Kingston storm to emphatic win over Coulsdon

Surrey League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 27 February 2023

In the first part of the season Kingston 1’s (or Kingston A’s, depending on which league we’re talking about) matches were sporadic, with the consequence that it’s only now, at the start of March, that we are just over halfway through the fixture list. There are a lot of matches still to play, but the good news is that we start this phase at the top of both the Surrey and Thames Valley Leagues. As they say, it’s in our own hands.

The match against Coulsdon 1 had been postponed in December because a snowfall created travel problems for the away team. No such problems on Monday, but Coulsdon were not as strong as they might have been, missing several players rated over 2100. In contrast, Kingston’s line-ups have been very consistent, and we were pretty much at full strength.

I lost the toss yet again, but was thus rewarded by having the white pieces myself, and then by a quick win, which broke a run of four consecutive draws. From a King’s Indian Attack set-up, with the central pawns exchanged by Black, the game was proceeding quietly, not to say dully, until I played a fairly obvious move which looked strong. Once it was on the board, it dawned on me that it actually won immediately.

Rowson-Rosenbach. Position after White played 20. B(d1)–b3. The game ended 20…Kh8; 21. Qf8+, Ng8; 22. Ncxe5, resigns.

The next game to finish, on board 3, also went in favour of Kingston. The Four Knights might not be everyone’s idea of a complex theoretical battle, but it’s noteworthy that Short used it to win against Speelman in their 1991 Candidates match. Mike Healey demonstrated that Black’s part in this opening need not be a passive one if you’ve studied it deeply enough. He took advantage of opening inaccuracies by Chris Howell, gaining a big lead in development and stranding White’s king in the centre. Howell grabbed a pawn with his knight, but a few moves later that same knight was forced to move to h8 to save itself – but only temporarily. Faced with losing material, Howell resigned.

Soon after this, Alan Scrimgour agreed to a draw, having not been able to make headway against Paul Jackson’s French Defence.  2.5-1.5 to Kingston, with to my eyes an overall advantage on the other boards. Silverio Abasolo, playing the Modern Defence, had gained material, and Vladimir Li was giving a perfect example of how to create a positionally won game from a small opening advantage (in this case, from the White side of a Caro-Kann Exchange Variation). John Foley, playing the other side of a Caro-Kann against the prodigy Supratit Banerjee, was coping well with what might have been a problematic kingside pawn structure (doubled f-pawns).

The two top-board games need at least a paragraph devoted to each. To say that neither of them was straightforward “classical” chess would be an understatement. Peter Lalić opened with his customary 1. Nc3, leading to a Jobava System (White had a pawn on d4, Nc3 and Bf4). It’s impossible to describe this game adequately without including all the moves, but suffice to say that Peter played Nc3 five times (after moving it to b5 each time) and Zoe Varney played Nb8 five times (after Na6 to protect her c7 pawn). Peter eventually gained the exchange and several pawns in their mutual time trouble.

Meanwhile, David Maycock, facing Ian Calvert’s Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack (1. b3) had sacrificed his e-pawn in exchange for freer development and a potential hold on the centre. As time trouble approached for David, he made a further sacrifice of his f-pawn. White’s position began to look powerful, but Ian, probably mindful of the 300+ rating points separating him from his opponent, offered a draw. On the first occasion David refused, but with little time left he agreed to the second offer.

On board 4 Vladimir completed his positional masterclass, so the score was 5-1 with two games left. Silverio’s plan was to use his extra piece to hunt down his opponent’s king. This resulted in not only the king, but also White’s two passed pawns, advancing up the board, and for a time things looked unclear. However, Silverio had seen a way to simplify to a won position and, realising this, his opponent resigned.

In the final game to finish, John Foley was again showing his expertise in minor piece endings. He crowned his play with a clever bishop sacrifice, after which his opponent, though a knight up, was unable to prevent one of John’s two passed pawns from queening.

Bxf3! wins. Afterwards John modestly described the move as “flash – and so obvious it does not need an exclamation mark”. We humbly beg to differ and have accorded it one. The game proceeded Nxf3 a3 d5+ Kd7 Ne5+ Qe8 d6 a2 d7+ Ke7 (not, heaven forbid, Kd8??, which would be a career-ending blunder, leading to mate in 2 after Kd6, a1=Q, Nc6++) Ng6+ Kxd7 Nxf4 a1=Q. The game is done, though young Banerjee played on to the bitter end as juniors are wont to do. (Is that something their coaches teach – never resign! – or just an instinctive survival gene?)

The (provisional) final result looked very one-sided (7-1), but the Coulsdon players fought hard despite being significantly outgraded. I wrote “provisional” in the last sentence because, unfortunately, the next day I realised I had accidentally not followed the regulations with regard to the board order. According to the Surrey League ratings, Silverio is 2283 for this season and Vladimir is 2196, a difference of more than 75 points, so their boards should have been reversed. Coulsdon had also made a mistake, as their boards 1 and 2 should have been the other way round. The Surrey penalty system in such situations is more than Byzantine, and the rather surprising result of both teams breaching the board order rules was that Kingston lost two points … and Coulsdon none. So the amended result was 5-1.

Thanks to Gregor Smith for allowing me to pinch John and Alan from his second team and to Greg Heath, as always, for setting up the furniture and equipment so that there was nothing for us to do except play.

David Rowson, Kingston first-team captain