Ecclesall A vs Nomads A

Usually chess evenings end with a mad scramble. However, on this match day it began with a mad scramble as one of my players went AWOL and several others either didn’t respond to requests to play or had already made arrangements for the evening. I had even emailed James to inform him we were likely to be short a player when Nick responded to my pleas with a ‘I think I might be able to make it’ message… good enough for me and in he came on eight as the board order from the first match all shuffled up to 3-7. Dr Hempson was missing from the Ecclesall line up as well, so on paper the teams looked very evenly matched. Over the board… it was a similar story. I think this is the first match I can recall when 6 boards were still in action at 9.45pm; over half the games were still in progress at a point when the Ecclesall C – Nomads C match had concluded which should give a good idea of how tight this was.

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So the first to finish was the last to sign up – Nick and Ken drawing a drawish game after agreeing a draw. I didn’t see much of this game so I can’t really offer much beyond that! Second to finish (as is regular tradition) was Geoff – only this time it wasn’t a draw as regular Ecclesall opponent Gunnar lost material to a tactic and was unable to recover with the position blasted open. I followed (not so close) behind – it’s not often you move your king twice in the first 12 moves and don’t lose in a miniature but after missing a tactic in the opening I was in trouble for the majority of the game with Farshad maintaining a pawn+ advantage for some time. However, my early centralised king proved to be a little bit of a thorn in his plans in the later middlegame and I was able to hang on and eventually win the pawn back to reach a completely drawn ending. Ian, on the other hand, was a pawn up in his endgame against James but was on the receiving end of some active rook play that allowed James to recover his pawn deficit and offer a draw. We had the advantage with four games still ongoing, all of which featured Nomads players in varying degrees of time trouble ranging from Chris (whose flag seemingly hung for a good 20 minutes) to Arjun (who was actually not too far behind on the clock for once but making heavy weather of a position in which he had declined a draw offer).

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It was actually Jon that finished next – he had all the activity against David’s kingside and it looked for all the world like he would break through – winning the exchange still wasn’t enough for the full point though as a combination of David’s dogged resistance and a ticking clock meant Jon wasn’t able to find a way to win. 3 – 2. Mike had a tremendous advantage against Ewan with two connected, passed pawns on the 6th, mating threats and surely only a matter of time before he sealed the deal. Chris, however, was struggling to stay on the board after Jim’s sacrifice opened up the kingside. Pieces were seemingly scattered across the board, with blocking sacrifices, exchange sacrifices, and some piece positions that I’ve not seen for some time (Knights on h7 and f8, Bishops on g7 and e8). Jim kept his composure and worked his way through the complications to secure a winning advantage and tie the scores. Arjun’s position had deteriorated significantly by now – being a rook down in a queen and rook ending against Alan is not ideal at the best of times and a king/queen fork was enough for him to fall on his sword. From a relatively commanding position, we were now entirely dependent on Mike to secure a share of the spoils; that he had lost both passed pawns and had a hanging flag wasn’t helping matters but his final passer got to the seventh and Ewan had run out of checks – rather than force Mike to play out the win and gamble that his flag might fall, Ewan resigned and the match was tied. Phew. I don’t think I’ve sweated that much in a match (the venue was a little on the warm side, my position was atrocious, and the team keep on giving me heart palpitations) but the end result seemed pretty fair. We had a slight edge in several games, but were also under the cosh in the others – and ultimately this is a point gained on last year when Ecclesall A were the one team to inflict defeat on us.

Onwards to Chesterfield in a couple of weeks… these matches don’t get any easier, do they?

Chesterfield A vs Nomads A

Chesterfield A Nomads A
1 6729 190 :12 Mike Alcock W 0 1 Jonathan Nelson 202 :35 7062 S
2 2291 198 :09 Hubert Mossong B 0 1 Chris C W Shephard 191 :23 1603 S
3 1284 186 :19 David Latham W 0 1 Deji Jeje 183 :19 4156 S
4 7693 172 :25 D Martin Howard B 0 1 Kieran O’Driscoll 179 :20 2028 S
5 4223 174 :32 Michael D Johnson W ½ ½ Andrew Hards 168 :26 2268 S
6 6732 157 :27 Andrew J Mort B ½ ½ Geoff Frost 163 :25 1297 S
7 3888 158 :09 David Ashcroft W 1 0 Nicholas Mahoney 146 :46 4179 S
8 1541 161 :26 George Peters B ½ ½ Ray Trigg 147 :11 4199 S

 

Although we have been top of the table most of the season, fact is that Chesterfield A were running at 100% with 6 wins from 6 and level on points with games in hand.  With two draws and a loss already, anything less than victory against our closest rivals would likely see the title as good as ceded with several matches still to play.   So it was the ideal time for Kieran to make his long awaited 2014-15 season debut – and face the same opponent he had taken on in our cup quarter-final tie.   Chesterfield weren’t quite at full strength – but any team with Dave Latham on three and no room in for either Steve, Housley or Bracey, is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

It sort of goes without saying that Geoff’s game was the first to finish.  as Andy mentioned to me after the match, they’ve played each other probably four dozen times over the course of many Woodhouse seasons, and 95% of those games have ended drawn.  This time around, Geoff had an IQP but most of the space to play in – he thought he was worse whilst Andy was of the opposite opinion so a draw was fair enough.  Chesterfield then took an early lead in the match as Dave’s kingside attack smashed Nick’s king’s defences apart.  A well-timed bishop sacrifice stripped any vestiges of hope away and with mate looming, Nick resigned.  That, however, was as good as it got for our gracious hosts.  Jon and Mike appeared to be in for a long, drawn out struggle, and Jon’s protracted fianchetto of his kingside bishop (via f6), together with a knight that went to g6 and then h8, didn’t look overly promising.  Clearly however there’s something to be said for that set up as I didn’t get to see the position again; next time I was free to look the game was over and we had a 1 in our column on the scoresheet.

Kieran had seemed slightly better against Martin for a while, but Martin was getting some play on the kingside; but an over-ambitious stretch resulted in a piece dropping off the board.  A second one followed not too long afterwards and when Kieran managed to force off some of the heavy pieces as well there was only going to be one winner.  On board two, meanwhile, Chris had managed some strong pawn advances and Hubert’s position seemed increasingly cramped – again I missed the denouement but it wasn’t a huge surprise that our man pulled the full point out of the bag.  Three games left and we were now ahead in the match, requiring a point for the win.

At this point, a comedy interlude – in the match on the other side of the room Chesterfield were taking on Stannington and at a crucial juncture in our fixture, the room was deathly silent only for the plea ‘come on mate, give us a draw’ to be heard.  Looking at the match card later on Chessnuts, it appears the plea was in vain…

My third match against Mike had gone the way of the other two – he got his attack in first and I was holding on desperately in the face of rook, queen and knight bearing down on my king – but somehow I came out of the complications with a safe-ish king and an extra pawn.  Ahead on the clock as well, I thought I might even snatch victory from the jaws of defeat but in the final half dozen minutes, despite having two extra pawns, I was unable to stave off Mike’s mating threats sufficiently to convert and a draw by repetition, my first half of the season, was the conclusion.

All eyes to Deji – having sacrificed the exchange earlier in the game he was starting to bring his bishops to bear and Dave’s king looked increasingly at risk.  A draw offer was rightly declined and the resulting endgame gave Deji two connected, passed pawns heading down the board supported by his bishop.   Dave fought to the last, and on another day the flag-falling gods might have been kind; not this time though as Deji queened with check – faced with a second queen about to put in an appearance, Dave fell on his sword and the match was ours.   So, very unusually for Ray, his game was the last one to end – an early pawn sacrifice had been recovered and for the longest time George was shuffling his queen and knight around the board to hold his position together.  Finally, however, there was a breakthrough and both players invaded the other side simultaneously.  It looked like George might make his extra pawns count, but Ray kept checking and threatening and a draw was agreed.

5.5 – 2.5 to us!  A surprising and welcome result against such fine and honorable opponents and one which we’ll need to build on now for the remainder of the season – five more wins and we’ll be guaranteed a play-off!

Ecclesall A vs Nomads A

Our first league match of the year and a return fixture against opponents who pushed us all the way at home.  This time they pushed us that little bit further and we were ultimately fortunate to come away with anything.  In fact, at around about the 9pm mark Jon and I were wandering the boards and Jon asked, in all seriousness, whether ‘I saw any wins for us’.  The answer was a resounding ‘no’.  By that point, his early pressing had fizzled out, Chris had moved most of his pieces back to their original squares (after getting his queen out on move three – and not even with a threat of Scholar’s Mate!), Deji was struggling to break through on the kingside, I was heading towards a slightly inferior endgame, Geoff’s big e5 knight had gone and his backward pawn on e3 was blockading his own position, Nick was struggling to make light of a complicated position, Steve had gambited a pawn but to no apparent advantage, and Jamie was playing a Caro-Kann.  How we scored four points from that position, I do not entirely know… but we did.

Nick and Ken were the first to finish – Ken played a neat bishop sacrifice (which was mate in one if accepted) then offered a draw.  It was still unclear – but the fact of the matter was Nick was a pawn down so accepting the offer seemed entirely reasonable.   Geoff’s position then caved in somewhat spectacularly, with Gunnar’s bishops, rook and pawn proving too much for the king and queen to handle.  There then followed a pause – lots of thinking, a couple of time scrambles, and mild controversy as Deji forgot to notate his moves once he’d made the time control.  James offered me a draw in a position that was slightly better for him – but knowing the match situation I opted to play on in a rook and pawns ending.  7 and 8 were the next to finish – Steve eventually entered an endgame still that pawn down from move two, but Alan’s bishop didn’t dominate as expected and somehow they both queened in succession (with an extra pawn each) – half a point and a bit of an escape.  Jamie meanwhile had done something that I always struggle with in the C-K… attack!  His kingside pawn advances proved increasingly problematic for Chris and just when I thought he might hold on, I returned to my game.  When I looked again, Jamie was queening a pawn and sealing a point.  So split on the bottom four, would we do any better on the top four?

Turned out I made a good choice in declining the draw.. James didn’t play the ending accurately, I managed to get the more active rook and better placed king and when my king made it to g2 I had a decisive advantage – we were somehow in the lead – albeit not for long as Jon had played on far longer than one might expect in the vain hope of maybe being stalemated by David; fat chance – three pawns rolling up the board, it was never going to happen and when the hope of even a stalemate faded, Jon resigned.   Deji more or less immediately countered that with another controlled victory – after it became apparent he wasn’t going to force Ewan’s kingside into premature collapse pieces were exchanged and a switch to the queenside saw him pick up a couple of pawns.  One of those pawns made it to the sixth and that was the end of that.

So all eyes on Chris yet again – for the third or fourth time this season he was last to finish and this time, sadly, it wasn’t on a high note.  Jim had seemingly held all the trumps most of the match; despite not having any material advantage until the endgame Chris’ position was a mess and when Jim gained a passed pawn it looked all over.  However inaccuracy let Chris pick that pawn up (we’re talking SEVERE time trouble by this stage) and it looked like maybe he might hold on.  Alas, no.  Jim’s other passed pawn instead proved decisive, slowly advancing to the queening square and taking a well deserved point for the visitors.  We can’t complain; Ecclesall would have been calling the police in if we had stolen both points!  A rest next week then… followed by a top of the table clash with regular table-toppers Chesterfield…. Continue reading “Ecclesall A vs Nomads A”

Nick Mahoney vs Neil Todd

Gunnar Mallon vs Nick Mahoney