B Team Keeps it Going

Shrewsbury B teams most recent match saw them up against Newport Juniors.  This was theoretically a home game but, as it was against the juniors, it took place in Newport.  I feel we’ve been slightly unfortunate in the matter of away travel this season.  It’s worked out that, of our 15 matches, only 6 will have been at our own venue, with 4 trips to Newport, our longest journey.

For once, we arrived at our venue armed to the teeth, or at least with a full complement of players. I suppose it’s not too surprising that Newport were unable to do the same; in fact they only had 3 available!  There was a short discussion about who should sit this one out.  In the end, Tony and Ted stepped down leaving me on board 1 against Chris Lewis with Black, Ivor with the white pieces against Simon Maydew and Ian with Black against Zach Maydew.  My initial thought was that Ivor and I would have to play well to get something but that Ian ought to be too strong for young Zach. I really should give up trying to predict chess results; I’m almost invariably wrong!

All three games saw some interest in the opening.  The last time I played Chris was in a rapid game last summer in which he had played a Four Knights opening from my Alekhine move order. I face this all the time on line, so I thought I’d try it again.  Sure enough, a Four Knights occurred but with an early Be2 from Chris (Bb5 or d4 being more usual).  I felt my position was ok to begin with.

Ivor’s game was another matter.  Faced with one of his own favourite openings, the Scandinavian, he unleashed one of those trappy lines of which he is so fond. I won’t give precise details here, in case he wants to try it again but suffice it to say that he encountered the classic problem with these lines; Simon had faced it before and with a bit of soul searching remembered or worked out (not sure which) the correct counter for it.  The resulting situation saw Ivor a pawn down with the Queens off the board.  Ivor had a lead in development but I couldn’t see any targets for him or any weaknesses in Simon’s game.  Also, Simon had the two Bishops.  He had used up quite a lot more time than Ivor, however.

The real action was taking place on board 3.  It can be quite difficult to see every twist and turn in a dramatic game, especially when trying to concentrate on one’s own game!  I did notice that Zach had played the London system which may well be quite a sensible choice for a junior player. I asked Ian for his thoughts on the game afterwards. I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t happy with his own play but that equally he was impressed by Zach.my impression,confirmed by Ian was that Ian was completely busted in the opening with his king stuck in the middle.

I have to say that at this point I was really rather worried about the result of the match as it seemed to me that Ian and Ivor were both quite likely to lose, so it could all be down to me.  I didn’t like my position as much as I had earlier; I’d missed a chance to open up the position with a good game.  I hadn’t done so, because I hadn’t castled yet but actually there was nothing to fear.  Now I was slightly cramped and had to be careful with my piece placement in order to avoid material loss.  Chris had used up a lot more time than I had but the next half dozen moves were likely to be critical.  While Chris was thinking I had another look at board 3, where a lot had happened.  According to Ian, Zach had made a mistake, which cost a rook but Ian had blundered it back. I have to say it looked a bit trickier now; still looking good for Zach but now there were swindling chances for Ian.

It seemed as if he might have to as I made a simple error that blundered away a pawn.  Fortunately for me, it wasn’t a very good Pawn, backward and, in addition, he had doubled Pawns elsewhere.  Nevertheless, the best I could realistically hope for at this point was to hang on for a draw.

Then it all seemed to happen at once.  Ivor bowed to the inevitable and lost.  In truth, he never really got into the game after the opening.  A Pawn down and ceding the two Bishops was always going to end badly against a strong technical player like Simon.

Then, out of nowhere, Ian won.  He was, he said, about to lose and just left a snap mate in there which, luckily for Ian, Zach missed.  “I felt genuinely sorry for the lad,” said Ian afterwards.  Zach’s performance should not have come as a surprise to me; he ran me very close in a rapid game last year.  He still makes quite a few mistakes, but it’s clear that he has the quality to become a strong player.

Match won; just game points and pride at stake. I felt I was doing ok, although I was still a Pawn down, I couldn’t see how Chris was breaking through.  He was down to 12 minutes or so and I had more than half an hour. I offered him a draw, which I knew he would decline but I wondered if he’d push too hard trying to prove the win.  So it turned out in the end.  Chris missed one chance to cause me serious problems but, missing that, I had a a resource which got my Pawn back.  With less than a minute on his clock he really should have bailed out with the perpetual check that was still available but looking for a mate he ended up in a mating net himself.

4-1 to Shrewsbury and we’re on something of a roll.  Priorslee Lions B next.

Mark Smith, B Team Captain

Shrewsbury B Turn Tables on Telepost

There was high drama in Shrewsbury B team’s recent clash with Telepost B.  Once again, we were hamstrung by having to default a board with several players unavailable.  1-0 down before we started.  I consoled myself with the thought that, so far this season, we had done rather well from this position.

Board 1 saw me take the Black pieces against Peter Crean.  I had won my last two games against him but they were a couple of years ago and I had the White pieces both times.  Peter played 1.e4 and in response to my Sicilian played 2.f4, which can lead to the Grand Prix Attack, but in this case, what followed was much more like an Advanced French, an unusual line for me to defend.

Board 2 saw Ian Davies with White against Keith Tabner; a more conventional Grand Prix attack here, with Ian playing the usual 2.Nc3 and 3.f4 move order.  A typical position arose with White’s pieces aiming at Keith’s Kingside defences, but with potential for Black counterplay on the Queenside.

On board 3, Norman had his first outing for a while: Black against John Westhead.  Norman set up a King’s Indian type structure, which John didn’t challenge particularly (no e4), and I felt Norman’s position was very comfortable.

Tony had White on board 4 against Nick Holmes. Tony has asked me not to talk about his opening play in this game, as he has been working on some new ideas which he’d rather keep under wraps for now, which is fair.  All I will say is that a typical position from the opening chosen arose and it looked about level to me.

One respect in which we were not level was the clock.  All four of us were behind, Ian and I were slightly, Norman and Tony by quite a lot.

In my case, this turned out in my favour. I’m not going to dwell overly long on my game, as it was the least interesting game of the night.

It seemed to me that Peter moved far too quickly in the opening and that his early moves were a bit routine. By the time he started thinking about it, he was a Pawn down with a bad position.  Another error cost him another pawn and then Peter was forced to exchange Queens or lose more material.  Passed Pawns cost more material and, when Peter finally resigned at about 9.30, he was four (!) Pawns and the exchange down, with a choice between giving up another Rook or mate in two.

Scores level, then, and it was heating up nicely with none of the remaining games looking like finishing any time soon.

Tony’s position looked the most balanced. He appeared to have a slight advantage but getting a breakthrough was going to be tough. He had a problem, however, he had what was now quite a serious time disadvantage of almost half an hour, as he went into the last twenty minutes.

Norman was also down on the clock in a tense position, where both sides had passed Pawns.  I think I would have preferred Norman’s position but not by as much as I would have liked John’s time advantage.

Ian, meanwhile, was also somewhat behind on time but it was a much smaller margin.  The position was still really complicated. It seemed to me that if Ian wanted to get his attack going he was probably going to have to sacrifice something; maybe the exchange.  Keith looked as if he had to sit tight for the moment but it looked the sort of game that could change at any moment.

At around this point, Keith offered Ian a draw, which the latter declined after some thought, not so much out of complete confidence in his own prospects, as a lack of confidence in the situation on the other boards.  Indeed, at that point I was of the opinion that Ian probably needed to win for us to get something out of the match as it was hard to see more than half a point coming from the other two games.  Both of our players were now really short of time and Norman’s position in particular was not one I would have wanted to play with only a few minutes left.

Initially Ian’s decision appeared to have backfired on him.  He made the brave (and, I think, correct) decision to sacrifice the exchange in order to loosen Keith’s defences.  Also, Keith used up all his time advantage and more, searching for the correct continuation.  However, Ian’s follow up was a bad mistake, leaving him a Rook down with no compensation that I could see, other than the fact that it was Keith who was now short of time.  Barely able to contain our disappointment, Francis and I turned away to look at the other games.

From here, incredibly, things started to happen for us.  First, Tony secured his draw, despite having less than 90 seconds on his clock.  Nick had made an error allowing Tony’s King into his position and any advantage was now Tony’s.  Even so, given the time advantage, it was very sporting of Nick to concede the draw. 1.5 vs 1.5.  Norman’s game was at crisis point, as he looked to push through his passed Pawn with about 4 minutes left on his clock.  John had about 11 minutes but made the classic mistake of blitzing before he had to.  The result was that John moved his Rook to (he thought) checkmate Norman.  The fact that the square was covered by Norman’s Bishop was initially overlooked by both players (but not by the spectators!)  John didn’t announce mate and Norman moved his king to another square which was still in check, an illegal move!  “That’s checkmate,” said John.  “No it’s not,” replied Norman, belatedly removing John’s rook.  The two minutes extra time were of no use to John compared with losing a Rook and, as Norman still had about 4 minutes left, he was able to deliver checkmate.  Had Norman’s King had a legal move, he would have had to move it.  As it was, his only legal move was a winning one.

Meanwhile, and unseen by anyone except Ian and Keith, a drawish ending had arisen with Queen against two Rooks.  If anything Ian, with the Queen, had the advantage but he could go on checking to his heart’s content and, as a draw was now more than acceptable to us, he took it. I didn’t manage to get to the bottom of what happened to Keith’s extra Rook but I’d be lying if I pretended to be particularly bothered about this!

So, 3-2 to Shrewsbury; a great result and more excitement than is good for a bunch of middle aged (and a bit older) blokes!

Next up: Newport Juniors.

Mark Smith, B Team Captain

Close Encounter for B Team

Shrewsbury B team faced a tough challenge in the form of league leaders, Newport B on Friday 15th December.  Newport fielded a strong side and we were not helped by having to default bottom board.  We really have struggled to put out a full team this season, though, at least, we haven’t defaulted any match points.  So 1-0 down at the outset and Chris Paul had a relaxing evening, at least at first.

Board 1 saw a welcome return for Matt Best, taking on Chris Lewis with Black; an exchange French defence was the opening.  On board 2, I had White against Tony Holdford and a Philidor occurred.  An interesting opening occurred on board 3.  Danny Griffiths played 1.f4, Bird’s opening, which seems rather popular in Shropshire at the moment and Ivor replied 1…e5 which is the From Gambit. I can’t say that I liked the look of Ivor’s game after a few moves.  He appeared to be both a Pawn down and to have an alarmingly draughty position.  Meanwhile, Ian Davies rolled out the Grand Prix attack in answer to Stuart Ross and his Sicilian defence.  Ian soon sacrificed a pawn on f5 for an unclear amount of compensation.

Over the next few moves I was reasonably happy with my position.  I had a bit of extra space and my pieces were on nice squares.  In the past, I always used to struggle against Tony, though we worked out after the game that our most recent encounter was at least 15 years ago!

It seemed to me that Chris Lewis had played his opening too casually against Matt, who had a good position and Chris’s clock was ticking!

Ivor and Danny had reached a major piece ending.  Ivor was still a Pawn down but it seemed a lot more tenable than half an hour before.  Ian continued to press; he was still a pawn down but he had definite compensation now.  He needed to be careful though; his King was not entirely safe and Stuart’s Bishop, at the moment incarcerated behind his own Pawns and a terrible piece, had the potential to become a monster if he could ever get those Pawns rolling.

At this point Tony offered me a draw, which I accepted after a few minutes thought.  Not a particularly easy decision, as my position was still ok but I couldn’t see how to proceed and decided we needed that half point on the board.

I don’t know how closely Tony had looked at board 1 but it definitely influenced my decision, as I was pretty confident that Matt was going to win.  His pieces were focused on Chris’s king and he had a big time advantage.  He hadn’t even had to sacrifice any material!

Ian was still pressing and all three results were possible.  The position was very tricky; there was an opportunity to regain his pawn, maybe even win one but it looked very risky.

Board 1 reached its conclusion as Chris missed a possibility that forced instant resignation.  His position was already extremely unpleasant however.

Meanwhile, Ivor had fought back in typically dogged fashion; Danny must surely have misplayed the position somewhere along the line though it was hard to pinpoint where.  Maybe a case of several not best moves rather than an actual blunder.  First, Ivor got some real counterplay against Danny’s King, then exchanged down to a Rook ending where Danny was bound to lose his extra Pawn.  As the position was now equal, Danny offered a draw which Ivor accepted.

All square then, with 40 minutes left and one game to be decided.

This situation is always tough for the two players involved, with everyone else watching and the clock running.  This game was probably tougher than most as the position was still very sharp with many possibilities.

Ian decided, after some thought to take the plunge and go for it, though the alternative – to keep his opponent’s Bishop incarcerated by blockading Stuart’s Pawns on dark squares – looked attractive to me and Francis, he would still have been a Pawn down.  As Stuart’s Bishop would have been completely useless he ought to have had more than enough compensation.  It’s much easier to speculate on other people’s games, however.

The result was that Ian was on the verge of winning big material but his King was poorly placed and there were several snap back rank mates in the air.  Ian appeared to manage it all but then Stuart found a really beautiful resource, of which he should be proud, to force perpetual check and a drawn match.

So, at the half way point, we are mid-table.  Who knows what the New Year may bring?

Mark Smith, B Team Captain

Victory for Shrewsbury B

Shrewsbury B picked up their second win of the season away at Church Stretton.

Unfortunately, we were one down at the outset, as we were only able to field four players with a couple of our regulars unavailable.  Fielding a full side for away games has proved to be problematic so far this season; nobody’s fault, just the way things are.

As if to balance the books, Church Stretton were also missing key players Trevor Brotherton, David Hodge and Karl Wakefield.

This meant that, instead of my traditional loss to Trevor, I was playing Steve Chadaway, who is relatively new to the area and is playing his first season for Church Stretton.  The opening was a Scandinavian with Dan’s old favourite Qd6 retreat.  There was a bit of business with the clocks; first Steve’s then my clock not working properly.  All was sorted amicably and the first seven or eight moves were played quite quickly by both sides.  I quite liked my position but Black was solid enough.

On board 2, Ivor had the black pieces against Graham Shepherd; another Scandinavian but this time, Ivor’s favourite 2.Nf6 line.  Graham seemed to get a good position out of the opening with extra space and Queen-side possibilities.

Board 3 saw a really sharp opening as Tom Williamson risked the Schliemann against Ian’s Ruy Lopez.  The position looked completely unbalanced but I would rather have had Ian’s game. He had succeeded in castling and getting most of his pieces out, while Tom had a very active Queen but most of his other pieces were still on their original squares.

Tony’s game appeared more balanced and looked like a sort of Reti or Kings Indian Attack to me but I was happy to see it as it looked quite similar to the type of game Tony has been playing successfully with White over the past year or so.  Back to board 1 and I wasn’t quite so happy.  For a few moves my position had seemed to be improving but Steve was getting back into it now and continued to move quickly while I was using up quite a bit of time.  It seemed to me that there ought to be some advantage for me but a single inaccuracy would lose it all and maybe a bit more.  You can play through this game here (see also “Interesting Games”.)

Ivor had fought back well to get back in the game. Graham then overlooked a fairly simple shot that cost him a Pawn.  His Bishop on g2 was strong, however, and gave at least some compensation. Tony was playing well on board 4 against Chris Pimm Jones.  The position was still quite balanced but Chris’s king looked a bit awkward and his pieces were struggling not to trip over one another.  In contrast, Tony’s game was very harmonious.  Simply put, it seemed that Tony had a better understanding of the position.  In addition, Chris had used up far more time than Tony. Time also looked as if it was going to be a factor on board 3.  Tom had done well to develop the rest of his pieces and my impression of the game was that it had gone from advantage to Ian to completely unclear.  However, this was at the expense of his clock and he was down to his last twenty minutes in an extremely sharp position.  Ian still had about three quarters of an hour.

Things were really beginning to heat up in my game.  Steve had consolidated and was probably at least equal when he played 15…Nd5, which triggered complications.  My 17th move, Nxf7, came as a complete surprise to him I think.  Fritz isn’t in love with this move, preferring a tricky sequence where material remained level with perhaps a micro edge for White. I prefer my move as, although there was (one) path to equality afterwards, it was a much scarier position for Black.  It boiled down to a piece sacrifice for two Pawns and an attack on Black’s King. I confess that I hadn’t seen the defensive resource available to Black on his 21st move when I made my 16th, so I was under the impression I was winning.

Board 2 was getting closer to the wire as Graham succeeded in whipping up some Queenside play.  Board 3 was still sharp with Tom now down to 10 minutes to Ian’s 35.

On board 4, Tony continued to outplay his opponent who was also getting short of time.  I was getting a bit short of time myself on board 1 but this turned out not to matter.  Steve missed his chance on move 21 and from here on I was correct in considering the game to be won.  On a couple of occasions, I could perhaps have been more precise; there was no need for me to exchange Queens on move 29 but I was down to my last 15 minutes and an ending with extra exchange plus Pawn seemed the safer path. It proved enough and Steve resigned: an entertaining game!

Scores level then with about half an hour to play.  Board 2 was fairly level on time.  Graham was still a Pawn down but had obtained an outside passed Pawn; difficult to call.  Barring accidents, the win was looking clear for Tony, a checking sequence had left him a Rook up with monster passed Pawns in addition.  Board 3 was another matter, as Ian overlooked a resource by Tom which won a Pawn, as Ian could not take the rook on f4 without dropping his Queen.  Ian saw this – I know he did – and yet…he started by doing what we’re all taught in this type of situation when the position goes wrong and you have a big time advantage: use some of that time to have a think.  Ian did this, then his hand moved out and…touched the rook!  Under the laws of the game he was now obliged to capture the rook, if legally possible, the very move that cost Ian his Queen!  This really should have been game over and I’m sure Ian would have resigned had Tom even had 5 minutes left on the clock.  However, Tom had less than a minute!  Stretton don’t have digital clocks so couldn’t tell exactly.  Anyway, Ian’s King was marched up the board and I think he was expecting the inevitable, when he noticed that Tom’s king was no longer on the board!  Tom was obviously playing instantaneously at this point and must have accidentally knocked his king off the board! The startling thing is that neither the players, nor Steve, nor I who were watching could pinpoint when exactly this happened.  The players agreed to call it a draw, saving us all a headache!

Just after this Graham offered Ivor a draw, which Ivor accepted after establishing the match position.

Tony rounded off the evening by converting his won position to an actual win.  A very good game from Tony.  He had a wobble when he picked up his King and was about to play it to a position that would have stalemated his opponent.  Fortunately, he realised in time and there was another good square for his King.  Essentially, exactly the same same mistake as Ian but with a completely different outcome!  Who says there’s no luck in chess?

So, an eventful evening to say the least.

Final score Church Stretton A 2 Shrewsbury B 3

 

Mark Smith, B Team Captain

A Team Shocks League Leaders

Newport sometimes complain that Shrewsbury are their bogey opponents.  However, on Friday 24th November, they must have had a degree of confidence, especially as they didn’t turn up with GM Arkell plus bro!  Even with this “under-strength” team, Newport still significantly out-graded us on all but the bottom board.

Nevertheless, we had some cause for optimism, having the services of both Jamie Hopkins on board one and Matthew Best on board 5, and felt that we could at least give Newport a serious run for their money.  The first game to finish was Matt against Danny Griffiths on board 5.  Matt played the French and Danny chose the exchange variation.  By move 9, Black already stood better.  Matt exchanged a Bishop for White’s Knight on f3, breaking Danny’s Pawn cover around the King and gradually built up pressure on the Kingside and down the e-file.  Danny weakened his Kingside further and quickly succumbed to an attack against his exposed King.  You can play through the game here, or see the “Interesting Games” tab.  1-0 to Shrewsbury.

Around this time, I looked at the remaining boards and saw that David seemed to be doing well, Daniel’s looked complicated and Jamie’s looked balanced, although Jamie was consuming vast amounts of time (no surprise there!)  My own game against Ian Jamieson started out alright but I mixed up systems against Ian’s Bird’s opening.  This meant that my pieces lacked coordination, which Ian accurately exploited to cause a breakthrough in the centre.  Once White’s central passed Pawn was going to cause loss of material, I resigned: 1-1.  Around this time, David managed to close out his game against Nathanael – a nice win, which you can play through here (link on “Interesting Games” tab). 2-1 to Shrewsbury.

I didn’t see much of Jamie’s game but shortly afterwards, Jamie resigned, shortly before his clock fell; it was always going to be a tough ask against Nick, especially with Jamie being somewhat rusty.  This left the match at 2-2, with Daniel and Chris Lewis battling away to decide the outcome of the match.  This is always a tricky time for the players left playing; everyone is watching, the clocks are usually pretty low at this point and the players know that a slip can prove fatal.  The game had started as an Advance Variation against the Caro Kann and Chris’s King (castled Queenside) was a little exposed and Daniel was pressing hard.  At the crucial moment, Chris retreated his dark squared Bishop, allowing Daniel to capture a Pawn on f6.  More significant than the extra Pawn was that Daniel’s attack quickly gathered momentum and Chris was soon forced to resign.  The game can be played through here (link on “Interesting Games” tab).

Thus, we scored a famous victory; for the first time this season, we actually find ourselves in the top half of the table!

Francis Best, A Team Captain

 

A Team Catch Up

Well, sort of… What I really mean is that I am catching up, having neglected the web write-ups for the A Team recently.  Perhaps one of the reasons for my neglect was the 0-5 drubbing we received at the Ludlow fixture on 10th October.  Things started badly when Norman had to pull out of the match with a bad back.  One advantage of that, however, was that the limited table space now only had to accommodate four boards; a serious plus!  Sadly, that was the extent of the good news for the evening, although the one-sided scoreline probably didn’t reflect the battles involved, as is often the case.

Things were not a lot better at the next fixture against Oswestry.  I personally was shielded from the pain for this one, as I was away at Scarborough (mediocre performance: 2/5) and so cannot report on many of the games.  Peter Kitchen said of his game, “I was the victim of a Dave Bennion attacking whirlwind…he played very well.”  Daniel and Ile managed draws, so we did one better than against Ludlow but it was still a pretty one-sided result: 1-4.

The fact is that there are no easy fixtures this year; we just have to cope with that and try to take advantage of the opportunities when they do come along.  Fortunately, for us, that was the next fixture against Telford A.  David was the first to finish, having been able to spring some opening preparation against Athar Ansari.  David had first come across this line against the Nimzo Indian in the fifties (subsequently, at the club, he was able to prove it by brandishing the very copy of Chess where he had first come across the Smyslov v Benko game where it was played).  The game finished with a King hunt and Athar’s resignation.

On board 2, I was facing David Gostelow’s London system.  Things went my way out of the opening and I gained control over the open a-file and better piece coordination.  Predictably, David battled on and we were clearly in for the long haul.  In the meantime, Ted Eales made his debut for the A team and quickly gained a nice position against Stefan Tennant.  Sadly, I didn’t see much of the game but this was the next game to finish and, once again, it was in our favour.

On board 3, Daniel faced George Kolbusz’s French Defence exchange variation which went according to book lines up until move nine, with Black placing very effective bishops on d6 and g4 and his King’s Knight on e7.  Daniel explains:

“I thought the game hinged on whether I could take advantage of the Knight being on e7 and therefore not protecting the castled King’s h7 pawn and that I could exploit the pin of my Knight on f3 by capturing with check with my Bishop on h7 and then if the King captures, advancing my f3 Knight to g5 with another check and picking up the Bishop on g4 with the Queen. Black had spotted this and initially supported the g4 Bishop but, keen to keep the pin when I played h3, had moved the Bishop back to h5, allowing the seemingly plausible capture on h7 to win the Pawn. I say plausible as when I put it through Fritz the next day, it simply says Black should take the Bishop and advance the king to g6 in front of all its own pieces and that it can weather whatever White throws at it! Pretty hard to spot for most of us and in the real game, Black simply gave up the Pawn and concentrated on development.

I then spent the rest of the game trying to untangle my other pieces and looking to get my Queen or another major piece to the half open h-file to get at Black’s King. My own King side was pretty leaky but I managed to get a Pawn to g6 to hamper the Black King’s escape and, as Black began to break my centre, I finally played the f3 Knight to e5 to clear the way for the Queen to get across to h5 and threaten a forced mate.”

You can play through Daniel’s game here, or check the interesting games tab.  We were now 3-0 up, so had won the match.  At last things were going our way.  On board 4, Peter was facing Richard Szwajkun’s Torre attack.  Again, I’ll let Peter explain in his own words:

“I felt on the night I had been very fortunate to win and benefited from a blunder having spent much of the night on the back foot, having not played particularly well.

But on reflection I think I was being a bit hard on myself. It wasn’t by any means a great win, and I know exactly what I need to work on. But I started very well and was guilty of one careless move in a very good position that somewhat turned the tables. After that I think I made some reasonable practical decisions that kept me in the game, and then in the ending I was the one being proactive and (without doing anything special) pressed him into a mistake.”

You can also play through Peter’s game here or find it on the interesting games tab.

So, we were 4-0 up and, while all this was going on, Dave and I were down to our last few minutes.  I felt that I still had a small advantage but it was going to be difficult to convert. Given the state of the match, I was happy to agree a draw to finalise a 4½-½ victory for the team.  So far, we have had lopsided scores, win or lose.  Let’s hope we win a few more like that!

Francis Best, A Team Captain

Disappointment for Shrewsbury B

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

Tough Start for B Team

Shrewsbury B faced a tough challenge in their opening game of the season vs Church Stretton A.  Church Stretton reformed as a club in the close season and I’m sure we all wish them well.  We were somewhat weakened by a change of rota which made Ile unavailable; indeed we started the evening unsure if we might have to default a board as I’d had an issue with my email and was unsure whether to expect Heath or not.  We started with just four boards with Tony on board 4.  Fifteen minutes later, Ivor arrived whom I had thought unavailable.  After some discussion, during which I offered to default the board, it was agreed that Tom Williamson, Church Stretton board 5 and captain, play Ivor anyway, despite it not being board order.   Anyway, on to the chess!

On first board, I had black against Trevor Brotherton; quite a challenge.  He played 1.g3 , which is a favourite of his and the game started quietly.  Board 2 saw Norman O’Connor take on David Hodge and Norman also played one of his favourites, an English with an early g3, which looked ok to me early on.  I didn’t catch the first few moves of Ian’s game but it all looked quite cagey against Stephen Chadaway, who is new to the area but, with a grade of 139, it looked like it could be a challenge for Ian, who has played very little competitive chess over the last year.  On board 4, Tony was up against Karl Wakefield (good to see him back).  Tony played his usual 1.Nf3, which has served him very well over the last year or so; he gets playable positions out of book.  I didn’t catch the opening on board 5 but it looked even.

My position against Trevor looked ok to me (Trevor agreed after the game). I was developed and my pieces were on good squares.  Norman’s game kept the tension but I quite liked the look of it.  His bishop on g2 looked like a proper Catalan bishop; a Norman position.  Ian looked as if he had work to do on board 3 to gain equality but his position looked solid enough.  Board 5 looked dead level.  The most interesting position was Tony’s on board 4.  Karl’s king looked in grave danger but then it often does in Karl’s games!

Around 9.30 things started to happen and quickly.  Tony could make no progress in his position and a draw was agreed.  I’d probably have played on myself but it’s worth pointing out that Karl out-grades Tony by about 30 points, so it’s a good half for Tony.  At around the same time, both Norman and I came to grief.  Norman made a mistake which cost him the game quickly, while I bucked the trend against Trevor.  Normally, it’s a tight game which goes to the wire, then I lose!  On this occasion, I lost quickly, after an unwise b4; the idea was alright, but too impatient.  Tom and Ivor agreed a draw, as did Ian, who had defended very well, and Stephen.

A loss to begin with but we’ll have better matches.

Mark Smith, B Team Captain

Solid Start for A Team

This season there don’t seem to be any easy looking matches on offer in the first division.  Our first two matches held the potential to offer us something, but both Priorslee Lions A and Wellington A can pack a punch on their night. Indeed, Wellington had already won their first match against Telford A by the margin of 4½ – ½.

Priorslee Lions

David Everington had the toughest task, playing on our board 1 for both matches.  David said after the Priorslee match that Adrian Zdanowski deserved to win, having won the last couple of encounters previously himself. On the bottom two boards, Matt Best and Mark Smith both seemed to be outplaying their respective opponents.  Indeed, these were the first two boards to finish – both with the “correct” result (at least from Shrewsbury’s point of view).  Alas, shortly afterwards, David was forced to resign, redressing the score from Priorslee’s point of view.

Meanwhile, I had experimented (badly) with an early Queen exchange against Bill Bates’s French defence.  I had hoped to play against the typical bad white square Bishop in Black’s camp but this never materialised, with Black’s forces enjoying better coordination and my King becoming exposed in my increasing attempts to rectify my earlier faulty play.  Soon, it was two points apiece, after I was forced to resign, and the match result all hinged on the outcome of the board three encounter between Peter Kitchen and Glyn Pugh.  Here are Peter’s comments on his game:

“Glyn caught me out completely on move one by playing 1.d4 and subsequently a Catalan.

I missed a promising knight sacrifice …Nxf2 early in the middlegame, and after a few mutual tactical blows the centre opened up and Glyn appeared to have a pleasant position.

But he went wrong over the next couple of moves, sidelining his queen and dark squared bishop on the a-file, and I built up a healthy initiative. I thought I was on the verge of obtaining a winning position as time ran down for both of us and appeared certain to make a breakthrough.

But then after an innocuous looking bishop retreat from Glyn I found I couldn’t take his undefended f2 pawn as planned. This threw me, and after quite a think I played a very poor move …Rc2 (…I think Kf7 was called for) which allowed Glyn’s Queen deep into my position and handed the initiative to him.

Glyn then missed a couple of opportunities to apply pressure on me before the position settled down a little and we agreed a draw (as the last game to finish I don’t think either of us fancied losing our team the match!).”

Thus, honours ended even overall; probably both sides were a little disappointed.

Wellington

David’s game against Wellington’s Toby Neal was a more of a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  It was, however, a very entertaining game, which David has annotated here.  Sadly, though, David’s reward was another loss.  Was this match going to follow the same pattern as the Priorslee one?

In this match, I was playing against Colin Roberts. Colin played the English, as usual, but quickly found his pieces rather awkwardly placed, after allowing me to play an early …d4, kicking his c3 Knight, which didn’t really have a good retreat.  The Queenside became blocked and Colin chose to castle behind it.  However, his Queen was also stuck on that side of the board, as well as the fact that his Kingside pieces lacked coordination.  I played my Bishop to b7, offering to exchange off Colin’s one decent piece, the Bishop on g2, but Colin chose to retain his Bishop, blocking it in at the same time by advancing his Pawn to f3.  I advanced my central Pawns, opening up lines and in invasion through the central e-file proved decisive, leading to Colin’s resignation.  Well, at least that was an improvement from the last match!

On board 3, Daniel Lockett was White against Wellington’s James Kuczynski. Black replied to e4 with what developed into a classical Pirc. Neither side really pushed things too much to begin with and by move 16 there had yet to be any captures made. Both sides had a problem piece or two: Black’s white squared Bishop had only just got onto the a8-h1 diagonal to get involved, and Daniel’s Queen’s Knight on c3 was having to find another home to free up the Pawn behind it to support the pawn on d5.

An exchange of pawns on d5 by Black did finally open up the e file and Daniel decided to try and get a little initiative by pushing the f-Pawn and then the g-Pawn to harass a black Knight and free up some space to coordinate his heavier pieces on the e and f files.

Daniel had also managed to gain about ten minutes on the clock, which was probably key to what followed. Black advanced a Knight to e4, supported by Rook and Queen on the same file. However, this allowed White to exchange off the Knight and, when the Rook recaptured, Daniel’s own Knight was able to land on e6, with check, isolating the Rook. Black was forced to exchange Rook for Knight and Pawn, after which, with Daniel’s extra time, it was a case of exchanging Queens and picking off the remaining Pawns and creating a passed Pawn that Black couldn’t stop with his remaining Bishop.

Board four saw Wellington’s Mike Hollier as White against Peter Kitchen. The game was a Queen’s Gambit Declined, where, after the standard Bg5, Mike unusually retreated his bishop to f4 after Peter’s …h6.

Early in the middlegame, Mike chose to advance with c5. Realising he could quickly get squashed (with the a8 Rook and c8 Bishop still on their starting squares), Peter moved quickly to undermine this Pawn and, after an inaccuracy from Mike, Black won this pawn.

Mike then diverted all his resources into a kingside attack, and much of the rest of the game was spent with Peter fending off his many tactical threats, in the knowledge that he had two defended and unopposed central Pawns and was up on material to boot.

Having been about 25 minutes down in the clock early on, Peter was about 10 minutes up when the game entered its truly critical stage, with Mike deciding to go all-out for it with a Rxg7 sacrifice. Peter had to return a knight and another Pawn and his King was forced into the open, but Black remained material up and, crucially, had a few threats of his own.

With about 45 seconds of time left, Mike was thrown by a double threat on his Queen and the g2 square, blundered a Rook and resigned (which won us the match, as we went 1-3 up). There was a defence with Ne3 that would have essentially led to a queen exchange but this would have activated Peter’s pieces and left him with a far better ending.  As well as this, Peter also still had three or four minutes remaining on the clock.

Playing on board 5, Ivor Salter opened 1.e4 and, after seeing Black’s 1…c5, the Sicilian, Ivor had no hesitation in playing his favourite Morra Gambit.  It was book perfect with Colin taking both pawns, but he had not read the same book as Ivor and got bogged down in the opening. You can play through the game here.  A typical Morra rout!

Thus, we finished this match winners by 4 – 1, a result that was better than we might have hoped for.  After this result, and before Oswestry A v Newport A had ended in 2½ – 2½ draw, we were nominally at the top of the table for a day!  Still, at the time of writing, we are second behind Oswestry, on the same Match points (3) and just one single game point behind them.  I’ll take that for now!

Francis Best, A Team Captain

 

A Team Loses but Keeps Ahead of Rivals

The A team’s last fixture of the season was at Priorslee on Monday 27th March.  As this occurred after the last B Team’s match, we could afford to have a free run of all our players – subject to availability, of course.  On top board, David Everington faced Adrian Zdanowski, who essayed the Grünfeld against David’s 1.d4.  David played one of his pet lines, combining 4.Bf4 with 5.Qa4+.  Adrian failed to respond optimally and David was quickly pressing out of the opening.  In order to try relieving some of this pressure, Adrian gave up his Queen for a Rook and Knight, although he remained two Pawns down and had an exposed King position.  Within the next few moves, it was clear that Black had obtained no relief and David won convincingly, forcing through a winning attack against the Black King.

I was facing William Bates on board 2 and, for the second time this season, played the Scandinavian against William’s 1.e4.  Afterwards, William asserted that he had played Bc4 too early in both games, although he had chosen a slightly different setup this time compared with the previous fixture.  I have to confess I was a little cowardly and, when he offered me a draw on move 17, I accepted, even though I felt I was slightly better.  It seemed to me we stood better in several of the other games – anyway, that was my excuse!

On board 3, Daniel Locket was White against Glyn Pugh and played the exchange variation against Glyn’s French Defence.  After an early c4, a plan which Daniel has used effectively in a few recent games, he found his isolated d-Pawn under attack and lost it shortly afterwards.  With the Bishop pair and an extra Pawn, Glyn continued to build up the pressure.  On move 16, Daniel took a “poisoned Pawn” on b7.  Although Glyn missed the most decisive follow up, the resultant open lines seemed to help Black’s position far more than White’s and Daniel resigned a few moves later.

Board 4 saw Mark Smith face Steve Tarr, who played his habitual London system.  Although White (Steve) had an edge out of the opening, Mark defended accurately and even managed to progress to an ending where he was slightly better, having an extra outside passed Pawn in a Rook, Knight and Pawns ending.  However, Steve managed to keep his pieces very active, harassing Black’s King position, as well as containing the passed Pawn.  In the end, Steve forced the draw by threatening mate which Mark could only counter by repeating position.  So the match was level, leaving just board 5 to finish, with Ivor Salter facing Gary White.

Gary offered the Alekhine’s defence against Ivor’s 1.e4, although Ivor avoided mainline theory by playing 2.Nc3 (funny how many White players do that!)  Gary played the opening in a typically unorthodox fashion but Ivor responded energetically and developed a strong initiative with the Bishop pair, extra central space and a lead in development.  In trying to solve his problems, Gary also consumed a lot of time on the clock and Ivor was about twenty minutes ahead.  Things started to go wrong for Ivor around move 21, when he missed a golden opportunity to use his structural advantages against Gary’s King position.  A few further inaccuracies followed and Gary kept causing Ivor problems.  Steadily, we watched Ivor’s position deteriorate and his time advantage evaporate.  All credit to Gary for keeping his chances alive; eventually Ivor gave up material in desperation to try to keep in the game but this, too, was unsuccessful.  Gary managed to create a mating net against Ivor’s King with just 18 seconds left on his clock.  Now I really wished I hadn’t accepted William’s draw offer!

At least we remained ahead of Priorslee on game points and finished the season in fifth position.

All of these games, with Chessbase 14’s “Tactical analysis” added, can be viewed here.

Thank you to all our players who have taken part over the course of the season.  Just one Rapidplay fixture to complete now.

Francis Best, A Team Captain