Kingston B squeeze past Staines A in tricky encounter

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at Egham Constitutional Club, Egham on 7 December 2023

On paper this looked straightforward for Kingston B, who put out a strong team against bottom-of-the-table Staines A and enjoyed an average ratings advantage of more than 200 points a board, but in reality it was anything but. The result was in doubt until the conclusion of the final game at the end of the three-hour playing session, and we only just got across the line – winning by 3.5-2.5 to go third in Thames Valley division 2.

Losing with Black on boards four and six did not help the Kingston cause. David Shalom lost to Stephen Payne on board 6, ceding a space advantage to White that resulted first in the loss of a pawn and eventually in an attack by the white rook and queen that would either force mate or drive home a pawn.

I played very loosely on board 4, unsoundly sac-ing a piece in the opening and allowing my opponent, Siddarth Ramaraju, to build a winning position. I somehow contrived to fight back, trapping White’s queen to win back some material. But even then, while I felt I was back on at least level terms, engines confirm I was still behind, and in the position below White finds a tactic which more or less seals my fate.

28. Nxf4 doesn’t just win a pawn here. More importantly, it frees up White’s very cramped position, allowing him to rebuff what at one point looked a promising counter-attack. I kept pushing the h-pawn , but now he was able to marshal his defences and, after a further blunder by Black, it eventually fell. In truth, defeat was what I deserved for such a wild performance.

Kingston captain Gregor Smith had won quickly on board 5, making it 2-1 to Staines on the bottom three boards. It was then left to our three highly rated players on boards 1 to 3 to bring home the bacon, and they did not disappoint.

David Rowson got the better of Staines captain Derek McGovern on board 1 in the closed version of the Breyer Variation of the Caro-Kann. Black had a space advantage in the opening, but made the mistake of locking down the centre and allowing David to launch an attack on the kingside. On move 39, in the position below, David delivers the killer blow.

Here David plays 39. Nxe5! “Not a hard move to see,” he says modestly, “but satisfying to play.” If 39…Qxe5 40. Bf4 wins the queen, but the alternative as played is also losing: 39…Bd6 40. Nxg6+ Ke8 41. Qxe6+ 1-0. In fact, everything is losing. The apparently slow-burning Breyer has done its work.

Alan Scrimgour and Staines’ Ye Kwaw had a bruising encounter on board 2, with Alan launching a violent attack in the opening which at one stage looked as if it might result in another quick Kingston win. But Kwaw fought back and the two reached a position in which each had queen and a rook, with Kwaw menacing the white king. With time running short, Alan was finding the noise in the venue – the bar is rather too close to the playing area for comfort – increasingly irritating, and he was eventually happy to agree a draw.

The score was now 2.5-2.5, which meant the match hinged on the game on board 2, where Kingston’s Julian Way had Black against Jon Barnes. It looked level for a long time, but never underestimate Julian in an endgame. He is expert at squeezing out a win and, a pawn up in a rook and pawn ending, he did it again here. It can be very hard to convert a pawn advantage in such endgames, but Julian played with his customary accuracy and his opponent was eventually forced to concede. A welcome and very hard-earned away win for Kingston.

Stephen Moss