It’s been the story of the league 1 championship this season — Hebden Bridge ‘A’ winning 3 — 2! On Monday night they notched up their sixth ‘3 — 2’ win from their last seven matches to edge past Courier ‘A’ and retain their title. In honour of Hebden’s achievement the teams involved in the other three fixtures also contrived to deliver 3 — 2 results as Todmorden ‘B’ were confirmed as relegated and Huddersfield ‘A’ took sole possession of second place in the division.
At the Belgrave Social Club in Halifax, Hebden rolled up to face the team they drew with away in the last round of the 2011-12 season to secure the title by the narrowest margin — 1 board point. For this year’s match-up they were slightly weaker (Darwin Ursal went back to Halifax for this season and Pete Leonard was on holiday) whilst Courier looked a tiny bit stronger on boards 4 and 5.
In 2012 the nerves were plain to see as Hebden almost chucked their title away at the final fence. This time the 3 — 2 score line did not do justice to the relatively straightforward nature of the victory. Indeed, on another evening Courier could have been on the end of a hammering as a couple of Hebden players agreed to draws in advantageous positions to secure the victory.
The night began badly for the hosts when their board 5 did not make an appearance and Hebden collected their fourth defaulted board point since Christmas. Some might say this is fortuitous. That maybe so but the basic requirement of any title winning team is to be able to field five players and Hebden have done that relentlessly all season where some of their rivals have failed at crucial moments.
The other four games went on well into the evening before finally, Hebden also took a full point on board 4 to put themselves 0 — 2 clear. Andy Leatherbarrow beat Pete Hughes in a lugubrious Czech Benoni were the pawns were locked together and the active play channeled onto the king’s side of the board. Pete got himself into time trouble and Andy won a pawn which, with such a sterile position at hand, really was a death knell.
By this stage Dave Shapland had recovered from a dreadful opening error on board 3 against Robert Clegg to fight his way to an equal if not slightly superior position. It looked like these two would engage in yet another cutting-edge-of-opening-theory fire fight until Dave uncharacteristically chose to deviate from the monstrous complexities of the Botvinnik Semi-Slav to steer the game into a Moscow Variation. However, he fluffed his move order and just ended up miles behind in development and with a very cramped position — albeit quite a solid one.
Fortunately for Dave the resulting position was very easy for him to play (he needed to get his pieces out) whilst Robert was searching for the best possible way of pursuing his advantage. Slowly but surely Dave equalised and then broke open the queen’s side. Robert sensed the tide was turning and offered a draw. Dave waited for 5 minutes to see Andy win on board 4 and then accepted knowing that his team now had at least a draw.
By that point neither of the top two boards looked like they would go against Hebden. Matthew Parsons had the exchange for a pawn in his game with John Morgan and shrewdly took full advantage of the match situation by offering John a draw right after the time control. Knowing that this outcome would hand Hebden the title John dutifully sat and searched in vain for a way to play for a win. However, after taking up much of his remaining time to consider this he decided he had to accept and Hebden could start to celebrate.
This just left Hebden’s Nick Sykes and Courier’s Dave Patrick playing on board two. This had been a complicated game in the exchange Caro-Kann where Nick had gained a significant advantage from the opening only to be thrown off course by a very strange and unusual incident. Dave defended himself with an illegal move that neither player noticed until long after the game had finished. It was left to the kibitzing Matthew Parsons to point this out to Nick after the game had finished. You can see all the details of this in the game viewer below. The game is in two fragments because of course chess engines won’t let you enter an illegal move!
Despite Dave’s unorthodox defensive techniques Nick still held a decent advantage but he couldn’t find the right way to bring it home and slowly Dave dug himself out of the worst of the trouble and the players entered a rook and pawn ending. At this point Nick’s acute time shortage started to play a roll as he missed a few more opportunities to win and, ultimately, blundered into exchanging off rooks into a dead lost king and pawn ending. Dave duly converted one of the most fortuitous points he is likely to ever score and Nick chastised himself for his profligacy.
In the end it didn’t matter. Another 3 — 2 win in the bag and Hebden had retained their title. This is a huge and genuinely surprising achievement for a team of players who weren’t expecting to do so well this year being weaker on paper than the side who won the title last season.
The final match scorecard was:
Courier ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
J.Morgan ½ — ½ M.Parsons
D.Patrick 1 — 0 N.Sykes
R.Clegg ½ — ½ D.Shapland
P.Hughes 0 — 1 A.Leatherbarrow
Default 0 — 1 M.Wedge-Roberts
2 — 3
Elsewhere the relegation battle had reached a critical moment as Brighouse, Todmorden ‘B’ and Belgrave fought it out to avoid the drop. Two of them had to go and on Monday Brighouse travelled to Todmorden for a loser-gets-relegated show down. There were draws on the top two boards and a win on board 5 from the home team but Bruce Bendall and Nick Hudson both won on boards 3 and 4 to clinch a golden victory for Brighouse who now have another sudden death shoot out at Belgrave on April the 22nd to decide who joins Todmorden in division 2.
Meanwhile back at the Belgrave Club Todmorden ‘A’ had travelled to Belgrave knowing that a win for them could help their ‘B’ team survive to fight another day. The top four boards were all drawn before Chris Edwards finally uprooted Les Johnson at the end of the evening to secure a narrow win for Todmorden.
On Wednesday night second placed Huddersfield defended their position against third placed Halifax ‘A’. This should have been an epic encounter with Halifax desperate to win to retain any slim chance they might have had to overhaul their hosts. However, they only succeeded in getting four players to the match and the missing man was one half of their terrible twosome, Bill Somerset. Add to that a weakened bottom half of the team and it was a recipe for disaster. Only another heroic victory from Darwin Ursal preserved Halifax’s modesty as he beat Mitchell Burke to limit the damage to… you guessed it… 3 — 2!
All four games from the Hebden Bridge match can be found in the viewer below.