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Kingston A beat Surbiton to preserve unbeaten record

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 15 May 2023

This was the first team’s last league match of the season – there is just the Thames Valley Knockout final to come on 22 May – and they signed off in emphatic style with a 5.5-0.5 win (later adjusted to 4.5-0.5 for reasons explained below) over Surbiton A. This was pretty well the strongest team of regulars we could muster, and David Maycock, Vladimir Li, Silverio Abasolo, Will Taylor and captain David Rowson all recorded victories on the night.

Surbiton’s David Scott held Peter Lalić to a draw on board 2 to prevent a whitewash, though Vladimir Li was unhappy about the circumstances of his win on board 3. Vladimir felt that his opponent had been distracted by a disturbance in the playing room – another player was complaining that his clock had not been working properly – in a horribly double-edged position in a time scramble, and he asked the league to consider declaring the game void.

Will Taylor’s game against Paul Dupré was the first to finish. Paul played Alekhine’s Defence and the game was super-sharp, with both players throwing caution to the wind – it is end of term after all. In this position, Will played 10. g4, which is not necessarily objectively the best move but certainly succeeded in setting up a slugging match.

In his post-match analysis, Will reckoned this was the key position:

Paul played 15…h5, which Will says weakens the kingside. “After that it was one-way traffic. 15…e6 was the way to go, with the idea 16. dxe6 Bc6 17.Nf3 Qe7. Black has activated his pieces and will pick up the pawn at his leisure. With the centre open he will always have counterplay. White will continue to attack with Kf1 and h5, but Stockfish gives a slight advantage to Black.”

Will Taylor recorded the night’s first win, thwarting Paul Dupré’s Alekhine’s Defence. Photograph: John Saunders

On board 1, David Maycock was up against Altaf Chaudhry, always a difficult opponent. Altaf played a Sicilian, and this was the position after 16 moves with White to play:

David plays a wonderful move here, which he had clearly been preparing for some time: 17. Rxf7! Grabbing the rook would lead to disaster: 17…Kxf7 18.Qxd7+ Kf8 19.Rf1+ Bf5 20.Qxe6 g6 21.Qf6+ Kg8 22.Bf3 h5 23.Bxa8. Altaf sensibly didn’t take it and defended well, but used so much time pondering his response to David’s bolt from the blue that he lost on time. Definitely a candidate for move of the season and brilliantly calculated by David.

On board 4, Silverio Abasolo continued his superb run of recent form, showing his characteristic directness and aggression to beat Surbiton captain Angus James with the black pieces, and on board 6 David Rowson also won with Black against Nick Faulks. “The story of the game was that Nick gave up a pawn to try to get a kingside attack,” David said afterwards, “but it turned out that he couldn’t make anything of this and in the end I rather fortuitously engineered a position where he either had to give up a rook or his queen.”

David Rowson, Kingston’s first-team captain, led his side to an astonishing 19 wins and one draw in 20 matches

Typical modesty from the Kingston captain, who has lead his team to an astonishing 19 wins in 20 matches across both the Surrey and Thames Valley leagues. The only match the Rowsonites did not win was the surprise home draw against Surbiton B back in early February. So a 95% win rate. Should we fret about half-point that got away? Didn’t the makers of Ming vases put in the odd flaw because they believed only God could achieve perfection? This will be our get-out too (though secretly that off-night still rankles).

The draw on board 2 between David Scott and Peter Lalić was a largely technical struggle. So technical, in fact, that Peter wondered afterwards if he was losing his appetite for what might be called bread-and-butter chess. “I did not enjoy this game,” he complained. “I miss sacrificial attacks!” One cannot be Tal every night, Peter. Sometimes you have to play like Petrosian.

Vladimir Li’s vigorously contested game against Liam Bayly ended with Liam making a game-ending blunder. But Vladimir, who is a great chess purist and thought Liam generally had the better of the game, believed his opponent’s concentration had been affected by the noises off and asked that it either be declared a draw or voided completely. After a week’s deliberation, the Thames Valley League acceded to this request and the result of the Li-Bayly game was annulled, making the official match score 4.5-0.5. One of the stranger episodes in Thames Valley chess history.

Stephen Moss

Kingston B ensure survival with plucky draw at Maidenhead

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at St Luke’s Community Hall, Maidenhead on 8 May 2023

Peter Andrews (left) about to deliver checkmate against Charles Bullock in the crucial game which drew the match

The worries are over. Kingston B ensured their survival in Thames Valley division 2 with a fine away draw against league leaders Maidenhead A. That means we are mathematically certain to stay up, with two games still to play – against Ealing B and Hounslow A. Congratulations to captain Gregor Smith and his team. At one point earlier in the year, survival looked very dicey, but the second part of the season has shown much-improved performances.

The match started badly for Kingston, with an early reverse for Charlie Cooke on board 6. His opponent’s Danish Gambit worked beautifully in terms of opening lines of attack, and Charlie quickly had to give up a piece. He fought on for a while, but White kept the upper hand and allowed no real counterplay.

There was better news elsewhere. Julian Way played an excellent positional game to beat the talented Ukrainian junior Bohdan Terler; Alan Scrimgour drew with another highly rated junior, Soham Kumar (credit to Maidenhead for putting their young players on the high boards); and I was happy to get a draw with Black against a player rated 200 points above me.

Gregor Smith was outmanoeuvred in time trouble on board 5, leaving Peter Andrews having to win with Black on board 2 for us to get anything out of the match. This he did in spectacular fashion after a dramatic game in which both players went for the jugular. How can two such mild-mannered characters engage in such brutality over the board? This was the unusual position in which Peter, who had been playing on the increment for quite some time, delivered checkmate:

48… Nd5++ is the very satisfying coup de grâce, though as Peter points out Stockfish thinks Nd1++ is aesthetically more pleasing, perhaps because the black king is joining in the collective action, singlehandedly denying his rival monarch an escape square on f4. Either way, a lovely finish to a very satisfying game, and a great result for the team to get the draw that guaranteed division 2 safety.

Stephen Moss

Fearless CSC/Kingston 1 win promotion to 4NCL division 2

Victories on the final Mayday bank holiday weekend against the three other strongest teams in division 3 West ensured CSC/Kingston 1 would be playing in the big league next year

CSC/Kingston’s Swedish star Martin Jogstad (left) prepares to play IM Chris Baker in Monday’s title decider

What an extraordinary weekend this was for CSC/Kingston, ably led by Kate and Charlie Cooke, who have built up a formidable (and just as important friendly and mutually supportive) stable of players. The first team, with Swedish star Martin Jogstad flying in from Germany to land 3/3 on top board, swept aside the three other top sides in division 3 West to win the title and ensure division 2 status next season. And the second team performed admirably to gain a highly creditable eighth place in the 35-team division 4 – important because the proposed slimming down of the 4NCL next season may mean a cull of some lower-placed teams.

CSC/Kingston 1 were only in division 3 West because another team had dropped out, allowing them to move up from division 4. They joined the party after missing the first weekend, where they would have met two of the lowest-rated teams in the division, and were allocated draws for those missed matches, in effect giving the other strong teams in the division a head start of two match points and up to half a dozen game points. But they proceeded to win their next nine matches – spread over four weekends – on the bounce to claim the title. A “commanding performance“, as one observer noted.

On this final weekend, Chessable White Rose 3 were mercilessly swept aside 6-0 on Saturday. In fact, this was a rare occurrence of a team not even managing zero, as they were deducted a point for a default. West is Best 2 were then beaten 4-2 in a close match on Sunday – the key moment being a brilliancy by Tom Farrand on board 3 which turned a potential game loss into a victory as he marched a pawn home. And on Monday, though outrating CSC/Kingston on every board except 1, long-time league leaders and title favourites Warwickshire Select 1 were also beaten 4-2, with fine wins by Martin Jogstad on board 1 (despite the anxiety of having to catch an evening plane from Gatwick back to Germany) and by the immensely talented Ewan Wilson on board 6. An epic victory in the match to cap an epic season.

Mayday, Mayday! The players gather for the final round of the 4NCL season in Warwick on bank holiday Monday

The second team also fought hard, going down 5-1 to a strong Poole Patzers side on Saturday, but bouncing back on Sunday to beat the very competitive and superbly coached She Plays To Win Lionesses team, and then being edged out 4-2 by the Masceteers on Monday. Special mention to Kingston president John Foley, who played for six and a half hours on the final day in an effort to squeeze out the win that would have drawn the match. As is often the way, overpressing in pursuit of a win meant he ended up losing the game, but it was a heroic and honourable effort – putting the needs of the team before his own interests. His game against the Masceteers’ Patrick Duncan was the very last one to finish at the Warwick venue.

Much uncertainty surrounds next year’s competition as the organisers search for potential venues and reassess the structure of the divisions. But this has been a memorable debut season for the CSC/Kingston partnership, and appearing in the rarefied atmosphere of division 2 next year is an enticing prospect. Thanks to Kate and Charlie for all they have done this year – the amount of admin, with travel, hotels and the hunting down of top-notch Indian restaurants, should never be underestimated – and thanks to all the players, who trekked to distant hotels beside anonymous motorway junctions, boldly confronted large and potentially enervating fried breakfasts, and despite everything performed brilliantly at the board.

Stephen Moss

Final table for Division 3 West

Final table for Division 4

Outrated Kingston tough it out to win at Ealing

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at Actonians Sports Club, Ealing on 24 April 2023

This was always going to be a difficult match, and so it proved. Kingston were missing some key players – this was a rare outing for the first team without the foundation stone of Maycock & Lalić – whereas Ealing had a very strong line-up. We were outrated by an average of 50 points a board, and such was the level of Kingston captain David Rowson’s desperation that he had called me up to play.

The tone was set in the board 4 encounter between Kingston stalwart Alan Scrimgour and strong junior Nishchal Thatte. In a French Winawer, the position quickly became complex, with White’s king uncastled and Black lining up its rooks on the kingside. Black appeared to be pressing, but the danger may have been more visual than real, and on move 24 peace was declared with a threefold repetition in this position:

“After Black closed the position with c4,” Alan explained later, “White has the chance to gain space on the kingside. Once Black castles queenside, White has to be careful in opening the position in front of his king. While I manoeuvred for the f5 break, Black reacted with a threat on the queenside that either won a pawn or forced a repetition.”

On board 2, David Rowson was up against Alan Perkins, an old adversary whose Fide rating of 2235 gives an idea of his strength. David played the King’s Indian Attack against Perkins’ Sicilian, and the critical position was reached on move 25:

Here the engine recommends 25. Nxd5, and David says he did consider that but was unconvinced, so played Rac1 to shore up the weak pawn on c3 instead. That gave him a rather passive game and a draw was agreed soon afterwards, with another repetition looming. A possible continuation if he had played 25. Nxd5 is 25…Nxd5 26. Nxc4 Qd8 27. Nd6 Bf7 28.Qc5 Nce7 29. c4 Rc7 30. Nxf7 Kxf7 31. Bxd5+ Nxd5 32. Qxd5+ Qxd5 33. cxd5 Rb4 34. d6 Rd7 35. d5 Rxd6. Quite a lot to calculate and, ironically, resolving into a rook endgame that may still be drawn. So 1-1, but Ealing may have felt the happier having secured draws with the black pieces in both games.

I had the third White, and could also do no better than draw. My opponent played a Scandinavian and equalised without too much trouble. When he exchanged queens, I assumed he was angling for a draw, but he turned down my offer – I was also outgraded and feeling the pressure in this rarefied atmosphere – and played on for another 50 moves, with much shuffling of rooks and bishop in what I felt was a fairly sterile position. For once, my analysis was vindicated, because after 70-odd (in my case very odd) moves, the rooks came off and a draw became a certainty.

There was a good deal more life in the clash on board 1 between Ealing FM Rick McMichael and Kingston’s budding FM Vladimir Li. McMichael opened with the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack, Vladimir had a small plus in the opening, but McMichael skilfully turned it round before losing his slight edge in this very double-edged position:

Here McMichael played the perfectly plausible Qa5, pinning (and you might think winning) the dangerous a-pawn. But Vladimir counters with 31…f5 and the bishop on g7 is now threatening to come to d4, winning back the exchange. McMichael guards the d-file with Rd1, but has overlooked that Bd4! can still be played because, if rook takes bishop, Black’s queen mates on c1 (with the rook on f2 unable to block because of the bishop on h3). The final moves were 33. Qxa4 Bxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Qxa4 when a draw – the fourth of the night – was agreed.

Vladimir Li: Drew with Ealing FM Rick McMichael on board 1 in a game which became a blizzard of tactics

That left Peter Andrews and John Foley still playing. John, we felt, was doing well on board 3 against another FM, Andrew Harley, but Peter appeared to be in a spot of bother in this position:

White made an odd choice here, though, moving the menaced queen to c1 rather than a3 where it would have guarded the b4 pawn. Presumably he believed that doubling the pawns on the f-file would be adequate compensation, but it never thereafter gave Peter any alarms. He traded pieces and reached a rook endgame in which, if anything, he had a slight edge. With John up on board 3, Peter agreed a draw, and now it was left to the Kingston president to put the ball in the back of the net.

FM Andrew Harley played the Panov-Botvinnik Attack against John’s Caro-Kann, but John grabbed the initiative with a pawn sac and then offered another pawn to break up White’s pawn structure. They reached this position on move 24. The white king is looking somewhat exposed, especially if the black queen and bishop can form a battery on the long diagonal.

In the game, John retreated his queen to d8. White exchanged queens to eliminate any potential mating attacks and offered a draw, which John declined. Thereafter, John went about patiently improving the position of his minor pieces – his endgame play this season has been exemplary. Within a few moves he had achieved this position in which the white rooks are rendered passive and the white pawns immobile.

Harley had the additional problem of being in time trouble, but with all apparently lost still had the gumption to try a neat trick with 71. Rb6+:

Black, who was also short of time, has to be careful how to react here, because 71…Bxb6?? would produce stalemate. How satisfying that would have been for White, and how heart-breaking for Kingston. John, though, was alert to the danger and calmly played Nb5, blocking the check while giving White’s king a flight square on e2. Now Harley called it a day, and Kingston had secured a victory against the odds.

After the game, Peter Andrews said that in his chess career he had never played a justified under-promotion – the sort of move that might appear in print. John saw that under-promoting to a rook would have avoided the stalemate but had the knight retreat up his sleeve – being professional rather than seeking puzzle glory.

Kingston president John Foley continued his excellent season with a match-winning victory over FM Andrew Harley

Kingston skipper David Rowson was especially pleased with the result because it showed a resilience in the team which has been growing all season. That resilience has been on full display over the past fortnight, when matches have come thick and fast at a time when we might have lowered our guard after securing the Surrey and Thames Valley league titles and when our resources have been stretched to the limit.

“It somehow seems a mark of a strong club to win by getting five draws and one win (as we also did against Hammersmith at home),” said David, “especially when we were missing several of our top players.” The first team’s unbeaten record this season – indeed since chess resumed after the pandemic! – survives, but this was a tough struggle and the pack are getting closer. The end of the league season can’t come soon enough. By now, captain, players and even the poor match summariser are exhausted.

Stephen Moss

Kingston overcome Wimbledon in epic struggle

Surrey League division 1 match played at St Winefride’s Church Hall, Wimbledon on 20 April 2023

Although Kingston’s first team has had an historically successful season, it has been far from a cakewalk. We have faced some very strong teams and, also, some teams which, though not so strong on paper, have given us some anxious moments.

One example was our very first Surrey Trophy match of the season, back in October, in which we only just beat a significantly outrated Wimbledon 1 by 4.5-3.5. In the return match, for the final Surrey encounter of the season, we faced Wimbledon again, at their venue, and found that they had pulled out all the stops to assemble a very strong team, which included a 2400+ IM on board 1 and Russell Granat, on a trip up from the south coast, on board 2. Could we complete a clean sweep of all eight Surrey matches against this line-up?

The first results were not very propitious, as both Alan Scrimgour and I had short draws with the white pieces.  Alan’s King’s Gambit was met by Ian Heppell’s Falkbeer Counter-Gambit (1. e4 e5. 2. f4 d5), though after 3. exd5 Ian continued 3…exf4 rather than the thematic 3…e4. He obtained some pressure on the kingside, but was unable to make it count and a draw was soon agreed. Dan Rosen played the Modern Defence against me, but after some manoeuvring a threefold repetition occurred, as we both decided that we didn’t like the position enough to continue. Don Luis Rentero, founder of the great Linares tournament in Spain who loved players to fight and hated draws so much he imposed penalties on non-triers, might have fined us.

Wimbledon fielded an extremely strong team at home and the early signs were ominous for Kingston

On board 3 Russell Picot played the French Defence against Vladimir Li. A series of exchanges led to a rook ending in which Vladimir had a slight advantage in pawn structure. He refused Picot’s first draw offer, but after a few more moves decided that he didn’t have enough to justify playing on, so the result was another Kingston draw with White.

Things did not improve when the board 2 game ended suddenly. The opening had been Russell Granat’s favourite Ruy Lopez Worrall Attack – White plays 6. Qe2 instead of Re1. Mike Healey, defending a difficult position with Granat attacking on the kingside, overlooked a move which simultaneously threatened mate and a loose bishop. 2.5-1.5 to Wimbledon, who had three Whites on the remaining four boards.

On board 6 John Foley had played his usual Caro-Kann and his opponent, Neil Cannon, had chosen the Two Knights Variation. Cannon went straight for the kingside jugular, but Foley calmly blunted the attack and, with a strong knight on e5 against his opponent’s less effective bishop, turned down a draw on move 26. Black was able to launch a pawn attack on the queenside which it was hard for White to counter. In fact, Stockfish gives Black a 2.6 advantage in this position:

Neil was clearly at a loss as to how to defend it, as he now gave up the exchange: 32. Rxe5. Playing an ending, John was in his element, and on reaching this position he engineered a zugzwang:

Meanwhile, the game between Jasper Tambini and Will Taylor had started as a Petrov, the opening moves being: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 c6 9. Qc2. Will commented “This is a sharp line, and Jasper remembered it a little less well than I did (he went slightly astray on move 12, and also fell behind on the clock, after which it became increasingly tricky for him.” The key position after move 11 was this:

Jasper played 12. Nc3 here, but, according to Will, White has to play 12. b4 to stop the a3 knight reaching c5. There followed 12…Bxe5 13. dxe5 Nac5 14. cxd5 cxd5 15. b4 Nxd3 16. Qxd3 Nxc3 17. Qxf5 d4 18. Bb2 Qd5 and Black had an advantage as he was dominating the centre of the board. White took off Black’s knight, but this gave Black a dangerous passed pawn on c3. A few moves later this position was reached, with White trying to counter Black’s queening threat by attacking the black king:

This was the denouement: 24. Re7 Rf8 25. e6 c1=Q  26. exf7+ Kh8 (Rxf7 was possible, but Will was sensibly being very careful) 27. Re8 and now Will simplified: 27…Qxe1+ 28. Rxe1 Qxf7 29. White resigns. This made it 3.5-2.5 to Kingston. We needed one point from the remaining two games.

Those games, on boards 1 and 8, were extremely complex, and in the case of board 8 the position was so wild that for some time it was hard to call. It was a battle of the English Opening specialists, so inevitably one of them, Peter Andrews, was playing against his favourite opening. Tony Hughes castled queenside and an exciting game developed with the players attacking on opposite flanks. White already had a bishop en prise here:

But he now decided to complicate things further by playing 19. Nxb5. Peter comments: “A blunder according to Stockfish, turning +2 into –3, but terrifying at the board. I was worried about 19…Qxb5 20. Qe6+ Nf7 21. Bxc4 with a threat of Qf6 and mate on g7.” Play continued 19…fxe3 20. Bxc4+ Nf7 21. Rhe1 Qc6, and Peter adds that he now felt confident for the first time in the game as the queen performs many functions on c6. White continued to play without any concern for material, and this position was reached after 24. Qe5:

Peter says: “Threatening Qg7 mate, and the knight on f7 is pinned. For half a second I wondered if I should resign, and then realised that it was my opponent, not I, who had hallucinated.” What had White missed? (see footnote below *). Peter wrapped the game up smoothly, and Kingston had an unassailable 4.5-2.5 lead.

The heavyweight clash on top board was the last to finish, enthralling those players who gathered round as David Maycock and IM Alberto Suarez Real reached the climactic phase playing on increments. It had started as a Sveshnikov Sicilian. I’m not qualified to comment on the theory of the opening, but it’s clear that piece activity is the major theme, as on move 16 both players passed up chances to capture pawns, presumably because it would have given open lines to the other side. A few moves later this was the position, with Black to play:

Now if 25…Qxa6 26. Rd8 wins, so instead Alberto played Qb6, defending d8 and attacking f2. David blocked this by 26. Rd4, and after 26…Rc2  27. Bc4. White was now attacking Black’s f7 weak point. After 27…Be6 David retreated 28. Bf1 and there followed 28…Rxc3. Here David had to decide which rook to take the a5 pawn with. He chose to capture with the “a” rook, which allowed 29…Rc1, creating problems for White on the first rank, which, in extreme time trouble, were finally too much to defend against. It was a pity that after such a close encounter, with David trading blows in complex positions with an IM, the pressure of playing on increments told.

IM Alberto Suarez Real (left) gets the better of Kingston’s David Maycock in a titanic encounter on board 1

In the end Kingston’s trio of winning Black players (Will, John and Peter) had ensured that we finished with a perfect eight wins out of eight in the Surrey Trophy. A tremendous team effort across a long season had culminated in victory in one of our toughest matches, by the same score as in our first match against Wimbledon (4.5-3.5).

* The saving grace was 24…Qxc4+! 25. bxc4 Nxe5 26. Rxe5. White only has two pawns for the two pieces, and Black was able to manoeuvre his knight round to f7 to counter White’s doubling of rooks on the seventh rank.

David Rowson, first-team captain

Kingston C overwhelm Richmond E to take Div X title

Thames Valley League division X match played at the Twickenham Club, Twickenham on 18 April 2023

On a Tuesday night in Twickenham, Kingston C reeled off their fourth consecutive win with a 4-0 victory over Richmond E to secure the Thames Valley League Div X title. This marked a first for Kingston Chess Club, who have never previously won the division.

Hayden Holden, with Black on board 3, started the rout, celebrating his first win for the club after an explosive middle game which saw him overcome his opponent in style. I quickly added to the score with a solid win using the Colle System. After going the exchange up in the early stages, I attacked on the kingside and my opponent resigned with checkmate imminent. Colin Lyle, who has grown as a player throughout the season, then made the score 3-0 with another potent kingside attack.

Adam Nakar’s game on board 1 was testament to the power of a substantial pawn advantage, which he had gained in exchange for a bishop. Two passed pawns on the kingside eventually proved too much for his opponent, and we chalked up win number four to complete a whitewash on the night.

Congratulations to the players involved in both the Surrey and Thames Valley third teams, who all showed an improvement in their game as the season progressed, and thanks to the experienced players in the club who assisted with the mentoring of my squad.

Stephen Daines, Kingston third-team captain

Gridlock fails to stop Kingston A at Surbiton

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 18 April 2023

Captains clash at Surbiton: Graham Alcock (left, foreground) struggling to hold Kingston skipper David Rowson

The background to this away match against Surbiton B was a huge traffic jam in Tolworth which delayed the start by 20 minutes and made everyone rather fractious and edgy. David Rowson thought the chaos directly influenced his board 4 game against Graham Alcock.

“Graham and I were both a bit unsettled by the initial uncertainty,” David explained later, “and unfortunately for Graham this led to him leaving a pawn en prise in a quiet line of the Ponziani Opening. Thereafter I made rather heavy weather of winning until the game opened up in mutual time trouble.”

David added a topical qualification to the description of his difficulties getting to the match and the attendant confusion. “I was thinking that, for all the pressures that Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren have to cope with, being stuck on a 281 bus in terrible traffic as the minutes tick away to the match starting time isn’t one of them.”

With the season nearing completion, both league titles already won and the first team facing three matches in seven days, we were running rather short of players and I found myself called up to first-team colours – a status well above my pay grade. I was playing Alexey Markov, whom I have played several times before. I was hoping for a draw because I was Black and didn’t want to let the real first-teamers down; Alexey was hoping for a draw because he overrates me and has a negative career record in our matches. So we proceeded to play one of the dullest chess games ever recorded, with Alexey accepting my draw offer after 21 moves. Frankly, the traffic snarl-up was more interesting.

The real action was elsewhere. On board 1 for a start, where David Maycock offered an outrageous bishop sacrifice on move 10. David is White here and his opponent, Paul Dupré, has just played 9… d5. David’s nonchalant reply is 10. Bf4?!, offering an apparently free bishop for what he believes will be a withering attack down the e-file.

Visually, the potential pressure on the king looks worrying, but the position is probably defensible and the sac should be accepted, though taking the bishop produces almost as much mayhem as in Tolworth Broadway. A plausible continuation might be: 10…dxc4 11. d5 Be7 12. Re1 Kf8 13. Qe2 Nc5 14. Rad1 Bg4 15. Qxc4 Bxf3 16. gxf3 Qb6 17. d6 Bg5 18. d7 Ne6 19. Bd6+ Be7 20. Rxe6 fxe6 21. Qxe6 Bxd6 22. Qxd6+ Kf7 23. d8=N+ Rxd8 24. Qxd8 Qxd8 25. Rxd8 Ke6 26. Ne4 b5 27. Rd6+ Kf7 28. Rxc6 bxa4 29. Rc8. That line gives White a sizeable advantage, but other plausible continuations are available.

It would be interesting to know how much of this accepting-the-sac variation the players saw. David is usually very concrete in his analysis and will have peered a long way through the fog. There are certainly dangers in taking the bishop. It produces a double-edged position which engines give as a tiny plus for Black, but where White has all the initiative. Taking it is, however, certainly better than what was played: 10…Ndf6, which immediately cedes the advantage to White.

In the game, the white bishop retreated to d3 after the intermezzo rook check, and because Black is well behind on development his position quickly worsened, with David forcing resignation on move 25 amid a blizzard of tactics. An inventive game to have played after a lengthy wait for a bus which then crawled through traffic. Can nothing curb the Maycockian spirit of adventure?

On board 2, Peter Lalić played another impressive game. Up against Surbiton stalwart Nick Faulks, who never fears any opponent no matter how strong, Peter played with his usual verve, sac-ing a pawn against the English Opening, grabbing the initiative, and gaining the advantage in the middlegame where he has bishop and knight for rook. He had a handy plus in the position below, and maybe White knew the writing was on the wall, but one wrong turning by White’s king produces a grisly end.

White plays Kc2 when he should retreat to d1, and Peter needs no second invitation to finish the job: 36… Re2+ 37. Kb3 Rb2+ 38. Ka3 Bb4# 0-1 Maycock and Lalić: have Kingston ever had a more reliable and inspired double act on the top boards? Their names will surely live on in chess history like Capablanca and Alekhine, Fischer and Spassky, Kasparov and Karpov, Morecambe and Wise (subs please check pairings).

On board 5, Surbiton legend (and architect of the modern club) Paul Durrant, who happily is back playing again after an enforced break because of illness, was up against Julian Way, who is also back after being indisposed for a couple of months. Julian, playing White, built up pressure gradually and won a piece, but Paul still made life difficult until Julian finally made the material advantage tell.

On board 3, meanwhile, Silverio Abasolo – hero of Kingston’s recent Alexander Cup triumph – was engaged in a tricky rook endgame with Surbiton’s durable Andrew Boughen. Later analysis suggested it was a technical draw, but Silverio is a Magnus-like fighter, kept on playing, and in the end his opponent faltered, allowing White to break through. That made it 5.5-0.5 and we could disappear into the night, looking for a route home that dodged the roadworks. Beware the Tolworth Bind!

Stephen Moss

Kingston 3 hold Centenary winners Richmond to draw

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 17 April 2023

This was one of the results of the season for Kingston: a draw for a third team that had previously lost seven matches in a row in this highly competitive division against the team that had won the Centenary Trophy (the name of Surrey Div 4) at a canter. All the team’s hard work this season under the patient captaincy of Stephen Daines had finally paid off.

Max Mikardo-Greaves won his game at lightning speed – it was over before anyone knew quite what was happening, and Josh Lea went the exchange up and never let his opponent recover. Both these wins were against much higher-rated opponents, as was young Jaden Mistry’s on board 6.

Jaden, who is 11, is progressing very fast and this was his best win yet: highly technical and after a long game – 53 moves in a situation where he knew his team needed him to win in order to draw the match. That’s a lot of pressure for a young man, and he dealt with it admirably. This was the position after White’s 38th move. How do you assess it?

Jaden is Black here and he correctly surmised that he is at least drawing and could have winning chances. Engines give Black a tiny edge, though the position is tricky to play for both sides, relying on adroit use of the rooks. Jaden played the position well, but he was greatly helped by an opponent who seemed unsure whether he was playing for a win or a draw – he was intent on trying to create a mating net around the White king – and ultimately blundered to allow a pawn to queen. A terrific result for young Jaden and one he was justifiably proud of.

The top boards proved tougher for Kingston. A certain Peter Lalić was on board 1 for Richmond – surely the equivalent of Man City’s star striker Erling Haaland turning out in Sunday park football since he was rated more than 500 points above anybody else in the match. Nonetheless, David Shalom gave him a run for his money, and it would have been even more interesting if he had found the right move in the position below:

David, not unnaturally, feels he has to give up the bishop here with Bxb5 as it is trapped. Sac-ing the bishop is not a total disaster as it will open up the Black king to White’s heavy artillery down the a-file, and that does indeed become a theme of the rest of the game. But David has a much better move here, though you only see it if you notice that Black’s knight on h5 is undefended. Loose pieces drop off! White should play Bd5! Then, if Qxd5, Nc3 gets the piece back via Qxh5, and engines suggest White has a small edge. Tactics, tactics – chess is all about tactics.

Peter won, though credit to David for making a game of it, and Richmond’s higher-rated players also prevailed on boards 2 and 3. But to draw against the winners of the division was a terrific achievement, ending Kingston 3’s embattled (but spirited) season in the Centenary Trophy on a high. Now we have to build on it next year.

Stephen Moss

Kingston B secure vital victory at Ealing B

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at Actonians Sports Club, Ealing on 17 April 2023

Kingston B captain Gregor Smith was taking no risks with this match, which had to be won if his team were to escape the relegation zone in division 2 of the Thames Valley League. Ever since a surprise defeat at home to Surbiton C last October, we have been struggling at the foot of the table. Out two matches, home and away to already relegated Ealing B who have lost nine out of nine in this division, had to be our salvation.

Gregor brought out the big guns, John Foley and Alan Scrimgour (both very strong players and happily not “nominated” to play only first-team chess, so free to play for the seconds), on boards 1 and 2. I filled in at the last minute on board 3 for an indisposed player, and we had Gregor himself on 4, Nick Grey on 5 and Charlie Cooke on 6 – solidity personified.

Alan Scrimgour (right) takes on Peter Meltzer as Kingston B gain an emphatic (and necessary!) success at Ealing

We outgraded our opponents by an average of more than 300 points a board, and that was reflected in the scale of the victory – 5.5-0.5. John Foley gave his customary display of endgame expertise: go a pawn up, plant an impregnable knight, win. Alan had too much nous for his opponent. Mine blundered early on and, despite playing with my usual lack of precision, I managed not to blunder back quite as badly. Gregor won a pleasing game, which was level for a long time before skilfully coordinated his forces and broke through. Nick drew – all credit to Gabriele Palmer for avoiding the whitewash. And Charlie overwhelmed his opponent to win very rapidly.

Apologies to the largely youthful Ealing team for being a bit OTT with team selection, but this was about survival. Our main rivals for the drop, Surbiton C, now face two tough away trips to finish their season. We also have some tricky matches to come – champions-elect Maidenhead A away! – but at least, for the first time this season, we have our noses in front of Surbiton and the scars of that defeat back in October are almost healed.

Stephen Moss

Kingston edge out Battersea to retain Alexander Cup

Alexander Cup final played at the Adelaide pub, Teddington on 14 April 2023

Kingston’s winning team. Bottom row from left: Silverio Abasolo, captain Ljubica Lazarevic, John Foley. Top row from left: Will Taylor, Mike Healey, Alan Scrimgour, Peter Lalić, Vladimir Li, Peter Andrews, David Maycock, David Rowson. Photograph: John Saunders

Where on earth to begin? Probably at the beginning. This was Battersea’s return to the Alexander Cup – and indeed to Surrey chess generally – after a long absence. They had beaten a very strong Epsom team in the semi-final and frankly we feared them. We were strong, but we knew that on paper they were likely to be even stronger. And so it proved: GM Simon Williams on board 1, IMs Gavin Wall and Chris Baker on 2 and 3, a 2230-rated player on board 7, an average ratings plus across the teams of about 50 points. This was going to be some challenge.

But one thing the Kingston team has going for it, as well as great individual talent, is collective esprit de corps, under Ljubica Lazarevic’s inspired captaincy. This was not a team that was going to lie down, no matter what the rating difference was and how many titled players our opponents had. Kingston’s first team had not been beaten since competitive chess resumed after the pandemic, and it was not going to relinquish that proud boast lightly. But where were our points going to come from?

On board 6, Will Taylor turned down an early draw offer from Battersea captain Blair Connell, despite a ratings disadvantage of more than 100 points. “With a tactical draw offer, since Blair was Black and Battersea outrated us on most boards, I did wonder whether it was still advantageous from a match perspective for me to accept, being heavily outrated myself,” Will explained later, “but it felt too negative at such an early stage.” Lazarevic had asked her players to be wary of accepting “grandmasterly” draws – every point was going to be precious – and it made sense to keep the Battersea skipper immersed in his own game for as long as possible. The virtues of the non-playing captain.

Will Taylor: Turned down an early draw offer from Battersea captain Blair Connell. Photograph: John Saunders

On board 5, Battersea junior Luca Buanne was playing well against Kingston’s Vladimir Li, whose Surrey rating of 2196 does not reflect his true strength (elo 2294 and rising!). This was a game where we had hoped to take the full point, but Buanne played quickly and confidently against Vladimir’s Sicilian, had no difficulty equalising, and a draw was agreed after 22 moves. Not exactly grandmasterly, but Vladimir is very close to getting an FM title and on this showing Buanne – one of the strongest 15-year-olds in the country – will be following him to a title very soon.

Vladimir Li: Drew with the talented Battersea junior Luca Buanne on board 5. Photograph: John Saunders

Board 10 was the only match-up where we had a clear rating advantage, so we were – while trying not to exert unnecessary extra pressure – relying on Peter Andrews to bring home the bacon. He did not disappoint, playing his favoured English (cue bacon puns) and out-techniquing his opponent Greg Taylor. Taylor built up a big time plus and may have assumed that trying to create tactical complexities, rather than grabbing back a pawn when he had an opportunity, would work to his advantage. Happily for us, it didn’t.

Peter Andrews took Kingston’s first point with a technical knockout on board 10. Photograph: John Saunders

In the position below, Peter thought his opponent might have been playing for 28…Qxc5, missing the fact that when he captured the white queen with his rook a back-rank mate would follow. Two pawns down and with White’s rook established on the seventh, this position is hopeless for Black (at least -6, according to engines). The game is already resignable, but became irretrievable when Black dropped the rook on a6, having forgotten there was no longer a pawn on b7 to protect it from the white queen. A victory for cumulative pressure.

Almost at the same moment that Peter Andrews was securing Kingston’s first point, our other Peter – the incomparable Lalić – was agreeing a draw with IM Gavin Wall on board 2. Peter L, with typical verve, had played the Staunton Gambit against Gavin’s Dutch Defence (1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. e4 fxe4 4. Bg5 Nc6 5. d5 Ne5 6. Qe2 c6 7. O-O-O Nxd5 8. Nxd5 Nf7 9. Bh4 cxd5 10. Rxd5 b6). He stood better in the middle game, but was running short of time and allowed a draw by repetition.

“Gavin played his first 10 moves instantly,” Peter explained later. “He told me afterwards that he had played the identical opening the day before, against Graham Keane in the London League. By contrast, I hadn’t tried the Staunton Gambit in at least a decade. Hence my trepidation.”

Peter Lalić (left) essayed the Staunton Gambit against Gavin Wall and drew. Photograph: John Saunders

Kingston were 2-1 up, but in a 10-board match that meant little, especially with Alan Scrimgour apparently in trouble on board 9 and David Maycock, with Black, facing a GM on board 1.

In the next game to finish, Blair Connell (who had declared his intentions by playing the Fort Knox variation of the French) finally got his draw against Will Taylor. This was the position in which peace was declared:

Will was down on the clock and felt he no longer had realistic winning chances, so took the draw. A good result given the rating difference, allowing us to keep our noses in front. But the result that really made us believe we might win came next, with Mike Healey beating the highly rated Viktor Stoyanov on board 4. This was a tremendous game by Mike, paving the way for everything that came later.

Stoyanov played the Caro-Kann and Mike opted for the so-called Fantasy Variation (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3). The first 20 moves, with both players committing to the fight, were very even, and on move 24 (shortly after Mike had spurned a draw offer) this position was reached:

Here Mike, who much prefers eccentric knights to rather predictable rooks, made a very Mike decision: 24. Rdxd5! “White temporarily gives up an exchange,” he explained later, “but something is dropping for Black.” The game proceeded 24…cxd5 25. Rxd5 Re1+ 26. Kd2 Rae8 27. Rxc5. R8e2+ 28. Kd3 Re3+ 29. Kd4 R3e2 30. Bd3 Re8 31. Nf4 Rd1 32. Rd5 Bc8 33. Kc5 Rde1 34. Bxb5 R8e5 35. Bc4 Rxd5+ 36. Bxd5+ Kf8

Mike’s faith in his knights has paid off – his position is completely winning: 37. Ng6+ Ke8 38. Kd6 Rd1 39. c4 Bb7 40. Ne6 Bxd5 41. Nc7+ Kd8 42.Nxd5 Rd2 43.c5 Rxb2 44.c6 Rd2 45. Ne7 1-0 A very good knight – or indeed knights. That made it 3.5-1.5 and the early pessimism of Kingston supporters was starting to dissipate. We really could win this.

Mike Healey: Played a wonderfully inventive game to beat Viktor Stoyanov. Photograph: John Saunders

On board 7, Kingston’s David Rowson more than held his own with Black against Chris Beckett, who outrated him by almost 200 points. “It wasn’t the most exciting of games, but I was pleased to get a draw from a strong player,” David said later. “For once my Old Indian Defence led to Black, not White, getting the upper hand on the queenside, as my opponent made a couple of inaccuracies. I resisted the temptation to draw by repetition on move 26, but I didn’t have enough of an advantage to make anything of the ending.” This was the position in which a draw was agreed. Engines evaluate it as completely level.

David Rowson, on board 7, secured a vital draw against a much higher-rated player. Photograph: John Saunders

John Foley’s game against Duncan Kerr on board 8 was another canny, nip-and-tuck affair between two very experienced players, with threats and counter-threats from an early stage. In the final position, John’s passed d-pawn looks as if it might have potential, which was enough for Black to offer the draw. John could have continued with 36. Qxa6 but after the queens are exchanged the endgame is drawish.

Kingston president John Foley (right) locked in battle with Duncan Kerr. Photograph: John Saunders

The score was now 4.5-2.5 in Kingston’s favour and the winning line was in sight. Or was it? David Maycock was losing on board 1, Alan Scrimgour was losing on board 9, and the final game – Silverio Abasolo, with Black, up against IM Chris Baker on board 3 – was far from clear. The most likely scenario, pundits agreed (and Kingston pessimists feared), was a 5-5 draw, with Battersea winning on board count by virtue of victory on board 1.

GM Simon Williams (left), playing the English Opening, up against David Maycock. Photograph: John Saunders

David Maycock competed fiercely against Simon Williams on top board, but started to run short of time in the latter stages of the game. GMs are of course superfast calculators, and Williams set David many problems. “I solved a million of them, but couldn’t solve the million and one-th,” David said afterwards. Black is doing OK in this position, but the rook on c8 is under attack. Would should David play?

Best is probably Rxc1, with good drawing chances. But David opted for 27…Rc5, which loses to a forced sequence: 28. Bxe4 dxe4 29. Rxc5 bxc5 30. Nc6+ Qxc6 31. Qxh8+ Ka7 32. Qb2 Qb5 33. Rb1 Qc6 34. Qb6+ Qxb6 35. Rxb6 1-0. That made it 4.5-3.5, and it was getting too close for comfort.

GM Simon Williams let Battersea’s fightback with a smooth victory on top board. Photograph: John Saunders

A few minutes later the scores were tied as Battersea’s Robert Noyce won against Kingston chair Alan Scrimgour. Alan was candid later about a game – a Closed Sicilian – which he felt had started to unravel at quite an early stage. “My first mistake was to close the centre with d4,” he explained. “I should have exchanged on e4 to keep some open lines. I then made a bad strategic decision to castle queenside. The result was that I had no counterplay and had to defend. My opponent took no chances and carefully built up his attack. In a difficult position I made further inaccuracies and my opponent finished clinically.”

Alan Scrimgour was under the cosh for much of his game against Robert Noyce. Photograph: John Saunders

The match was all square, so now – in the scenario which had been bothering us for the past hour – Kingston’s Silverio Abasolo had to win on board 3 against IM Chris Baker or we would lose the match on board count. No pressure. Silverio, though, a very strong player with a Fide rating of 2283 who has only resumed playing serious competitive chess this season after an eight-year break, is a cool customer who plays quickly and fluently . At no stage did he show any signs of tension and he continued recording even in a time scramble, where he was playing moves on the 10-second increment (all the games on the night were played at a time control of 75 minutes + 10 seconds per move).

Silverio Abasolo had to win against IM Chris Baker to secure the trophy for Kingston. Photograph: John Saunders

Baker had played another English Opening – it was a big night for the English – but Silverio skilfully established a small plus and, with Black to play on move 21 in the position below, he made a key strategic decision:

From many competing possible moves with very similar evaluations (this is actually the computer’s seventh choice), Silverio chose to swap bishop for knight. That choice largely determined the course of the rest of the game. Silverio’s knight found good squares, and on move 31, though objectively White now had an edge, he played a bold move which John Saunders, who will be annotating the game for the Kingston website, said caused a “psychological swing” by turning the screw on Baker.

Here Silverio plays 31…Qc5, threatening both the pawn on f2 and, more pressingly for White, a back-rank mate. White should play Qb2, which would maintain his edge, but instead he chose Rg1, presumably to counterattack down the g-file if Black played Qxf2, but overlooking 32. Nh3, which led to White giving up the exchange.

Chris Baker and Silverio Abasolo lock horns (and pawns) in the night’s decisive game. Photograph: John Saunders

Even after going the exchange up, however, there were still complications. Silverio missed an immediately winning continuation, and Baker tried to menace Black’s king with his queen and bishop. Even when Silverio had queened his a-pawn, Baker would not call it a day and was threatening mate in one. Saunders took a final photograph as Silverio, with 30 seconds left on his clock, countered the mate threat with a check of his own and proceeded to calmly notate the move.

Abasolo resists the threat of mate in one by checking, then calmly notates the move. Photograph: John Saunders

Now it really was all over bar the whooping – and the applause for Silverio. The two queens did their work and White was mated. Kingston had won a magnificent victory against the odds and the Alexander Cup could stay in our trophy cabinet for another year, alongside the trophies for winning both the Surrey League and the Thames Valley League this season. If we win the Thames Valley Knockout against Harrow on 22 May we will have chalked up a unique “Quadruple”. If we do, what on earth will we do next? Collapse probably.

Abasolo poised to deliver the match-winning mate as John Foley looks on intently. Photograph: John Saunders

We should put on record our thanks to Battersea for a memorable match played in a good spirit, to John Saunders for taking a wonderful set of photographs and for putting all the game scores on his superb BritBase site, to Richmond Chess Club for hosting the final (the Surrey association specifies it must be played at a neutral venue and the Adelaide pub in Teddington is perfect), and to tournament controller Huw Williams for acting as arbiter with just the right balance of firmness and discretion – visible but never overbearing. It was truly an epic match.

Battersea captain Blair Connell said afterwards that he doubted whether he would ever recover, but our fear is that next year they will be back with even more of their celebrity GMs. Thus does the bar get raised with every succeeding season. And talking of the bar…

Stephen Moss