Surrey League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 30 January 2023
We had built ourselves up so much for this match that when it came there was a slight sense of anti-climax. We had assembled a very powerful team, whereas Guildford were not quite as strong as we anticipated. Which is not to say they did not have a very good side; with their resources they are able to put out three highly competitive teams. The match was well contested and victory by 5.5-2.5 perhaps flattered Kingston to some degree. But in the end strength on the upper boards told, with wins for David Maycock, Peter Lalić and Mike Healey on boards 1, 3 and 4, and Kingston president John Foley also winning on board 8.
The first game to finish was Vladimir Li against James Toon on board 5. Li ventured a Sicilian and quickly equalised, but Toon played very solidly, the game never really got out of second gear, and the players drew by repetition on move 26. Analysing the game later, Li thought he might at one point have been able to trade down to a rook endgame in which he was slightly better, but the chance was missed.
It has been a brilliant month for Peter Lalić, winning 12 and drawing two of his 14 classical games and often in relatively short order. He did it again here, despatching Guildford captain Nigel White in just 21 moves. Peter played his trademark Nimzowitsch Defence, and set up a web of tactical possibilities. White tried to counter-attack with his rook, but relieving it of defensive duties led to instant nemesis.
There was another unusual opening in the game between Kingston captain David Rowson and Guildford veteran Phil Stimpson. Stimpson played the Queen’s Pawn, Chigorin Variation (1. d4 d5 2. Nc3). On move three, after David’s 2… Nf6, Stimpson played Bf4 – a line popularised by the Georgian grandmaster Baadur Jobava, so now known as the Jobava London System.
An intriguing positional struggle ensued (with much shuffling of knights). Stimpson, without bothering to castle, made a kingside pawn push which could have proved dangerous, but Rowson blocked it and forced an exchange of queens. After that the heat went out of the position and peace was declared. 2-1 to Kingston, but with a couple of home players under pressure the match was far from in the bag.
The next result, however, calmed the nerves. On board 1, the game between David Maycock and Clive Frostick had looked very even, with some knowledgeable spectators predicting a draw. But the remarkable Maycock found a way to win, first squeezing a small edge out of a position which was indeed level at move 24, then striking decisively to win a piece when Frostick lost coordination of his rook, knight and bishop. 3-1 to Kingston and now we could start to breathe more easily.
IM Graeme Buckley, making his debut for the club against the 2100-rated Craig Young, who played the Petrov Defence. Buckley, a notably aggressive player, castled queenside and launched a kingside pawn push, while Young tried a pawn storm on the opposite flank. But both in the end ran out of steam and a draw was agreed to make the match score 3.5-1.5 to Kingston. The finishing line was drawing near.
The player who had the honour of taking us over it was Mike Healey, playing White against Sebastian Galer. Mike played his beloved Sokolsky (1. b4), but Seb maintained a small plus in the opening. Mike, though, understands the positions that arise from this opening and, by expanding on the queenside, turned the tables, built an edge of his own and eventually won rook for bishop when Seb overlooked a neat tactic.
With slightly optimistic hopes of getting his untrammelled c-pawn home, Seb played on and this position was reached, with White to play on move 41.
Would you perhaps be a little concerned about your rook on d2 and the imminent promotion thereafter of the black pawn? I think I would. But not Mike. He had designs on Black’s hemmed-in king. The game proceeded: 41. f5+ Kg5 42. Kg3 h5 43. Rh7 hxg4 44. hxg4 cxd2 45. f4# A very Mike mate.
One of the other Kingston players noticed how sportsmanlike Seb was in defeat, and he and Mike were still happily analysing the game in the bar at closing time. Seb also gave me his scoresheet to allow me to reconstruct the game, so he officially wins the Nicest Chess Player of the Night award.
Mike’s win made it a match-winning 4.5-1.5, with Will Taylor on board 6 and John Foley on board 8, up against a very promising junior, still playing. Will, with White against another Sicilian, had a perfectly playable position, but allowed his opponent, Alex Warren, to get a pawn to h3. Once the queens came off and with Will behind on the clock, his position went rapidly downhill. Black established a rook on the seventh and put his knight on g4 bearing down on h2. After that it was, in every sense, only a matter of time as Warren made no mistake.
The last game to finish was the president, who is on a rather majestic winning streak. John’s recent run of success has been founded on his endgame skill, and so it was here. Both players had a knight and five pawns, but John had a two-to-one majority on the queenside, boiled that down to a lone pawn, and then used that pawn to get the Black king offside while mopping up his opponent’s kingside pawns with his knight. An object lesson in why the endgame is still the bit which matters the most.
The final score was a satisfying 5.5-2.5, Kingston had done the double over the formidable Guildford club, last season’s Surrey division 1 champions, and one or two people from other clubs tweeted immediately after the match that this year’s championship was now done and dusted. It isn’t – we still face difficult trips to Coulsdon and Wimbledon – but we have at least given ourselves a very good chance of winning the Surrey Trophy for the first time since 1975.