At the end of the season it has become customary for this website to review and analyse the performance of Hebden Bridge’s teams and their players. In fact, this year, I’ve been asked by several players ‘when’ the review will be published. Well, dear readers, you need wait no longer. Today I’m publishing the first part of the review and I’ll be starting with a player review for League 1
Sadly there was only one Hebden Bridge team in the top division this year owing to Hebden Bridge ‘B’s relegation last season. Hebden Bridge ‘A’ were the champions in 2011-12 but as we began our title defence it must be said that our expectations were not high. There were two reasons for this. First of all our team felt like it was a little bit weaker without the scintillating Darwin Ursal who, along primarily with Matthew Parsons, had carried the team to the title the previous year. Darwin’s ‘season-long-loan’ from Halifax came to an end as Halifax ‘A returned to the top flight.
The second reason for our pessimism was that the other main contenders for the title appeared to have become even stronger. Todmorden ‘A’ had almost pipped us in 2011/12 and had the same super strong top order this time round. Huddersfield ‘A’ had their usual strong line up and deep reserves to call upon. Courier had bolstered their lower order and now the returning Halifax ‘A’ looked very menacing with two 180’s on their top two boards.
Of course, we all know that the outcome at the end of the season was a title-retaining triumph for Hebden Bridge. Not only that but they won by three points. Despite losing the services of Matthew Webb less than half-way through the season it was comfortable. How could this be? The answer, I think is in this scoreline — 3-2! Put simply, after an early upset at the hands of Huddersfield we managed to keep winning matches by the narrowest possible margin. In every fixture someone pulled a result out of the bag when it mattered and, unlike last season, everyone in the team played a part somewhere along the line. This season was the proof that fielding a consistent, determined and focused side capable of scoring heavily on the lower boards and holding their own on the top boards is the key to winning the title. When our rivals faltered, we took full advantage.
Here then are my player reviews for Hebden Bridge ‘A’s team of conquering heroes. The statistics below only represent results from League 1. They don’t include any League 2 games or any of the Calderdale Individual Championship games played
Last season Matthew performed excellently and possibly did not receive the credit he deserved for his contribution simply because Darwin did even better. This season there is no doubt that he stepped up to the task of leading the side from board 1. Facing the league’s ‘big beasts’ he did himself great credit and can most certainly now be named amongst their number! He backed this up further by winning the Calderdale Individual Championship comfortably with a score of 4½/5.
In the league he scored 9/14 (64%), losing just twice and winning 6 times. He also clinched a few absolutely critical games when the team needed a result. None were more so than the game I’ve given at the foot of this post as his best of the season, when he stared down Halifax ‘A’s Bill Somerset to help his side win a championship deciding encounter by a score of… 3-2.
Pete’s second season playing for the ‘A’ team saw him playing slightly less frequently (10 games to last season’s 13) but making an incremental improvement on his performance with 5½/10 (55%) to last season’s 50%. Last year he had a dreadful run towards the end of the season but this time round he was consistent throughout the year having moved up to play on boards 2 and 3 rather than 3 and 4 as he had last year. Pete also won some match-deciding encounters. The most important of these was his stylish win against Dave Firth of Huddersfield in Hebden’s first win over their nemesis in a VERY long time. Of course the final score was 2-3!
Despite the critical nature of that victory I have not chosen this as Pete’s best game, an indication of a surfeit of good material! Instead I’d consider his very attractive win over Dave Sugden in round 4 of the Calderdale Individual Championship to be his finest. Witness the instinctive sacrifice and entertaining king hunt that ensues. Simply one of the best games of the season!
Dave had every reason to be disappointed with his personal contribution to the team’s victory last season. Like Pete, he had a terrible run of form at the end of the year that could have cost his side the title. This year solidity was his top priority and he certainly achieved that with no less than seven (!) draws from thirteen games, more than any other player in the side and certainly not a statistic you’d expect from such an uncompromising player. Dave was particularly solid with the Black pieces. He didn’t lose in League 1 with Black although his form with White was poor and cost him rating points overall.
Many of Dave’s best results were draws. He drew twice with Todmorden’s Andrew Clarkson (and twice more in the team knockout!) and had comfortable draws with Huddersfield’s Dave Tooley and Courier’s Robert Clegg to help his side win the matches in question. He did also score a couple of critical wins including the game I’ve given in the viewer below. A sharp and complicated win against Brighouse’s Bruce Bendall in a match that Hebden eventually won… 2-3.
The ‘Syko’ was as determined and belligerent as ever this season. He made a major contribution to his team’s success last season with a score of 65% on board 5. This season he was equally effective. That he ended the season on 62% merely reflects his promotion up the board order towards the end of the year when other members of the team were unavailable and his own good form merited a crack at the big boys. His only defeats were both on board two to Darwin and Courier’s Dave Patrick. Although he gained few rating points in the league his excellent performance in the Calderdale Individual Championship, where he finished in joint 2nd-4th place with 4 points, bolstered his grade at the end of the season to 155 and he beat team mates Shapland and Leonard in that competition.
Nick’s solid and positional style means that many of his wins require him to invest a lot of time at the board to squeeze victory from theoretically advantageous positions. I’ve picked his win against Mike Huett of Todmorden ‘B’ for his best game because I think it best demonstrates Nick’s style across all areas of the game. He is knowledgable and flexible in the opening from which he rarely emerges at a disadvantage. His middle game his solid and shows a good positional sense and his endgame technique is robust and dependable. Mike can be a dangerous player to face but Nick is never in peril in the game below. Instead he slowly applies pressure until his opponent’s resistance breaks.
Having debuted with two wins from two games last season, Matty was earmarked as the long-term replacement for Darwin on board 1 or 2. Unfortunately not everything went to plan. After an early loss to Huddersfield’s Mitchell Burke in the first match of the year, Matty then started a new job which effected his availability to play in Calderdale as well his ability to give the levels of energy at the board that he would have liked. He did score two wins from his five games but he wasn’t happy with this return and chose to stand aside to focus on his work commitments. At the time this felt like a major set back but In the end his decision probably allowed the team to go on to achieve their best results. Of course we wish Matty well with his endeavours and hope that one day he might come back to play the game competitively.
For his best game I’ve picked this typically smooth win over Todmorden ‘B’s Alastair Wright who has a superb record with the White pieces but was here swept aside quite comfortably by Matty.
Having been a fringe player in 2011/12, Andy stepped into the space left by Matty and was immediately very effective. He won four and drew two of his eight games only dropping his losses later on in the season including in the last match of the year when the match outcome was irrelevant. The fact that his rating for league 1 fixtures is showing a deficit is primarily down to the level of opposition he was facing. Even a draw can cost you dearly on board 5 if you have a aspirations to increase your grade over the season. Fortunately, Andy’s excellent performance in league 2 and in the Yorkshire League meant that his end of year grade increased on last year’s appreciably.
Andy was another player who performed very strongly in the Calderdale Individual Championship and he effectively ended the chances of top seed Mitchell Burke by beating him with Black as early as round 2. That game is given at the end of this post and shows Andy’s expert handling of the Scandinavian Defence, one of his favourite opening lines. Mitchell doesn’t cause him enough problems in the opening, loses concentration for a moment and is dispatched in fine style by Andy who is rated more than 30 points lower than him.
Enjoy some the entertaining games below. Next time we’ll review the performance of some of the players in league 2.