed to create any counterplay. Ed Mospan was a pawn down but did seem to have good counter-attacking chances until his opponent’s kingside attack overwhelmed his defences and forced the exchange of queen for knight.
Stephen Moss on board 1 and Adam Nakar on board 3 both had slightly the better of their respective middlegames, but were up against wily and experienced opponents who kept their cool and turned the situation round in the endgames. Stephen had what appeared to be a nailed-on draw, but foolishly exchanged rooks, leading to a king-and-pawn endgame in which his opponent’s king was more centralised and could dictate terms.
Poor time management also meant that Stephen was having to calculate on the increment in an endgame where there was no margin for error. Quickplay finishes, now standard in the Surrey League, are forcing players to think and play a little faster. Unfortunately, Stephen seems yet to have got the message. After this defeat, which left him visibly frustrated and annoyed with himself, perhaps the new demands will finally sink home.