Oskar Hackner 1 – 0 Daniel Sullivan
Samuel Milsom 0 – 1 Pete Micklethwaite
Jon Nelson 0 – 1 Andy Butterworth
Kieran O’Driscoll 1 – 0 Neil Todd
John Fletcher 1 – 0 Ken Hunter
Vasilis Pasialis 1 – 0 Richard Hall
Andrew Hards 1 – 0 Tony Perry
Stuart Crosthwaite 1 – 0 DEFAULT
With our captain on holiday, and Geoff unable to stand in after just getting back from holiday, I retook the reins for a night as stand-in stand-in and promptly won the toss. Barnsley dropped a player earlier in the day, so were down to seven but given the notice we had, at least Stuart was spared a bracing walk in the cold evening air. On paper we had a big grading advantage, but that counts for nothing over the board and I can recall a couple of shock defeats to Barnsley in the past where form went out the window. There really are no easy matches in the top flight and so it proved again.
My game was the first to finish; in a French Tony tried to force some exchanges and it gave me a route into d6 and a nasty knight check. A couple of moves later I won a piece and had an overwhelming attack in the middle of the board which was likely picking up a second. Game over and I had the luxury of watching the others unfold. John had sacrificed a piece for an attack, Kieran had won an exchange with a neat tactic… and the other games looked nicely poised. But the next result did not come for quite some time. Daniel and Oskar looked to have an interesting position that could have gone either way – Oskar’s king looked a little draughty but a mistake from his opponent allowed him his own nasty knight checks and the exchange was won and with it the game. That put us 3-0 up, and Kieran gradually ground down Neil, pushing his minor pieces back and eventually working his rooks into and behind Neil’s king. With his pawns set to drop, he resigned and we were 4-0 to the good.
The match winning result was on board 5. John’s piece sacrifice gave him considerable play, and Ken was scratching around with his knights, king, rook and queen all in the corner trying to hold things together. He forced some exchanges and eventually John swapped queens – but Ken’s two knights were no match for John’s active rook and passed pawn on the king side which eventually forced Ken to give up one of his knights and with it, any realistic chance of holding out. So we were over the line… and Vasilis, after going two minor pieces up for two pawns and being forced to give one back, got his rook in behind Richard’s king and found a checkmate in a position that otherwise could have remained somewhat tricky to finish off.
So all eyes to the final two games, and two slightly unusual finishes. Andy vs Jon is always a slugfest, with both players trying to batter the other into submission. Historically Andy has come off worse but this time around he held his queenside together (just) and when he moved to the attack, Jon’s lack of time (and worse position!) told – an illegal move (where Jon played a queen move whilst his jacket played a pawn move) and resignation followed, albeit the position was lost by then anyhow. But that wasn’t the last of the illegal moves for the evening… Pete had kept Sam at arm’s length for most of the game, and when Sam did eventually break through the tables were rather rapidly turned and Pete’s rook, queen, bishop and knight all swarmed the black kingside. Pete declined a perpetual as he felt he had more – and when I checked back again he had a pawn one square away from queening. Sam was looking for a mate, a trap or a perpetual with queen and knight and Pete hoped to block them out with his own queen. With 30 seconds or so left each, a knight check, then a queen check… and Pete moved his king back into check without realising. Sam was down to maybe 15 seconds at this point, and didn’t realise himself…gave another check, Pete blocked with his queen and with Pete’s king in check and Sam to move with 10 seconds on the clock… Sam resigned. Would the extra 2 minutes have been enough to save the game? Hard to tell – the checks were likely going to run out but Pete’s clock was also rapidly approaching zero and he might not have had enough time to finish things off.
So a good, solid win, with a couple of slightly quirky losses. Barnsley were missing a couple, and ultimately our strength in depth told so my own personal banana skin was avoided. Next up will be Chesterfield in a little over two weeks’ time.