After our last post on the subject (‘Rats in a barrel’) readers will not be surprised to hear that it was all change yet again at the top of Calderdale League 1 when the teams reconvened on the 4th of February. Todmorden ‘A’ were leading the title race by a single point but they went down at Brighouse with a marginally weakened line up. Captain Alistair Wright was without top board Martin Hamer who was over in Gibraltar participating in the chess festival. Tod have struggled in previous years when Hamer has been gone and unfortunately for them they did so again. The damage was done in the middle order where Dennis Breen, Nick Hudson and Paul Whitehouse defeated Andrew Clarkson, Alistair Wright and Rob Tokeley respectively. Wins on the top and bottom boards for Pete Mulleady and David Innes at least ensured that Todmorden kept their board count ticking over. This looks increasingly like it will be a deciding factor when the final reckoning comes.
Of course this defeat opened the door once more for Huddersfield who had fallen at home to Courier in the last round and now faced a potentially tricky challenge away to Todmorden ‘B’ who have caused problems for several of the top teams. Not on this occasion however as Huddersfield cruised to a 1 — 4 victory that took them back to the top. Dave Tooley was the only away team player to go down as his scalp was collected by Rob Collier.
Todmorden ‘A’s demise also provided an opportunity for Halifax ‘A’, Courier ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ to gain ground. Halifax took full advantage by thrashing Hebden ‘B’ 0 — 5. John Kerrane reports briefly on this match:
“Out-graded by more than fourty points on all boards, the home players were under pressure from the start. Despite spirited resistance, they gradually succumbed to their powerful opponents, until, when Josh Blinkhorn resigned on board 1 after a lively but unsuccessful attack against Winston Williams, the predictable 5 — 0 scoreline emerged in favour of the visitors.”
Individual results were:
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Halifax ‘A’
J.Blinkhorn 0 — 1 W.Williams
M.Syrett 0 — 1 B.Somerset
J.Kerrane 0 — 1 D.Ursal
N.Bamford 0 — 1 S.Scurfield
K.Dickinson 0 — 1 A.Dawson
0 — 5
Halifax appeared to be out of contention in the title race after losing in round 8 at Huddersfield but now they have recovered and lie just 2 points behind the leaders. They still have some tough matches to play but at the moment they have the best board count in the league and in Darwin ‘Draw-Win’ Ursal they have the leagues most destructive weapon. He’s scored an amazing 9½/10, mostly against players rated a lot lower than himself on board 3 but he has also appeared effectively on top board a couple of times.
The last match in round 10 promised to be the tightest as champions Hebden Bridge ‘A’ travelled to Courier ‘A’ for another critical encounter. The visitors knew it would be a very stiff test for they had already been defeated by the Courier outfit at the Trades Club earlier in the season. When they arrived they found that Courier had been forced to change their line-up due to John Morgan’s illness and Kevin Winter’s unavailability. Sadly, that did not lead to the kind of weakening in the home team’s line-up that the visitors might have hoped for as in came Phil Watson on board 1 (Hebden have been unlucky to have to face Phil on the only two occasions Courier have deployed him this season!) and Dave Colledge on board 5.
Admittedly, Dave Colledge is not quite as strong as Kevin Winter on the bottom board and so it was immediately clear that Hebden would have to do serious damage on the lower boards if they were to collect an unlikely victory against a side that out-graded them on every board but the bottom one. It’s become a bit of a trend for Hebden to start the night well and then run out of steam and once again this familiar pattern was played out through the course of the evening.
Captain Nick Sykes has found the going to be challenging recently and so he sensibly decided to demote himself from board 3 to board 5 for this match if only for a bit of respite from the pressure he’s putting on himself to do well further up the order. His choice looked to be a master stroke after a couple of hours of play as he smoothly defeated Dave Colledge with the King’s Indian Defence. Meanwhile the rest of the team also seemed to be doing well. On board 1, Matthew Parsons was also using the King’s Indian against Phil and he had launched a formidable attack on the White king and managed to land a knight on the g3 square. An upset looked quite possible on the top board. On board 2 Pete Leonard was also holding his own against Tony Slinger, Andy Leatherbarrow seemed comfortable on board 3 against Dave Patrick and on board 4 Dave Shapland had pounced on some early positional errors by Robert Clegg to hold a comfortable if marginal advantage.
Unfortunately the good form didn’t quite last, and having jinxed the team on this very website in that aforementioned post by quoting the statistic that the champions hadn’t lost away since March 2012, they inevitably lost the match! It was Phil Watson who turned the tide as he defended calmly in the face of Matthew’s onslaught and, when the dust of battle had settled, Matthew was a piece down in the endgame. There was no coming back from that. The match was level.
The last three games went on and on to the very end of the night. On board 4 Dave was never in any real danger of losing and had managed to hold his positional advantage right into a single rook and pawns ending. However, having played a little aimlessly in the opening, Robert now seemed to “wake up” and knuckled down resolutely to his defensive task. Probably Dave missed some opportunities to press for the win and, with the two remaining boards still unclear it was hard to know what result to aim for. Going all out for a win might have been a mistake and so in the end Dave didn’t take too many risks and Robert avoided a couple of traps to secure a draw in the end.
The match hinged on the next game to finish on board three. Dave Patrick had applied pressure persistently and Andy had resisted determinedly but at the expense of time spent cogitating. They got passed the time control and into an endgame were Andy seemed to have the advantage but was being forced into playing more and more quickly. Tragically, as his advantage crystallised into a winning one he ran out of time and forfeited the game, Courier were ahead.
The board 2 struggle had been a fascinating one. Tony Slinger had deployed Anti-Grunfeld system with 3.f3. This might have thrown Pete Leonard off course somewhat had it not been for the fact that he’d faced the same line against Dave Shapland last summer in the Bridestones Holme Brew Chess Challenge. Subsequently he’d gone away and taken a look again at the line and was able to reply with the even more offbeat idea of 4…Nh5. After that the game spiralled off into complications. The queens came off early but the piece-based play remained highly complex and the pawn structures on both sides somewhat chaotic. That said, neither player ever really looked like winning, so ultimately a draw was the just result. This gave Courier a valuable victory and catapults them into joint second on match points just behind Todmorden on board count. They still have to host Todmorden and also visit Halifax before the season ends but their back to back wins over Huddersfield and Hebden have put them right in the hunt.
Individual results from this match were:
Courier ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
P.Watson 1 — 0 M.Parsons
T.Slinger ½ — ½ P.Leonard
D.Patrick 1 — 0 A.Leatherbarrow
R.Clegg ½ — ½ D.Shapland
D.Collegde 0 — 1 N.Sykes
3 — 2
Here are some of the games from the fixtures in this report.