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