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