Kingston beat Hammersmith to keep title hopes alive

Hammersmith A v Kingston A, Thames Valley division 1 match played at the London MindSports Centre, London W6 on 14 March 2024

Fate, or the Thames Valley fixtures secretaries, decreed that in the week beginning 11 March our first team played season-defining matches against its two main rivals: Epsom in the Surrey League and Hammersmith in the Thames Valley League. We had recorded a famous victory against Epsom on the Monday; could we do the same at Hammersmith on the Thursday? They were also playing their second match in a week, but had only drawn at Richmond, so maybe we would go into the clash with more confidence.

On arrival at the impressive London MindSports Centre we discovered that the Hammersmith team was missing some of its strongest players, a few of whom were playing in the Reykjavik Open. They were still able to field a challenging team, however. Their top board, Thomas Bonn, had won seven and drawn just one of his eight TVL games before this match.

The game on board 3 was the first to finish. Peter Lalić opened with the Mieses Opening (1. d3) against Hammersmith captain Bajrush Kelmendi’s customary double fianchetto. Peter soon took control of the c-file and Bajrush’s pieces were an unhappy picture by move 27:

None of them can defend g6. There was a very conclusive denouement, starting from this position:

The evolution of the opening on board 6 was instructive. John Foley’s opponent, Greg Billenness, clearly wanted an attacking game, as he choose the Blackmar Gambit: 1.d4 d5 2. e4. However, John foiled this by playing 2…c6 to transpose to his familiar Caro-Kann Defence. White was still determined to have a tactical game and chose the double-edged Fantasy Variation (3. f3). John was ready for this, and played what he described as “the sharpest line of the sharpest line”, giving this position (not for the faint-hearted) after move 4.

Sitting next to John, I spent almost as much time looking at his game as my own, since it seemed much more interesting. After 5. dxe5 Bc5 6. Na4 Qa5+ 7. c3 Bxg1 8.Rxg1 John could have played 8…dxe4, winning back the pawn, but instead chose to make it a gambit with Nd7. John built up pressure in the centre and as a result Greg first gave up a pawn and then the exchange. John had to be careful, as White’s queen and knight threatened to combine against Black’s king, but in the end the Hammersmith player’s time pressure told and he blundered the knight. 2-0 to Kingston.

David Maycock is never afraid to sacrifice the exchange for an attack, and in this game, a Sicilian Defence, he did it twice. First, in the position below.

David decided to use his mobile pawn majority by playing 20. c5. Black took the rook – 20…Nxc1 21. Rxc1 – but erred by playing 21…dxc5 (Rd8 was better), which was answered by 22. d6! Three moves later this position arose, with White to play.

My own game featured a reversal of fortunes. Reaching this position from a Giuoco Piano, I felt I was on top and just needed to work out how to pursue a kingside attack:

As we were well ahead in the match I offered a draw here. It’s actually still quite a tricky position for both sides. A queen exchange is likely to favour Black, whose rook and king will be better placed, but my opponent was probably worried about his time, so he accepted the offer.

On board 4 Will Taylor was facing Christof Brixel, who must be underrated – he’s actually won all his TVL games this season. In a difficult position arising from an English Opening, Will lost the exchange and had to resign soon after.

The final game finished in unusual circumstances. Silverio Abasolo, who had loyally come all the way from Kent to play, needed to finish in time to catch the train back. In a close ending he blitzed out his moves and eventually the players agreed a draw, unfortunately too late for Silverio to get the train he wanted. We were very grateful for his participation, as apart from giving the team an extra half-point it also meant that his team-mates below him played a board lower than they otherwise would have.

This completed a perfect week for Kingston’s first team, with wins against our main rivals in the two leagues, leaving us with an outside chance of the title in both. This victory put us level with Hammersmith on match points, but they had three game points more, so as well as winning our final two matches we would need to win well and hope our rivals slipped up.

David Rowson, Kingston A captain in the Thames Valley League