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!