Mar 122022

Back at the seaside. The players at this year’s congress are unlikely to be venturing out to see the sites for very long this weekend though as the weather is fairly inhospitable

Hebden Bridge Chess Club have sent a healthy delegation of members to Blackpool this weekend for the 45th Blackpool Chess Congress. I’m going to try and keep an open blog going across the weekend to keep you updated of their progress.

First of all though, for those who aren’t familiar with it, Blackpool (along with Scarborough which usually takes place at the end of October) is one of the largest weekend competitions in the North of England. Last year it didn’t take place due to COVID restrictions and in 2020 it was probably the last congress to take place before the lockdown was imposed. I was supposed to participate in that edition but took a late decision not to attend as by that stage it was clear a lockdown was inevitable. I must admit that, if I’d really thought through how long we were going to be away from over the board chess, I would have gone and played. This year’s edition has therefore assumed some emotional significance for me as, rightly or wrongly, it feels like a step on the road back to ‘normality’ (or whatever our new normal is!) after two years of disruption and uncertainty. It seems that there a significant number of chess players who feel the same way as me for the congress has a very healthy entry list across no fewer than five section – an Open, the Major (for players rated under 2050), the Intermediate (U1850), the Minor (U1700) and the Standard (U1550). The prize fund is significant (over £6,700) and pretty equitably split across the sections. The winner of the Open will receive £700. but the winner of the Standard can bag themselves £400 which is an unusually generous amount for the lowest section at a weekend congress.

I mentioned that Hebden Bridge have a good contingent of players at the event. There are also chess friends here from across Calderdale. Here’s who to follow in each section:

  • Open: Martyn Hamer, Jamie Heritage and David Wedge are all here as too are Leo Keely and Peter Hepworth from Huddersfield
  • Major: Dave Shapland is playing in this section and so too are Dave Patrick from Belgrave and Richard Bowman from Keighley
  • Intermediate: Cobus Daneel and Jeremy Butts are in this section alongside our old friends Robert Clegg and Gordon Farrar from Belgrave and Nigel Hepworth from Huddersfield

Round 1

Jamie Heritage was served up a real baptism of fire for his first ever weekend congress as he drew second seed Andrew Ledger in round 1! At least he had the White pieces and had the chance to play such a strong player when he was full of energy. Martyn Hamer is right alongside Jamie in the starting rankings and he was even more ‘lucky/unlucky’ in that he drew Black against the top seed, Grand Master Danny Gormally. Needless to say, both our men ended up losing but put up strong resistance. I’ll try and get hold of their games to publish them here in due course.

Meanwhile, further down the board order, David Wedge also had a tough first round assignment with White against the very experienced Jim Burnett. David did wonderfully well to earn himself a draw in that game.

Leo Keely took a half point bye in round 1 but the result of the round from a Calderdale perspective was undoubtedly Peter Hepworth’s tremendous win, with Black, over Martin Burrows who is rated 2245! Peter has been quietly improving for the last few years and this result demonstrates how far he’s come. That win has earned him a crack at FIDE Master Tim Wall with the White pieces this morning.

I got rather lucky in my round 1 game against John Cawston who selected a very solid line of the French Defence to wheel out against me. It’s the kind of variation where White has extra space and a reasonably comfortable advantage, but how to break Black down for a win. We ended up contesting an ending in which I had two knights and pawns against his bishop and knight plus pawns but he still had his bad French bishop. I took significant risks to try and squeeze out a win and certainly did not play the end game optimally but, at a couple of key moments, John rushed his moves and they turned out to be big mistakes as I was finally able to queen a pawn. I’ve published the game below with some notes from Stockfish to help give an idea of what was going on.

Dave Patrick and Richard Bowman both lost games to higher rated players.

In the Intermediate their were mixed fortunes for Jeremy and Cobus who are both playing their first weekend tournaments for twenty-odd years and are very excited to be back in competition again. They have bravely elected to enter on section above the one they were eligable for, and both drew Black against higher rated players in round 1. Cobus beat his opponent handily when he was able to take over in the centre and hoover up several pawns in the middle game. Jeremy also got a decent position from the opening in his game but, at a point where he thought he’d discovered a wicked trap to spring on his opponent it turned out he’d missed a wrinkle that turned the tables on him. After that there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Robert Clegg, Gordon Farrar and Nigel Hepworth all lost their opening games.

Rounds 2 and 3

It was a long and busy day for our club contingent at the Blackpool Congress with mixed results across the three relevant sections.

In the Open, Jamie Heritage bounced back from his first round defeat to Andrew Ledger with a win on Saturday morning before another tough assignment in the afternoon against Stephen Jones from Basingstoke rated 2344. Battle took place in a sharp Sveshnikov Sicilian and Stephens deep knowledge of the opening paid off as he was able to defeat Jamie in an endgame. The post-mortem afterwards was an extremely useful learning experience. Jamie is on 1 out of 3.

Martyn Hamer meanwhile won both his games yesterday against Barry Robson and Martin Burrows and he is now on 2/3. David Wedge was unfortunate to get drawn against Leo Keely in round 2. He lost that game but bounced back to win on time in a very sharp Two knights Defence against Roger Williamson from Aigburth who is rated 2255 – a great result for David. He is now on 1.5/3 which is a great score considering the strength of his opposition to date. He plays another strong player this morning in the form of Samuel Milson from Sheffield.

Leo Keely, having beaten David in the morning, drew his round 3 game and now faces Gary Quillan who is one of the top seeds.

In the Major I had a pretty lucky day. In the morning I drew the lowest rated player in the section but quickly found that he was much stronger than the number on paper as he played very well and put me under a lot of pressure. Eventually I made a mistake to gift him a pawn but the position opened up and I found some counter play. I offered him a draw in a position where I was still a pawn down but had an active position and some counter chances though I’d seen that he could defend and might be able to consolidate his advantage so a draw offer seemed a sensible choice. As he’d already offered me a draw a few moves before he was happy to accept my offer.

Then in the afternoon I really had a stoke of luck. My opponent arrived only just before he would have been forfeit – nearly 30 minutes late – and then proceeded to have long thinks as we played into one of my favorite lines of the French Tarrasch. I however was out of sorts and played the early middle game dreadfully. I gambited a pawn in thematic fashion but then gave away another and didn’t really have any compensation for it. Fortunately my opponent’s clock problems came to the rescue as the position remained complicated, I found some active chances and as his clock drifted into the last 5 minutes I still had over an hour left on mine. Finally he missed some tactics and I completed an outrageous swindle to seal the victory. I’m on 2.5/3 but will have to play much better today if I’m to maintain any chance of winning a prize.

In the Intermediate, Cobus Daneel lost both his games yesterday against 1800-level opponents. Bizarrely, in both his games with Black he has faced the Bird’s Opening – 1.f4. Which one can play one’s whole chess career and expect to face only a small handful of times. Jeremy Butts is also on 1/3 but he has arrived their via a different route as he drew both his games yesterday.

Rounds 4 and 5

The final day of action at Blackpool saw some great action and some interesting games played by our Hebden Bridge members.

The Open

In the Open, David Wedge lost his game in the morning to Sheffield’s Samuel Milson and then drew with Neil Thomson in the afternoon to finish his tournament on a highly creditable 2 out or 5. This meant he finished the tournament in a share of 25th-34th places. Given that his starting rankling was 42 and his performance rating for the tournament was 1998 this represents a great outcome for David.

Further up the standings Jamie Heritage won a fine game on Sunday morning against Martin Mitchell (which you can find in the game viewer below) before rounding off his weekend with a swift and secure draw with the White pieces against Jim Burnett. Jamie finished on 50% in the Open section of his first weekend tournament – an outstanding achievement. He finished joint 18th-24th when his starting seeding was 24 and his performance rating was 2167. Both his wins came with the Black pieces which is an achievement in itself.

Martyn Hamer managed half a point more as he won his game on Sunday morning climbing to 3/4 before coming up against Stephen Jones (who beat Jamie on Saturday afternoon) and losing out in the final round. Still, a tremendous  performance for Martyn who finished tied in 12th-17th places with a performance rating of 2172.

I should mention that the Huddersfield  contingent also did very well with Leo Keely also finishing on 3 points and Peter Hepworth doing brilliantly to score 2.5.

I should finally mention that the Open ended in a seven (!!) way tie for first place with Steven Jones, Andrew Ledger, Chris Duncan, Andrew Burnett, Danny Gormally, Shrayan Majumder and Tim Wall all scoring 4 points.

The Major

Having struggled to find my best form on Saturday and feeling very fortunate to have ended the day in contention on 2.5/3, I played much better on Sunday. That said, I got nothing at all from the opening when I had the White pieces against the experienced Brendan O’Gorman in round 4. In fact I had to find some accurate defensive moves to ensure there was no accident but I managed to steer the game to safety and was happy with a draw that also didn’t take up too much energy as the game was done in under two hours.

On Sunday afternoon I drew Gary Jackson with Black and felt that I could try and go ‘all in’ for a win with a clear conscience. What resulted was one of my better efforts from the Classical Ruy Lopez. My opponent defended himself stoutly but I managed to find accurate moves to complete the victory and was delighted to finish in a share of 2nd-4th on 4 points. Barry Hymer won the section with 4.5. As I started ranked 16 and finished with a performance rating of 2041, this was definitely by best performance in a weekend congress to date.

The Intermediate

Jeremy and Cobus both enjoyed their first weekend tournaments since childhood and they performed creditably in a higher section than they need have played in but they relished the challenge. Jeremy finished on Sunday with two more draws to join the two he had had on Saturday. This meant he finished on 2 points and finished in a share of 45th-52nd. As he was ranked 61 at the start this represents a great outcome and his rating performance for the event was 1656 – 20 points higher than his rating.

Cobus lost on Sunday morning but drew on Sunday afternoon meaning he finished on 1.5 in a share of 53rd-63rd. Cobus’s starting rank was 56th, so this is a solid performance as well and his rating performance at Blackpool was 1578, somewhat below his current rating of 1695 but he did at least have a win in round 1 to console himself with.

All in all it was a great weekend for Hebden Bridge players and everyone had a great time at Blackpool. Hopefully, we can make an even stronger showing next year when the tournament will be held on 10-12 February.

All my games and some of those played by Jeremy, Cobus and Jamie can be found in the game viewer below.

Nov 122021

This position arose in Barlow vs. Heritage in the round 4 clash between Hebden Bridge D and Belgrave A. It’s Black to move and, despite his king being in the centre, his pieces are starting to menace the Black king. What’s the best next move for Black. You’ll find the answer in the game viewer at the end of this post.

Monday night saw the fourth and fifth rounds of the Calderdale 30 Rapidplay tournament take place at the Belgrave Club in Halifax. Readers may remember from the previous article on this competition that Hebden Bridge D sat atop the table with a perfect record of nine wins from nine games after the first three rounds with Hebden Bridge A a point behind them on eight.

Proceedings were slightly less frenetic on Monday as just two rounds were scheduled so it was just a matter of organising some last minute logistics to fill a couple of empty team rosters (Hebden Bridge arrived with 11 players and needed a twelfth) and jiggling the board orders to accommodate a couple of loan wolves who had turned up hoping for a game. It was great to see one-time Hebden Bridge player, Darwin Ursal, at the Belgrave Club and he slotted onto board 1 for the Nomads whilst Angel Gonzalez moved from board 3 in that team to join Hebden Bridge D on board 3.

As could be expected, team composition did change between rounds 1-3 and 4-5. Hebden A were unchanged but Hebden B saw Ralph Tatt getting his first taste of competitive chess in Calderdale on board 3 and David Wedge kindly making an emergency last minute substitute for an unwell Nick Doody on board 2. The C team welcomed Andy Leatherbarrow on board 2 and, as mentioned above, Angel Gonzalez joined the D team on board 3.

Here’s how the two rounds progressed:

Round 4

Hebden Bridge A had double derby trouble on Monday with two tough assignments against first their ‘B’ team and then their ‘C’ team. The first one was a very hard fought affair and in the balance until the very end of the round with board 1 being the last to finish in the room. Cobus Daneel continued his perfect trajectory with a victory over Ralph Tatt but Dave Shapland lost to David Wedge on board 2 meaning that the fate of the match rested on the top board clash between Matthew Parsons for the A team and Phil Cook for the B team. Much like their classical time limit encounter at the start of the season, this one went right to the wire. Matthew claimed a win on time at the end but Phil hadn’t noticed that Matthew’s allowance had also elapsed and, after a brief discussion a draw was amicably agreed and was probably a fair result. So, the match was tied.

This result gave the D team a chance to increase their lead however, up against a strong Belgrave A side, they were unable to take advantage and slipped to a 2-1 defeat as Sam Swain lost to Dave Patrick on board 2 and Angel Gonzalez lost to Karim Khan on board 3. However, on board 1 Jamie Heritage demolished Dave Barlow convincingly with the Black pieces to keep his perfect record in the competition. This game is given in the game viewer at the end of this post with some annotations by Jamie for your entertainment.

Hebden Bridge C meanwhile were engaged in another tight encounter, this time with Huddersfield A. Andy Leatherbarrow lost to Nick Sykes on board 2 but Martyn Hamer and Jeremy Butts beat Gerald Cuaresma and Colin Frank respectively to seal a victory.

Round 5

Things went from bad to worse for the A team as they were taken apart by their C team colleagues. Dave Shapland lost gain, this time to Andy Leatherbarrow, Matthew Parsons and Martyn Hamer drew on the top board and Cobus even lost his perfect record to his friend Jeremy on board 3. 2.5-0.5 for the C team was a fantastic result and helped to propel them up the standings.

This time the D team were able to take full advantage of the A team’s mis-step as they handed Huddersfield A their second 2-1 defeat to a Hebden side of the evening. This time Colin Frank was able to beat Angel Gonzalez on the bottom board but Sam beat Nick Sykes and Jamie won yet again, this time against Gerald Cuaresma.

The B team also won their match against against Huddersfield B by the same score of 2-1. Phil Cook capped a great evening with a win over Leo Keely and David Wedge beat Alec Ward to see the B team to victory. Ralph had another game with Amin Hossain but ended up on the losing side.

League Table after 5 rounds

Hebden Bridge D – 12
Hebden Bridge A – 10
Belgrave A – 9.5
Hebden Bridge B – 8.5
Hebden Bridge C – 8.5
Huddersfield B – 8.5
Nomads – 7
Huddersfield A – 6
Belgrave B – 3
Halifax – 2

So, although Hebden D extended their lead at the top by a point, there is now a bunch of times gathering behind them and the A team who, despite Monday’s tough results, remain in second place. With plenty of clutch matches to come, including the top two teams facing each other in round 6, and four more rounds still to play, it seems possible that even the teams on 8.5 could catch up if they can string some big wins together.

Top scorers

Jamie Heritage – 5
Phil Cook – 4
Sam Swain – 4
Cobus Daneel – 4
Matthew Parsons – 3.5
Martyn Hamer – 3.5
Dave Patrick – 3.5

The honour of being the top scorer in the competition is also still wide open but someone will have to stop Jamie Heritage if they are going to snatch it from him.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains one of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through all of the moves unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.

Oct 082021

This position appeared in the game between Matthew Parsons and Leo Keely in the second round of the Calderdale 30 on Monday night. It’s White to play. How should he continue? You’ll find the answer and the rest of the game in the viewer at the end of this post.

The Calderdale Evening Chess League launched a brand new competition on Monday this week as 30 players from across the region met at the Belgrave Social Club in Halifax to play three rounds of chess at a time limit of 30 minutes each. This tournament will see ten teams of three players participating in a round robin team format over four evenings from this week through to March next year. League positions will be determined not by match points but by points scored on each and every board and that means every single game has a potential bearing on the outcome with up to three points available in every match.

It was great to see so many chess players all in one place on Monday and almost half of them were representing Hebden Bridge Chess Club as we entered four teams to take part. They joined two teams from Belgrave, two from Huddersfield, one from Halifax and another team of ‘Nomads’ made up of players from various clubs who didn’t have a berth in any of the other teams. Hebden chose to distribute their strength across all four of their teams in order to try and make the whole tournament as competitive as possible. Their fours teams were led on the top boards by Matthew Parsons, Phil Cook, Martyn Hamer and Jamie Heritage whilst their bottom boards were occupied by four players who joined the club either just before or just after the COVID lockdown, Cobus Daneel, Jeremy Butts, Chris Marsden and Sam Giles.

By the end of the evening two of Hebden’s teams had taken an early lead and were well clear of the pack. Here is a round by round breakdown of the scores.

Round 1

Hebden Bridge A (Matthew Parsons, Dave Shapland and Cobus Daneel) beat the Nomads side (Richard Porter, Vivienne Webster and Angel Gonzalez) by 2½-½. Matthew and Cobus won fairly comfortably but a rusty Dave missed a hanging piece in the middle game and then blundered the exchange in his game but somehow managed to hang on for a draw in the end game with Vivienne’s time running out.

Hebden Bridge B (Phil Cook, Nick Doody and Chris Marsden) beat Halifax (Andrew Whiteley, Barry Wadsworth and John Nicholson) 2 – 1 though they didn’t lose a game as both boards two and three were drawn whilst Phil won on board 1.

Huddersfield B (Leo Keely, David Gray and Alec Ward) whitewashed Huddersfield A (Nick Sykes, Robert Mitchell and Colin Frank) 3-0.

Belgrave A (Dave Patrick, Robert Clegg and Chris Edwards) beat Belgrave B (Dave Colledge, Les Johnson and Steve Harrington) 2½ – ½.

But the result of the round was undoubtedly Hebden Bridge D’s (Jamie Heritage, Sam Swain and Sam Giles) pasting of Hebden Bridge C (Martyn Hamer, Paul Gledhill and Jeremy Butts) 3-0 with Jamie’s win over Martyn on board one serving further notice that he is going to be a major force to be reckoned with in Calderdale this season.

Round 2

Hebden Bridge D continued their perfect form with a 3-0 thrashing of the Nomads in round 2. Just half a point behind them were Hebden Bridge A who also managed to beat Huddersfield B 3-0. Matthew Parson’s beautiful game against Leon Keely on board 1 is given in the game viewer at the end of this post and is well worth taking a look at, while Dave Shapland survived another scare before turning the tables on David Gray and new-comer Cobus Daneel took down the Huddersfield Captain Alec Ward in fine attacking style.

Hebden B beat Belgrave A 2-1 in a tight match with Nick Doody’s win over Robert Clegg on board two proving to be decisive as Phil Cook drew with Dave Patrick and Chris Marsden drew with Chris Edwards on boards 1 and 3 respectively. This put the B team two points behind the D team and one and a half behind the A team after two rounds.

Hebden C bounced back from their first round defeat by the D team to beat Halifax 2-1. Martyn and Paul won their games on boards 1 and 2 against Andrew Whiteley and Barry Wadsworth while Jeremy on board 3 also had much the better of the game against John Nicholson before running out of time in a completely winning position.

In the last of the round 2 matches, Belgrave B lost 1-2 to Huddersfield A.

Round 3

Hebden Bridge D assured themselves of the top spot in the league after 3 rounds by carrying out their third demolition of the evening, this time against Halifax. This rounded off an extremely impressive evening from all three of their players.

Hebden Bridge A lost a little bit more ground in their chase as they won 2½-½ for the second time in the evening against Belgrave B. This time it was Matthew on board 1 who was impressively held to a draw by Dave Colledge. Meanwhile Dave and Cobus both did what they needed to against Les Johnson and Steve Harrington respectively. Cobus finished the night on 3 out of 3 – another very impressive performance.

Hebden Bridge B lost their final match of the evening 1-2 to Huddersfield A. Phil beat Nick Sykes on board 1 but Nick and Chris both lost their games to Robert Mitchell and Colin Frank respectively.

Hebden Bridge C continued their recovery with a fine 2-1 win over Belgrave A. The hero here was Jeremy who recovered from two painful losses on time to dispatch the experienced Chris Edwards on board 3. This win, along with Phil’s win over Dave Patrick on board 1 was enough to counteract Paul’s loss to Robert Clegg on board 2.

The final match of round 3 saw the evening’s only tied match as Huddersfield B and the Nomads fought themselves to a standstill. Leo Keely beat Richard Porter on the top board but Angel Gonzalez beat Alec Ward on the bottom board whilst the game between David Gray and Vivienne Webster was a draw.

League Table after 3 rounds

Hebden Bridge D – 9 points
Hebden Bridge A – 8
Hebden Bridge B – 5
Huddersfield B – 4½
Belgrave A – 4½
Hebden Bridge C – 4
Huddersfield A – 4
Nomads – 2
Belgrave B – 2
Halifax – 2

This competition is a welcome addition to the calendar and there was a great atmosphere at the Belgrave Club with so many players all in one place and lots of exciting games being played. Whilst two of the Hebden teams are currently riding high, neither of them have played the strongest teams in the competition yet and so there is plenty of time over the remaining six rounds for the other to haul them in, and, with some missing players due to return for the next night of fixtures, there is every chance that fortunes may change.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains one of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through it unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.

Sep 262021

Sometimes, when a match is in the balance, you need the heavy hitters to tip the scales in your favour. That was exactly what happened on Monday night as the top 3 boards helped Hebden Bridge 2 edge past Huddersfield 2. Photo Credit: Janet Ramsden’s Flickr photo stream

On Monday night the first of the round 2 matches in this season’s Calderdale Evening Chess game were played. As we return tentatively to over the board chess in the wake of the COVID pandemic, there is just one division of eight teams this season and each round of fixtures is played across two weeks. This has been done to allow clubs the opportunity to share players between teams should they be suddenly have squad members becoming unavailable due to a positive test and self-isolation or illness.

On Monday, Hebden Bridge 2 hosted Huddersfield 2 at the Trades Club. Both sides had done well against their first teams in the first round of matches with Hebden, as reported here last week, drawing their match with Hebden Bridge 1 whilst Huddersfield 2 went one better and beat their first team. However, while Huddersfield selected the exact same five players that had done the job for them the previous week, Hebden rang the changes in order to try and get as many members of their squad as possible a game. Their board 1 for the derby match, Phil Cook, took a week off and out too went Cobus Daneel. They were replaced by Nick Doody and Sam Swain both playing their first matches of the season and, in Nick’s case, his first match for the club.

This was an absorbing, tense and very close match with the result in doubt right until the last moves were played. Looking at the ratings beforehand it seemed that Hebden Bridge would be favourites primarily owing to their superior strength on the lower boards, but that was actually where they struggled most. Chris Marsden and Sam Swain both made blunders to help Bryn Charlesworth and Alec Ward overturn the odds on boards 4 and 5.

This left Hebden’s top three boards to do the heavy lifting. Nick Doody, returning to chess after several years away, demonstrated he was in great shape with a nice win against David Gray on board 3 before Andrew Clarkson finally triumphed over Leo Keely on board 1 in a long encounter that saw Leo go a piece down early on but then provide obdurate resistance.

The last game to finish was the one on board 2 between young Jamie Heritage of Hebden Bridge and Granville Boot of Huddersfield. This was a fascinating encounter with a very unusual material balance that kept onlookers speculating about the outcome right to the end. Granville had a rook for four pawns in the endgame and caused Jamie all sorts of problems before the 15-year old finally found a way to stop his pawn storm and seal the win for Hebden Bridge at the death.

A great match! Here is the final match score card which saw Hebden 2 move into 2nd place in the fledgling league table just behind Belgrave 2 on board points as they tied with Halifax 1 on Monday night.

Hebden Bridge 2 vs. Huddersfield 2
(B) A.Clarkson 1 – 0 L.Keely
(B) J.Heritage 1 – 0 G.Boot
(B) N.Doody 1 – 0 D.Gray
(B) S.Swain 0 – 1 A.Ward
(B) C.Marsden 0 – 1 B.Charlesworth
3 – 2

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains some of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a dropdown menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.

Sep 182021

Hebden 1 and Hebden 2 kicked off the new season playing against each other. Who got their calculations right on the night? Read on to find out. Photo credit: litherland’s Flickr photo stream

On March 16th 2020 I played on board 1 for Hebden Bridge ‘C’ as they hosted Huddersfield ‘B’ in the Calderdale Evening Chess League. That was a round 11 match and we’d almost reached the end of the season. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the very end. Little were any of us playing that night to know that this would be the last competitive over the board chess we would play for the best part of 18 months. The COVID lockdown came into effect the following week and all our activity ground to a halt.

Much has changed since that Monday night in 2020. Lockdown life has afforded many people the opportunity to discover the pleasures of playing chess for the first time or has given those who used to play years ago the chance to renew their appreciation of the game. The Queen’s Gambit series on Netflix has glamourised the world of chess and challenged the generally held stereotypes people had of chess players and chess itself. Online chess has boomed significantly and the number of online competitions available to us has expanded as a result – but we’ve also been confronted by an epidemic of online cheating that has damaged the reputation of the game.

A few weeks ago, we were able to start up our face-to-face meetings at the Trades Club again and we’ve been blessed with a steady influx of new members as well as an enthusiastic return to action by our existing membership base. As long as the world can stay COVID secure in the near future and activity is not abruptly curtailed again, it would appear that the pandemic has had a silver lining for the chess community.

Last Monday night Hebden Bridge 1 and Hebden Bridge 2 met for the first match of a brand new Calderdale Evening League season. It was great to be back at the board playing competitive chess again. However, the match was not completely free from the impact of the COVID pandemic. For a start, several of the players who had originally been selected to play either came down with the virus or were anxiously awaiting the results of tests to see if they could leave their homes. The Trades Club was unavailable for the match because they had a gig scheduled that night but our back up venue (the Golden Lion in Todmorden) was unable to open as planned due to staff shortages. Indeed, the match between Halifax’s two teams was postponed as their usual venue was also unavailable.

Riding to our rescue came our friends at Belgrave Chess Club who agreed to host our derby match at their venue so that we could proceed as planned. In recent seasons our top two teams have been selected based on the geography of their player bases with those players from the upper Calder Valley and East Lancashire playing in one team based at the Golden Lion and the those based all points west of Hebden Bridge playing at the Trades Club. Generally, the two sides have been fairly evenly matched and they’ve dominated League 1 in recent times.

This season, there is only one division and all four clubs (Hebden Bridge, Halifax, Belgrave and Huddersfield) have fielded two teams in it. With all our home games taking place at the Trades Club we’ve taken the opportunity to split the strength of our pool of players evenly across the two teams. Thus, on Monday the strongest two players available faced each other on board 1 and then the next two strongest on board 2 and so on across the 5 boards with just a small change on the bottom two boards. The idea was to try and create genuine competition between the two sides and, based on the evidence from Monday, it seems to have worked well. The match was tied with competitive and tense games on all five boards.

Both teams fielded a blend of experienced league players, more recent league players with fewer games under their belts and brand new members who’d never played in the Calderdale League before. Right from the start of the evening it was clear that the match was going to be tight. Board 4 was the first game to finish when Andy Leatherbarrow (playing for the first team) took down Cobus Daneel (one of the two new members) with the Black pieces. This was followed shortly after by a draw on board 2 between Andrew Clarkson (playing for the second team) and Martyn Hamer. These two have faced each other many times before and, despite entering a promisingly complicated line of the Sicilian Richter Rauser, they sensibly decide not to risk too much and signed peace terms in a roughly equal position.

Having fallen behind, Hebden 2 then struck back mid-evening when 15-year old Jamie Heritage beat Dave Shapland to level the scores for the second team. Dave had prepared a line of the French Tarrasch Variation as a bit of a surprise but Jamie coped with it superbly and played accurately to maintain some pressure. Dave committed the first major imprecision of the game and followed it immediately with a more serious blunder which led to a terminal loss of material.

The second team then took a 2½ – 1½ lead when Chris Marsden, who had been steadily turning the screw against the second new player in the match, Jeremy Butts, won a piece and then converted his advantage without too much fuss. That result meant Matthew Parsons (playing for the first team) needed to beat Phil Cook with the Black pieces to tie the match up. That he succeeded in doing this only at the very end of the evening should reveal that this game was very tight, very well played and extremely tense. At the end, Matthew won on time but it appeared he had won endgame anyway. Subsequent analysis with an engine revealed that in fact, Phil could have held the balance but only with a very accurate sequence.

So, the match ended tied which is probably a slightly better result for the first team given they were all playing Black. The final match scorecard is below:

Hebden Bridge 1 vs. Hebden Bridge 2
M.Parsons 1 – 0 P.Cook
M.Hamer ½ – ½ A.Clarkson
D.Shapland 0 – 1 J.Heritage
A.Leatherbarrow 1 – 0 C.Daneel
J.Butts 0 – 1 C.Marsden
2½ – 2½

You can view some of the game played on Monday in the game viewer below.


Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains some of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a dropdown menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.