It all started again last Monday. Yes, the Calderdale Evening chess league is back as League 1 got underway last week and League 2 this. For those of you who weren’t with us last season, (or have very short memories) Todmorden ‘A’ won the League 1 title from the previous year’s winners, Halifax ‘A’. These two teams look like strong contenders again this year along with perennial challengers Huddersfield and Hebden Bridge ‘A’.
In the closed season it was sad to hear about the demise of Courier ‘A’ who simply didn’t have enough players to field a team this season without decimating their league 2 ‘B’ team. The club made a decision to keep their League 2 side and the remaining Courier ‘A’ players are now representing other sides in the League.
Additionally, Hebden Bridge ‘B’ decided over the summer to decline promotion from league 2. Again this was on the grounds that they simply couldn’t sustain two League 1 sides. These two events meant that Belgrave got a reprieve on last season’s League 1 relegation and ‘stay up’. It also meant that Todmmorden ‘B’ stayed in the top flight as their ‘C’ team finished third in League 2 behind Hebden Bridge and champions Halifax ‘B’, who also got promoted.
First to last week’s League matches. It being the first fixtures of the season those clubs with two teams in division 1 got to play their local derbies with Todmorden ‘A’ hosting their ‘B’ team and Halifax ‘A’ doing the same with their second string side.
Let’s start with the champions then. Todmorden ‘A’ put out a strong line up against their ‘B’s although, for whatever reason, both sides only fielded four players. That said, the four players the ‘A’ team put out look like they would be powerful enough to default a board in every match this season and still be competitive. Messrs Hamer, Cook, Clarkson and new recruit from Courier, Dave Patrick comprise a formidable line up. One wonders who will play on board five! Todmorden ‘B’ put out a decent side too but they were no match for their counterparts as all got beaten excepting Mike Huett on board 2 who drew with Phil Cook.
Halifax ‘A’ showed that they too will need to be taken very seriously as they fielded a full five players against Halifax ‘B’. The only real change from their line up of the previous year was that Winston Williams was not present. However, five other regulars from last season were available and Bill Somerset, Darwin Ursal, Richard Porter and Sam Scurfield all won their games. Halifax ‘B’ got an excellent consolation point on board 4 though where Vivian Webster beat ‘A’ team captain Carlos Velosa.
Huddersfield have become the nearly men of recent years and have now gone four years without a title win despite always being in the mix at some stage in the season. They will certainly be in contention again this year if they continue to field a side as strong as they one they put out at Brighouse on Monday night. Wins for their new captain, Matthew Parsons, Nigel Hepworth and Robert Sutcliffe and a draw on board 1 between Mitchell Burke and Dennis Breen gave the visitors a comfortable win although Brighouse struck back on board 3 where Peter Hepworth lost to Nick Hudson.
That just leaves us to report on Hebden Bridge ‘A’s opening clash at home to Belgrave. Last season the Halifax club beat Hebden at home despite being out-rated and that loss cost Hebden dearly during the title run in. However, the home fixture was a comfortable win for Hebden Bridge in the second half of the season and they hoped that would be the case again as their players looked to shake off any rust that may have accumulated over the summer break.
On paper the tie looked quite well matched. On board 1 Hebden’s Andy Bak met Ian Hunter, both players are rated in the 170-180 bracket. On board’s 2 and 3 Hebden held rating advantages of 10-15 points as Nick Sykes and Dave Shapland both out rated their opponents, Karim Khan and Gordon Farrar respectively. But on boards 4 and 5 the gap narrowed again. Andy Leatherbarrow faced Angel Gonzalez on 4 and Martin Syrett met Les Johnson on 5.
The night began well for the hosts as all the home players gained comfortable positions from the opening and in one or two games, even more. Andy Leatherbarrow won two pawns for the exchange in his game while Nick Sykes benefitted from a berserk attack by Karim who thought he was giving up a piece for two pawns but overlooked an intermezzo that meant it was two pieces for two pawns!
On board 3 Dave also accumulated a solid advantage against Gordon as he chose to meet Black’s peculiar Philidor set up in a slightly more circumspect manner than he had done in their corresponding match-up last season. By maintaining the tension and provoking structural weaknesses Dave was able to grab two pawns for the exchange himself although he lost some of his advantage and one of his pawns pretty quickly when he re-captured a Black piece inaccurately.
On board 1 Andy and Ian were engaged in an interesting discussion of the Kalashnikov variation of the Sicilian Defence. This was pretty complicated and not easy to judge but the play was at least balanced with prospects for both sides.
Meanwhile on board 5 the players embarked on what would become a roller-coaster game where the advantage was held by both players at various different stages. This game was also a Sicilian Defence with Martin opting for a Classical set up against Les’ Schevenigan set up. That however was where the game started to take a dramatic turn. Martin seemed to gain a solid advantage before losing it and winding up in a poor position. However he rallied and seemed to have equalised again when Les then forced home a pawn promotion which compelled Martin to give up his queen for a rook. This game now looked over but it was the last game of the night to finish and there were still some twists and turns for the players and kibitzers alike to endure.
By the time Andy had polished off his smooth victory against Angel and his namesake on board 1 had suddenly forced a win against Ian Dave’s game had also taken a turn for the worse. Trying to play accurately and keep Gordon’s counter play under complete control Dave had gotten into a little bit of time trouble and his opponent was able to force a mini-crisis in the few moves before time control. Dave made a mistake and suddenly found himself a whole rook down though he still had some counter play in the form of a passed pawn on f7 and the constricted position of his opponent’s king on h8.
Hebden took the match and went 3-0 up when, after having to solve a few tricky ideas from Karim, Nick took full advantage of his extra material to force a win. Now the only question that remained was whether Dave and Martin could somehow salvage draws from their desperate situations.
With his extra rook in hand Gordon needed to consolidate and swap off more material in order to simplify the game and take the full point. This he did very effectively after the time control had been reached but he hadn’t yet removed the f-pawn from his position and whilst that remained Dave had some hope. Finally, Gordon got his passed queen’s-side pawns rolling but he’d overlooked a couple of very tricky resources and suddenly found himself facing a devilishly difficult position when Dave offered a further sacrifice of a knight.
Not accepting would have led to the h-file opening, possibly fatally, and so Gordon accepted the gift. However, this set up a different idea on the e-file that also threatened mate. There was a hard-to-spot refutation of Dave’s swindle attempt. Gordon missed it and even walked into a back rank trap that forced immediate resignation.
If that turn of events was surprising it was nothing compared to the drama that was about to unfold on board 5. Martin had a rook bishop and pawns against Les’ queen, knight and pawns. It should have been prosaic for Black but now both players had less than 5 minutes left to finish the game with and, even with all the extra material it wasn’t clear how he could make progress. Seeing that the clock was becoming a factor Martin offered a ‘cheeky’ draw, which Les rightly declined. The problem was of course that he was then psychologically obliged to play for a win no matter what happened.
As the clock ticked down Les and with his king and knight completely tied down by Martin’s remaining pieces, Les decided to give back his queen for Martin’s rook and play the minor piece ending with an extra pawn. Even with 30 minutes left on the clock it would have been a challenging endgame to win but with barely a few minutes it was nigh-on impossible. As he tried to make progress and play at high speed Les first lost his extra pawn and then, tragically, even blundered his knight away whereupon he handed a gift-wrapped whitewash to the hosts.
So Hebden Bridge took an ill-deserved game board points from their first match and sit somewhat embarssed at the top of the table after round 1. Here’s the final match scorecard:
Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs Belgrave
A.Bak 1 — 0 I.Hunter
N.Sykes 1 — 0 K.Khan
D.Shapland 1 — 0 G.Farrar
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 A.Gonzalez
M.Syrett 1 — 0 L.Johnson
5 — 0
Four of the games from this match appear in the viewer below (my thanks to Andy Bak and Nick Sykes for annotating theirs) along with Matthew Parsons win from the Brighouse vs. Huddersfield match.
In round 2 on October 5 Hebden will travel to Todmorden ‘B’ in a match that promises to be a tough one. Tod put up spirited resistance in this match up last season. On that night the Hebden players will also be able to eavesdrop on the first of the match ups between the big beasts this season as Todmorden ‘A’ host Halifax ‘A’. Belgrave host Brighouse in a match that might already be crucial in the relegation battle whilst Huddersfield host Halifax ‘B’.
On Monday this week League 2 kicked off with Hebden Bridge ‘B’ hosting Hebden Bridge ‘C’, a new ‘development’ team of juniors and new members to the club captained by John Kerrane who is tireless in his efforts to introduce new players to competitive chess. The result, a whitewash to the ‘B’ team may have been fairly predictable but the manner of it is of more importance when relatively fresh players are involved. Here is John’s review of proceedings:
In fact, the youngsters of the ‘C’ team gave a good account of themselves, but the greater experience of the more senior side was the telling factor. Of the games featuring juniors, the last to finish was on board 3, where Owen Buchan held his own into the closing stages of his game against the ‘B’ team’s Neil Bamford, until he fell into a tactical trap, and lost a piece. In the end, the scoreline was a fair reflection of the difference between the two teams.
The individual results were:
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
M. Syrett 1 – 0 J. Kerrane
T. Sullivan 1 – 0 H. Hutchinson
N. Bamford 1 – 0 O. Buchan
A. Brown 1 – 0 L. Curry
D. Crampton 1 – 0 T. Dodd
5 – 0