South Norwood 2 edge out Kingston 3

Surrey League division 4 match played at the West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 23 November 2023

It honestly could have gone either way, and in the end Kingston were a little disappointed to be beaten 3.5-2.5, But there were plenty of pluses for the third team in what is shaping up to be a tough division.

The very experienced Ron Harris got South Norwood off to a flying start on board 1. Ron is a youthful 80-year-old who used to be graded above 200 (in old ratings money), He plays quickly, fluently and aggressively, and Stephen Moss was soon up against it with his rather pedestrian Nf6 Scandinavian, which he has been saying for at least five years that he intends to bin.

Harris, with White, played a nice – if fairly straightforward – rook sac in this position:

The game proceeds Rxh7, Kxh7, Rh3+, Qh6, Rxh6, Kxh6, Qxc5. White is better, but it is not terminal for Black, though Stephen said afterwards he felt deflated and believed the position was worse than it was. In a sense he colluded with White in the win, because in the position which has now arisen he plays a move which guarantees defeat.

Here Black plays Rad8, which allows White to prop us the d6 pawn via a simple sequence: Qe3+, Kh7, c5. The game continued for another 15 moves or so, but Black may as well have resigned after Rad8, which allows the white pawns to be connected and eventually produces a near-zugzwang. The only viable move to play in this position is b6, which keeps Black in the game. The rooks will eventually pick up the dangerous d-pawn, and there are good drawing chances, though it would be a tricky endgame to play against someone as fast and skilful as Harris.

On board 2 Nick Grey lost in a French Winawer to Oliver Weiss, a strong new recruit at South Norwood. On board 3, David Shalom was having the better of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted until he blundered. Later he said he thought it was the result of feeling too relaxed about his position – often a moment of danger.

Kingston thus lost on all three top boards against higher-rated opponents, but they fared far better on boards 4 to 6. On 4, Charlie Cooke outmanoeuvred the always solid Ken Chamberlain to get a point back for Kingston, and on 5 Ed Mospan continued his good run of recent form with a win against John Ganev, going two pawns up and never relinquishing his advantage.

That left board 6, where I had a frustrating game. I positionally battered my opponent, South Norwood veteran David Howes (rated 91 points above me), in the opening (Queen’s Gambit Declined) and middle game, but failed to break him down and had to settle for a draw. So victory for South Norwood and a tale of what-might-have-been for Kingston. The Centenary Trophy (division 4 of the Surrey League), is no walk in the park, and we are now 0/3, but despite defeat here there were some positive signs and hopes of better times ahead.

Stephen Daines, Kingston third-team captain