Surrey League division 1 match played at Coulsdon (CCF) on 3 April 2023
This was in some ways a peculiar match. Kingston were already confirmed as champions in division 1 of the Surrey League and Coulsdon were not threatened by relegation. So what, apart from bragging rights, was actually at stake? Kingston captain David Rowson showed Coulsdon great respect – they are, after all, a large and very powerful club – by taking a strong team down to south London. Coulsdon, though, took a different approach, resting three of their strongest players – Gavin Lock, Ian Snape and Chino Atako, all of whom were at the club playing in one of Coulsdon’s highly competitive internal tournaments.
The sight of the three rested players may have lulled us into a false sense of security. Surely, as champions-elect, this would be a piece of cake. Far from it. Coulsdon have some tremendous juniors and, with three of them in the line-up, it was soon apparent that this was going to be a challenging encounter.
It started perfectly. Silverio Abasolo, playing quickly and efficiently on board 4, got an edge after some tactical exchanges and pressed home a kingside attack, a straightforward knight sac making mate inevitable on move 26. His opponent resigned a few moves before the final blow could be executed.
That, though, was the end of the relatively relaxed part of the evening. On board 3 Kingston’s Mike Healey had Black against strong Coulsdon junior Rahul Babu. Babu played the Scotch Game, and some very combative opening play by both sides gave Mike a small edge. This was the position that resulted, with Black’s 16th move to be played:
Mike played a very natural move here. Show this position to 50 players and I bet most would play it. He went for 15…Ba6 to attack the pinned bishop on e2, a move that had been shouting “play me” for a while. But White has a neat response, 16. c4, which relieves the pressure of Black’s attack, more or less forces an exchange of queens and equalises on the spot. Black should have played the quieter 15… Be6, or even 15… h6.
Black did not, in fact choose the best continuation, and some clever tactics gave White an edge that was never relinquished. The game continued: 15…Ba6 16. c4 Bxc4 17. Qxb2 Bxb2 18. Ne7+ Kh8 19. Bxc4 f6 20. Be3 Rxe7 21. Kf2 Ba3 22. Rd7 Rb8 23. Bb3 Rbe8 24. Rxe7 Bxe7 25. Bxa7 Bd6 26. g3 Kg7 27. Re1 Ra8 28. Bd4. Bishop pair; becalmed knight; extra pawn on the a-file. An unpleasant position for Black after having the edge earlier, and Babu converted well to square the match.
David Maycock was having a mighty struggle with Ian Calvert on board 1 – a queen and pawn endgame in which Calvert looked to have good drawing chances. Peter Lalić was engineering a powerful kingside attack on board 2, and we were counting on that for a win. David Rowson’s board 5 game was unclear; John Foley was the exchange down on 6; Alan Scrimgour, up against the immensely promising nine-year-old Supratit Banerjee (rated 1667 by Surrey but with a live ECF rating of 2022!), was holding a minor-piece endgame but in danger of falling behind on the clock on board 7; and on board 8 Peter Andrews looked on course for a win once he had established a passed e-pawn, though both sides still had queen and a rook, leaving work to be done.
David Rowson’s game rapidly went downhill in a flurry of tactics. “I was Black in an English,” he explained later, “but found it difficult to decide on the best plan and one mistake led to another. On move 39 I could still have saved something from the game by offering a rook which couldn’t be taken. This would have led to a draw.” But the chance went begging and Kingston were 2-1 down.
At one point I genuinely feared the worst, and started to crave a 4-4 draw to preserve the first team’s unbeaten record this season. Oh, ye of little faith! The Maycock and Lalić double act which has been central to Kingston’s success over the past two seasons once again came to our rescue. David found a way to win his queen-and-pawn endgame, and Peter performed his usual multi-dimensional tactical sorcery to mate his young opponent in 41 moves. Now it was 3-2 and much depended on the rather longer-established Kingston double act of president John Foley and chair Alan Scrimgour, who appeared to be up against it.
Both, though, are technically excellent endgame players, and we were safe in their hands. Alan turned around his endgame against the Prodigy and may well have stood better, but with hardly any time on his clock he took a draw. That made it 3.5-2.5, and, when Peter Andrews smoothly converted his “won” endgame, we were over the line.
That just left John Foley’s game. John had been under the cosh for much of the evening, but he is unflappable in a time scramble and found a way to draw. Indeed, later he thought he may even have had winning chances. That made the final score a very satisfactory 5-3, though you did wonder how strong Coulsdon would be if all their strongest adult players lined up alongside their terrifyingly proficient juniors. Let’s park that anxiety for next year.