There have been some very one-sided results in Calderdale 1 so far this season. I’d like to begin this post with a rather arresting set of statistics. After three rounds of competition there have been two 5 — 0 score lines; one 4½ — ½ and three 4 — 1’s. This from just ten fixtures. Moreover there have been no 3 — 2 results at all so far, though we have had a single drawn match. At the equivalent stage of last season there had been no fewer than six 3 — 2’s; five 3½ — 1½ ‘s and a drawn match. That’s right, no-one had won by as much as a 4 — 1 score line after three rounds of fixtures.
What could this sudden change of equilibrium signify? I’m sure readers will have their own opinions on this but when I additionally consider that last season League 2 dropped down to a six team format from seven in 2013-14 and that this season Courier have been forced to withdraw a team from the league while Brighouse have played two of their three matches with just four players you can probably see what sort of conclusion I’m drawing myself. The Calderdale Evening Chess League needs more active players if it is not to wither and die over the next few years. When I consider the number of Calderdale resident players who have stopped playing in the League in recent seasons I wonder why it’s happening and what we need to do to get them back again.
But let’s not dwell on my gloomy outlook. We’ve enjoyed three or four phenomenal years of closely fought league action (especially in league 1) so perhaps our expectations have swollen too much. Now let’s get to the action from this week’s encounters and begin with the undoubted success story of the season so far — Todmorden chess club.
Todmorden ‘A’ finally took possession of the league title last season after years of getting very close. They look like they’ll take some stopping again this year as they have stormed to some increasingly impressive score lines. First they beat their ‘B’ team 3 — 1, then they beat their close rivals Halifax ‘A’ 4 — 1 and this week they travelled to Halifax ‘B’ who they drowned in whitewash. They’ve only lost one board and drawn two so far this season. Impressive stuff.
However, let’s also pause to celebrate the heroics of Todmorden ‘B’ who are currently sitting in third place in the league having defeated Hebden Bridge ‘A’ at home in round two before defeating Brighouse away by a whopping ½ — 4½! Even though Brighouse did their best to help out the visitors by defaulting board 5, Tod were out-graded on all the remaining boards but board 3. However, wins by Neil Suttie, Mick Connor and Mike Huett saw them turn in a dominant performance. Next up for Tod ‘B’ is Hudderfield at home. That ought to be a stern test of their form if Huddersfield bring a decent side up the valley.
Now to Hebden Bridge ‘A’s trip to Halifax ‘A’. Having gone down in somewhat tragic fashion against Tod ‘B’ last time out, Hebden were wounded even further by the loss of Pete Leonard and Nick Sykes for this tough encounter. Happily, they were able to welcome the return of Andy Bak on board 1 to bolster the line-up and the other vacancy was covered by Neil Bamford on board 5.
Halifax had a strong line up of Somerset, Ursal, Porter, Velosa and Scurfield and thus they out-graded Hebden on every single board. Bearing this in mind perhaps it was no surprise to see a final match score of 4 — 1 to the home side. However, the score board masks the reality of a tremendously hard fought match that probably represented Hebden’s best effort of the season so far.
Rated nearly 30 points below Sam Scurfield, Neil Bamford was statistically the underdog in his game. In fact he gained a very reasonable position out of the opening on the Black side of an Italian Game and only a subsequent error of judgement early in the middle game, costing him two pawns, spelt the end of the evening for him.
The other four games were extremely hard fought and very tight until late in the evening. On board 1 Andy Bak once again wade into some of the most theoretical and complicated waters of opening theory when he agreed to discuss the monstrously double-edged Botvinnik Semi-Slav with Bill Somerset. The two have passed this way before evidently and Andy was the winner. Readers will have to judge for themselves what on earth was going on in this game because your commentator doesn’t have a clue. Suffice to say that Andy won.
On board 4 Carlos Velosa and Martin Syrett scrapped it out in a typically murky and chaotic game. Martin appeared to be winning at some point. Then suddenly, he was losing. Carlos seemed convinced that he had everything under control all along. Again who knows? Your correspondent was by this stage deeply embroiled in his own encounter.
Hebden’s hopes were finally snuffed out when Richard Porter saw off the determined effort of Andy Leatherbarrow. In this game too the Hebden player seemed to at least equalise from the opening and was even generating some pressure. At some stage though, Andy lost and exchange and slowly but surely Richard stabilised his position cashed in his chips to win the game.
This just left the drama of the Ursal versus Shapland game to play itself out on board 2. Dave took a draw from Darwin using the Semi-Slav himself in the corresponding fixture last season. This time around he decided not to repeat the line again in favour of the offbeat Albin Counter Gambit which is a recent addition to his repertoire. Darwin selected a fairly modest line in response and then allowed a variation in which he exchanged the queens off and held on to his extra pawn but allowed Dave good positional compensation.
The ‘Albin pawn’ on d4 proved to be a thorn in Darwin’s side as he struggled to activate his pieces. Eventually Dave was able to open up the position for his bishop pair and at that point Darwin’s position started to go downhill. As always though Darwin fought tenaciously and clung on. Dave possibly missed a few small improvements in his attack but ultimately allowed his opponent to give back his extra pawn in order to reach a knight and pawns versus bishop and pawns ending. At first it looked like Dave still had an advantage but, practically, it was very hard to make progress. Darwin offered a draw but by this stage it was clear Hebden would need a win to have any chance of even drawing the match. Dave played on but slowly, Darwin improved his position and as the players reached their last few minutes on the clock Darwin finally outplayed Dave and collected a full point.
The final match score sheet looked like this:
Halifax ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
W.Somerset 0 — 1 A.Bak
D.Ursal 1 — 0 D.Shapland
R.Porter 1 — 0 A.Leatherbarrow
C.Velosa 1 — 0 M.Syrett
S.Scurfield 1 — 0 N.Bamford
4 — 1
There are just two games in the viewer today but I think readers will find them both of interest, particularly the chaotic game between Bill Somerset and Andy Bak. My thanks to Andy for taking the time to annotate this and send it in.