Kingston 1 overcome spirited Coulsdon

Surrey League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 16 October 2023

Coulsdon has such a large membership that there is always an element of mystery about their team selection.  But as Surrey and TVL champions we can expect opposing clubs to try to put out a strong team against us, and so it was in this encounter, when our opponents were considerably stronger than they had been when we visited Coulsdon in April. Nonetheless we still outrated them on every board and were relieved by the absence of Supratit Banerjee, currently representing Scotland in the World under-10 Cadet Championships.  We also set up an element of mystery, rotating our top boards to frustrate opposing preparation.

On top board, Peter Lalić’s rushdown strategy, sacrificing a pawn via the Morra Gambit and later the exchange for dynamic piece activity, ran into the superb calculating ability of Rahul Babu (whose ECF rating of 2169 makes him one of the country’s top juniors).  Babu fended off all the potential tactics, kept his head through Peter’s time shortage, and simplified to a king and pawn ending in which he had one extra pawn. Although doubled, that pawn was critical in allowing him to lose a move and thereby bring about zugzwang.

As at Ealing last week, David Maycock’s game once again progressed faster than others, and by the time I could tour the room he had already set up a strong attack on the kingside against Mark Smith (rated 2120). Smith played the Trompowsky Attack and allowed David to take the so-called “poisoned” pawn on b2. In the diagram position below, one might think White’s kingside pawns a bit fishy, but it is hard to believe that the game only lasted another nine moves.  

David played 14…h5! and opened the h-file. Then after 18…g6, White was expecting f5 but had missed David’s idea of Kg7, making room to pile major pieces down the h-file. 

In the final position (see below), White resigned because mate is avoidable only with ruinous material loss. Black is threatening Qh8 followed by Rh1 mate, and the bishop on g3 prevents escape via f2. If White moves the knight on g2 to put the queen there to guard h1, the game might go 24. Ne3 Qh4 (the knight was protecting that square) 25. Qg2 Bh2+ 26 Kh1 Bd7 and the arrival of the other rook on the h-file mates quickly.  White explained afterwards that he was trying out some more dynamic positions. David in his current form is not an opponent against whom to experiment.

By this time there had been a couple of draws on the lower boards. Alan Scrimgour nullified pressure from Nick Edwards with some timely exchanges, while I learned a useful lesson against Ian Calvert. In an English that had turned into a sort of Catalan, I aimed to place rooks on the d- and c-files, when it turned out that the e- and d-files would have been better. That gave Black just enough time to liquidate to a queen and bishop endgame in which neither side could penetrate without allowing the other to do so, and the game petered out.

As a proponent of the English Opening, I was delighted to see Vladimir Li using it to play a reverse Sicilian.

A move order slip gave Vladimir’s opponent, Balahari Bharat Kumar (another improving junior, rated 2070), a momentary opportunity to play e4, after which best play would have been 10. dxe4 Qxd1 11. Rxd1 Bf6  12. e5 Nxe5 13. Nd4 O-O-O with a substantial advantage to Black. Fortunately, Black missed this and stuck to his preconceived plan with f6. We rejoin the action after 17… f5.

White’s knight on e5 is attacked, and if it moves the bishop on c5 will be undefended.  The obvious 18. Bxe7 leads to an edge for Black after fxe4 19 Bxf8 exf3, with the black pawn munching white pieces like a runaway draught piece. 18. Nd6 is only slightly better for White. But Vladimir had seen in advance that the subtle temporary sacrifice 18. Neg5 gives a winning advantage. 

After 18… Bxc5 19. Nxe6 Qxe6 (Black has nothing better) 20. Ng5 simultaneously attacks the queen and uncovers a second attack on the knight on d5. That forces the recovery of the piece, and White will arrive on d5 with check. Black has to defend both the bishop on c5 and against a subsequent Nf7+. The white bishop is in any case about to hoover up the pawn on b7, and Black will lose material. In the end, in understandable time pressure, he lost a terminal amount of material as White’s e-pawn approached the queening square.

So a 2-1 lead for Kingston, with Messrs Rowson, Way and Foley involved in long and murky games. Julian seemed to have a fractional edge for much of his game against Martin Faulkner until his 20… Nd4 allowed f5, trapping the bishop on g4 (see diagram below). 

Thankfully after 21. f5 gxf5 22. Qg5+ before h3 was a slight slip; Julian got three pawns for the marooned piece and a position which was solid enough to hold on.

David Rowson’s King’s Indian Defence came under a little early pressure from Shivam Agrawal, but he reached what he described as “a defensible position, even if it was rather crablike”.  Both sides did indeed move sideways for a while without closing their claws, and mutual attempts to open the game up in time trouble led to it fizzling out into a draw. 4-3 to Kingston.

That led to a crowd gathering around John Foley’s game with Matt Darville, and they had full value for money. In a Nimzo-Indian type position, John had sacrificed his front c-pawn for free play. For a while the compensation was not quite enough, but John was able to open up his opponent’s king and there was a momentary opportunity.

In the position above, after 28 moves, both sides were focused on the weakness of f6 and the value of the pawn on g6 if it could be reinforced; John played h4 with that in mind. Instead Rd5! would have won, with the idea of Rh5, and Black’s other weak spot at h6 leads to the defence being overloaded. Play might continue 29… Rh8 30. Kh2 Kxg6 31. e5, when Rxe5 would block the queen’s defence of e6, and if instead Rf8 the brilliant Rd8 overloads the defence.

Of course it’s easy for Stockfish to sacrifice pawns and rooks with no match result on the line. In the real world, the game continued to the position below in which Black has a slight edge but both players were so short of time that notation stopped. 

Black was even shorter of time than White, and visibly under pressure from the possibility of getting a result against a higher-rated player. He had already offered a draw, which John didn’t hear! John was unable to reconstruct the exact sequence of the next 20-odd moves with a few minutes and eventually seconds on each clock. 

The spectators saw Black force White to give up his bishop and a pawn for the black queenside pawns when the c-pawn reached c2. That should objectively have been drawn, but the white king came up the board and attacked the black rook on e8 with the king defending it on the f-file. Then Rf4+, Black picked up his K, realised that his intended move left the rook undefended, and dropped his king, somewhere between exasperation and resignation, as his last seconds expired. An appropriate end for an exciting match, won 5-3 by Kingston. An important result against a dangerous Coulsdon side.

Peter Andrews, Kingston 1 captain in Surrey League division 1