Kingston B fall short in promotion tussle

Kingston B v Surbiton B, Thames Valley division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 29 April 2024

After a fine season in Thames Valley division 2, we found ourselves in with a chance of promotion going into the final game of the season against neighbours Surbiton B, who also faced exactly the same prospect. We spent most of our preparation for the match undecided if getting promoted would be a wise idea or not for the club. On the one hand, you always want to win and play at the top level, but on the other hand a second Kingston team in the top division could present logistical nightmares, not to mention produce some severe rating disparities and mismatches.

Unclear on what the best outcome would be, it would be down to fate to decide. We fielded our usual line-up of second-team regulars, with expert-level players Julian Way, Peter Andrews and Alan Scrimgour as the top three, and Stephen Moss, me and Nick Grey making up the middle order/tail (delete according to how generous you are feeling). Between the six of us, we have played 50 Thames Valley League games this season – stability and consistency, the core of a successful team. 

Surbiton brought a strong and balanced team to the Willoughby, with only 127 rating points separating their top and bottom boards (compared with our 357). There was no doubt that promotion was uppermost in their minds, especially given that their first team were set to be relegated from the top division. All was set for an intriguing match.

Alan Scrimgour, with Black, faced Paul Dupré on board 3, and was happy to settle for an early draw against a dangerous opponent. Stephen Moss then succumbed to the in-form Sean Butler on board 4 after his Smith-Morra Gambit self-destructed. Having vowed never to play the Scandinavian last week, Stephen has now said he is jettisoning the Smith-Morra as well. Quite what he will play next season is anyone’s guess – Scrabble perhaps. Nick Grey, playing Andrew Boughen for the second time in a week, made a mistake in the opening and went down on board 6, leaving Kingston with an uphill struggle for promotion. 

But all was by no means yet lost. Julian Way secured an excellent victory on board 1 against rising Surbiton star Joshua Pirgon – another great result for Julian with Black. Things were getting spicy, and on board 2 Peter Andrews faced Surbiton captain Nick Faulks. Nick deviated from earlier battles in the English, which Peter had won. He induced Peter to give up the bishop pair in return for doubled isolated pawns, leading to a tense middlegame in which Peter had a slight edge. But his time shortage, uncastled king and Nick’s centralisation gave home supporters cause for concern.

Eventually Peter blundered, but Nick eschewed what should have been a winning move to get the draw by perpetual check which meant Surbiton could not lose the match and ensured they would have a team playing in the top division of the Thames Valley League next season. “Phew!” Nick was heard to mutter afterwards. Job done – and an important job too for his club. That made the score 3-2 and Surbiton had what they needed.

Finally, I managed to swindle a victory against young Joseph Morrison. Joseph outplayed me in the opening, but had used up a lot of time in doing so. I had nothing to lose and at the time knew a win was our only hope of promotion, so fired an all-out attack on the kingside which was tricky to defend against while playing on the increment. Practically it was easy for me to make moves, and hard for my opponent to defend, and I eventually managed to break through and win, settling the result at 3-3. 

Congratulations to Surbiton for topping the division ahead of Richmond and Twickenham B, who are also promoted and will, instead of us, have the logistical and rating dilemmas of having two teams in division 1 next season. We were at the same time disappointed and relieved by the result – a complicated emotion.

Season review

I think solid is the way to sum up the season. We only lost two matches, had a healthy game difference, no thrills, no real spills! My Player of the Season goes to Julian Way. Julian has led the line brilliantly, recording five wins, two draws and just a single loss –  an impressive +4 score. His wins have always been an impressive combination of positional understanding, neat tactics and accurate endgame play. 

Julian Way (right): Kingston B captain Gregor Smith’s choice as player of the season. Photograph: John Saunders

Thanks to everyone who played this season. We had a solid core of solid players who were extremely dependable, and happy to travel, throughout the season, making team selection simple.

Moving on

On a personal note, in my second season of captaincy, I was very pleased to vastly improve on my own performance last season and finish unbeaten, with six draws and four wins in the division. However, it will sadly be my last season with Kingston (for now!), as from June I’m heading for pastures new in Oxfordshire to start a family.

I joined Kingston Chess Club in 2021, like many having turned to online chess during the pandemic. I was keen to resume playing the game that had been a large part of my early childhood. The Kingston club has had a central role in my life since. I’ve relished the competitiveness of league chess, but probably valued even more the relaxed casual games down in the bar on a Monday night.

The lectures that go over my head, simultaneous displays against elite players, the many blitz tournaments, garden chess in the rain and driving to Maidenhead will all go down as cherished memories, but it’s the people that will really be missed. Thanks to everyone for making the club a special place. I will be excited to watch Kingston Chess Club’s progress over the coming years and, you never know, I might be back. I will in any case have a similar length drive to Maidenhead from my new home in Oxfordshire, so anything is possible!

Gregor Smith, captain of Kingston B in Thames Valley division 2