Jul 212015
 
An interesting position from last night's match. In Joyce vs. Hutchinson, Black has just played 11...Ng4 and this led to an interesting passage of play The question is, who has the advantage here? Answer in the game viewer at the end of this post.

An interesting position from last night’s match. In Joyce vs. Hutchinson, Black has just played 11…Ng4 and this led to an interesting passage of play. The question is, who has the advantage here? Answer in the game viewer at the end of this post.

Last night the Trades Club was unusually busy for a Monday night during the summer break as Hebden Bridge chess club hosted their nearest neighbours Todmorden for a friendly five-a-side chess match to trial a new team handicap format that will be introduced when the new Calderdale Evening Chess League season begins in September. Adopting the rules from the Huddersfield Chess League’s handicap competition, team captains first compare the grades of the players in each pairing of the match and, depending on the average rating difference between the two sides, award the weaker team with a points advantage to increase their chances of victory.

Hebden Bridge team captain for the night was John Kerrane and, heading up the Todmorden side was Dave Milton. As it happened these two were also paired to play one another on board two. The Hebden line up was a blend of new blood and experience. On board one, new member Roger Baxter played his first game for Hebden Bridge. He’s played plenty of chess before but that didn’t make it any easier to assess what rating to give him for the purposes of this match. In the end the estimate of 133 still put him on the top board where he faced Richard Bedford who is himself making a fresh and very welcome return to Calderdale chess. On board 3 Hebden veteran Terry Sullivan faced a dangerous adversary in the form of Tom Webster. But then on boards 4 and 5 the home side fielded their least experienced players. 10 year old Luca Curry has already shown very promising signs in his outings for Hebden Bridge ‘C’ last season. He played John Paul Ellis on board 4. On board 5, another relative new-comer, Hutch Hutchinson took on Bill Joyce. These line-ups were, on paper, marginally in favour of Todmorden and so Hebden Bridge were given a  ½ point head start in the match.

As the match went Hebden didn’t need the head start. On boards 4 and 5 where Hebden should have been weakest, they actually scored two full points in double quick time. Luca dismantled John Paul most efficiently and Hutch out-gunned Bill in similar vein navigating some complexities on the way (see the position on the right). These results left Hebden up 2½ – 0 and meant Todmorden had to win the last three boards in play to take the tie.

They almost did it. First Dave Milton broke with tradition as he managed to overcome John Kerrane and break a long streak of draws between these two players who must have faced each other more times than Kasparov and Karpov did in the 80’s. Then, after a lengthy end-to-end struggle, Terry finally blundered in what appeared to be a losing position against Tom. Todmorden were right back in it and the top board would decide the match.

This last encounter was a tense affair but Richard always seemed to be in control. At one point the kibitzers got excited when it appeared Roger had a neat knight fork with a check and discovery to win White’s queen. He over looked it but as Richard calmly pointed out after the game, the knight could have been recaptured with a rook revealing a defence of his queen that would have given him an extra piece. In the game Roger hung on tenaciously and Richard couldn’t find a way to break through. In the end, cruelly, the clock decided the outcome as Richard ran out of time and Roger took the full point where he perhaps have been only deserving of a draw which would nevertheless been enough for Hebden to take the tie.

Here’s the final match score card:

Hebden Bridge vs. Todmorden
R.Baxter 1 – 0 R.Bedford
J.Kerrane 0 – 1 D.Milton
T.Sullivan 0 – 1 T.Webster
L.Curry 1 – 0 J.P.Ellis
H.Hutchinson 1 – 0 B.Joyce
Handicap awarded an extra ½ point to Hebden Bridge
3½ – 2

So, a few learning experiences for the league and the fixtures secretary to consider, but otherwise a successful experiment. I’m sure that the new competition will be a valuable addition to the league schedule and fulfill it’s objective of providing league 2 players with useful additional game time.

Next door to the match Nick Sykes and Dave Shapland played the first of a pair of thematic games that they had agreed to play during the summer break. The theme they’d selected being the super-sharp and highly complicated Yugoslav Attack of the Sicilian Dragon. Nick played White in the first game and a very interesting encounter ensued. I’ll not spoil a future article by revealing the result just yet. That analysis will come in a future post.

Last but not least. Next Monday the 27th of July will see the club hold a friendly rapidplay competition over 5 rounds where each player has 15 minutes to complete all their moves. Players from any club are welcome to join us. Play will start at 7.45pm so please arrive by 7.30pm to get yourself included in the draw.

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Jul 042015
 
"What did we learn Palmer?"

“What did we learn Palmer?” J.K. Simmons plays a mystified CIA Superior in ‘Burn After Reading’

That was something like the question Matthew Parsons asked Nick Sykes and I as we drove back from the final round of the Calderdale Congress just over a month ago. Matthew was, of course, trying to be helpful and draw some lessons from a full on weekend where we had all played 15-odd hours of chess. We were pretty frazzled and couldn’t come up with much of a coherent answer. It reminded me strongly of an amusing exchange at the end of the film ‘Burn After Reading’ where two confused CIA officers sift through the wreckage of the farce that has gone before, desperately trying to make sense of it.

CIA Superior: What did we learn Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don’t know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don’t [blooming] know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I’m [jiggered] if I know what we did
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.

It’s a very funny film and well worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

Anyway, I think my point is that sometimes you need a bit of time to put perspective on events and draw conclusions. I think I can speak for the three of us in the car that night, and perhaps for Pete Leonard who also played in the competition, that the Calderdale Congress highlighted just what strange decisions people can make when they are fatigued and under pressure. There were several pretty stark and tragic examples of this that we were involved with during the three days of action. But first, just to illustrate it can happen to anyone. Take a look at this simple endgame position

Hammer vs. Topalov, Norway Chess 2015

Hammer vs. Topalov, Norway Chess 2015

This game (right) was played in the recently concluded Norway Chess 2015. In this position, having defended tenaciously for quite some time, White simply needed to find the reasonably straightforward 74.f5 gxf5 75.Ke5 in order to exchange off the last Black pawns and guarantee a draw. Tragically, he played 74.Kc6?? and when his opponent replied with 74…Ke6 he released his error and had to resign at once. In the post-mortem interview after the game Topalov accounted for his opponent’s lapse by suggesting that White had anticipated that Black would play 73…Bb8 after which 74.Kc6 is indeed the best move. That sounds plausible but it’s still a pretty terrible mistake to essentially play a move without even consciously registering what your opponent has just played!Even more extraordinarily, this was not the first point that Veselin Topalov had ‘donated’ to him by a Norwegian in that tournament. The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, arrived a little late for his round 1 game with the Bulgarian and missed the arbiter’s introductory talk explaining the various time controls before the clocks were started. Consequently, when he got to move 60 he thought that he would get 15 minutes added to his clock and sat thinking about how best to convert his winning advantage in a queen and pawn ending.

However, Magnus had a rude surprise in store because he did not in fact get more time added to his clock and was instead obliged to play on increments of 30 seconds per move. Consequently he over-stepped the time limit and lost. It was a result that upset his equilibrium for three or four more rounds after this one as he started with only ½ out of 4!

Connor vs. Shapland, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 5

Connor vs. Shapland, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 5

So, even the World Champion is not immune to making elementary mistakes that cost him dearly. However, the Hammer example is one that more of us can probably identify with and it just goes to show what six hours of intense concentration can do to your brain. Even the simplest tasks become terribly difficult. For us chess mortals it doesn’t take anything like six hours for this kind of hypoxia-effect to take hold. At Calderdale for example in my last round game my opponent and I had been playing for barely three hours (though it was the second game of the day!) when we reached the position on the right.

White had absorbed a significant amount of pressure during the middle-game and early endgame and has reaped the reward for his resilience because I had lost the thread of the position and now found myself in a hopeless situation. Only my willingness to try and help my club colleague get a share of second/third prize (by salvaging a draw) prevented me from resigning. However at this point I saw that, if White naturally enough elected to exchange off the knights on g5, it was possible for him to then play inaccurately and give me a chance to hold.

So, White did indeed play 56.Ng5+ (there were many other winning moves but this is still sufficient) Nxg5 57.hxg5 a6 and now White needs to play precisely to win the game.  For example, I had seen that if 58.Kc5? then b5 comes and Black will liquidate the queen’s side pawns and then capture the doubled g-pawns to hold the draw. The correct response is 58.a5! after which White can capture en passant if 58…b5 comes and so White wins. What I could scarcely have imagined was that my opponent would play 58.Kc7?? which actually loses to the same pawn advance. After 58…b5 White is lost.

Did I deserve this win and the accompanying prize money that I had now swindled from my club colleague? No, of course not, but chess is not a just game.  Only in the previous round I myself had made a similarly catastrophic over sight in a king and pawn ending, but I had escaped with a draw.

Shapland vs. Sykes

Shapland vs. Sykes, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 4

On the right is the position close to the end of the game with Nick Sykes (which is well worth playing through in its entirety because it’s extremely interesting). I had just acquiesced to exchange rooks on d2 thinking that the resultant king and pawn ending was at worst drawn. However, this was based on me simply counting the moves that it would take for both I and my opponent to queen a pawn. After 42.b4 Kc3 43.Kf4 Kb3 44.Kg5 Kxa3 45.Kh6 Kxb4 46.Kxh7 Nick chose to queen his a-pawn by continuing with 46…a5. This is just as quick as moving the king and queening the b-pawn but there is a crucial difference because, what both of us had overlooked, was that the b-pawn queens with check and then Black can force the  exchange of the White queen and win the game with his remaining a-pawn!

OK, so this example is slightly more difficult to spot and calculate compared to the previous example. Especially from the point at which I had to decide on whether or not to exchange the rooks. What it does illustrate though is that in concrete positions like king and pawn endings, it’s vital to calculate accurately and look beyond the move that you think is the ‘last one’ in the variation because it may turn out not to be the case!

In king and pawn endings finding the correct method of proceeding is absolutely imperative as any mistake is usually terminal. Sadly, Pete learned this lesson to his great cost in the very first round as he, having obtained the winning king and pawn ending below, stumbled almost as he was crossing the finishing line.

Leonard vs. May

Leonard vs. May, Calderdale Congress (Major), Round 1

In the last of the diagrams in today’s post (right), Black has just played 45…Kb2 and here the same ‘counting-the-moves’ technique mentioned above is relatively straightforward. It will take four moves for White to queen a pawn f5-f6-f7-f8=Q whilst it will take Black six moves Kxa2-Kxb3-a4-a3-a2-a1=Q. That calculation should be enough to have any player stop ‘thinking’ and start blitzing out the remaining moves. But on this occasion, agonisingly for the kibitzers willing Pete on, he suffered an aberration and thought he needed to follow the Black king to the queen’s side. Then after 46.Kd3?? Kxa2 47.Kc2? a4 he realised that he couldn’t stop Black from queening and no longer had time even to run his f-pawn.

This was a traumatising defeat on the Friday night which Pete struggled to recover from. His opponent meanwhile went on to beat  Dave Shapland in round 2, Nick Sykes in round 3 and then drew with  ex-Hebden player Dave Sugden  in round 4 on his way to winning the section.

Ok, so that’s enough of the ‘epic fails’ let’s consider some of the more positive aspects of the congress. In the Major Nick Sykes played a very nice game indeed on Saturday morning to crush Mike Connor with some considerable ease without it ever being really all that clear what Black had done wrong. Besides this, as mentioned earlier, his draw with me in round 4 was very interesting and unusual. Both these games are annotated by Nick in the game viewer at the end of this post and I’ve has also annotated the same game so if you are really keen you can see what each player was thinking as the game progressed.

I had an unusual weekend because I managed somehow to avoid castling in all of my first four games! In the first two rounds this was quite voluntary and probably rather dubious in each case. In round three my opponent unleashed a combination on f7 which forced a recapture with the king and finally in round 4 the game went into a queen-less middle game where castling was not so important. The round 1 game is certainly worth looking at on the sole basis that it is quite interesting.

Pete recovered from his tough round 1 defeat to bounce back in round 2. Sadly he had another set-back in round 3 before closing the tournament out with two draws. Interestingly, there were no White wins in all five of Pete’s games. Pete has been kind enough to send us all of his annotated games (as has Nick) and I’d recommend that readers take a look at some of the interesting variations that appear in the round 4 match-up.

Matthew Parsons played in the Open Section and seemed not to suffer from any of the kinds of tribulations the rest of us experienced. He too has sent us his games and he had a good weekend where he was always in contention for the top prize, winning some nice games along the way. Sadly, his run came to an end against John Surtees in the final round but Matthew acquitted himself very well even in this game and enjoyed playing it despite the result. Three points was still enough for joint second place.

So then, now that we’ve had 6 weeks or so to reflect on the games from the Calderdale Congress, what did we actually learn? Here are my thoughts:

  • Calderdale was a sharp reminder for me that congress chess is very different from evening league chess. The games are longer, generally tighter and because every individual results matters, it’s more stressful.
  • The ending is the phase of a chess game that demands the highest level of precision and yet it is the phase of the game that you have to execute when you are most fatigued âˆ’ therefore expect mistakes to happen.
  • Even though calculation is vitally important in chess endings, having a plan is also crucial. If you can figure out how to achieve your objectives then you can sharpen the focus of your calculations towards the winning method.
  • Just because you played most of the game to a good standard, doesn’t mean that you’ll win (or even deserve to win) the game.
  • Above all we learnt that, whatever it was we did, not to do it again!
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May 012015
 
The end of another season in Calderdale. This photo is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from freakdog's Flickr photostream

The end of another season in Calderdale. This photo is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from freakdog’s Flickr photostream

It’s time to close the curtain on another exciting and hugely competitive year of chess in Calderdale. Last week the evening leagues finished as the league 1 title reached a thrilling conclusion and league 2’s remaining fixture decided the destiny of the final promotion spot. Then, yesterday the team lightning context was played out at the Belgrave Club in Halifax as Calderdale clubs gathered for the traditional season ending celebration.

First let’s tell the story of the evening league as, last week, three teams started out the evening still with a chance of taking the title. The nearly team of the last few seasons has been Todmorden ‘A’. They’ve been there or there abouts for each of the last three seasons and this time, for the first time, they were in the box seat with one match to play as they held a single point lead over their nearest rivals. Those rivals were Halifax ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ who had absolutely identical records going into the final round. To add to the drama, the final round of fixtures saw Hebden Bridge travelling to Todmorden ‘A’ knowing that if they won they could only miss out on the title on board count if Halifax beat the second bottom team, Todmorden ‘B’, at home.

In Halifax, the title holders did their job smoothly, though not as convincingly as they might have hoped as they dispatched Todmorden ‘B’ by a score of 3½ -1½.  The champions missed Darwin Ursal but still one on boards 1, 2 and 5 as Bill Somerset, Winston Williams and Carlos Velosa all capped fine individual performances for the season. Board 4 was drawn but on board 3 Mike Huett took a full point off Sam Scurfield to leave Halifax hoping that Hebden Bridge would win at Todmorden, but by the narrowest possible margin. That was the only outcome that would allow Halifax to retain their title.

Hebden couldn’t quite bring the strength to bear that they had been able to muster for their previous couple of rounds as they missed the services both of Matthew Webb and Ihor Lewyk. Either of these two would normally have played on board 1 but without them Hebden were still able to field the side that had defeated Todmorden at the Trades Club earlier in the season. The only change to the line-up was that Nick Sykes swapped places with Dave Shapland on boards 3 and 4. The home team had once again rolled out a formidably strong line up with all five players rated 170 or over. Their only change was that Carlos Gil-Fresno was replaced on board 4 by Scott Riley.

Unfortunately for Hebden, they never really managed to get the kind of momentum going that would have put pressure on the hosts. With Todmorden only needing to draw the match to take the title, their players quite rightly set their stalls out solidly, effectively asking Hebden how they were going to try and win the match.

None of the games really caught fire. On board 4 Dave Shapland played a move order that allowed Scott to play the Exchange Variation of the Semi-Slav. This is well known to be one of the most sterile openings of them all. Dave compounded his error by trying too hard early on to develop actively and he instead found himself a pawn down with absolutely no counter play whatsoever and only a lot of suffering ahead of him.

On board 5 Andy Leatherbarrow, up against a much stronger opponent who he had lost to earlier in the season, elected to play the Rubenstein Variation of the French Defence. The game was drawn early on as Andrew Clarkson could find no decent way of playing for a win without taking huge risks. There was no need for him to do so and so peace terms seemed sensible.

The top three boards didn’t seem to be offering the visitors any hopes of victory either. On board 1 Andy back appeared to always be slightly worse than Martin Hamer who deftly kept his dangerous opponent at arms-length. In the Martin won a pawn but was unable to convert his material advantage into a win in a rook and pawn versus rook end game

Pete Leonard did appear to have some pressure against Phil Cook on board 2 but Phil has proven his durability in a season that has seen him lose only one game. He didn’t fail this time either as he steered the game safely towards equality before the players agreed a draw here too.

This just left Dave struggling desperately to save a draw against Scott and Nick Sykes on board 3 playing against Pete Mulleady in a slightly worse rook and pawn ending. The prognosis was not good and indeed Hebden finally had to give up the ghost when Scott finally broke Dave’s resistance to seal a fine positional victory against and confirm Todmorden as champions. Hebden now needed Nick to win his game just to tie the match up.

With Pete up against it on the clock it looked like Nick might be able to survive despite now being a pawn down. Rook endings are notoriously complicated, the more so in time pressure, so Pete did well to dodge Nick’s attempts to create confusion. Subsequent analysis showed that Nick did indeed miss a draw at some point but as played, Pete converted his advantage and Todmorden ran out comfortable 3½-1½ winners.

Congratulations to Tod on finally making it to the top step of the podium after a few near misses in recent times. They are worthy champions this season. Here is the final match score card:

Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
M.Hamer ½ — ½ A.Bak
P.Cook ½ — ½ P.Leonard
P.Mulleady 1 — 0 N.Sykes
S.Riley 1 — 0 D.Shapland
A.Clarkson ½ — ½ A.Leatherbarrow
3½ — 1½

There are a number of games from this match in the game viewer at the end of this post. My particular thanks go to Andrew Clarkson who annotated his game against Andy Leatherbarrow and sent it for publication.

Let’s wrap up our coverage of League 1 with the remaining results from the final round of fixtures.

Halifax ‘A’s defeat of Todmorden ‘B’ condemned the visitors to the drop. The remaining two matches would decide who would join them with Belgrave needing to beat Huddersfield away and hope Courier ‘A’ would do them a favour and beat Brighouse away in the process to avoid relegation. In the event neither of these outcomes came to pass as Brighouse held Courier to a draw on the Monday night and then Huddersfield thrashed Belgrave 5 — 0 on Wednesday. So, Brighouse survive again and Todmorden ‘B’ and Belgrave go down. Huddersfield finished a point behind Hebden Bridge ‘A’ in fourth place with Courier three points further back in fifth.

The prize for the best individual in League 1 went to Andrew Clarkson of Todmorden who finished with 11/13. Matthew Parsons of Huddersfield was second with the same score but achieved with one more game. Third was Halifax’s Carlos Velosa who got 10½/14

Now to League 2. Whilst Hebden Bridge ‘A’ were battling it out for the title at Todmorden, Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were at the Trades Club playing a postponed match against Halifax ‘B’ that would decide on the final look of the League 2 table. Halifax ‘B’ had already won the championship with an unblemished 9 wins out of nine which put them eight points clear of Hebden ‘B’ and Todmorden ‘C’. Danny Crampton’s team therefore needed to do what no other team had managed so far this season and avoid defeat in order to secure second place.

Danny has been nothing but ambitious with his team this season and he pulled out all the stops for this match. In came Alastair Wright who has only played one match for Hebden Bridge ‘A’ this year. In too came Josh Blinkhorn who has had a year away from the game but was now ready to return. Adding Martin Syrett, Neil Bamford and Terry Sullivan to the lower order meant that Hebden could expect to compete with the champions elect, and compete they most certainly did.

Although the match was played at the Trades Club this was an ‘away’ fixture and so the Hebden players all had Black. All the games were closely contested affairs but Hebden took an early lead through Josh Blinkhorn’s win over Adrian Dawson on board 2. This was followed by draws on boards 1, 3 and 5 leaving Hebden a point up with just one game to finish. Sadly for them the game between Neil Bamford and Howard Wood, which had swung this way and that throughout the evening finally ended in defeat for Bamford and so the match ended tied. This was still enough to send Hebden Bridge ‘B’ up though. Here’s the match scorecard:

Halifax ‘B’ vs Hebden Bridge ‘B’
D.Sugden ½ — ½ A.Wright
A.Dawson 0 — 1 J.Blinkhorn
R.Cully ½ — ½ M.Syrett
H.Wood 1 — 0 N.Bamford
S.Armitage ½ — ½ T.Sullivan
2½ — 2½

Congratulations to Danny and his team for gaining a promotion place. They will have a tough battle on their hands next season but if the some of these returning players are available throughout then they will be a tough proposition for their League 1 opponents.

In the individual performance table, former Hebden player, Dave Sugden scored a fantastic 9½/10 for Halifax ‘B’. His only blemish being the draw against Alastair Wright in that final game.

This week saw the team lightning take place at the Belgrave Club in Halifax. Once again there were just 6 teams taking part in this year’s event but several clubs took the contest very seriously and brought their top players to the occasion.

In the end Huddersfield were the victors. They brought a mega-strong line-up for their ‘A’ team and ran out with 22½/25. Hebden Bridge came second with 17½ and Halifax were third with 16½. Unsurprisingly with such a dominant performance, Huddersfield pretty much swept up the board prizes too although they didn’t get it all their own way. On board 1 Andy Drabble’s 4½/5 was only good enough to share first place with Hebden’s Andy Bak (a fine result for him). On board 2 Matthew Parsons got the same score and shared first with Halifax’s Winston Williams. Board’s 3 and 4 were taken by Huddersfield’s Mitchell Burke and Greg Eagleton respectively. Board 5 was won by Bill Bardelang of Brighouse.

So, that pretty much brings the 2015-16 season to a close. There is just the small matter of the Calderdale Congress which will be held at the Lee Mount Club in Halifax on the 22-24 of May and finally the Brighouse Rapidplay on the 6th of June.

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Apr 162015
 
This is my annual excuse to find a beautiful photograph of lightning! This year's is by Kim Seng. It is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Kim Seng's Flickr photostream.

This is my annual excuse to find a beautiful photograph of lightning! This year’s is by Kim Seng. It is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Kim Seng’s Flickr photostream.

The annual Calderdale Team Lightning competition will be hosted by Halifax Chess Club this year. The event will once again take place at the Belgrave Social Club on Monday the 27th of April.

All players who would like to take part are asked to arrive at the venue as close to 7.00pm as possible so that teams can be registered in time for the first round to begin at 7.30pm.

If you would like to register a team in advance of the event then please email Dave Colledge and Howard Wood at davecoll33@hotmail.com and howardwood@hotmail.com respectively. Please send your team name and the names of the five players in the line-up (this can still be changed on the night if necessary). Doing this will enable the organisers to have your team registered early but you will still need to arrive in plenty of time before the first round starts to pay your team entry fee of £2.50.

As is always the case, everyone who comes along will get to take part so even if your club don’t enter a team, or if you don’t have five players, come along anyway and the organisers will find a team for you to play for on the night or identify players to fill your squad.

The team lightning is the traditional curtain closer to the season and is a fun way for everyone in the League to get together and play. At the end of the evening the trophies for the Calderdale Evening Leagues and Calderdale Individual Championship will be handed out to the winners.  So if you can make it do come along for an excellent night of social chess and a chance to give this season’s winners a well-deserved round of applause.

Apr 032015
 
This position, the final one from the game Bak vs. Somerset, tells you all you need to know about Monday's match between Hebden Bridge 'A' and Halifax 'A'. It went down to the wire and the result could have gone any one of three ways.

This position, the final one from the game Bak vs. Somerset, tells you all you need to know about Monday’s match between Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Halifax ‘A’. It went down to the wire and the result could have gone any one of three ways.

 There was yet another night of nerve shredding tension ahead as the penultimate round of the Calderdale League 1 season took place at clubs across Calderdale on Monday night. As reported here in our last post, there were three teams at the top separated only by board point with another team just two points behind them. Would all three teams still be in contention when the last round takes place on April 20th?

Let’s start by reporting the result of the Courier ‘A’ vs Huddersfield match which took place a week early at the home team’s request. These two were in fifth and fourth places respectively and knew that they were competing for the podium places rather than top spot. Still, that didn’t prevent them from bringing very powerful teams to the battle. Huddersfield had lost at home to Courier back in November at a time when they were riding high in the league table. That defeat was the start of a slump that cost them their tilt at the title.

Unfortunately a cold dish of revenge was not on Courier’s menu as they succeeded in doing the double on their rivals. Messrs Morgan, Cawston and Colledge beat Dave Keddie, Dave Tooley and Mark Rojinsky on the bottom three board to propel their team to victory. On board 2 Matthew Parsons beat Courier’s captain, Dave Patrick, to maintain his challenge for the league individual prize and the top board between Tony Slinger and Leo Keely was drawn. The result leaves Courier in 5th on 14 points and Huddersfield in 4th on 16.

Then this Monday last the other three fixtures were played out. At the bottom of the table Todmorden ‘B’ gave themselves an outside shot at a miraculous escape from relegation as they beat Brighouse at home. This match was a blood bath as all five boards ended in decisive results. On boards two and three Robert Broadbent and Nick Hudson took wins against Dave Innes and Mike Huett. Unfortunately for Brighouse though, Tod took the other three boards as Neil Suttie beat Dennis Breen on board 1, Robert Collier beat Paul Whitehouse on 4 and Richard Bedford continued his successful rehabilitation to the game with a win over Ron Grandage on 5.

League leaders Todmorden ‘A’ travelled to Belgrave for a match both teams absolutely had to win. Tod needed to ensure they stayed top and preferably extended their board count lead. Belgrave knew that their chances of staying up were running out fast. As it was the stronger team prevailed as Tod smote down the home team 1 — 4. On board 4 Karim Khan beat Carlos Gil-Fresno on time and that was all Belgrave could muster. Todmorden were going to stay top for the final round of fixtures.

The situation at the bottom of the league has been made extremely interesting by Tod ‘B’s win. Brighouse stay on 6 points but they are now just a point clear of both Tod ‘B’ and Belgrave. All three teams have tough assignments in the final round of the season. Brighouse host Courier ‘A’ knowing that a drawn match will probably be enough to keep them up. Belgrave travel to Huddersfield who now have nothing much to play for and may field a weaker than usual line up. Tod ‘B’ have to go to title challengers Halifax ‘A’ for the final round knowing that every half-point they score will help their ‘A’ team colleagues and if they do pull off and unlikely win (or draw and Brighouse and Belgrave lose) then they could still stay up. Most likely all three sides will lose but stranger things have happened!

Now to the main event. No disrespect to the other teams in action this week but the fact that so many spectators from other clubs turned up to watch the battle between Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Halifax ‘A’ tells you all you need to know about the importance of the outcome. The players didn’t disappoint either as the match could still have finished in any of the three different results right up until the final seconds of the evening’s play. It was another epic struggle at the Trades Club.

These two teams had identical records (match and board points) before the start of play and so it was no surprise to see that Halifax and brought their best possible line up to take on the home side who also put out almost their strongest possible line up. As usual, Halifax demonstrated that they’d thought carefully about how to deploy their top three players. When the sides met earlier this season it was Winston Williams on board 1, Darwin Ursal on board 2 and Bill Somerset on board 3. This time Winston dropped to board 3 and Bill and Darwin both moved up a board. On 4 and 5 Halifax fielded Sam Scurfield and Carlos Velosa respectively.

Hebden’s line up was marginally weaker on paper than the visitors. They wheeled out Ihor Lewyk and Andy Bak on boards 1 and 2, then came Captain Pete Leonard on board 3 and finally Nick Sykes and Dave Shapland on boards 4 and 5. Only Pete Leonard was rated appreciably lower than his opponent but he’d drawn with Winston in the reverse fixture in November and so could be confident of holding his own.

The match unwound tortuously with the margins between success and failure on each board being tiny. First to finish was the Nick Sykes vs. Sam Scurfield encounter on board 4. Nick has been playing the White side of the Spanish with great skill this season and so he must have been happy to see Sam play the Breyer Variation of that venerable opening. However, Sam played the opening so accurately that Nick got nothing much at all from the opening and decided not to take any risks trying for more than equality. The players agreed and early draw and settled down to watch the rest of the drama unfold.

Halifax struck the first blow on board three later on. Winston managed to create a complete mess against Pete and somewhere in the confusion, Pete went wrong and ended up facing three advanced Black pawns on d4, e4 and f4! It looked difficult to play and so it proved. Winston mopped up. 0 — 1 to Halifax.

Now the pressure was right on the remaining Hebden players to pull a result out of the bag. This is a team that’s at their best when the backs are against the wall though and once again, they found a way. On board 1 Ig Lewyk had managed to get promising position from a modest opening. Darwin got himself all tangled up and Ig found the right way to capitalise and get a significant advantage. But Darwin is a world class wriggler and, by burning a big chunk of his time he found a way to get counter play and plug the holes in his position. As the time control loomed Ig made a big mistake and Darwin found the exchange sacrifice that opened up the White king. On most occasions it would have been curtains for Ig but, because Darwin was in such acute time trouble he missed the winning continuation on several occasions as they reached move 36.

Now it was Ig’s turn to wriggle free as he took his king for a precarious looking walk. Surprisingly Darwin overlooked a final opportunity to play for the full point and instead settled for a perpetual check to draw the game. It was probably a fair result, if an unlikely one.

On board 5, Halifax Captain, Carlos Velosa was fighting for his life against Dave Shapland. Rather than trying to blow Carlos’s trademark Owen’s Defence (1…b6) away, Dave tried to transpose into a line of the French Tarrasch that he is familiar with. When Carlos refused to acquiesce and didn’t play d5 it appeared that this could only be to White’s advantage. Both players used 45 minutes for their first dozen moves and it looked like this game too might be decided by clock pressure rather than good play.

Meanwhile on board 2 Andy Bak and Bill Somerset were engaged in a heavyweight positional encounter. Andy might well have expected Bill to play his favorite King’s Indian Defence against 1.d4. If he did he was to be disappointed as Bill offered a Nimzo-Indian and Andy opted for a Queen’s Indian set up. This set the tone for some extensive simplifications as all the bishops and the queens were exchanged off by move 13. The rooks were off the board too by move 20 leaving the players with a complicated double knight and pawns ending with plenty of time on the clock to devote to its intricacies. As the players reached the time control Andy managed to win Bill’s a-pawn and created an outside, passed a-pawn of his own at the same time. Bill almost immediately won back a pawn on e2 and now it was sown to whether or not Andy’s passer was enough for him to steal the full point.

Dave and Carlos reached move 36 with a minute and thirty seconds remaining respectively. By this stage Dave had lost control of the position but then regained it when Carlos made a single mistake in his time crisis. It wasn’t a bad blunder but it was enough for Dave to pick up a pawn. He then grabbed a second and Carlos missed the best way to counter which would have almost certainly led to a drawish ending. Instead Dave ended up with two extra pawns in an opposite coloured bishops end game. These are notoriously drawish but the presence of White and Black pawns on the a-file turned out to be the critical factor. Dave managed to amass an unusual constellation of pawns on the king’s side, unopposed, doubled h-pawns and a g-pawn. On their own even these three amigos may well not have been enough. But, Dave correctly found a way to overwork the Black bishop by marching his king over to the Black a-pawn and that was curtains. With only minutes each left on the clock, Dave had drawn Hebden level.

The final episode of this enthralling match now played out on board 2. Bill won a pawn but Andy kept his passed a-pawn as now the knights came off the board leaving just kings and pawns. In mopping up the a-pawn Bill found his king at a disadvantage and Andy was able to get his king into the Black camp. Both players thought they were winning and now both were down to their last few minutes and second of time on their clocks. They kept playing. Finally Andy managed to queen his h-pawn first and then prevent Bill landing his f-pawn. But Andy was almost out of time. At the end there was momentarily some confusion as Andy finally appeared to have a won position but ran out of time as a stalemate position appeared on the board. Bill hadn’t had the chance to claim a win on time and so the game and the match were drawn.

Everyone, particularly the two Todmorden ‘A’ players who had stopped by on the way home from Belgrave to watch the match, breathed a sigh of relief. These two teams couldn’t be split at the start of the night and they remained locked together with identical records at the end of the night too.

Here’s the match score card:

 Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Halifax ‘A’
I.Lewyk ½ — ½ D.Ursal
A.Bak ½ — ½  W.Somerset
P.Leonard 0 — 1 W.Williams
N.Sykes ½ — ½  S.Scurfield
D.Shapland 1 — 0 C.Velosa
2½ — 2½

All this means that Todmorden ‘A’ take a single match point and a three and a half board point lead into the final round of fixtures where they will host Hebden Bridge ‘A’. If Todmorden win or draw that match they will be champions. If Hebden win and Halifax don’t beat Todmorden ‘B’ then Hebden will be champions and if Halifax do beat Tod ‘B’ then they will need Hebden to win by a smaller margin than them to retain their title. Get it? Someone asked on Monday what happens if Hebden and Halifax win by the same margin. Who wins the title then or is a tie declared? Unless Halifax win by virtue of alphabetical order I don’t know the answer to this. Does anyone else?

Whatever happens the final round is sure to be just as tense and thrilling as this one. Maybe Halifax could agree to switch venues and play their home match at Todmorden so that all three top teams can be in the same room. That would be fun!

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Mar 192015
 
Remember this entertaining end to one of the ski-cross races from last year's Winter Olympics in Sochi as three competitors fell and slid across the finishing line almost in unison. This season's League 1 title race has been similarly close with no-one team able to assert their authority for long. Which of the final three contenders will step up to take the title this year?

Remember this entertaining end to one of the ski-cross races from last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi as three competitors fell and slid across the finishing line almost in unison. This season’s League 1 title race has been similarly close with no-one team able to assert their authority for long. Which of the final three contenders will step up to take the title this year?

It’s that time of year again! Calderdale League 1 now has just two rounds left to play following this week’s fixtures and there are still four teams in with a shot at the title.

On Monday night two of the title rivals got the opportunity to inspect each other’s credentials as they played at the same venue, though not against each other. At Todmorden Working Men’s Club, Todmorden ‘A’ began the night at the top of the table on board count (by one board!) as they hosted Courier ‘A’. Across the other side of the room Todmorden ‘B’, who are at the foot of the table and look doomed for the drop despite the doubtlessly spirited resistance they put up each match, took on the second placed side Hebden Bridge ‘A’.

Meanwhile over in Halifax, Halifax ‘A’ (the third team on the same number of match points at the top of the table) were playing host to Belgrave side in desperate need of a win to avoid occupying the other relegation spot at the end of the season. Finally, at Brighouse, Huddersfield were visiting in the hopes of capitalising on any slip ups from the top three as they lurked just two points behind them.

Your correspondent was at Todmorden, so let’s start by describing the action there. Hebden Bridge arrived with a good side but were unfortunately without the three strongest players who had helped them pull off the feat of winning two matches on the same night a few weeks ago. Despite this it looked like they would have enough to beat Tod ‘B’ Indeed the match got off to a great start for them (a hallmark of their recent form) when they won the first two boards to finish.

On board 3 Dave Shapland played patiently and solidly on the Black side of a Queens Gambit Declined Exchange Variation against Rob Collier. Rob has had some excellent results recently whilst Dave has been on poor form and so it seemed that the higher rated player was taking careful precautions not to be the victim of a giant killing. However, as the game progressed it became clear that it was becoming harder and harder for White to play actively and improve his position whilst Black had control of the half-open e-file and had successfully planted a knight on e4. All it took was one slip from Rob for Dave to pounce and sacrifice the knight on f2. This drew the White king into the open and Rob quickly realised that his goose was cooked.

Meanwhile on board 4, Todmorden’s Captain Dave Milton was giving his higher rated opponent John Allan a serious run for his money. In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Dave got and held onto a very promising looking position but his old enemy the clock, crept up on him and his standard of play diminished as his time crisis grew. Finally, John recovered from his poor start and went on to the attack and when a forcing sequence of moves netted him the exchange and a pawn, Dave resigned. It was 0 — 2 to Hebden.

With Todmorden ‘A’ playing just across the room it was too much of a temptation not to flit between the two matches especially as, at this stage of the evening, Hebden Bridge looked like they held winning advantages on boards 1 and 2 and were drawing at worst on board 5. The Todmorden versus Courier match looked like a much tenser affair although Tod took charge early on as Andrew Clarkson smote down Dave Colledge on board 5 with what looked like consummate ease. With such a large gap in ratings between the two players this was no surprise.

Around about the same time Pete Mulleady and John Morgan agreed a draw on board 3 leaving Todmorden a point to the good. However, on board 4 Carlos Gil Fresno was in horrendous time trouble against John Cawston and was at the added disadvantage of having to play a terribly complicated position. Cawston has been in excellent form recently so it looked like Courier might equalise there. The top two boards were close but on board 1 Todmorden’s Martin Hamer seemed to have built up quite a bit of pressure against Tony Slinger. On board 2 Phil Cook versus Dave Patrick looked like anybody’s game and was complicated enough to be a mystery.

Back in the Hebden Bridge match with Tod ‘B’ the visitor’s pace had slowed as on board 5 Richard Bedford and Martin Syrett agreed to a repetition in a queen and pawn ending that certainly appeared to be dead level. Unfortunately for Hebden though, things had gone wrong for Nick Sykes against Mike Huett on board 2. Nick had won a pawn and held a winning advantage I the endgame but he overlooked a cheapo and wandered into a knight fork that lost him a piece. Still, he had a pawn for the piece, looked like he might be able to win another and with so few pawns left on the board, Mike’s task was far from easy.

At least Hebden were able to secure the match win as Pete Leonard completed a dominating victory over Mick Connor. The home player essayed a line of the Catalan in which White sacrifices a pawn. On this occasion however it didn’t seem like he managed to get any compensation as Pete simply kept the pawn and advanced menacingly on the queen’s side. Connor defended tenaciously but eventually Hebden’s Captain broke through to seal the match win.

Back over at the Todmorden ‘A’ match the situation changed from being tight to being a landslide victory as they rattled off victories on the remaining boards in quick succession. First Martin Hamer’s pressure was finally too much for Tony Slinger to resist. Similarly on board two Phil Cook applied more and more pressure until Dave Patrick cracked and finally, on board 3 Carlos Gil Fresno not only survived the first time crisis but improved his position and then somehow defended another assault wave with his flag hanging to even beat John Cawston on time!!! This was a bonus result for Tod as a draw seemed the best Gil-Fresno could achieve. However the result left them with a superb final score line of 4.5-0.5.

The only game now remaining in play was the board 2 match between Mike Huett and Nick Sykes in the Tod ‘B’ vs. Hebden match. Nick, obviously furious with himself for blundering away a winning advantage carried on playing a piece down in the end game and it soon became clear Mike would have to play accurately to convert his material advantage because there were so few pawns left on the board. However, convert he eventually did to give his team’s score line a more respectable look.

Here is the score card for the Hebden match:

Todmorden ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
M.Connor 0 — 1 P.Leonard
M.Huett 1 — 0 N.Sykes
R.Collier 0 — 1 D.Shapland
D.Milton 0 — 1 J. Allan
R.Bedford ½ — ½ M.Syrett
1½ — 3½

So, Tod ‘A’ and Hebden had done their job with Todmorden increasing their board points advantage over Hebden to two. Over at the Lee Mount Club in Halifax the hosts were also keeping themselves right in the hunt as they thrashed Belgrave 4½ — ½. Bill Somerset drew with Ian Hunter on board 1 but the rest of the games went to Winston Williams, Darwin Ursal, Richard Porter and Carlos Velosa in board order. Halifax’s league statistics are now identical to Hebden Bridge’s and these two teams play each other at Hebden on the 30th of March with the winner staying in the title race and the loser dropping out of it! These are the two form sides in the League right now so it should be an epic encounter.

The final match of this round of fixtures took place in Brighouse were the hosts faced a very strong Huddersfield side who were licking their wounds from two successive league defeats and desperate to stay within a couple of points of the leading trio. On board 1 Robert Broadbent did very well to draw with Leo Keely and on board 4 Paul Whitehouse did even better to draw with Dave Keddie but the other three games all went to Huddersfield with Mitchell Burke winning against Bruce Bendall on board 2, Matthew Parsons beating Nick Hudson on board 3 and Dave Tooley beating Ron Grandage on board 5.

Below are the games from the Hebden Bridge match against Todmorden ‘B’. My thanks as always to Pete Leonard and Nick Sykes for their annotations.

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Feb 262015
 
Sometimes you have to bet big to win big. On Monday night Hebden Bridge 'A' gambled on playing and winning two matches at the Trades Club. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from Clint Bradford's Flickr photostream

Sometimes you have to bet big to win big. On Monday night Hebden Bridge ‘A’ gambled on playing and winning two matches at the Trades Club. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from K6Ics”s Flickr photostream

Every chess player will know the feeling. You reach a point in the game when you know that the crucial moment has come. Your next decision will be critical and it will shape the rest of the proceedings. The game hangs in the balance and at such moments you try to bring all your will power and focus to the game and screw up your courage. Whatever the result turns out to be you are determined that if you lose it won’t be down to lack of effort or application.

This week, the Hebden Bridge ‘A’ team felt that a comparable moment had come in the league season. They’d managed to win three tough matches in succession and had put themselves back into the fringes of the fight for the title. They had a postponed fixture away to Huddersfield to reschedule and a match at home to a resurgent Brighouse to negotiate. Win those two matches and they’d put themselves into genuine contention.

As the negotiations with Huddersfield began drawing to a conclusion Captain Pete Leonard contacted every available resource that he had at his disposal to get the best possible line up together. It turned out that, on this occasion, everyone he contacted was available (for a change!) That was the point at which someone suggested that there were even enough players to give both Huddersfield and Brighouse a decent match on the same night. Initially it may have been proposed light-heartedly but that was ultimately how it came to be that on Monday night at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ hosted both Brighouse and Huddersfield in a unique attempt to score 4 match points in one evening and sweep to the top of the division.

It was a brave gamble. All or nothing. But momentum can carry a team to achieve extraordinary things and Hebden as outsiders for the title had nothing to lose. Why not play to win and take a chance?  Huddersfield were grateful for the chance to play their postponed match before the official end of the season  and Brighouse were rather bemused to find their hosts had voluntarily spread their strength across the two ‘A’ teams in action.

Of course the main focus of resources was reserved for Huddersfield who, to their great credit, brought a superb line up to the Trades Club. Mitchell Burke, Leo Keely, Matthew Parsons, David Grey and Dave Tooley would have been enough to beat pretty much any Hebden Bridge line up. The trouble was this wasn’t ‘any’ Hebden Bridge line up. The hosts set out their stall by fielding Matthew Webb, Ihor Lewyk, Andy Bak, John Allen and Martin Syrett. This made the ratings line up very similar. It was going to be a tough match.

On the next set of tables Hebden’s ‘other’ ‘A’ team reflected their all-out attempt to beat Huddersfield as they were slightly weaker than they might normally have been. Still they sported Pete Leonard, Dave Shapland, Nick Sykes, Alastair Wright (back after a few seasons playing for Todmorden), and Andy Leatherbarrow. They faced up to a good Brighouse side that had most of their top five available with exception of Bruce Bendall. This one was also going to be close.

The evening began in quiet fashion when Matthew Parsons and Andy Bak drew before they’d reached move twenty in one of those typical ‘big match’ games that you always seem to get one of. A level position was reached where neither player could play for a win without taking some risks and so, with the night yet young, they decided to make the match a four board affair and go to the bar.

That result appeared to suit Hebden better because their only big rating advantage in the match was on board 1 where Matty Webb took on Mitchell Burke. It seemed as though Mitchell had succeeded in building up a dangerous attack on Matty’s king in a Grand Prix Attack. The post-mortem after the game concluded that if White had waded into a murky looking, speculative exchange sacrifice then he would have had at the very least good winning chances. Instead, quite understandably, Mitchell believed that his higher rated opponent had everything worked out and must have seen further. Once the attack had been pushed back Matty ruthlessly exploited some structural weaknesses in Mitchell’s position to open Hebden Bridge’s account.

In the match against Brighouse Hebden were realistically looking for 50% on the top two boards as both Pete Leonard and Dave Shapland were out-rated by Dennis Breen and Robert Broadbent respectively. Hebden got the score line they were after here as Pete exploited a tactical oversight by Dennis to win, first a pawn, then a piece and finally the game. Conversely, Dave had a terrible night where he just saw nothing and miscalculated everything. Robert needed no invitation to take full advantage and the match stood at 1 — 1.

A little while later Nick ‘Syko’ Sykes put Hebden in front in the Brighouse match as he drew another fine attacking game to a close when Nick Hudson, under huge pressure, made a couple of mistakes. Syko is in the form of his life at the moment and Hebden will hope he can keep this going to the end of the season.

Back to the Huddersfield boards went the kibitzers as the remaining three boards in play all looked very tight indeed. On board 2 Leo Keely had boldly accepted Ihor Lewyk’s Icelandic Gambit and seemed to be hanging on to the pawn late into the middle game. On board 4 Hebden’s John Allan was also a pawn down but battling gamely to keep Dave Grey at arms-length. But it was the board 5 game that finished next as Dave Tooley and Martin Syrett reached a queen and pawn endgame that looked dead-level.

With Huddersfield a point down Syrett made (whether he realised it or not) a very cunning draw offer which the Huddersfield Captain could scarcely accept. His team were behind and it wasn’t absolutely clear that they were going to win on either of the other two boards. The problem of course was that, having declined the draw, Tooley had to play for a win and we all know that when that happens you can jeopardise the whole point. That was just what happened here as, rather than holding the status quo, he infiltrated his queen and allowed Martin to do the same. Unfortunately for Huddersfield it was the Black queen that did the most damage ripping the White king’s side apart and then forcing the queen exchange to win the game. Hebden were now guaranteed at least a draw in this match and to salvage that much both remaining boards had to be wins for Huddersfield.

But before the dramatic conclusion of that match Hebden wrapped things up against Brighouse. Alastair Wright admitted that the opening phase of his game against Paul Whitehouse did not go as he’d intended and he was forced to ‘make a mess’ in order to get winning chances. He did this well though and while Paul seemed content to manoeuvre his queen about Alastair made steady progress, improving his position and creating attacking chances. Finally, Paul went for a counter attack realising that he was in trouble. But that was the point at which he made the decisive mistake. Alastair won a rook and Hebden had three points. It was just left for Andy Leatherbarrow to agree to a draw with Ronnie Grandage in the final game.

Now everybody in the room moved across to watch the culmination of the match with Huddersfield. It looked for all the world like Huddersfield would win the two remaining boards and tie the match. On board 4 Dave Grey was up a pawn and it was passed. However there was enough material still on the board for John Allan to make life extremely difficult and Dave, knowing that he had to win, began to run out of time. With both players down to their last few minutes to complete the game it became clear Dave was beginning to lose his way. On any other occasion he’d have offered a draw and John would have shaken his hand, but here he played on and sadly, blundered an exchange as his flag was about to fall. Hebden had secured the match win.

Meanwhile on board 2 Leo Keely had an irritating advantage that looked like it must persist even as the material situation simplified. First the rooks were exchanged, then the bishops. But Ihor clung on desperately and found the best way to keep himself in the game time and again. Finally, when the pieces were off and Leo lunged for his opponent’s h-pawn with his king, Ihor’s f-pawn was set free and the two players queened on the same move.

The final, manic phase of the game now ensued with the adversaries now effectively playing blitz chess and no doubt also shattered by their efforts. The problem for Leo was that all the pawns were on the queen’s-side and Ihor’s king was closer the new  theatre of war. Despite the numerous queen checks Ihor managed to hide his king, win Leo’s pawns and then push home his own pawns to claim what had seemed an unlikely victory only 15 minutes before hand. Once again Huddersfield were left to rue their earlier loses for without them this game too would surely have been drawn.

So, Pete Leonard’s gamble paid off big time as Hebden managed to win both matches, take four points, go top of the league and send all their rivals a very clear signal all in one memorable evening! In the end they won seven, drew two and lost just one of the ten games played. Impressive stuff. Here are the match score cards:

Huddersfield vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
M.Burke 0 — 1 M.Webb
L.Keely 0 — 1 I.Lewyk
M.Parsons ½ — ½ A.Bak
D.Grey 0 — 1 J.Allan
D.Toooley 0 — 1 M.Syrett
½ — 4½

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Brighouse
P.Leonard 1 — 0 D.Breen
D.Shapland 0 — 1 R.Broadbent
N.Sykes 1 — 0 N.Hudson
A.Wright 1 — 0 P.Whitehouse
A.Leatherbarrow ½ — ½ R.Grandage
3½ — 1½

In the game viewer at the end of this post you’ll find nine of the ten games played on Monday with annotations from Pete Leonard and Nick Sykes on their games. Thanks as always to them for sending in their notes. I’ve also added a few notes in key positions for one or two of the other games.

It just remains for us to review the other results from this week’s action. On Monday night Halifax ‘A’ travelled to Courier ‘A’ for a re-run of the decisive final round show down from last season that saw Halifax clinch the title. Both teams knew that they really had to win to keep their hopes of winning this year’s edition alive. In the end it was the champions who had what it took as they won on boards 1, 3 and 5 dropping just a single lose on board 2 where Darwin Ursal conceded a rare defeat to Dave Patrick.

Also at the Belgrave Social Club on Monday, bottom side Todmorden ‘B’ travelled to Belgrave who still harboured hopes of catching up with Brighouse and staying in the division at the end of the season. To do that though they absolutely had to win and, despite their opponent’s best efforts to help them (they turned up with only four players) the best Belgrave could do was draw as both Malcolm Corbett and Gordon Farrar lost to Mike Huett and Rob Collier respectively.

Last but not least came last night’s second dose of action for Huddersfield who had to pull themselves together for the visit of Todmorden ’A’ in another blockbuster encounter that would shape the title race. Huddersfield now desperately needed a result to stay in contention. Todmorden couldn’t field a full strength side but still managed to post a decent line-up of Cook, Mulleady, Connor, Innes and Webster. Had Huddersfield managed to get the same side out that played Hebden Bridge on Monday they’d have probably won convincingly. As it was they stumbled again as Matthew Parsons and Dave Keddie both lost on the top two boards and Mark Rojinsky also lost on 5. It was no consolation to the home side that they won on boards 3 and 4 to keep the score line respectable.

This result lifted Tod back to the top of the table ahead of Hebden Bridge ‘A’ by the most slender of margins — a single board point. If that situation sounds familiar then it should because this situation was reversed when Hebden Bridge ‘A’ won the title by single board point in 2011-12. It could be just as close again this year. Assuming Halifax ‘A’ win their game in hand against Todmorden ‘B’ (which they will be heavy favorites to do) then we’ll have three teams on 16 points with three matches to play. Todmorden and Halifax both still have to face Hebden, who have the toughest run in. Todmorden also have to play Courier ‘A’ at home and Belgrave away. Halifax have to play Todmorden ‘B’ and Belgrave besides Hebden so it really does seem that if any of these three win all their games they could be champions. Huddersfield have now lost three games in a row and are two points behind the leaders. They could still catch up and seem to have the easiest remaining fixtures of the top five with matches against Brighouse, Courier ‘A’ and Belgrave who must now do something very special to stay in the league.

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Feb 052015
 
Nick Sykes (left) is in sparkling form at the moment having won three games in three weeks for Hebden Bridge 'A'

Nick Sykes (left) is in sparkling form at the moment having won three games in three weeks for Hebden Bridge ‘A’

It was a third consecutive week of Calderdale League chess for Hebden Bridge ‘A’ on Monday night at the Trades Club as they played hosts to Belgrave from Halifax.

Having lost three of their six matches played before Christmas Hebden have gone on a brilliant run since the Christmas break starting out with wins over Todmorden ‘A’ and Courier ‘A’. Both those teams were higher rated on average than they were. This time however they knew that the boot would be on the other foot as Belgrave’s regular line up was slightly weaker than their own. Of course, having lost to Belgrave away earlier in the season Hebden were taking absolutely nothing for granted and when the visitors turned up with seven players (two of whom had never played for them before!) the home team knew they were in for a tough night.

Once Belgrave had decided on who was actually going to sit down and play it became apparent that the match would probably be decided on the lower boards where Hebden held modest rating advantages. However, all of the match ups were close enough to indicate that a tense night was in prospect. And so it turned out to be as all five games were contested fiercely.

The board two encounter was the first to finish. Here, Dave Shapland secured himself a decent advantage against Gordon Farrar’s Philidor’s Defence which developed idiosyncratically when Gordon played the unusual 4…g6!? Dave elected to play the position a little bit like a Yugoslav Attack and castled on the opposite side of the board to Gordon. Ultimately all but the heavy pieces were traded and Dave opened the h-file. It looked at various stages like he should have cashed his chips and won Gordon’s backward d-pawn but Dave didn’t think this would give him a clear enough edge in the rook ending and engine analysis suggests he may have been right. Dave tried to set up a diabolic trap but when Gordon side-stepped that a draw was the inevitable result.

At that point in the night it was very much unclear as to whether or not this first result would be a good one for Hebden or not because all the other games were very close fought and could conceivably have gone either way.

That all changed when, on board 5, Martin Syrett concluded a vicious attack on Mike Barnett’s king by compelling his opponent to give up his queen for knight and bishop. Then in the scramble to reach the time control Mike made an error that allowed a fork and with the loss of one of his two pieces he resigned. Hebden had the lead.

Next up Andy Leatherbarrow bagged his second win in succession by converting a minor piece ending against Angel Gonzalez. These two had swapped off the queen’s very early in the game but the resultant queen less middles game was complicated and Andy found himself in his habitual time crisis which was compounded by Angel seemingly trying to blitz him. But Andy made the time control with a small advantage which he converted when Angel walked his knight into a pin. By this time Andy was down to his last 5 minutes but he just had enough time to convert the endgame for Hebden’s second win of the night.

It was only fitting that Nick ‘Syko’ Sykes should score the winning point for his team on board 3. He’s in a real purple patch at the moment and has now won all three of his games for Hebden in 2015. He was facing Karim Khan, a man who is himself having a really strong season and has claimed several scalps, including Nick’s Hebden teammate Dave Shapland, in the reverse fixture last Autumn.

This could have been a banana skin for Nick but if it was he never looked in danger of slipping up as he subjected Karim to the ‘Spanish Torture’. Karim just could find an active plan and Nick seemed to have all the time in the world to build up a huge attack on the Black king which finally crashed through to give White victory.

Hebden had won the match but there was still one board playing. Here Belgrave’s new recruit, Ian Hunter, was up against Hebden’s Captain Pete Leonard. It looked like Pete had landed himself in trouble straight out of the opening as Ian gained a very comfortable position. In this game too the clock situation was very tense as the players embroiled themselves in a very complicated rook and two minor pieces ending. Peter was subjected to intense pressure but seemed to have built himself a fortress with his knight on g1 and his rook holding the position together on the second rank while Ian’s bishop had no targets because Pete had pawns on the opposite colour squares. However, it was one of those positions where Ian could manoeuvre almost endlessly and eventually Pete ran out of time at the same moment that he made a mistake that seemed to have allowed Ian in. this was an unfortunate outcome for Pete who had defended himself staunchly.

Here’s the final match scorecard:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Belgrave
P.Leonard 0 — 1 I.Hunter
D.Shapland ½ — ½ G.Farrar
N.Sykes 1 — 0 K.Khan
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 A.Gonzalez
M.Syrett 1 — 0 M.Barnett
3½ — 1½

Elsewhere this week both the title race and the relegation battle heated up as giants tumbled.

In Todmorden the ‘A’ team continued their yo-yo form with a surprising defeat at the hands of Brighouse. The hosts had rightly been concerned about fielding a slightly weaker team than usual last week against a full strength Halifax ‘A’ but they had won that match by a four point margin. What could go wrong against the lowly Brighouse? As it turned out plenty. At Halifax Tod’s top three boards had powered them to victory. This time out they could only muster two draws and one win on board two for Carlos Gil-Fresno against Robert Broadbent. That opened the door for Brighouse’s bottom boards to spring a massive surprise as they won on both 4 and 5 to claim the match 2 — 3. This result still leaves Todmorden ‘A’ top of the league on 14 points but now it’s only on board count. The result also propels Brighouse 2 points clear of the relegation scrap and means that Belgrave have a good deal of work to do to reel them in as the two teams have now met twice and drawn twice.

Also at Todmorden, their ‘B’ team took on Courier ‘A’ who recovered from their defeat at the hands of Hebden Bridge last week by soundly thrashing their hosts 4½ — ½. They move to 12 points, within touching distance of the leaders. Tod ‘B’ despite being competitive in every match are rock bottom.

Undoubtedly the most mouth-watering and certainly the most critical tie of the week in terms of the title race was played out last night at Huddersfield between the hosts and the title holders Halifax ‘A’. The visitors knew that this was a must win encounter as victory for Huddersfield would place them 6 points clear of the champions — too much ground to make up. However, Halifax bounced back from the disappointment of losing to Todmorden last week as they walloped the home team 1 – 4. Only Matthew Parsons on board 1 could manage a win against Bill Somerset. Huddersfield’s storming start to the season now seems like a distant memory and their line up seems to have got weaker, not stronger as the season has worn on.

All of this means that ther are no five teams within 2 points of each other at the top of the table. We now have two weeks off before the next round of fixtures sees Courier ‘A’ hosting Halifax and Huddersfield playing at home against Todmorden ‘A’. Hebden host Brighouse and they certainly won’t be taking them lightly after their triumph this week. The title race is well and truly on!

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Jan 312015
 
Despite the wintery weather over the last few weeks there has been plenty of bright chess played by Hebden Bridge's chess teams. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Jan Scott Nelson's Flickr photo stream

Despite the wintery weather over the last few weeks there has been plenty of bright chess played by Hebden Bridge’s chess teams. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Jan Scott Nelson’s Flickr photo stream

What with the various postponed fixtures around the Christmas and New Year period it’s no surprise to see that there has been a flurry of activity in the Calderdale League over the last couple of weeks. Hebden Bridge ‘A’ hosted the league leaders Todmorden ‘A’ last Monday and then this Monday gone found themselves at the Belgrave Social Club for a match against Courier ‘A’.

We’ll com back to the ‘A’ team in a moment but first let’s cover the League 2 results from the Trades Club last Monday where, for the first time in a long time all three Hebden teams were playing at the same time.

Danny Crampton’s Hebden Bridge ‘B’ team have looked like they mean business this season and are contending for the second promotion spot  with Todmorden ‘C’ in a title race that already looks to be over as Halifax ‘B’ top the table by 5 points from these other two. Crampton’s barmy army faced the bottom team in the division, Courier ‘B’, for a match that looked on paper like it would be straight forward for the hosts.

It didn’t turn out that way when each team fielded 4 players and agreed to default a board each rather than pairing up the two ‘spare’ players. Therefore the match became essentially a three board affair and Hebden were right up against it when Neil Bamford went down to Paul Jacobs in an entertaining game. This meant that both John Allan on board 1 and Martin Syrett on board 2 needed to beat Dave Colledge and John Smith respectively to win the match. This they duly did but not without adventure.

The final match score card was:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Courier ‘B’
J.Allan 1 — 0 D.Colledge
M.Syrett 1 — 0 J.B.Smith
N.Bamford 0 — 1 P.Jacobs
DEFAULT 0 — 1 R.Bottomley
D.Crampton 1 — 0 DEFAULT
3 — 2

Meanwhile John Kerrane’s ‘development’ team were paired against Todmorden ’C’ and found it to be a tough assignment. Hebden defaulted their fourth board and fielded two of their juniors in the line up against a squad of seasoned Todmorden veterans. The result was a ½ — 4½ thrashing for the home team with just captain Kerrane saving their dignity with a draw against his old foe Dave Milton.

Here’s the scorecard:

Hebden Bridge ‘C’ vs. Todmorden ‘C’
J.Kerrane ½ — ½ D.Milton
R.Deravairere 0 — 1 P.Logan
T.Dodd 0 — 1 T.Webster
DEFAULT 0 — 1 R.Pratt
M.Leggett 0 — 1 B.Joyce
½ — 4½

Various games from these two League 2 encounters are posted in the game viewer at the end of this article. All of this means that Courier ‘B’ stay rooted to the bottom of the table with Hebden ‘C’ just above them. At the top Hebden ‘B’ and Todmorden ‘C’ are still level on points and very close on board count in second and third positions.

Now, to the League 1 action. Hebden Bridge ‘A’ entered these latest fixtures with very little expectation of scoring any points for both Todmorden ‘A’ and Courier ‘A’ out graded them on most if not all boards. However, Hebden are capable of pulling off results against the very best sides in the division on their red letter days and they actually had two of these on the last two Mondays as they first took down the League leaders’ strongest possible line up and then dispatched Courier in a storm of decisive games.

Let’s deal with Todmorden’s visit first. They arrived with Messrs Hamer, Mulleady, Cook, Gil Fresno and Clarkson all of whom sported ratings of 170 or above in the December Yorkshire ratings. This must be one of the most formidable line ups there has been for many a long year in the Calderdale League and Hebden were out rated by 20 points or more on each of the bottom four boards!

Unfortunately for them Todmorden ‘A’ have a pretty awful record at Hebden and this occasion was not to prove any happier for them. The first game to finish was the board 1 match up between Andy Bak and Martin Hamer. On paper this was the tightest match up of the five boards with Andy being rated only a little lower than Martin. Andy met the Alekhine’s Defence in a calm and positional fashion aiming to shut down Blacks active chances and slowly improve his position. He did this very successfully, put Martin under pressure and duly converted the full point when his opponent made a tactical error.

The scores were soon level as Andrew Clarkson overturned Andy Leatherbarrow on board 5. Andy essayed a classical line against Andrew’s Pirc and seemed to be caught off guard by his opponent’s slightly offbeat response. He ended up losing on time in a pretty terrible position. Anyone wanting to play in this way against Andrew in the future will need to look carefully at what happened here to find improvements for White.

The next two games to finish concluded one after the other. First of all Nick Sykes pounced on a tactical blunder to compel instant resignation from Carlos Gil Fresno. In fairness Nick had already succeeded in obtaining a very comfortable position against Black’s Sicilian Sveshnikov opening.

Directly after this Todmorden were level again as Phil Cook dispatched Dave Shapland on board 3. This game went wrong for Dave very early on as Phil chose an interesting and offbeat line of the Two Knights Defence. Dave played logically but in this instance that wasn’t enough and when he was tempted into the speculative sacrifice of a piece for two pawns and an exposed Black king it soon turned out that Black was more than comfortable defending himself. Once the players had reached a simplified ending it became all too easy for Black to convert his advantage.

This meant that the match came down to the battle of the Pete’s (Leonard and Mulleady) on board 2. This game was decided by a double time-crisis. Right before time control Pete Mulleady seemed in very grave danger in a still complicated position. However, Pete Leonard was the one who overlooked a tactic when he missed a discovery on his queen that lost her majesty for a rook and bishop. This should have been enough for Todmorden’s Pete to convert the game after the time control but Leonard’s two bishops and rook were extremely irritating against the Black queen and knight. Mulleady got himself into time trouble for a second time and this time his opponent did capitalise as Black stumbled into a mating net.

And so the match was decided only at the very end of a compelling and tense evening with Hebden edging it by the odd point in five decisive encounters. Here’s the match scorecard:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Todmorden ‘A’
A.Bak 1 — 0 M.Hamer
P.Leonard 1 — 0 P.Mulleady
D.Shapland 0 — 1 P.Cook
N.Sykes 1 — 0 C.Gil Fresno
A.Leatherbarrow 0 — 1 A.Clarkson
3 — 2

All five games can be found in the game viewer at the end of this post. I promise you won’t fail to be entertained and/or interested by any of them!

Now let me bring you completely up to date with this week’s action. On Monday night Hebden Bridge ‘A’ returned to battle again with a trip to face Courier ‘A’ in Halifax. Despite the previous week’s heroic effort none of the side expected anything other than a very tough match against another team who matched or bettered them rating-wise across all five boards.

If anything the Hebden men were on even more inspired form as the demolished their opponents convincingly despite losing the first game of the night to finish. This was the board 2 match up between the two team captains Dave Patrick and Pete Leonard. This time Pete was on the losing side having been the hero the week previously. This game would make and excellent companion to the Bak vs. Hamer game mentioned above for again White opted for a slow positional squeeze against the Alekhine Defence and again Black struggled to cope and was ground down.

It looked like it was going to be a long hard night for the visitors but that was when everything changed. First of all Andy Bak beat Tony Slinger on board 1 in a King’s Indian come Benko Gambit that got very sharp indeed at the end . However, once it became clear White had nothing to show for his efforts down the h-file Black was simply much better.

Not long after this Andy Leatherbarrow converted the material advantage he accrued against Dave Colledge fairly early in the game as he navigated through all the tricks and complications Dave could throw at him to put Hebden in the lead.

Nick Sykes won a splendid and extremely interesting battle against John Cawston on board 4. The game started out as a rather unfashionable Tarrasch Variation but perhaps players should look at this variation again for it was once a favourite of Garry Kasparov and contains more than a drop of poison. Nick sacrificed the exchange in thematic fashion and then demonstrated again that he is in excellent form this season by winning the ensuing ending which looked vey uncomfortable for his opponent.

This time the match was decided before the last game finished but Hebden won it all the same. Dave Shapland opted for a reputable and solid set up against John Morgan’s English Opening and the position developed along the lines of a reversed Classical Dragon. This system is very hard for White to break down and as the tension in the centre built John correctly opted to force simplifications that seemd to guarantee Black equal play.

However, the double rook, bishop and knight end game that emerged was very complicated and both players started to consume time on the clock as they tried to navigate accurately through the tactics. Dave thought he’d found a cunning way to set up a pin on the c-file that would net him a piece. John saw the idea and believed it but overlooked a couple of ways it could have been side-stepped when he instead opted to give up his knight for two pawns.

Dave now had two rooks and a knight against John’s two rooks and with the time control reached he had plenty of breathing space to improve his position and tie John up. He still managed to make heavy weather of it at the end and it was only when John, under pressure on the clock, made a tactical error that Dave was able to cause devastation with his knight and round up a splendid performance for the team on the night.

Here is the match scorecard:

Courier ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
T.Slinger 0 — 1 A.Bak
D.Patrick 1 — 0 P.Leonard
J.Morgan 0 — 1 D.Shapland
J.Cawston 0 — 1 N.Sykes
D.Colledge 0 — 1 A.Leatherbarrow
1 — 4

Again, there are annotated games form this match in the game viewer below. I’ll provide a full update on the league positions in the first division next week as there is another round of action on Monday when Hebden Bridge ‘A’ will once again be at home, this time to Belgrave.

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Jan 162015
 

In part two of my review of 2014 we’ll cover summer and Autumn period. With the Calderdale and Yorkshire league seasons completed in May you might have been forgiven for thinking that nothing much would have been going on in the summer but you’d be quite wrong.

ECF County Championship

July: Syrett vs. Shapland - Hebden Bridge Summer Rapidplay. Black to play. With both players in dreadful time trouble White has understandably just offered simplifications with 28.Qd2. How should Black respond? Solution in the game viewer at the end of this post.

July: Syrett vs. Shapland – Hebden Bridge Summer Rapidplay. Black to play. With both players in dreadful time trouble White has understandably just offered simplifications with 28.Qd2. How should Black respond? Solution in the game viewer at the end of this post.

Pete Leonard, Andy Leatherbarrow and Dave Shapland all took part in the Yorkshire under 160 team’s superb run to the final of the county championships. In May Dave and Pete travelled to Penrith to play their part in the demolition of Cumbria in the qualifiers. Andy joined them for the quarter final match against Essex which saw the Yorkshiremen avenge their defeat to the same side in the 2013 final. Dave missed the semi-final win against Cambridgeshire and, unfortunately, Pete was unavailable for the final which was played, along with all the other finals, in Warwick in July.

Both Andy and Dave won their games in the final against Middlesex as Yorkshire struggled on the top eight boards but swept their opponents aside on the lower boards where they scored 7/8!

Yorkshire also won the ‘Open’ section of the County Championships when they thrashed another Middlesex team 11½ – 4½. This included a fine win by HebdenBridge’s occasional guest star Matty Webb. This was just one step on the road to a fabulously successful season for Matty. 2014 saw his rating shoot up and he currently occupies the number 3 spot on the Yorkshire Chess Association rating list.

Summer competitions

September: Bak vs. Eagleton - Calderdale League. White is the exchange down but he has the initiative. Can you see a way to take advantage?

September: Bak vs. Eagleton – Calderdale League. White to play. White is the exchange down but he has the initiative. Can you see a way to take advantage?

During the summer the club held two rapidplay competitions in which particpants played each other twice with 30 minutes each on the clock. The ‘A’ group was won by Matthew Parsons who was dominant through out and only lost one game to Dave Shapland. There were a good number of highly entertaining games played in the top section.

As preparations for the new league season began some warm up activity was organised to get players back into the swing of things. First of all six of our members travelled to Keighley chess club to play in a return friendly match to the one played at the Trades Club in 2013. Keighley took revenage for their away defeat the previous year by winning this match 4 — 2. Neil Bamford was the only Hebden player to win but both John Kerrane and Nick Sykes took creditable draws.

The following week Matty Webb agreed to play a simultaneous match against all-comers at the Trades Club. Ten players took up the challenge in which Matty generously (or foolishly perhaps!) agreed to play all the games sat standard Calderdale League time limits. He still scored 9 out of 10 conceding draws to Matthew Parsons and Martin Syrett and losing just one to Danny Crampton who sneakily played at high speed and survived long enough to win the game on time when Matty didn’t notice what he was up to.

Then came the Club Lightning competition which was won in fine style by John Allan with a score of 5½/6. Pete Leonard and Dave Shapland trailled on a point and a half behind him on 4 and John Kerrane and Nick Sykes were next on 3½.

October: Leonard vs. Morgan - Calderdale League. White to play. With such a lead in development it's no surprise to find White can proceed in sacrificial style. What's his best continuation?

October: Leonard vs. Morgan – Calderdale League. White to play. With such a lead in development it’s no surprise to find White can proceed in sacrificial style. What’s his best continuation?

Calderdale League 2014-15

After the warm ups came the serious business of the new league season. The club decided to field three teams across the two leagues this year as our pool of willing league participants continued to dwindle. Most significantly Matthew Parsons made the decision to return to representing Huddersfield after a four year stint playing in the HebdenBridge ‘A’ team. That loss was keenly felt but the ‘A’ team began the season pretty solidly as they almost took advantage of Huddersfield arriving at the Trades Club with only four players in the first round and then beat Courier ‘A’ in fine style in round 2. Andy Bak on board 1, Pete Leonard on 2 and Nick Sykes on 4 all played brilliantly to beat strong opponents.

Subsequently it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the ‘A’s as they followed their surprise win over Courier with a surprise defeat to Belgrave but then beat both Brighouse and Todmorden ‘B’ before succumbing to a very strong Halifax ‘A’ team despite drawing on the top two boards.

October: Sykes vs. Clegg - Calderdale League. White to play. How did Nick cap a really fine thematic game from this position?

October: Sykes vs. Clegg – Calderdale League. White to play. How did Nick cap a really fine thematic game from this position?

League 1 is warming up to be another fascinating contest this season as the reigning champions Halifax ‘A’ have recovered from a slow start to get themselves back in contention whilst Huddersfield started tremendously but have subsequently slipped up to allow their rivals to close up on them. Todmorden ‘A’ and Halifax look like the main contenders although Courier aren’t out of the race just yet.

In league 2 both the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams have found life difficult. League 2 has just six teams in it this year and our teams occupy the 4th and 5th places at present with one win and one draw a piece. Danny Crampton has taken up the captaincy of the ‘B’ team and after beating Courier ‘B’ in the first round his side have managed only a draw against Halifax ‘C’ in the subsequent three matches.

Meanwhile John Kerrane’s ‘C’ team have performed identically to pick up the same number of match points and they trial their ‘B’ team colleagues only on game points at the moment.

Halifax ‘B’ are the dominant force in League 2 thus far and they already have a decent lead over Todmorden ‘C’ and Halifax ‘C’. The two Hebden sides are still close enough to challenge for second place here.

Yorkshire League

Calderdale ‘A’ are maintaining the same position they finished in last year by occupying the middle of the Division 1 table after 5 rounds. In League 2, Calderdale ‘B’ have started in rather lacklustre fashion with one win, one draw and three defeats so far. They’ll need to up their game to be sure of avoiding relegation this season. Hebden regulars Andy Leatherbarrow, John Allan and Martin Syrett look poised to assist in this task with John continuing his excellent form of last season in this competition.

December: Webb vs. Guramishvili, London Chess Classic FIDE Open. It's White to play. He's sacrificed a piece on d5 to open the e-file. How should he proceed to capitalise on that. This is straight out of the opening book so anyone wanting to play the Najdorf needs to know this idea!

December: Webb vs. Guramishvili, London Chess Classic FIDE Open. It’s White to play. He’s sacrificed a piece on d5 to open the e-file. How should he proceed to capitalise on that. This is straight out of the opening book so anyone wanting to play the Najdorf needs to know this idea!

London Chess Classic

In December I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the London Chess Classic and see the opening round of the main competition. Whilst I was there I was surprised but very pleased to get the opportunity to meet one of my chess heroes, Garry Kasparov! The former world champion was there for a book signing and I wasn’t going to miss out on that opportunity. Of course I spent the whole time in the queue trying to think of something meaningful to say to him and then pretty much stuffed it up when I got to the front of the queue. Never mind, I now own a signed copy of the second part of his chess biography ‘Kasparov on Kasparov’ which I can certainly recommend to anyone who’s interested in some literature on his career.

In the end I only spent a little bit of time inside the chess classic itself because I predominantly wanted to follow Matty Webb’s game in the FIDE Open that was taking place alongside. To my great delight he played a game in a theoretical line of the French that I play myself against a Grandmaster in the form of Neil McDonald. It was an interesting game that ended in a draw.

Matty played extremely well in the tournament and I’ve included a game he won against WGM Sopiko Guramishvili in round 2. Anyone who watched the recent World Chess Championship match will know that Sopiko was co-commentator with Peter Svidler so this was a high-profile scalp for Matty to take.

The full games, some with commentary, are featured in the game viewer below so that you can find the solutions to the positions given in the article as well.

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