Kingston and Hammersmith draw in TVL Div 1 crunch match

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 30 October 2023

Hammersmith paid us the respect of bringing a very strong team to Kingston. An example of this was that their board 6, Bajrush Kelmendi, had been on board 1 when Hammersmith played Wimbledon in their first match of the season. We could still be quietly confident, however, especially as on top board we were delighted (and very thankful) to have a new club member, namely IM Ameet Ghasi, with an ECF rating of 2608.

Unfortunately for Hammersmith, their board 5 did not make it to our venue, so at 8.30pm (the default deadline) we were already a point up. That, however, was the only easy point we would gain. My own game was the next to finish. Over the years I have played Bajrush much more often than any other Hammersmith player, so I know that his idiosyncratic opening play (a kind of Hippopotamus Defence this time) is allied to a very quick sight of the board (he doesn’t waste much time between moves) and a sharp tactical awareness. Having said that, I have to own up to not coming up with a decent plan. My confidence coming out of the opening soon drained away, and I was on the back foot when we reached this position:

Black has just played 28…Ng4 threatening mate. I replied 29. Bg3, overlooking the clever
29…Rxe1. I now, belatedly, saw the combination, but had nothing better than to go along with it. 30. Bxd6 Bd4+ 31. Qxd4. Sadly, I have to return the queen as 31. Kh1 loses to Nf2+. So Black won the exchange, and I resigned four moves later when it was clear that my passed d-pawn was no compensation.

The battles on the top four boards were all lengthy and (to my eyes at least) tense. Lalić-Skulte opened with an unusual line of the Centre Game (1. e4 e5 2. d4 Nf6 3. dxe5 Nxe4). The two players castled on opposite sides, with Black’s kingside perhaps looking more vulnerable, though in exchange he had pressure against White’s central pawns. Peter sacrificed his e-pawn on e6 to open up the long diagonal for his black-squared bishop, and this position was reached:

Here 22. Ne5, threatening a fork on g6, was a strong possibility. Stockfish then recommends this line: 22… Qg5+ 23. Kb1 Bxd4 24. Ng6+ Kxh7 25. Nxf8+ Kg8 26. Nxe6 Bxe6 27. Rxe6 Bf6 with some advantage to White. Instead, Peter played 22. Bc3, which was also good, but he probably should have followed this up with Rxd5, eliminating the dangerous d-pawn. After 22…Qc7 23. Ne5 Rf2 24 Rd2 Rxd2 25. Kxd2 Nf8 25. Ng6+ this was the position:

There followed 26…Nxg6 27. Qxg6 Bg4 28. Qxh6, taking advantage of the pin on the g7 pawn, but 28. Qxg4 Kxh7 would have kept White in the game. Black’s next move, 28…d4, interfered with the pin and left Black with a won game after 29. Qh4 dxc3+, because Black has the resource g5 diverting the White queen and allowing Black’s queen to take the bishop on h7.

This made it 2-1 to Hammersmith, and with David Maycock’s position looking very difficult I was starting to get worried about the overall result. David had played the English Attack (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3) against his opponent’s Sicilian Najdorf, but had weakened his kingside by playing f3 and h3 and Thomas Bonn took full advantage of this.

On board 3, queens were exchanged early on and the position looked fairly level, or even a bit better for White, with Silverio Abasolo having to defend an isolated pawn on e6. However, he calmly and cleverly kept improving the position of his pieces, seizing open files and diagonals and not allowing Carsten Pedersen any real play. In this position he made good use of the e5 square:

18…Nce5 19. Nxe5 Nxe5 20. Ba2 Ba6 (seizing a key diagonal) 21. Rfe1 c5 22. Rd6 Bc4 23. Bb1 (probably not the best choice, but White was in time trouble) Rf8 (now taking the open file) 24. c3 Ng4 25. Ng3 Ref7 26. Rdd1 Rf2 27. Bd3 Bb3 28. Rd2 Rxd2 29. Bxd2 Rd8 (switching to the d-file) 30. Be2 Nxh2. Here Kingston had a stroke of luck, as Pedersen resigned with almost no time left on his clock. However, he could have played 31. Be3 (or, indeed, Bc1 or Bf4), leaving Black’s knight in serious trouble. Instead, 30…Rxd2 would have been clearly winning for Black.

So 3-2 to Hammersmith with only the top board game to finish. Ameet, playing the King’s Indian Defence against Marco Gallana, had achieved a strong central position. He won a pawn through an error by his opponent on move 20, and after that patiently but masterfully improved his position. This is how the game went:

I think it says something about the progress the first team has made in the last few seasons and our expectations these days that a draw with a very strong Hammersmith team almost feels like a loss. Nevertheless, we want to keep winning.

David Rowson, Kingston A captain in Thames Valley League division 1