Kingston wrap up league season with win over Ealing ‘juniors’

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at Actonians Sports Club, London W5 on 23 May 2022

There was a suspiciously seasoned look to the Ealing Juniors team we faced when we arrived at their sports ground venue near Acton Town. The fact that several of the Ealing team had beards rather gave the game away: they were struggling, as they have all season, to get out a B team filled with bona fide juniors and were filling in with older Ealing club members.

One junior did show up, however, played on top board and enjoyed a very good night. Xavier Cowan beat the redoubtable David Rowson, to suggest that his 1925 rating underestimates his true strength by some considerable distance. Cowan, opening as he usually does with d4, played a well-controlled positional game before it exploded into a riot of tactics which he navigated his way through with great skill despite being under time pressure.

On board 2, Jon Eckert built up one of the powerful attacks in which he specialises, and went on to convert smoothly. Ljubica Lazaravic won a complicated game on board 5, and I managed to eke out a win on board 6, despite being under severe pressure in the early stages after my attempted King’s Gambit had gone horribly wrong. If my opponent had had more faith in his attacking powers and hadn’t gone into his shell, I would have been in serious trouble, but his passivity allowed me first to undo the damage and then to launch a kingside attack of my own that forced mate.

These were the decisive results in the match – 3-1 to Kingston. The games on boards 3 and 4 were drawn, but in rather different manners. Gregor Smith’s solid draw on board 4 was fairly conventional and peace was declared early, but John Shanley’s draw on board 3 was anything but conventional. In an incident that only came to light while they were playing the endgame, it transpired that Shanley’s opponent, Andrew Glass, had at some point managed to take his own piece – a bishop that somehow got removed from the board while he was making a capture.

Once the error had been spotted, the game had moved on so far that the players were deep into a time scramble and had stopped recording their moves. It proved impossible to track back, so a draw was agreed. The match result was, in any case, not materially affected, as Kingston had already secured their victory. This strange draw made the final score 4-2, bringing our league season to a memorable (if unusual) conclusion.

Victory in the match meant we remained undefeated as a club in 18 matches during this calendar year, though it is surely tempting fate to mention this just ahead of our all-important Alexander Cup semi-final against CCF on 30 May. It also confirmed that we had topped the second division of the Thames Valley league with nine wins out 10 – our sole defeat was in the first match of the season when we found the long journey to Maidenhead a little too testing. The most striking statistic was that we had a positive board count – chess’s equivalent of goal difference – of plus 34, conceding only 13 game points out of 60.

It is fair to assume that next season, when we will be up against battle-hardened first-division teams, will be a good deal tougher. But for the moment let’s gaze on this season’s final table and enjoy having – after a few early worries when Richmond set a hot pace – won the league by a distance. Many thanks to our rivals for making it an enjoyable season and less of a walk in the park than it might look. The one-sided scores belied some hard fights, and we were extremely fortunate to beat Surbiton B in our second match. Thanks, too, to all the Kingston players who turned out and made the captain’s job so enjoyable and stress-free. Well, relatively stress-free anyway.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain