Alexander Cup match (10 boards) played at the Haywain Brewers Fayre, Epsom on 22 November 2021
Wimbledon provocateur Paul Barasi has been complaining that Kingston’s season seems to comprise of nothing but beating up Epsom, and he has a point. After defeating them in the Lauder Trophy earlier this month, Kingston have now given their ambitious rival (revived in the past few years by Marcus Gosling and already on course to become one of Surrey’s strongest clubs) a fearful drubbing in the county’s most prestigious cup competition.
Barasi complained when, on Twitter, Kingston described the Lauder win as “epic”, doubting that Epsom deserved the epithet. But Kingston have struggled in the past decade or so, whereas reborn Epsom have been soaring, and the Lauder victory felt like a watershed. This much-anticipated Alexander Cup match was an even more significant moment, with Gosling & Co out for revenge, Epsom enjoying home advantage and Kingston captain John Foley reminding his troops that Kingston had not won the Alexander Cup since 1976.
Kingston had an average rating advantage of around 30 points a board (in the new four-digit classification), but a close match was nonetheless anticipated. Epsom, in their impressive pub venue with a quiet playing room and tables in an adjoining room for social chess, had installed a large scoreboard and bought pricey new wooden boards for what they clearly saw as a defining match. But as the night wore on and the scoreboard recorded their tale of woe, they must have wished they had kept it all a little more low key.
Alan Scrimgour, playing his trusty Sicilian on board 7, led the way for Kingston with a 22-move victory over Natasha Regan, whose ambitious piece sacrifice backfired. Epsom’s Daniel Young on board 4 tried a speculative knight manoeuvre that came unstuck against Kingston’s wily David Rowson. It was 2-0, and Epsom may already have been wishing they hadn’t invested in the new scoreboard.
Kingston were soon sprinting ahead, with a smooth win on board 3 for David Maycock over Kevin Thurlow, and a very fine victory by John Bussmann over former Kingston regular Matthew Baker. Bussmann is noted as a sharp tactician, but here he played with great positional precision in a game which chess luminary John Saunders later described as the “game of the day”. Veterans Jon Eckert and Malcolm Groom agreed a draw on board 10, giving Epsom their first half point, but the writing was already on the wall. Literally, thanks to that wretched giant scoreboard.
Paul Gibbons, playing his first match of the season for Kingston, secured a draw on board 8 that took the running points total to five, and soon after Peter Lalić, on board 2, produced a spectacular double-piece sacrifice to force checkmate and take Kingston over the finishing line and into the semi-finals. The Lalić game was a truly extraordinary one, with Peter playing a characteristically imaginative and challenging opening which completely bamboozled his opponent, Michael Dams. Saunders points out that there is no precedent among ChessBase’s new Mega DataBase 2022’s 9.2 million games for the first two moves played in this encounter: 1. Nc3 e6 2. d3 Bb4. And it got crazier from there.
The match had been won, the champagne corks were already popping back at the Willoughby Arms – metaphorically speaking that is: in reality Greg Heath was having another beer and the ascetic twentysomethings following the match via WhatsApp were sipping their glasses of Diet Coke – and all that remained was the mopping up. At Epsom, not the Willoughby.
John Foley won a queenless middlegame with a precisely calculated pawn advance against Robert Hamilton on board 6; Will Taylor (having nobly made the trek down from Walthamstow) drew with Epsom president Marcus Gosling on board 5; and, in the last game to finish, IM Peter Large won a roller-coaster struggle with Mike Healey to record Epsom’s sole win of the evening, drawing Healey’s king into a mating net with Large’s own king and two bishops. Healey thought he had drawing chances if he had traded his rook for one of those killer bishops, but went for glory and paid the price.
By then, though, the match was long over and Kingston were celebrating, with a final result of 7.5-2.5. Gosling promised there would be a painful post-mortem – he threw an imaginary punch as he said it – and next year Epsom will be back even stronger. Their ambition knows no bounds, and good for them. But for the moment, Kingston had the spoils and Foley’s dream of winning the Alexander Cup for the first time in almost 50 years was still alive.