Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 14 March 2023
This was a crucial clash for Kingston B, away to fellow relegation strugglers Surbiton C, who against the odds had taken the spoils in the reverse fixture at the start of the season. On board 2 and playing Black, Peter Andrews, who has been a star of the league campaign, was first to finish with an emphatic win against Alexey Markov. Peter’s self-confessed “cheapo” picked up a piece early on and he converted smoothly.
The “cheapo” was actually the result of a blunder by Alexey. The game was completely level after 23 moves, but in the position below he made a fairly logical-looking move that more or less lost on the spot:
Perhaps wary of Peter’s big rating advantage, Alexey played 24. Qa5?? to get the queens off and perhaps head towards a draw, but the move loses because it leaves the capturing knight on a5 prey to Black’s rook. The game proceeded: 24. Qa5 Qxa5 25. Nxa5 Ne4 26. bxa4 (Nxb7 is better but still losing) Rxa5 27. Rxb7 Rxa4 28. Nc6 Bf6 29. Rdd7 Kf8 (unnecessary prophylaxis; Black can just snaffle the a-pawn and is plus 6, but everything is winning).
Alexey played on, with increasing desperation, until he was mated on move 47. And why not? As Tartakower said “No one ever won a game by resigning.” In the position below, what should Black play? The game is of course totally won, but what is the move you should play if you want golden coins to be showered on the board? No looking at the text below the diagram please. This is fun to work out for yourself. It took the collective brains trust of the Kingston Chess Club What’s App group a good 15 minutes to come up with the solution.
Peter played the very natural 39. Nf1, which got the job done, but the best move is the decidedly unnatural-looking Rd8!!, casually tossing a rook away and allowing check, but critically gaining a tempo for Black. In fact, in this variation, Black gives away both rooks to achieve mate in seven: 39…Rd8 40. Rxd8+ Kg7 41. Rd2 Kg6 42. Ra6+ e6 43. Rxe6+ fxe6 44. Rf2 Rxh2+ 45. Rxh2 Bf6#. Ah, the counter-intuitive beauty of chess. “I don’t feel too bad for missing that,” said Peter, “except that it would have been great entertainment.”
Another stalwart, Charlie Cooke, who has played in every Kingston B match this season, drew on board 6 with Surbiton veteran David Morant. And fresh from his debut victory for the first team the previous evening, Max Selemir’s game also ended in a draw on board 3, continuing his excellent record for the second team this season.
It was a clash of the captains on board 4, as I took on Surbiton skipper Paul McCauley. Paul played the Jobava London System, which he said he had prepared earlier, and went for the familiar idea of a pawn sac on e6, via this sequence of moves: 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Bf4 c5 4. e4 cxd4 5. Qxd4 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7. Bxc6 Bxc6 8. e5 Nd7 9. e6 fxe6. The pawn sac removes Black’s f-pawn and doubles the pawns on the e-file, as shown in the diagram below.
Engines reckon White has adequate compensation for the pawn, but I managed to simplify quickly, exchange queens and avoid any counterplay against my rather awkward pawn structure. Ultimately my mass of pawns in the centre proved critical in the endgame, where I managed to win a pawn race by one tempo and deliver checkmate with my newly crowned queen, supported by a crucial pawn on the e-file. A rare move order novelty that made me laugh during the game were my three consecutive moves of e5, e4, e5. I guess doubled pawns really aren’t always that bad – a point Nigel Short often likes to make.
My win made it 3-1 to Kingston. We now just needed a draw from the remaining two games to secure the victory, and it was Alan Scrimgour on board 1 who delivered the crucial half-point. Despite having a piece for two pawns, Alan felt he did well to secure the draw as his opponent was threatening to break through with the extra pawns on the kingside.
The match was won, but Stephen Moss was still blitzing away in a rook-and-pawn endgame against Surbiton junior Conrad Bredenoord on board 5. Bredenoord is a very throughtful young man who played slowly and imaginatively, essaying the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit (1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 e4), which is an excellent choice against the King’s Gambit. Stephen got a tiny edge out of the opening, but just back from holiday his thought processes were even more scrambled than usual and he went badly wrong in the key position shown below.
He played 19. Bf3?? here. It looks plausible, but deserves to lose. The game proceeded: 19. Bf3 Rxd1 20. Rxd1 Nxf3 21. gxf3 Rxh2+ 22. Ke3 Rxb2 23. Ra1 Bd5 24. a3 Rb3 25. Ne2 Bc4 26. Rc1 Bxe2 27. Kxe2 Rxa3. Black is plus 3, and White is pretty well sunk – and all because Stephen missed a fairly straightforward intermezzo. This is how it should, in Stephen’s dreams at least, have gone: 19. Bg4+ Kb8 20. Rxd8+ Rxd8 21. Rd1 Rh8 22. Bh3 a5 23. Ne2 b6 24. c4 Ng6 25. Rd2 f5 26.Kg1 Be4. In this variation, White gains a healthy plus: he is not necessarily winning but is certainly calling the shots.
As it was, Stephen was fighting for his life – and to give him credit he made a good job of it. Conrad had rook and five pawns against rook and three pawns, but Stephen told himself that such endgames were not necessarily lost and, with both players now on the increment, successfully created complications. Oblivious to the gaggle of spectators around the board, he fought tigerishly and in the end secured a draw. A fantastic hold. “A draw that felt better than most wins,” he said afterwards, in a combination of elation and exhaustion. That made the final score 4-2 to Kingston, and, with five games to go to avoid the drop, the win in the match could be the lifeline we need to stay afloat in Thames Valley division 2.
Gregor Smith, Kingston B captain in the Thames Valley League