Strong Kingston second team surprise South Norwood

Surrey League division 4 match played at West Thornton Community Centre on 17 February 2022

A trip to South Norwood is never undertaken lightly – it is one of Kingston’s more demanding trips – and to come away with a convincing victory was very satisfactory.

Kingston are still working out what their attitude is to division 4 of the Surrey League: are we aiming to win promotion or should we treat this team as a training ground for our new players? In an earlier match this season against Epsom 3, the club played an experimental side with four newcomers, all of whom lost. This was admirable but perhaps made it a little too easy for ambitious Epsom, who have made it clear they are eyeing promotion. Against South Norwood, partly by accident and partly by design, we fielded a much stronger team, with an average rating across the six boards of over ECF 1700. In the end, this proved more than enough to secure the match and raise hopes of possible promotion, which would be useful if the club want to add a third team in the Surrey League next season.

Peter Andrews, making an auspicious debut for the club, played a dramatic game on board 1 against South Norwood veteran Ron Harris, who sac’ed a piece playing Black against Andrews’ English opening and then proceeded to blitz out moves in an all-out offensive that was always going to end in death or glory. Andrews could easily have gone wrong in the resulting melee and was way behind on the clock, but he stayed cool, neutralised Harris’s attack and eventually took the spoils. An excellent start for a player with a lot to offer to the club as it builds for the future.

South Norwood v Kingston, with Moss characteristically missing in action. Photograph by Paul Dupré

John Bussmann, in combative form as ever, won a complex game on board 2, and Jon Eckert, who is having a fine season for Kingston, overwhelmed his opponent on board 3. Andrews, Bussmann and Eckert are three very strong players to be involved in a division four match, and winning on all three of the top boards was not a complete surprise.

I played Black against the wily Ken Chamberlain on board 4 and played tedious (and not very good) moves against Ken’s well-rehearsed Queen’s Gambit. A cheapo cost me the exchange, but luckily the bishop I had for rook proved reasonable compensation, with the white squares in front of my opponent’s king ripe for exploitation by queen and bishop, and Ken accepted my rather desperate offer of a draw.

The Kingston captain Adam Nakar, who had just driven back from Eastbourne and must have been knackered – oh, the joys of evening league chess! – still had enough energy to play a long game against an opponent who fought till the end despite being a piece down and almost managed to get back into the game by creating a passed pawn for which Nakar had to give up his surplus knight. But that left the Kingston skipper with a pawn that queened first, and Kingston had their fourth win of the night.

South Norwood’s John Ganev gained a consolation victory on board 6 against Max Mikardo-Greaves, but that left Kingston handsome 4.5 to 1.5 winners and only half a point adrift of Epsom in the division four table. That makes the match between the two at Kingston on 7 March all-important, and Nakar will have to decide once and for all whether he is blooding new players or looking to win promotion by fielding the old campaigners.

The friendly rivalry between Kingston and Epsom – in this division, in Surrey division two, and in both the Lauder Trophy and Alexander Cup – is shaping up to be the theme of the season, and if both clubs stay on their upward trajectory could become a defining feature of future seasons too. Both are still adrift of Guildford in terms of playing strength, but emulating that behemoth is now the goal for both.

South Norwood were as usual excellent hosts, with the traditional half-time tea and biscuits – quaintly signalled by the dinging of a bell – much appreciated. Your correspondent certainly ate more custard creams than he made worthwhile moves. It struck me that South Norwood really are a model club in many ways, with an excellent attitude to club chess (competitive but always gregarious), a very well-run venue and an ability to get the best out of their relatively small pool of players. More power to them: they have been in continuous existence since 1881 and give a sense that they know exactly what they are about. They may not be glamorous but they are mighty effective, and don’t seem to suffer the vicissitudes of other clubs, which is surely what explains their longevity. More planet than meteor.

Stephen Moss