Kingston A beat Richmond to secure TVL Div 1 title

Kingston A v Richmond A, Thames Valley division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 20 May 2024

Sometimes a cliché just happens to fit the facts, so let’s say that Kingston’s 2023-24 Thames Valley League division 1 experience was a season of two halves. Up to the end of January, we had played seven matches, winning three, drawing three and losing one (to Ealing). Not too bad, but not title-winning form. In contrast, during the same period, our main rivals Hammersmith had won six and only drawn one match (against us). The title looked to be theirs. But the following weeks saw Kingston achieve consistently good results, winning three and drawing one, while Hammersmith seemed to lose their focus, losing three of their final five matches, including one at home to us.

The consequence of this was that on Monday 20 May we faced Richmond A at the Willoughby with the same number of match points (eight) as Hammersmith, but with this match in hand. If we won or drew we would be champions for the second year running. 

The strength of our team is shown by the fact that Peter Lalić was on board 4. I reckon that few opponents would now mistake his opening 1. d3 d4 2. e5 as evidence of modest ambitions, as he has shown himself to be a master at patiently wringing victories from these innocent-looking moves. It happened again against Bertie Barlow. In the position below Peter was a pawn up, but if Bertie had contested the d-file with 37…Rd7 it would have been hard for Peter to make progress, as an exchange of rooks leaves a drawn king and pawn ending.

However, after 37…Rg7 38. Rd3, Peter first activated his rook and then pursued the winning plan of advancing his a-pawn to a6. His opponent allowed him to win the pawn on a7 in a desperate search for counterplay, but the white a-pawn was then unstoppable.

Kingston 1 Richmond 0, and David Maycock soon made it 2-0 with a win on board one, in a very different type of game. Gavin Wall opened with the Trompowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2. Bg5), and after five moves this position was reached:

White took the offered e-pawn – 6. Nxe5 – and David then played the spectacular Ng4. Now 7. Bxd8 would not be sensible in view of 7…Bxf2 mate. Gavin defended with 7. Nd3, though David thought “7. Nxg4 was the way to go, to which Black would have played 7…Qxg5 8. h3 and Nc6 with compensation.” The game actually continued 7…Qxg5 8. Nxc5, giving this position:

Now David was able to spoil White’s kingside pawn structure with a temporary knight sacrifice. 8…Nxf2 9. Kxf2 Qh4+ 10. g3 Qd4+ winning back the knight. The position is still roughly level, but later Black’s rooks infiltrated White’s second rank to give the following position:

Here 25. Rf4 is best, though White’s situation would still be difficult. Instead, Gavin played 25. Rxf7 and lost queen for rook after 25…Rdg2+ 26. Kf1 Rf2+ 27. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 28. Kxf2 Qxg7. He resigned one move later. Another very impressive win for David against an IM.

On board 2 Vladimir Li and Michael Healey were having a technical battle in a line of the Catalan Opening. Mike gave up a pawn to activate his queen’s bishop, but was eventually left with a weak pawn on a6 and resigned when this was about to fall, at which point he had already lost two other pawns in a rook ending.

In our final two matches we have been very fortunate to have 10-year-old Supratit Banerjee (pictured) playing for us. His mature, patient play as Black against Maks Gajowniczek was remarkable for someone of his age. His analysis of the following position is instructive.

Supratit explained: “17…a5 is not the best here because after 18. a3 bxc5 19. bxc5 my queen cannot come to a5. If 17…a5 18. a3 axb4 then the white rook is occupying the a-file.” So Supratit played 17…bxc5 instead, and after 18. bxc5 Qa5 19. Rfb1 Ba6 he commented: “The white light-squared bishop defends key squares such as c4 and e4, so if I trade it then the black knight will become better than the white knight because the white knight has no good squares.” The game continued 20. Bf3, allowing Bc4, and Black has achieved an advantage on the queenside. White’s exchange of rooks on b8 added to this advantage, though presumably White was hoping to get counterplay with e4.

A few moves later this was the position, with White to play:

Supratit commented: “White has to play 26. Qc1. That would still be a slight advantage to Black, but White can hold if he plays perfectly.” Instead Maks took the bishop – 26. Qxc4 – and after 26…Qxf3 Black had a winning advantage due to the active position of his pieces and White’s kingside weakness. Supratit won on move 41.

Thus the four top-rated members of the team had already given us the wins needed for victory in the match and for the retention of the Thames Valley League title.

Among all these successes my own game hardly bears mention, but it did have some interesting points – one of them painful for me.  In this position I saw an opportunity to win the exchange:

There followed 25. c4 Nc7 26. Bxc6 Qxc6 27. Qxb3 exd4 28. Bf4 Nc5. Here I moved too quickly and miscalculated, playing 29. Nxd4 when Qd1 would have kept more advantage. This was the position:

Black played 29…Nxb3 30. Nxc6 Nxa1 30. Rxe8 Nxe8 31. Nxd8. Seven successive captures have left me just a pawn up. I actually hoped to win this position, but my opponent played it better than me, and I ended up with bishop and two pawns against his knight and one pawn, but with me unable to make any progress. Disappointed, I sat looking at the position and completely forgot about my ticking clock. Suddenly my opponent broke into my reverie to point out that I had lost on time. It was a shocking and stupid finish to the game for me. Fortunately, these negative feelings were overlaid with delight that we had already won the league.

The final game to finish, like mine, made no difference to the overall result. John Foley had graciously stepped in as a substitute on board 3 when it turned out that Silverio Abasolo had got the wrong date for the match. Behind on the clock from the start, John had put up a good fight, but ultimately lost a rook ending to John Burke.

It is no exaggeration to say that in 2022-23 we had swept all before us; as a result, we felt that in the first matches of this season other clubs made a point of trying to get out their strongest players against Kingston. We sometimes struggled early on, but came through in the end. It has to be admitted that we were reliant on Hammersmith slipping up to give us any chance of winning the league, but then we had to show our mettle by taking that chance – and we did.

Many thanks to all the players who made this achievement possible, and to Peter Andrews and John Foley for captaining when I was unavailable, to Stephen Moss for his assistance with team selection, and to Greg Heath for his hard work getting everything ready for home matches. Next season … but no, let’s not even think about next season yet.

David Rowson, Kingston captain in Thames Valley League division 1

Final table