Li makes successful debut as Kingston whitewash Hounslow

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 11 April 2022

This is probably a terrible hostage to fortune, or perhaps a statement of hubris that invites nemesis, but Kingston are undefeated so far in 2022: we have played 14 matches, winning 11 and drawing three. When you look at the team we fielded in this match, the reason becomes obvious: the first team is suddenly enormously strong; far too strong for the second division of the Thames Valley League.

Hounslow brought a perfectly respectable team to what we now like to call Fortress Willoughby. A few years ago, this would have been a tight match, but the arrival this season of David Maycock and Peter Lalić, two young players who can gain master titles in the years ahead, have transformed the club’s fortunes, adding two 2200-plus players to the core of 2000-strength players the club has always been fortunate to have. With Vladimir Li, a welcome returner to chess after more than a decade, making his debut here with a conservative estimated rating of 2130, backed up by the hugely experienced David Rowson, Peter Andrews and Alan Scrimgour, this was a tremendously strong team and one we were proud to field.

Hounslow, to their credit, fought hard, despite being outrated by almost 300 points a board. Hounslow’s captain, David White, essayed a King’s Gambit against Li and gave the debutant some serious thinking to do. Indeed Li, who accepted the gambit and played the Schallop Defence, thought for half an hour on his sixth move – almost half the time he had for the entire game. His captain was at one point worried that he had misunderstood the time control. But after a middle-game tussle with the experienced White, it resolved into an endgame where Li had an active knight pitted against a hemmed-in bishop, and a passed pawn eventually settled the game in Black’s favour.

The post-mortems by Peter Lalić (standing) and Vladimir Li (foreground right)

The veteran Leon Fincham gave Peter Lalić a very tough game on board 2, with the latter prevailing only as mutual time trouble took its toll. David Maycock, unfurling the Paulsen/Kan variation of the Sicilian Defence, played superbly to win with Black against his highly rated rival on board 1.

On board 5, Peter Andrews created an early queenside pawn bind and, in an effort to break the logjam, his opponent sac’d a bishop on move 35 to break up the position. The piece advantage looked decisive, but his opponent continued to blitz out moves and Andrews came under considerable time pressure – he reckons people are playing faster this season after two years spent playing almost exclusively online. With Andrews’ king in mid-board and his opponent seeking a perpetual, it looked at one point as if the game might end in a draw, especially with the increment threatening, but in the end the bishop answered Andrews’ prayers by blocking the white queen, the checks ran out and he was able to bank a win. (Apologies for that absurdly pun-filled sentence!)

Meanwhile, on board 4, David Rowson had marooned his opponent’s pieces on the queenside in an Advanced French Defence and was launching a kingside attack that resulted in a gain of material decisive enough to force resignation. To complete the clean sweep, Alan Scrimgour – fresh from downing IM Graeme Buckley in a London League match – took control of his board 6 game and created a passed h-pawn whose imminent queendom forced another resignation.

The result, perhaps predictable given the rating differential, was 6-0, but none of the games finished quickly and the Lalić and Li games were especially hard fought. Kingston need to win one of their final three matches to be guaranteed of promotion to the first division of the Thames Valley League. If we do get there and can keep in place this wonderful team, backed up by a group of other very strong and experienced players, we have absolutely nothing to fear. Kingston have traditionally been a “yo-yo” club, bouncing between divisions one and two in both the Thames Valley and Surrey leagues. Could it be that for the first time in 20 years we can actually cement a spot in the top flight and even challenge for the title? More hubris!

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain