A Draw, A Win and We’re Safe!

The last two A team fixtures were important, on the basis that a good showing would more or less guarantee our survival in the first division.  Of course, this was looking pretty likely anyway, as one relegation slot had been filled by Church Stretton’s demise and Newport B have been struggling this season, and look more than likely to occupy the other place at the bottom of the table.

First of all, we had the away fixture against Oswestry A.  Oswestry are a tough team; we had held the draw at the home fixture, although Oswestry had been missing Brian Whyte on that occasion and I suspected that this would be unlikely on their home turf.  Indeed, when we arrived, Oswestry appeared to be at maximum strength.  I had not been upstairs at the Oswestrian and the general consensus of the Shrewsbury team was that the bar had been preferable.  Maybe this was Oswestry’s secret weapon!

The match was close throughout the evening.  The first to finish was Ile v Charles Lowick Higgie.  I didn’t see much of the game, unfortunately, but it finished in a draw.  My game against Richard Bryant was a slow, manoeuvring position,  so wasn’t going to resolve anytime soon.  Shortly afterwards, Daniel won against David Bennion. Their game had been fairly sharp with Daniel creating mating threats against his opponent’s King, which ultimately proved impossible to parry.  Things were looking up!

However, on board 5, things appeared to be going pear-shaped for Mark Smith against Graham Ives, so I didn’t raise my expectations too high.  David’s game against Brian Whyte appeared to be going in the Oswestry player’s favour, so we were up against it.  Soon afterwards, Richard and I exchanged a number of pieces to simplify down to a Knight and Pawns v Bishop and Pawns ending.  Richard had a passed Pawn two squares from Queening but it was securely blockaded by my Knight.  The Pawn configuration was such that neither side could make progress and we agreed a draw shortly afterwards.

Having finished my game, I could observe the remaining two more easily.  Mark’s position now looked completely shot, although he seemed to be doing his best to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Graham’s position.  David was a Pawn down in a Rook and Pawn ending, although it looked is if it could be held.  Shortly afterwards, Mark bowed to the inevitable, while Brian was doing his best to convert the ending against David in Oswestry’s favour.  However, David defended accurately and soon the final game was agreed drawn.  This left the match at honours even and we departed feeling that was a reasonable result.  Subsequently, the computer indicated that David could have secured a significant advantage with a positional Queen sacrifice.  However, it’s a lot harder to spot these things over the board at the time!

Next up was Newport B.  Given the latter team’s experience this season, we might have felt justified in an optimistic outlook for this match.  I was not taking anything for granted, though, as the scoreline against Newport B masked a much better playing strength than was indicated by the results, so we fielded about the strongest team we could muster.  Before the match started, I saw David in deep conversation with Warren Lewis; apparently they had both been promising juniors on the Shropshire chess scene many years ago.  Warren has just come back to chess after a long break, which is always nice to see, and I am sure he will prove an asset to the Newport side.

The match started well for us with Mark scoring a fairly quick win against Chris Paul.  Chris defended with a Sicilian, Mark choosing his usual closed set up, including the fianchetto of his light-squared Bishop on g2.  The game was quite level until Chris allowed Mark a little too much scope to attack on the Kingside, with an open f-file and all of Mark’s pieces pointing towards Chris’s King.  In order to dissipate the attack, Chris exchanged Queens but this allowed Mark to fork his opponent’s King and Bishop.  Faced with a ruinous loss of material, Chris resigned: 1-0 to Shrewsbury.

Next to finish was Warren v Ile.  Warren opened with the flexible 1.Nf3, which transposed into a Queen Pawn opening, Ile adopting the Baltic Defence set up with 3…Bf5.  White maintained an edge and space advantage up to around move 15, when Warren allowed a tactic which dropped a Pawn and ended up with his King stuck in the centre.  A little later and Ile acquiesced to an exchange of Queens, which reduced much of his attacking potential.  Nevertheless, he still maintained an advantage, although Warren defended tenaciously.  By move 32 the position was more or less level, although Ile was still trying to make something of his passed Pawn on e3.  On move 33, Warren made a fatal mistake, allowing Ile’s Rook to penetrate into the White position on d2.  Shortly after, Ile added to White’s woes by pinning the former’s Rook against King; Warren resigned, leaving Shrewsbury 2-0 up.

A glance at the remaining games saw Peter with a Pawn advantage on board 5 against Malcolm Price.  I thought it looked won for Peter, although he was getting behind on the clock – as usual!  On top board, Simon Maydew adopted the Colle-Zukertort attack, with the game standing pretty even throughout.  At one point, Simon missed a tactical opportunity to win a Pawn but by move 24 the position was level and a draw was agreed.  In my own game, Danny Griffiths opened with 1…g6, although it quickly transposed to a Pirc Defence.  I maintained a space advantage in the centre and on the Queen-side; this was counterbalanced by Danny advancing his f-Pawn to f4, hoping to drive a wedge into my King’s position and initiate an attack.  Black was slightly behind in development and I judged that I needed to play actively and attempt to generate some initiative where I had the space advantage, trying to strike before Danny could launch his attack.

I managed to generate pressure against Black’s vulnerable, backward d-Pawn, which should have created a winning ending for me, although I didn’t follow it up quite correctly, which should have allowed Danny to fight back and limit my advantage.  However, Danny also failed to find the best defence, lost the exchange and soon the ending was hopeless for him in any case.  On move 34, Black resigned, leaving Shrewsbury ahead 3½-½ and the match in the bag.  However, Peter and Malcolm were still playing and, as we all know from previous relegation battles, every point counts.

As Peter’s clock ran down, I feared for the outcome, even though Peter was a solid, passed Pawn to the good and had the better minor piece in his Bishop against Malcolm’s Knight.  All credit to Malcolm for fighting to the bitter end.  He was forced to give up his Knight to eliminate Peter’s passed Pawn and then attempted to advance his own Pawns in a last-ditch effort to turn the game around.  Peter was up to the task, however, even as his clock ran down and Malcolm soon conceded defeat. Thus, Shrewsbury won 4½-½, an excellent result.

So, we’re arithmetically safe this season.  It’s not as exciting as last year’s relegation battles but, frankly, I think I could do without that level of excitement!

Next in line for us are Newport A and Telepost A, which are both likely to be somewhat sterner tests!

Francis Best, A Team Captain

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