All of last year’s team Captains will be giving their end of year reports at this week’s club AGM so it seems a fitting moment to begin our end of year retrospective. In today’s article, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ Captain, Dave Shapland kick’s off a series of posts reviewing the 2011-12 season.
This year Calderdale League 1 served up the most enthralling title race for years (possibly ever) as the battle between the top teams in the valley ebbed and flowed from one week to the next and culminated in the tightest possible photo finish. Today I’m going to review the season and try to identify the critical moments where the battle for the title was won and lost. There were so many. First though, let me briefly remind you how our club’s two League 1 teams stood at the outset of the season…
It’s always been a firm belief of mine that the ‘A’ team represents Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s ambitions to win silverware and that therefore the objective for the team is the league title. The ‘A’ team finished second to arch rivals Huddersfield in the 2010-11 championship. This represented a good result in my view as I prepared to take the reigns from Alastair Wright as team Captain. Unfortunately, extensive personnel changes over the summer break meant that it wasn’t at all clear how well we’d challenge in this year’s competition. Out went seasoned board 1 veteran Dave Wedge and his son Matthew who had played brilliantly on board 5 in the last campaign. Out too went the captain, Alastair Wright, who sloped off to play for Todmorden ‘A’. In their place I returned as Captain (having spent the previous season in the ‘B’ team) and new arrivals Pete Leonard and Darwin Ursal also slotted in. On paper the side looked even stronger than the 2010-11 team but then, so many other teams had strengthened their line ups too. No-one really knew what to expect.
My old chums in Hebden Bridge ‘B’ appeared to be in decent health too although, as always, their ambition was simply to remain in the division at the end of the season. We’d just survived at the expense of Halifax in 2010-11. Could Martin Syrett guide them to safety once again? With Andy Leatherbarrow, Pete Olley, Martin himself, Dave Sugden and Josh Blinkhorn as the first draft selection it seemed to me that they would stand a good chance. These first 5 were all graded within a few points of each other. In reserve they had John Kerrane, Terry Sullivan, Steven Priest and Neil Bamford. Surely there was enough talent here to give them a good chance of staying up?
Rather than go through the season round by round in great detail (which would make for a very long article) I’ve tried to identify the critical moments in the season for both our League 1 sides. I have added hyperlinks into each round’s summary though so if you want to re-live the action by reading the report (or look at the games) from that round you can do it easily.
Round 1: Half full or half empty?
Todmorden ‘A’ 2½ – 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 1 — 4 Courier ‘A’
Top of the League: Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ with 2 points.
Away to serious title contenders Tod, Hebden lead with one board left to finish but Nick Sykes loses to Derek Innes and the match is drawn. The ‘B’ team appear to have a good chance on paper at home to Courier but the lower boards all capitulate to leave them bottom after round 1.
Round 2: Special Delivery from Courier
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 4½ – ½ Huddersfield ‘B’
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 1 — 4 Todmorden ‘A’
Top of the League: Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ with 4 points
Round 3: Brave ‘B’s hold their own
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 2½ – 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ with 6 points
A brilliant fighting performance by the ‘B’ team who led the match with one board to finish before Nick Sykes defeated Steven Priest to secure a nervous draw for the ‘A’s. This felt like a point lost for us at the time and it could have been critical to the final league outcome for both sides.
Round 4: Hebden and Huddersfield serve up another epic duel
Huddersfield ‘A’ 2½ – 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Hudderfield ‘B’ 2½ – 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ with 7 points
In a savage scrap at Huddersfield the ‘A’ team’s match again hangs on the outcome of the last board to finish. Darwin Ursal clings on despite being a pawn down to draw against Mitchell Burke on board 1 and the match is tied.
Meanwhile blunders on boards 3 and 5 cost the ‘B’ team a precious victory against a side they would ordinarily have expected to beat.
Round 5: Remorseless ‘A’s Grind On
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 3 — 2 Belgrave
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 2 — 3 Huddersfield ‘A’
Top of the League: Courier ‘A’ with 9 points
Yet again the last board to finish is decisive and Hebden ‘A’ survive another very close call. Again the match is level with one game to be decided but this time Pete Leonard appears to be simply lost against Mike Barnett before a blunder by the Belgrave board 3 hands a crucial victory to the home side.
Round 6: Hebden Survive Brighouse Bloodbath
Brighouse 2 — 3 Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Belgrave 4 — 1 Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Courier, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden with 9 points
Frantic, agonising moments for a weakened ‘A’ team as they lose on boards 2 and 5 early in the evening. Wins by Leonard and Sykes set up yet another decisive last board finish and Darwin Ursal secures the win with a brilliant victory over Robert Broadbent. Phew!
The ‘B’ team travel to the bottom side, Belgrave, knowing that they have a chance to haul themselves clear of the relegation zone but they have an unmitigated disaster losing all but Josh Blinkhorn’s board 3 in short order.
Round 7: Two Horse Race? Not Likely!
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 3 — 2 Courier ‘A’
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 2 — 3 Brighouse
Top of the League: Todmorden and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 11 points
Finally, here was a match for the ‘A’s that was wrapped up before the final board is completed as they eased to victory over the league leaders and go clear at the top with Todmorden for the first time.
The ‘B’ team miss a golden opportunity against Brighouse as they default two boards but score 2 points from the other 3, as the club struggles to field 20 players across both divisions on the same night.
Round 8: Hebden Hit the Front
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 4 — 1 Todmorden ‘A’
Courier ‘A’ 2½ — 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 13 points
The return match against title rivals Todmorden was the highlight of Hebden ‘A’s season. Drafting in additional strength and exploiting a slight weakening in Tod’s line up the ‘A’s crushed the enemy with a series of emphatic victories to sweep to the top of the table on their own.
The ‘B’ team raised hopes that they might yet be able to escape relegation by drawing away to Courier in a result that did great damage to the home side’s title hopes as well.
Round 9: Captain Syrett and Crew Cut Adrift
Huddersfield ‘A’ ½ — 4½ Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Todmorden ‘A’ 4 — 1 Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 15 points
Round 10: Shapland’s Men Show Rivals a Clean Pair of Heels
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 1 — 4 Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 17 points
A fourth consecutive comfortable victory rounds off a purple patch for Hebden ‘A’ who pull four points clear at the top when Todmorden slump to a second defeat in three matches at Huddersfield ‘A’. This result sadly left the ‘B’ team with virtually no chance of escaping the drop as the ‘A’s extracted brutal revenge for the earlier drawn match between these two.
Round 11: Invincible Spirit of the Sole Survivors
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 2½ — 2½ Huddersfield ‘A’
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 4½ — ½ Huddersfield ‘B’
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 18 points
Yet another gripping encounter with the Huddersfield nemesis. Can anyone remember the last time Hebden ‘A’ beat Huddersfield ‘A’? Huddersfield led by a point with one board to play but Darwin Ursal once again converted a positional advantage with apparent ease. This time Dave Keddie was the victim and the escapologists had done it again.
Round 12: Look Behind You
Belgrave 3 — 2 Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Huddersfield ‘A’ 4½ — ½ Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 18 points
It had to happen eventually. Hebden ‘A’s run of near misses came to an end as they lost their first match of the season and their momentum in the title race at Belgrave. Again they were a point down with one game to finish and this time Nick Sykes was trying to save their bacon. He had winning chances against Les Johnson but couldn’t graft anything more than draw in time trouble.
At Huddersfield, Hebden ‘B’ got squashed and saw their relegation to division 2 confirmed.
Round 13: Nine Lives Required to Win This Year’s Title
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ 3½ — 1½ Brighouse
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ 2 — 3 Belgrave
Top of the League: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 20 points
This score line at home to Brighouse flattered Hebden ‘A’ who swindled a point on board 5 and another half point on board 3 from two completely lost positions. The match could easily have been lost and with it, the title. However, Nick Sykes and Darwin Ursal helped save their bacon once again as they both scored wins.
Round 14: Close, Closer, Closest!
Courier ‘A’ 2½ — 2½ Hebden Bridge ‘A’
Brighouse 3 — 2 Hebden Bridge ‘B’
Champions: Hebden Bridge ‘A’ with 21 points (44 game points)
When the final reckoning came the ‘A’ team were once again forced to sweat as they only managed a draw against Courier ‘A’. Yet again they trailed with one game to finish and yet again Darwin Ursal saved them by squeezing out a win from nothing, against John Morgan, with Black! This result meant they had to wait and see if Todmorden ‘A’ could inflict a 5 — 0 whitewash on Huddersfield away. They almost did it but in the end it was 4 — 1.
The ‘B’ team were the nearly men of the league this year having lost no fewer than four matches by a score of 3 — 2. They also drew three matches. More than ever this season small margins marked the boundary between success and failure. The ‘B’ team will be favourites for promotion next season. Let’s home we can welcome them back to the top flight very soon.
What can I say about this title winning team of whom I was proud to have been Captain for the season? Well, I think that the characteristic that was most prevalent and important in helping us to win the title was our ability to perform well under the most severe pressure. All in all we played eight out of fourteen matches in which the last board to finish was critical to the result. In seven of those we were either level pegging at 2 — 2 or we were behind. Our score in those 8 games was won 5, drew 1, lost 2. We were at our most dangerous when our backs were against the wall and that resilience proved decisive.
I’ll be looking at individual player performances in a future post which will include best games from the season for every participant.