Shrewsbury B team’s tough start to the season continued against Newport B. It looked finely balanced on paper. On board 1, Ile was Black against Chris Lewis which started with a Modern opening but, as usual with Ile’s games, quickly found its own path. My own game on board 2, with White against Danny Griffiths, saw another Modern but this quickly settled on the path of a more conventional Pirc. Board 3 saw Ian with the Black pieces playing his favourite French defence against Stuart Ross and the game looked complex and sharp. Norman, on board 4, had White against Chris Paul. Norman opened with 1.c4 followed by an early g3 and Bishop g2, a favourite of his. I did not catch the first few moves of Heath’s game, in which he had Black against Malcolm Price, as they were played rather quickly but he seemed to be doing alright. However, this was destined to be one of those evenings when little, if anything, was to turn out the way it should!
From the opening Ile’s position looked sharp and unbalanced, usually a good sign in his games, but clearly there was a tough struggle ahead. Ian’s game on board 3 also looked tough for both sides. Heath’s position on board 5 began to look promising as did the future of Norman’s Bishop which was putting pressure on Chris’s centre.
However, at this point I was more preoccupied with my own game, which was getting lively with opposite side castling. In my “subtle” way, I pushed both h and g pawns towards Black’s King. Danny then missed a fleeting chance to get his own attack going by landing a Knight on a4, Instead, he retreated it to e8, then played f6 to try and disrupt my attack. This really should have been a fatal error. I found a nice resource (though Fritz pointed out that my move order was inaccurate), in which I appeared to offer a piece. It couldn’t be taken, in fact, which Danny realised, though the move he played shouldn’t have served him any better.
The next half hour or so was very strange and perhaps defies explanation but I’ll try. I’d worked out a sequence of moves which seemed to me to lead to an ending with 2 extra Pawns. However, most unusually for the time of evening (about 9 pm), quite a few people were taking an interest in the game (normally this only happens from 10.20 or so when most of the games have finished and time is running out). Danny wandered off, I made a move, Danny came back and let out a sigh of relief. There was some shaking of heads; too late I saw it! I can be forgiven, I think, for not finding the mate in 8, but I really should have seen that a simple discovered check would have won Danny’s Queen on the following move and he would surely have resigned on the spot! Worse still, I now realised my error. My calculations were not entirely incorrect; I went into the ending 2 pawns up, though one of them turned out not to be tenable. It may well be that the position was still won, however, I have to confess that I was mentally shot after this. I played listlessly and agreed a draw about half an hour later.
Having dusted myself off (a bit; I was still annoyed for hours after), I took a good look at the other games. Heath was now material up but he had to be careful; his King looked a bit exposed. Ile’s game was still complicated. they each had about 25 minutes left; on the whole I quite liked his position and knew it to be the sort of position which gets him results in the last 40 minutes (ie. the sort of position which can become much sharper very quickly). Norman was a Pawn up going into an endgame with Rooks and Knights. Ian looked in some difficulties to me but was hanging on in there and there were still many possibilities. At this point, I would have predicted wins for Norman and Ile, a draw for Heath and a loss for Ian leaving us 3-2 winners and my blushes spared. Wrong in every single detail!
First to fall by the wayside was Heath. Naturally trying to win (he was the exchange for a pawn up after all), he unwisely grabbed some material and fell into a mating sequence which was nicely executed by Malcolm.
Things were also not quite so rosy on board 1 Positionally, Ile was still okay but he’d used up loads more time than Chris and was down to six or seven minutes to Chris’s twenty. Normally, no big deal this but Chris is an excellent rapid and blitz player.
Worse, Norman had misplayed his ending. First, he exchanged rooks: not necessarily wrong, but it reduced the options, then exchanged Pawns in the centre which left him no King entry point and no Knight sacrifice breakthrough. His extra Pawn was now of no consequence and a draw was agreed.
2-1 down then with two games going to the wire. Finally, we got a break! Ian found a nice exchanging mechanism which would have resulted in Queen v two Rooks and a likely draw (still plenty of play, though). Inexplicably, except that he was getting short of time, Stuart missed that his Queen was en prise at the end of the exchange and needed to move: 2-2! In the end, the final game came down to time. Ile played superbly with his last two minutes, as he usually does, and even crafted a winning position at the very end but he ran out of time. So, a disappointing 3-2 loss for which I shoulder much of the blame (I think this is unduly harsh on yourself, Ian. We’ve all been there – Ed). We’ll have better days!
Mark Smith, B Team Captain