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Win over Richmond fuels Kingston 2’s late promotion drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Li makes successful debut as Kingston whitewash Hounslow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Covid-hit Kingston 2 let Richmond off the hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Moss

Kingston overcome spirited Surbiton to complete clean sweep

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 29 March 2022

After the knife-edge drama of our narrow wins against Epsom and South Norwood, and with us having already won the division and promotion, the match against Surbiton 2 was always likely to be a little anti-climactic. Nevertheless, I think I can speak for the team in saying that we were determined if possible to make it five wins out of five.

Surbiton put up some stiff resistance. Mark Hogarth, for example, was generous in offering me a draw in a position where he stood well. He’d cunningly chosen the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, which I happen to hate playing against, and I’d tried to take him off the beaten track by playing 4…bxc6 instead of the standard 4…dxc6. As things transpired, I came to a deep understanding of why bxc6 is off the beaten track.

Another Surbiton player who might perhaps have played on was their board two, Nick Faulks, who resigned a difficult position against David Maycock but one which didn’t quite seem terminal yet. On board five Alan Scrimgour gave the Benoni another outing (he had had a spectacular success with it against South Norwood). This time there were no fireworks and he soon agreed a draw, to make it 2-1 to Kingston.

John Shanley on board seven outmanoeuvred his opponent in an English to win a pawn, and showed good technique in successfully converting this: 3-1. Three games were now left, and these were the hardest fought. Peter Andrews was slowly increasing his space advantage after opening with an English, when he grasped the chance to play a winning combination instead of a routine recapture. This gave us the match, but the two remaining games still drew groups of spectators, as they were the tensest of all.

Jon Eckert had won a pawn but had the kind of position where it’s not easy to make progress. He was also understandably tired after making two 4NCL car trips at the weekend. His opponent, David Razzell, seized his chance to launch a queen and rook attack down the h file aimed at Jon’s king. At first it seemed, to me at least, that Jon could secure a draw by repetition, but that was shown to be a superficial assessment as Razzell forced a win.

Peter Lalić in action earlier in the season: A player with nerves of steel and an unrivalled will to win

The final game to finish, naturally, was Peter Lalić’s. His will to win is probably unrivalled by anyone else in the team, and most likely in the whole division. He’s also blessed with nerves of steel, which enable him to play on increments for as long as it takes to grapple his opponent to the floor – I think the wrestling metaphor is not inappropriate here.

At the climax of the game the caretaker was about to appear demanding that the room be closed up for the night, and Stephen Moss and I were speculating that he had no chance of doing that before Peter achieved his win. Angus James was actually in the game right up to the point when it became a minor piece ending, but then lost a pawn and finally had to concede, sadly denying us the contest between Peter and the caretaker. 

Farewell to our Beaumont Cup season

This 5-2 win was the conclusion of our successful season in division two of the Surrey League: five wins out of five, first in the division and promotion to go with it. From the start we had such a strong squad (further increased in strength by the welcome addition of Peter Andrews, supersub, halfway through the season) that we were expected to do well, but in chess you can’t take anything for granted.

Crucially, apart from the combined playing ability, we were blessed with high levels of motivation and team spirit. A good example of this was the willingness of our top three players, Mike Healey, Peter Lalić and David Maycock, to turn out on occasions when they might have thought that there was little in it for them in playing weaker opposition. 

I’m also very grateful to the “engine room”, as Stephen Moss calls John Foley and Alan Scrimgour (and I should certainly add here Julian Way and Jon Eckert) for being so collectively reliable that even on the rare occasion when one misfired the others scored their points.  Add to this the pleasure of watching creativity at work – Will Taylor’s win against Epsom was especially noteworthy.

This section has already turned into the most clichéd of Oscar awards speeches – though happily with no slaps and no tears – but I would like to acknowledge too the contribution of our drivers (especially important in the case of the long day’s journey into South Norwood) and the great work that Greg Heath does to get everything ready at the Willoughby. Last but far from least, my thanks to Stephen for being our superfan/mentor/manager.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

Kingston hammer Richmond B to bring promotion closer

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Adelaide, Teddington on 22 March 2022

It is never nice to be bagelled (as they say in tennis) 6-0, and on the surface this does look like a runaway win for Kingston over Richmond B. But raw statistics sometimes lie, and there was some excellent fighting chess in this match before that very satisfying (from a Kingston point of view) scoreline.

This was Kingston’s first visit to Richmond’s excellent new venue, the Adelaide pub in Teddington, and we were mighty impressed. There were two matches in the playing room – Richmond were also entertaining South Norwood 2 in the Surrey League – which made it busy and intense but not too congested. With social chess being played in the bar downstairs and a general air of a club that knew its business and had found a fresh focus, Richmond are clearly on the up. As their near neighbours, we have been warned.

This was an A team up against a B team and we were expected to win handsomely. But Richmond were by no means weak, and Alan Scrimgour on board five was immediately in some difficulty with his trademark King’s Gambit against Serhat Abay. “The opening went wrong somewhere and I was lucky,” he said later.

Alan Scrimgour v Serhat Abay

I thought there must be an element of false modesty in him saying this because, in a horribly double-edged position with Black only a move or so from proclaiming mate himself, Scrimgour launched a powerful attack on Black’s exposed king and got there first to make it 1-0 to Kingston. But, admirably honest about his own play, he insisted there was no false modesty. “Having looked at my game,” he told me, “I can confirm that I was lucky. It was a messy game, and I missed a clear win earlier. We both made some terrible mistakes, but my opponent made the last one. As Savielly Tartakower said, ´The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake’.”

David Rowson, playing his usual brand of classical positional chess – winning a pawn early and building a series of incremental advantages – won smoothly on board three against Pablo Soriano to make it 2-0. And Peter Lalic, playing as so often for a long period on the 10-second increment, then won a dynamic attacking game against Raghu Kamath on board one to put Kingston 3-0 up with three games still in progress.

The way Peter plays such beautifully controlled chess on the increment is a wonder to behold, though he said he was fortunate to stumble on one tactic at the height of his time trouble and chided himself for being “unprofessional” in once again having to rely on the increment. For all that, however, his results and the general standard of his play suggest he is doing something right. He is a perfectionist in the opening – hence his tendency to fall into time trouble at the short controls that apply in evening chess – and the depth of thought early in the game seems to stand him in good stead for later tactical complications.

Playing White: Peter Lalić (top) and David Rowson (nearest)

David Maycock won a bafflingly brilliant game on board two against Ieuan Fenton, sacrificing a knight for an obscure positional advantage that nobody could really understand and magically not just getting the piece back 15 moves later but going a whole bishop up soon after that, without his opponent making any obvious blunders. It really was sorcery.

Ieuan Fenton v David Maycock

In the analysis afterwards, David doubted whether the sac was truly sound, but, as he said, “not all Tal’s sacs were sound”. (David is a modest fellow and you should not get the impression he was comparing himself with Tal; he was just making a general point that there were so many complications and possibilities he had a gut feeling something would turn up, which it duly did.) He also explained that he is practising playing without looking at the board – he feels seeing the pieces makes them too static and he prefers to imagine them moving in his head. I feel we have a genius in our midst.

It was 4-0 and the match was won, but Kingston weren’t finished yet. John Foley got the better of Victor Bluett in a hard-fought game on board four, with Foley maintaining a slight edge throughout before eventually trapping Bluett’s knight. Jon Eckert then completed a clean sweep for Kingston with an efficient win on board six, his opponent resigning in the face of Eckert’s three connected passed pawns driving ever closer to the finish line. A memorable evening that puts Kingston top of Thames Valley division 2 and, with games in hand, eyeing promotion to the premier division.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Kingston beat South Norwood in thriller to ensure promotion

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at West Thornton Community Centre on 17 March 2022

An epic match: twists and turns on nearly every board, luck (it can happen in chess) playing a crucial role, and the outcome unclear until the final game was decided, the players down to 10-second increments. This more than lived up to its significance as the encounter that would determine the Beaumont Cup winners.

Hannibal crossing the Alps, Napoleon’s trip to Russia … prior to match day, the Kingston team’s concerns were all about the logistics of getting to the South Norwood venue, due to the distance to be covered and the potential public transport complications. In the event, there were no problems and all the players arrived on time. However, that was when we suddenly realised that the real challenge was actually matching the strong opposition team facing us over the board. The arrival, not the journey, mattered.

If we could win this match, we would be Beaumont Cup champions with the prize of promotion to Surrey’s top division. So far, the plan we might have envisioned at the start of the season had been, if not a doddle, at least followed to the letter, and the team had built up a confidence in its own strength. Hubris? Our collective confidence was very soon shaken, as our two “banker” players, John Foley and Jon Eckert, both lost without really getting into their games. It was John’s first classical chess loss for three years, and for Jon it came on the back of a 10-victory run.  Were we about to be found out?

I redressed the balance to some extent by winning against Paul Dupré. He played the quirky Lion variation of the Philidor, advancing with h6 and g5 just out of the opening. I risked exposing my king with f4, giving his rook the g file after the pawn exchange. The first 14 moves were a rerun of a game we played about three years ago, when I won a piece with a two-move combination. Paul remembered that and varied, but my control of the centre made it very hard for him to coordinate his pieces in the long run.

Mike Healey (white) and Marcus Osborne absorbed in a complex battle on board one

On board one Mike Healey had opened with his favourite Polish, and a strategically complex battle was under way. Suddenly, those observing were taken aback to see that Mike was a queen to a piece and some pawns down. His reputation is such that we thought this had to be a brilliant sacrifice, and waited expectantly for the compensation payoff to be revealed. Sadly, as Mike admitted afterwards, it had all been a mistake, and Marcus Osborne avoided any tactical traps to win and make the score 3-1 to South Norwood.

So we needed an unlikely three wins from the three remaining games to win the match, and they were not looking good for us. On board six, from an unusual Benoni (White castled queenside), Alan Scrimgour was the exchange down. Initially it wasn’t clear if he had compensation for this, but, after he downed a three-spoonful cup of coffee, Alan’s pieces managed to open up lines to attack his opponent’s king. A discovered check sequence led to that king having to run to the other side of the board, where Alan found a neat forced mate. 3-2 to South Norwood.

Julian Way had not originally been down to play in the match, but when Peter Andrews unfortunately had to drop out due to illness, Julian very decently stepped in as a replacement.  A super-sub for our super-sub. Julian has recently been trying out Alekhine’s Defence, but this time he found himself in a rather passive position, with Roy Reddin’s pieces massed around his queenside-castled king. At the start of play Roy and Julian had opted for adjudication. Now, with Roy about to win a pawn and time nearly due to be called, things looked ominous for Julian. There might be no point in sending the game off for adjudication. But on move 35 Roy sat tight and didn’t make the last move required by the time control. When his flag fell Julian pointed out politely that his opponent had lost on time. It turned out that Roy had missed writing the moves on one line of his scoresheet, so thought he’d already made 35 moves. Terrible luck for South Norwood, but this was the fillip which Kingston needed. We had drawn level, 3-3, with only board two to be decided.

Peter Lalic was so absorbed in his game that I couldn’t find an opportunity to tell him the match situation. I think that he had already turned down a draw offer. Should Kingston be cautious and accept a tied match, instead of risking defeat, having come back from the nearly dead? Peter had been pressing, but Tariq Oozeerally found a combination to win a pawn. In compensation, Peter’s pieces, rook, knight and king, had a grip on the centre of the board. As players from both teams gathered round to watch the tense finale, Peter and Tariq barely had more time on their clocks than the 10-second increments per move. All the while John Foley was hammering out updates on What’s App for the Kingston members who had not ventured over to South Norwood.

Tariq Oozeerally (white) and Peter Lalic play out the decisive game, with Lalic winning in a time scramble

In time trouble situations like this, games turn on the proverbial knife edge. Tariq allowed Peter to win back a pawn and the latter, coolly and accurately upping the pressure despite his time shortage, won White’s bishop and then efficiently saw off Tariq’s final attempts to fight back. South Norwood had tested us to the limits and were very sporting in defeat. Against all the earlier run of play, Kingston had won 4-3, and were the Beaumont Cup champions with a match to spare. We still have Surbiton 2 to play, but we can already celebrate.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

Kingston topple league leaders Maidenhead in hard-fought encounter

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 14 March 2022

Maidenhead A came to Fortress Willoughby sitting proudly atop division 2 of the Thames Valley League, having pushed past long-time leaders Richmond B. They had come well prepared too, with a team averaging close to 2000 in rating terms. Maidenhead have not always been the best of travellers – they do, after all, face a lot of long away journeys – but this season have been performing well and this was a good team to muster for an expedition to Kingston in mid-March. It was certainly stronger than the team that lost 4.5 to 1.5 away to Surbiton B a month ago. Some stops had been pulled out as they eyed promotion.

But we were also strong, with Peter Lalic and David Maycock – the two young players whose arrival has galvanised Kingston this season – on boards one and two and a matchless set of Kingston stalwarts on boards three to six: FM Julian Way, club chair John Foley, club secretary (and Scottish international) Alan Scrimgour and Jon Eckert, who had been in tremendous form this year. All marshalled by another great Kingston veteran, Nick Grey, in the continuing absence of yours truly, who is still trying to get over brain-deadening Covid and writing this report on the basis of scraps of information what’s-apped by Nick and the faithful band of Kingston supporters on the night. We have actually been doing rather well in my absence, and I sense a growing movement to keep me locked away at home.

Maidenhead (players on the outside) facing an uphill struggle at Fortress Willoughby

We had lost to Maidenhead when we made the reverse journey at the start of the season, but we had been without Lalic and Maycock that night, though the other four had all played. Having the two young guns on the top boards, though, changes the complexion of the team, and we surely started as warm favourites, despite the wealth of experience in the Maidenhead ranks, animated by their excellent captain Nigel Smith.

That prediction was rapidly born out. Playing White, David Maycock made short work of beating Anthony Milnes on board two in an Advanced French, and Alan Scrimgour, playing a sharp line of his trusty Sicilian, put Kingston 2-0 up with a smooth success against another veteran, Nigel Dennis, on board five. With Jon Eckert a piece to the good on board six, it all looked very promising for Kingston.

Eckert eventually overcame his opponent’s concerted efforts to get a perpetual and converted his winning position, and John Foley, appropriately given his pivotal position at the club, secured the draw against Nigel Smith that took Kingston over the winning line. There was, though, a sting in the tail, with Charles Bullock beating Julian Way on board three in a Benoni that had at one point seemed to favour Black, and Stephen James making light of a 200-point rating difference to get a draw with Peter Lalic on board one.

That made the final score 4-2 to Kingston, who are gradually manoeuvring themselves into the promotion fight and can start to dream of a berth in the bearpit that is Thames Valley Division 1 next season. But there are five tough matches still to come, with a crucial visit to promotion rivals Richmond B looming next week, so the ginger beer has not yet been put on ice.

Stephen Moss, (still indisposed) Kingston Thames Valley captain

Kingston surge past Ashtead to reach Lauder Trophy final

Lauder Trophy semi-final played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 10 March 2022

Full disclosure: this is a somewhat imperfect report on a wonderful – and clinical – 5-1 victory for Kingston over Ashtead in the semi-final of the Lauder Trophy, because despite being the proud team captain I wasn’t actually present, having tested positive for Covid a few hours earlier. David Rowson, who was playing on board one, stepped into the breach as captain, and FM Julian Way, who was lending his support to the team at the Willoughby Arms, kept the wider membership informed of developments via What’s App. I have accordingly pieced together this brief report from his excellent dispatches on the night.

Bertie Barlow marshalling his troops

Rowson, with White, was up against Ashtead captain Bertie Barlow on board one. Bertie opted for what Julian called his “trusted Alekhine” and the game was a fairly sedate draw. Board two, featuring Kingston’s rock-like veteran Alan Scrimgour and Ashtead’s Jonathan Hinton, author of the highly regarded anthology of chess games A Gnat May Drink, was also drawn, but it was far from sedate. Hinton responded to Scrimgour’s time-honoured Sicilian with the Wing Gambit – an opening Alan considers dubious – and the game descended into what Way described as “chaos”. But when the smoke cleared, both players were still standing and they agreed a draw. “Unfortunately I have now lost my 100% record against the SWG [Sicilian Wing Gambit],” Scrimgour emailed me later. “I was previously 6/6, which was good as some strongish Scottish players used it.” Alan learned his trade in Scotland and plays for the Scottish senior team.

The top boards were always likely to be tense battles and it was no surprise to see honours shared, but Kingston certainly had the edge on the bottom boards. Nick Grey, another Kingston veteran but playing his first game of the season for the club, swept to victory on board four; Yae-Chan Yang played what Way described as a “beautiful” game to win on board five, and Gregor Smith won on board six. There was a blip in the middlegame where Way felt Smith’s opponent, Nick Thynne, was getting some counterplay in exchange for two pawns, but Smith, who is having a terrific debut season for Kingston, had it all under control and won smoothly.

Kingston pulled ahead on the bottom boards

Board three, with Jon Eckert as White up against the dangerous Ian McLeod, was a dramatic clash between two players who know each other’s games well. McLeod played the Scandinavian and went the exchange up. But Eckert had three pawns as compensation, and in the end they told. That made it 5-1 to Kingston – a result far beyond my wildest brain-befogged expectations. We now face new-kids-on-the-Surrey-League-block Chessington in the final, which is likely to be played in early May. We won the Lauder Trophy in 2018/19 and would dearly like to get our hands back on the cup, but we aren’t counting our chickens yet. Chessington put out Lauder specialists South Norwood in their semi-final, are nurturing some capable juniors and will be no pushovers.

Stephen Moss, (indisposed) Kingston Lauder Trophy captain

Epsom thwart Kingston 2’s late promotion drive

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 7 March 2022

This was the clash of the Centenary Trophy titans. League leaders Epsom 3 arrived knowing that a win would clinch the Surrey division 4 title. Kingston 2 had fielded a largely novice team when visiting Epsom in November, but this time selected four players with grades of 1800+ as we looked to secure a victory that would blow the title race wide open.

Kingston fielded Peter Andrews, John Bussmann, John Shanley, Gregor Smith and Max Mikardo-Greaves, with captain Adam Nakar coming in as a late substitute on board three. We had been confident ahead of the match, but Epsom had come well prepared and the two strong teams soon started to cancel out. 

There was a drawish Sicilian (or as Shanley preferred to call it, perhaps implying he had found the line a little baffling, a “Sardinian”) on board four, followed by another draw on board one for Andrews. First blood then went to Kingston, with Smith pulling off a nice win on board five – 2-1 to the home side. Epsom, however, stormed back. Mikardo-Greaves is surely now only one game away from his first league win, but here he lost a “won” endgame in time trouble against a far higher-rated opponent – 2-2.

Disaster then struck for the home team on board two. Bussmann’s offbeat opening put him under severe and sustained pressure on his queenside against former Kingstonian Chris Wright, who is surely stronger than the grade of 1700 off which he was playing here. Despite a valiant effort, Bussmann couldn’t hold the position: 3-2 to Epsom, who now had at least the half-point that would keep them on top of the table.

That left me – up against Michael Wickham, who had won both the previous games we had played. I am rather fond of dubious gambits (Halloween Gambit, anyone?), but on this occasion it was my opponent who opted for the imaginative route, playing the Urusov Gambit (1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4). Unfortunately for him – and happily for me – it didn’t really work out, and he was on the back foot throughout. My play was more patient than usual and I managed a match-saving win.

But it was still Epsom who were the happier with a 3-3 draw. We have to win our last two matches, both against Richmond, to have any chance of catching them, but if Epsom beat South Norwood 2 away in their final game they will lift the trophy and gain promotion to division 3. Our destiny is no longer in our own hands, which is never a pleasant feeling.

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

Kingston glide flatteringly past Hounslow

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Royal British Legion, Hounslow, on 28 February 2022

Kingston successfully continued their quest for promotion from Thames Valley division 2 with a win against Hounslow away. The 4.5-1.5 scoreline suggests a comfortable victory for the team, but in the first phase of the match such a result looked unlikely. Fortunately for Kingston, our match fitness told in the final hour.

Jon Eckert (near right) and Vladimir Bovtramovic (next to him)

An initial conundrum for captain John Foley was the whereabouts of our board five, Vladimir Bovtramovic. This was not Vladimir’s fault, as he did arrive in time to beat the default count, but was due to the coincidence that there was another Vlad, Vladimir Li, who had come along to the Willoughby Arms for the first time that evening.  John’s WhatsApp enquiry “Where is Vlad?” got the response from base “Vlad is here”, and it took a few more exchanges of messages to establish that this was the new Vlad, not the one required in Hounslow.  Anyway, it’s good to know that we are now very well resourced in the Vlad department. 

Hounslow fielded a strong team, with players rated over 2000 on the top two boards and experience all the way down. In the opening phase it was hard to gauge which side was doing better. Alan Scrimgour looked to have a level game against David White in a c3 Sicilian, and this was quite soon drawn. Jon Eckert was a pawn down in a rather dry position, while in Vladimir’s game his centre was in danger of caving in, so he sought compensation on the queenside. The board 1 Maycock-Vaddadi encounter, a Sveshnikov Sicilian, saw White controlling the central white squares in exchange for a sacrificed pawn. In Foley-Fincham a dead drawn opposite-coloured bishop ending had been reached (below), but John then rejected a draw because of the uncertain situation on the other boards. My own position, out of a Bird’s Opening (I wished I hadn’t missed Mike Basman’s recent talk) was a complex one, with play poised right across the board.  I thought I had a winning manoeuvre, plunging my knight into a hole on e3, but I had overlooked White’s defence and found myself facing a formidable pawn centre. 

Foley v Fincham: White managed to win from here due to a more active king

However, the second phase of play turned very much in Kingston’s favour.  John’s opponent neglected his king and allowed a passed pawn and an active king. David showed that he’d evaluated his positional strengths accurately, and he ended up trapping Black’s queen. I was very much on the defensive, but Matt Dydak was worried about his time shortage and offered me a draw – I grabbed his hand without a second thought. The greatest upturn was on board six, where suddenly Jon was a whole rook up, thanks to a clever sequence of moves resulting in a knight fork. Finally, Vladimir and his opponent agreed a draw and the match was well and truly Kingston’s.

David Rowson