Kingston secure crucial win against strong Coulsdon 1

Surrey League division 1 match played at Coulsdon on 15 January 2024

Coulsdon (left) up against Kingston, with Supratit Banerjee and David Maycock on board 1 in the foreground

After two losses in our first three matches in Surrey division 1, Kingston 1 needed a win at Coulsdon, and as soon as we arrived we knew it would not be easy. They fielded a stronger team than they had in the equivalent fixture last year and we were missing some key players, so it was always going to be tight. In the end, Kingston came out on top 5-3, but there were alarms along the way.

No alarms on board 8, though, where Alan Scrimgour with Black played out a short draw with Martin Faulkner. Alan more than equalised against an English – all the Coulsdon players essayed the English with White – but never had enough to press for a decisive result. Peter Andrews also took a draw with Black on board 6 – another English easily stifled, with Black if anything having slightly the better of it.

Julian Way and Ian Calvert also had a draw on board 7, but a much more eventful one in which Julian played skilfully to counter Ian’s Scandinavian. The opening had given Ian an apparent space advantage, but it proved illusory and an endgame resulted with bishops of the same colour pitted against each other. It looked very drawish, but Kingston president John Foley – who was spectating at the match – immediately spotted an opportunity in the position below:

If instead Black plays 34…cxb4 35. Kxd4 – the engine’s second choice but possibly better in practical play – the doubled pawns make life difficult, with White able to start to advance his d-pawn. But it remains problematic for White to win, and perhaps the result would have been a draw in 80 moves rather than in 42 moves, which is what eventuated after Julian played 34. Bd2.

How were we faring elsewhere? David Maycock was doing well against the prodigious nine-year-old Supratit Banerjee on board 1. Supratit had been rapidly promoted from board 7 in the corresponding fixture last year, but was outmanoeuvred by David in a beautifully played endgame (annotated in the Games section), with the Kingston player homing in remorselessly on Black’s isolated e-pawn. The first key position is shown below. Black errs by playing 30…Ke5 here when 30…g5 is essential:

Kingston captain Peter Andrews, analysing this instructive position later, said this: “30…Ke5 looked the most natural move to me, preventing king penetration by White.  The saving move g5 creates an extra weakness for Black (the h5 pawn), but it also allows Black to get his h-pawn on to a black square. Further, it creates a weakness for White as well, and if all the kingside pawns are swapped off, a minor piece ending with pawns on one side is hard to win even if one side is a pawn ahead because of the possibility that the weaker side can give up the piece for the last pawn, not a possibility in a rook ending.” Black had a further opportunity in the position below, but it would take considerable calculation to find what looks a very counter-intuitive move here:

We had been optimistic about David Maycock winning, but were less certain about matters elsewhere. Peter Lalić had a very constricted position against Ian Snape on board 2, Mike Healey was under pressure on board 3 against Rahul Babu, and Will Taylor and David Rowson’s games were far from clear. Where were our points going to come from? By exchanging queens unnecessarily. Peter Lalić got himself into this ugly-looking position against Ian Snape:

David Rowson, meanwhile, was engaged in a complex struggle with Shivam Agrawal, who had played a Caro-Kann. “The opening was played more or less OK by both of us,” David reports, “but after that there were many inaccuracies and missed opportunities. Credit to my opponent, who could have had a draw by repetition at two points, but played on to try to win despite his time shortage.”

“These games where kings castle on opposite sides often hang in the balance,” Peter Andrews remarked after the game. “A mistake often means the difference between win and loss, rather than win and draw.  As we now know, the win was critical to the match result. Blundering the knight is the kind of thing that easily happens in time trouble where the cooler head wins almost irrespective of the position on the board.” “I wasn’t feeling that cool,” David responded wryly, “but maybe cooler than my opponent because I think he was feeling a desperate need to win, though I don’t know if he was aware of the match situation. I was and thought a draw would be OK, though I didn’t offer him one.”

On board 4 Will Taylor was engaged in a tremendous (and to onlookers fairly opaque) struggle with Nasir Rizvi. Nasir played yet another English, to which Will responded with great verve, and by move 18 Black had a decent plus. At this point, White made a critical – and, as it turned out, losing – decision:

“I’ve rarely seen rooks treated with such contempt by both sides,” Peter Andrews said afterwards – the other pair had also fallen victim to marauding bishops at an early stage in the game. So a terrific win by Will with Black, and we were over the line and able to breathe at last.

The only disappointment on the night was Mike Healey’s loss to another star junior, Rahul Babu, on board 3 in the final game to finish. “I was lost, worked my way back into it, then blundered,” Mike said succinctly afterwards. When you have been under sustained pressure for a long period and think you have wriggled free, there is always a danger you will relax and make an error. It is also disturbing to be the last to finish at close to 10.30pm, with organisers starting to pack sets away in what is a very busy (and sometimes noisy) venue. But Mike is not one to make excuses. He is a wonderful player who demonstrated great ingenuity despite being on the back foot for a long period in this game, and is sure to bounce back.

That made it 5-3 to Kingston and we could head out into the cold of the Chipstead Valley Road congratulating ourselves on a job well done. We now have the beginnings of a buffer against relegation, though anything could happen in this intensely competitive division. Guildford and Epsom are in the box seat, but when they head south to Coulsdon they, too, will face a stiff test. At the halfway point in the season there are no certainties about how the battle will end.

Stephen Moss