Shrewsbury B missed out on promotion to the first Division and a possible title against the odds in agonising fashion in the final game of the Division 2 season. Having led the field for almost all the season, Telepost B denied Ian Davies’ side a famous season with a hard-fought win in the final game, the title going instead to a Ludlow side strengthened by several highly-rated players joining from other clubs with Newport B joining them in gaining promotion to the top flight, so congratulations to those two sides and best of luck in the first division next season.
With “captain fantastic” Ian running away to Scotland and duo Mark Smith and Dan Lockett unavailable (and Peter Kitchen also unable to fill in), club stalwart Fred Harris, despite his retirement from league chess some years ago, agreed to fill in on board 5 for stand-in skipper Tony Purser in light of the importance of the match. The visitors, on the other hand, were at full strength and held a significant grading advantage on all boards except top board.
However, in the first game to finish the hosts took the lead. It was on board 5, where Fred was facing the rapidly improving Kate Walker. After a fairly cagey opening from both sides the game appeared roughly level, before a sequence of two or three inaccurate Queen moves and recapturing with the wrong piece suddenly meant Kate’s position was looking difficult, with Fred now controlling the only open file and his Queen pinning Kate’s Rook on her exposed King. A virtuoso display of sparkling attacking chess followed as Fred doubled his Rooks, forced Kate’s King onto the third rank and got his Knights hopping in, threatening checkmate and forcing Kate to give up her Queen for a Rook and Knight. While that can often be enough to hold a draw in an endgame, in this case her Rook and Bishop were trapped on their home squares and Fred’s Queen was centralised and active, meaning Pawns were going to drop off with regularity and so Kate resigned.
Next to finish was board four where Tony was facing Alisdair Benjamin. After missing an opportunity for a cheap trick winning a Pawn out the opening, Tony still established a promising position. However, Alisdair found a series of strong moves and put Tony under severe pressure. Although it looked as though he might find some fantastic defensive resources, eventually Tony was forced to lose several Pawns and succumbed to the pressure, losing the endgame. Shortly after, the match turned further as Norman O’Connor lost on board two to John Westhead. A seemingly fairly level position had gradually slipped away, with Norman also running low on the clock, and John established a dangerous attack with his Rook swinging out to the middle of the board.
This meant that Shrewsbury needed one and a half from the remaining two games in order to get promotion, and two wins to net the title. It looked as though the game on board three between Ivor Salter and Peter Crean was going to end in a draw – it was a King and Pawn ending with level Pawns and symmetrical structure. However, Peter’s King was more active and the pressure told and, although there may have been a draw at some point earlier, Ivor demonstrated afterwards that it was lost earlier than we had thought. That meant that the match was lost and there was only pride to play for on top board between this season’s superstar Dr Ile and Telepost’s Keith Tabner. Keith seemed to have pressure throughout the game in the White side of a kind of odd Saemisch King’s Indian/Czech Benoni hybrid but Ile rode it out, won a Pawn and showed exemplary technique to convert the endgame.
So overall, a fine season for the B team nonetheless which exceeded all expectations. Now onto the Minor Knockout!
Matthew Best, On-site reporter