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.