Kingston get vital win at Surbiton in titanic clash

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 24 January 2023

The two teams do battle at the start of an epic local derby. Kingston players on the right of each board

What a tremendous match this was. Surbiton had put out a very strong team and clearly meant business. They were slightly outrated on boards 1 and 2, but with players as good as Mark Josse and Chris Briscoe had nothing to fear from the killer Kingston duo of David Maycock and Peter Lalić.

Josse played his usual Sicilian and David offered an early knight sac which really put the proverbial cat among the pigeons:

Engines are a little equivocal about the sacrifice, giving Black a small edge, but in practical play it gives White excellent chances, with the Black king marooned in the centre and Black underdeveloped and lacking coordination. Josse accepted the sacrifice and it led to a game of great complexity. It was the last game to finish, so let’s leave the result for a moment.

The first game to finish, after two hours’ play, was board 6 – a draw between Peter Andrews and Surbiton captain Angus James, two players with similar ratings and rock-solid techniques. Peter played a Sicilian and was never worse. Next to finish was Briscoe v Lalić. The latter had played the Nimzowitsch Defence. Briscoe had a decent edge and a time advantage, but Peter showed his usual resolution to equalise the position and was quick to accept a draw when it was offered. 1-1.

Vladimir Li looked to have a space advantage against David Scott’s French Defence, with a phalanx of pawns pushing forward on the kingside. But later analysis showed that the apparent advantage was illusory. Scott countered skilfully and the position was level when a draw was agreed with time starting to run short after 30 moves. The Thames Valley incremental time control of 65 + 10 is just a bit too swift for chess at this level. Administrators please take note.

When would we get a positive result? Not yet. Next to conclude was the board 4 game between Kingston captain David Rowson and Altaf Chaudhry, a dangerous opponent, especially in a time scramble. Chaudhry played the Nimzowitsch Variation of the English Opening (1. c4 e5 2. Nf3) – it was a big night for Nimzowitsch – but David marshalled his pieces cannily and by the middle game appeared to be calling the shots. But Altaf will always complicate and usually when time is short. In the position below, what should David play?

He chose 25… dxe5, and Altaf was able to trade down to equality. Better is 25… Bxe5 because Black will win a kingside pawn: 26. Bxe4 fxg3 27. fxg3 Bxg3 28. hxg3 Bxe4. White’s g-pawn also becomes vulnerable. Engines reckon this is one that got away for Kingston, but when time is running short these critical decisions are far from easy. Altaf reached an equal endgame and the game was drawn. 2-2.

All the while, Kingston president John Foley and Surbiton’s Liam Bayly had been locked in a highly technical struggle on board 5. Foley, with White against an opponent he knows well, had successfully sought to unbalance the position, but left himself with a backward c-pawn. He cleverly resolved the situation by allowing himself to be saddled with doubled d-pawns which he correctly calculated would be dangerous in the endgame.

Nxg6 is feasible here because of the possible fork of king and rook by checking with the queen on g3 after first capturing the knight on e4, but 27… Rc3 holds the position for Black. John actually played 27. Rc1 and, in time trouble, Liam took the rook, giving John control of the c-file. Had Liam doubled his rooks instead, he would have had a slight edge. As it was, it was John that had the advantage and, by trading queens and advancing his pawns, he eventually broke through Liam’s defences. Playing this sort of endgame in a time scramble is nightmarish.

At last then we had a winner on the night: 3-2 to Kingston and just the Maycock-Josse game left. By now both players were on the increment, but it was David who was pressing, forgoing what looked like a perpetual, driving Mark’s king across the board and eventually delivering mate. A brilliant win and a terrific way to end a keenly contested match, which Kingston won 4-2 to put them level on points with Richmond A and Hammersmith A at the top of the Thames Valley division 1 table.

Stephen Moss