Depleted Kingston spring surprise at Wimbledon

Wimbledon 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 1 match played at St Winifride’s Church Hall, Wimbledon on 15 February 2024

Confidence in advance of this match was not high, given the depleted team we were able to field: Thursday is an inconvenient evening for several regulars, and illness took out Vladimir Li and Julian Way in the 24 hours before the match.  Some team-mates thought our situation resembled that of Henry V before Agincourt: 

O that we had now here But one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work today.  What’s he that wishes so?  …. The fewer men the greater share of honour.  

That was perhaps an exaggeration: Kingston Chess Club does not yet have 10,000 members; Nick Grey and Charlie Cooke, stepping in at short notice, ensured we had as many players as Wimbledon; and the ratings of the two sides were almost equal. But if the thought helped stiffen our sinews it was a good one.

Charlie Cooke faced an uphill battle on board 8 with Black against the higher-rated John Polanyk. Having neutralised a dangerous-looking attack, a small slip allowed an exchange sacrifice which eventually won at least a piece. Jon Eckert and Nick Grey on boards 6 and 7 drew relatively early. Nick was frustrated that his edge from a better pawn structure did not crystallise into a win, but his was one of the boards where we were outrated, so this was nevertheless an important contribution.  

Alan Scrimgour had found himself in a line of the French Defence known better by his opponent.  Kings castled on opposite sides, and Alan sacrificed the exchange to try to drum up an attack; he accepted a draw offer when he realised that there was not much there. John Foley equalised the score with a convincing win with black against Wimbledon secretary Gordon Rennie.  He has analysed this in more depth in the Games section.  From my observation point on the next board, he built up the pressure impressively to reach this position after 22 Re3.

My own game finished shortly after John’s.  At the time, I thought it had been an anodyne draw, with my opponent successfully neutralising the slight disadvantage of an isolated pawn. Imagine my frustration when Stockfish showed me three distinct winning opportunities I had missed, each of them instructive.  

That left the scores level at 3-3, with Kingston apparently slightly worse on both remaining boards.  Luca Buanne, on his league debut, faced Dan Rosen’s Grand Prix attack.  This game, which was a tense but fairly balanced struggle from the outset, is provided in full in the Games section, with annotations by Luca and John Foley. The rest of the team started to focus on his game around this critical moment, after 37. Rc1 by White.

So it all came down to board 1. Peter Lalić, against the IM Alberto Suarez Real, played a trademark queenless middle game.  Around the point the other games were over, he was a pawn down but solid and with reasonable activity, and his chances to hold were improved because his opponent was down to a minute on the clock while Peter still had more than five.

Thus we won the match, securing our position in division 1 and (such is the closeness of the race) keeping us in with an outside shot at the title. To beat a 2400+ IM in that ending starting from a pawn down was an epic performance. Peter will remember with advantages what feats he did that day[1].  

Peter Andrews, Kingston captain in Surrey division 1

[1] Shakespeare was of course expert in the pressures and rewards of Surrey League chess.