Way secures draw for Kingston B at Hounslow

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Royal British Legion, Hounslow on 30 October 2023

This was most definitely a match of two halves. Kingston B had a clean sweep on the top three boards, courtesy of Peter Andrews, Julian Way and John Foley, all of whom have ratings comfortably above 2000 – luxury casting for a second-team match. But Hounslow B roared back on the bottom three boards, winning all three to draw the match 3-3. It was something of a triumph for Hounslow B, who were outrated by an average of almost 250 points a board.

The first reverse for Kingston was on board 6, where Charlie Cooke blundered in the endgame and went down to defeat. 1-0 to Hounslow and it was clear that the evening was not going to be quite as straightforward as we had hoped. NIck Grey was up against the very capable (and doubtless underrated) junior Vibhush Pusapadi on board 4, and David Shalom on board 5 was engaged in an increasingly messy struggle against Barry Fraser.

Peter Andrews was well behind on the clock against Hounslow captain Frank Zurstiege on board 1 and serious time trouble was looming – the two players were playing an all-moves-in 90-minutes guillotine finish. But Peter had established a well-defended passed pawn in the guts of his opponent’s defences on c6, and that pawn was ultimately destined to win the game.

Peter pinpoints the position below as a significant one, where he made a distinctly counter-intuitive choice.

“I looked at whether e5 does anything,” he says. “The answer is no. So I considered Bb2, which Stockfish thinks is best, letting him take on e4, which sorts out my structure and dooms his pawn on d4. And then it occurred to me that exf, wrecking my structure, might be a good idea, because recapturing is wrong (as soon became clear in the game), and if he doesn’t take it he will need to put something else on f6 and the pawn might become a nuisance for him. A bad structure is less of a problem when he doesn’t have the two bishops and when his pieces are short of squares.”

Engines don’t much like exf because of the two sets of doubled pawns, but Peter was drawing on a series of lectures entitled “The Myths of Positional Chess” which Kingston FM Vladimir Li is in the course of giving at the club. “I was confident Vlad would approve of this anti-positional dynamic decision,” Peter explains. “I hope Vlad doesn’t mind being blamed for some dynamic anti-structural moves which don’t work out over the next few months.”

Peter goes on to recount how his slightly anti-positional thinking paid off. “Stockfish says Black should play Nf6 21 Bb2 Qd7 22 Bxd4 Qxf5, and the position is level; the pawn on d5 falls soon. As played, Rxf5 allows Qg4, after which (when the rook retreats) he can’t play Nf6 because the loose bishop on h4 would hang; he will need to play Bf6 to hold the d4 pawn, and then the knight has no good squares while my queen is dominant.”

The sequence led to this position after 23…Rc8:

“The tempo-gaining 24. Rxc8 Qxc8 25. Rc1 which I’d envisaged from afar is perfectly fine (+2),” says Peter. “But I soon realised that Rc6 is much better. It threatens to double on the c-file; he can’t get at the rook (the knight on d7 is pinned by the queen on g4 against the rook on c8), and if he captures dxc6 gives me a winning advantage in any ending, as was soon demonstrated.”

Peter propped up the pawn on c6 with one on b5, traded off the heavy artillery. and that was that. How simple chess can be sometimes – establish an immovable pawn and win. That made it 1-1 to Kingston, but by now Nick Grey and David Shalom were sinking and it was apparent that the best we could do was draw the match. Fortunately we had two stalwarts capable of doing just that.

John Foley had a many-moves game against Eugene Gregorio, who puts pressure on the Kingston president by playing very quickly – John was well behind on the clock. The principle behind John’s eventual victory was not dissimilar to Peter’s game: insert an impregnable rook in the heart of your opponent’s position and dare him to take it, as shown below after 36. Re5.

Engines recommend 36…g5 here, but White would still retain an edge. Black chooses to simplify straightaway by exchanging rooks, leading to this position a few moves later:

The situation is unpleasant for Black, though not immediately terminal. But it became so soon afterwards when Black unaccountably gave up his d-pawn. White manoeuvred to exchange queens, and after doing so established this overwhelming position:

3-2 to Hounslow. Now it was all on Julian on board 2 to win his game and share the match. Julian played the King’s Indian Defence, and his opponent JJ Padam went for an unusual set-up that left the e-pawn somewhat marooned on e2. The position was level until on move 18 the Hounslow player exchanged his dark-squared bishop for a knight, evidently feeling that doubling Julian’s pawns on the b-file was compensation for giving up the bishop pair. Engines respectfully disagree. This was the resulting position, in which Black now has a definite edge:

It was all about piece mobility and king safety after this point, with Julian largely immobilising White. By move 36 (see diagram below), skilful play by Black had assured a winning advantage, with the connected b- and c-pawns ready to run for home and the black king sheltering behind a bishop, untouchable by the white king.

Julian gave up his e-pawn and expertly converted, helped by the rather random 38. g4 (38. Qc4 would have been a better try, but still loses). The text continued: 36. Qe7 c5 37. Qxe4 b4 38. g4 Bxf1 39. Nxf1 b3 40.cKg2 b2 0-1. The b-pawn cannot be halted. We had drawn the match, but Hounslow could feel the happier of the two teams given the rating differential. Whatever the numbers say, there is no room for complacency in chess.

Stephen Moss