A week last Monday the Calderdale Evening Chess League season for 2013-14 got underway. As the league 1 teams fired their opening salvos in what promises to be an intriguing campaign, your editor had his weapons inspectors out on the ground to cast an eye over the enemy arsenals. Today we’ll review action from league 1 and also this week’s league 2 fixtures:
We should start with some bad news. Reigning champions, Hebden Bridge ‘A’, were rocked by the withdrawal of their board 1 player, Matthew Parsons, for the entire season. Matthew has decided to take a break from chess this season and that leaves the ‘A’ team bereft and in no fit state to fight for a third successive title. Unfortunately this change in circumstances has had a catastrophic impact on the ‘B’ team who had just gotten themselves promoted back to league 1. To find that they would have to hand over a top board player to the ‘A’ team for the season was too much to be able to absorb as the club simply doesn’t have enough players to have two competitive teams in league 1. After some soul searching deliberation and with regret the club therefore decided to withdraw the ‘B’ team from the league this season.
It was a hard decision but the right one because, in League 2, the ‘D’ team were also struggling to get a regular five together and so the latest losses were just too much to handle. Now the weakened ‘A’ team will be able to call up the best of the ‘B’ teamers as they need them and the remainder will slot comfortably back into the ‘C’ team on the top boards and in turn the lower board ‘C’ team players can now appear in the ‘D’ team squad. These two sides will play each other in the opening round of the League 2 season on Monday night at the Trades Club.
What all of this meant last week was that the scheduled derby match between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams did not take place and the champions had to take the opportunity to reset their sights for the season. Looking around at the rest of the now 7 team top tier, it quickly became clear that avoiding relegation should be the first objective! The remainder of last season’s title winning side (Pete Leonard, Andy Leatherbarrow, Nick Sykes and Dave Shapland) will have to play out of their skin on the top two boards and match the great results they had on the lower boards last season if they are to score any match points this season. Bearing in mind the number of 3-2 wins they scavenged last time out it would appear that the loss of their top board will be a significant set back.
But, now, more of the first round action from the opening matches in League 1. Here are the results first of all:
Brighouse 2 — 3 Courier ‘A’
Halifax ‘A’ 2½ — 2½ Huddersfield ‘A’
Todmorden ‘A’ 3½ — 1½ Todmorden ‘B’
Let’s start with the last of these fixtures, the Todmorden derby. Todmorden ‘A’ continue to boast a ferocious looking line up. With Martin Hamer, Peter Mulleady and Andrew Clarkson on the top three boards and all rated over 160 they have the fire power at the top end to do significant damage. Over the past two season it has been their lower boards that have thwarted their title hopes. However, they’ve made some changes here as Alastair Wright has arrived in the team as Captain and played on board 4 last week. Rob Tokeley has moved down to board 5 as a result and this line-up, if they can field it for the majority of their fixtures) looks like it will once again make Tod ‘A’ title contenders.
That said their ‘B’ team also looked handy on Monday night. On board 1 Neil Suttie held a very creditable draw against Hamer and Dave Innes also drew with Andrew Clarkson on board 3. The damage was done on boards 2 and 4 where Mulleady beat Connor and Wright beat Webster. Board 5 was also a draw with Mike Huett holding Tokeley. The critical point then was that the ‘A’ team didn’t lose on any of the 5 boards and this victory puts them top of the opening league table. The ‘B’ team will be looking to hold onto their league 1 status and again, if they can get a team of this strength out for the whole season, they stand a decent chance.
The week’s heavy-weight encounter took place at Halifax where the home side demonstrated their towering ambition to win the league by adding some serious firepower to their line up. Winston Williams appeared for them on board 1 and that meant that last season’s deadly duo of Bill Somerset and Darwin Ursal dropped down to play boards 2 and 3 respectively. Both these two players are rated in the 180’s! Halifax now boast the most powerful top order of any league 1 side. The question is, can they deploy this weaponry on a consistent, home and away basis?
Halifax were another team confounded by the weakness of the lower boards last season. They looked a little vulnerable on 4 and 5 again on Monday with Scott Gornall and John Aldridge facing Huddersfield’s Tony Aguirre and Robert Sutcliffe respectively. Scott did splendidly and won his game but John lost to Robert. Rumour (and the list of registered players on the league website!) suggests that Halifax still have more recruits to deploy on the lower boards. If this is true it will certainly make them strong contenders for the crown.
But what of Huddersfield? Robert Sutcliffe is back in the Captains chair this season and he lusts for the title once again having just missed out in the last two seasons. Huddersfield have formidable resources but their perennial problem is getting enough of those resources out in their line up on a consistent basis. They looked much the same as last season in this first match but David Firth took a tremendous win off Bill Somerset which helped them to a very good away draw considering the look of the line-ups on paper. I suspect Robert also has more cards still to play. Leo Keely and Dave Keddie (both rated in the 170’s) are registered as are Chris Booth and Greg Eagleton (160’s) so with their best five players at the board Huddersfield would take some stopping!
So this just leaves us with Brighouse and Courier ‘A’s tie to round off the report. Last season Brighouse just managed to escape relegation on the last day of the season by holding out away to Belgrave who went down in their stead. Brighouse still have two strong top boards in the form of Robert Broadbent and Dennis Breen but their lower order is weaker and they don’t have as strong a squad of reserves to draw upon in times of need. They’ll be contenders for relegation in my view although they are still capable of causing upsets on their day. They ran Courier as close as it is possible to do so last week and they certainly have no lack of fighting spirit.
Courier are another team that have strengthened an already formidable line up to bolster their title hopes. In came Alwoodley’s Tony Slinger last week to play on board 1 and that meant that Robert Clegg, John Morgan and Dave Patrick all dropped down one place in the order from last season. Kevin Winter also made an appearance on board 5 so this team now has genuine strength in depth with the likes of Peter Hughes, Dave Colledge and Guy Thompson all ready to back up any mis-pers from one round to another. Courier will need last week’s five to appear regularly and play consistently if they are to win the league. It could happen.
All in all then there look like there will be two fascinating battles taking place in league 1 this season. At the top, Todmorden ‘A’, Halifax, Huddersfield and Courier ‘A’ seem set to fight for Hebden’s title while at the bottom Tod ‘B’, Brighouse and Hebden themselves will be scrapping for every last point they can get their hands on to avoid that single relegation slot. It should be another epic. I’m going to stick my neck out and say now that I think my money is on Halifax for the title.
The bad news for Hebden Bridge in league 1 translates into good news in league 2 because the ‘C’ team is strengthened as a result of the ‘B’ team’s withdrawal and it will be able to call on players from the ‘A’ team’s lower reaches in case of emergency. That shouldn’t be necessary though as the club has plenty of players to furnish league 2 sides. On Monday night the Hebden Bridge ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams met for their first derby match of the season and, predictably, the ‘C’ team ran out comfortable winners. Here’s the match card:
Hebden Bridge ‘C’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘D’
M.Syrett 1 — 0 D.Crampton
K.Kerrane 1 — 0 P.Dearden
S.Priest 1 — 0 H.Leatherbarrow
T.Sullivan 1 — 0 S.Leatherbarrow
J.Todd 1 — 0 D.Leggett
5 — 0
The ‘C’ team look like they have enough strength in their side to challenge for promotion. In addition to the line up above they have ‘C’ team regulars Neil Bamford and Ray Deravairere who can come into the side and also the opportunity to put Dave Sugden or Josh Blinkhorn into the line up. These two players are likely to get some games for the ‘A’ team as well with Matthew Parsons now being absent.
Danny Crampton continues to blood the clubs juniors in the evening chess league and it’s good to see that Spike and Hephzi Leatherbarrow and Dylan Leggett are enthusiastic to play for him. It’s hard to see how the ‘D’ team will do anything other than prop up the table (although Todmorden’s ‘D’ team will be realistic targets for them to take aim at) but high performance in the league is not an objective for our ‘development’ side.
Looking elsewhere for the ‘C’ team’s main rivals the obvious place to start was the Belgrave Social club in Halifax where Courier ‘B’ were hosting Belgrave with whom they share a venue. Belgrave were unfortunate to get relegated last season and, with the same set of players available to get them back up again they shouldn’t have any issues regaining their top-flight status at the end of the season. Courier’s Peter Hughes managed to draw with Belgrave’s Gordon Farrar on board 1, but aside from that the home team were swept aside. Courier might have enough about them to challenge for the second promotion spot but if they don’t get a full team out for every fixture (they defaulted board 5 on Monday) then they don’t have any chance of achieving that.
There were two other derby fixtures taking place on Monday. Halifax ‘B’ will benefit from the additional strength drafted into their ‘A’ team in league 1 and that makes them genuine contenders for promotion this season. However, they made heavy weather of it against the seasoned campaigners in their ‘C’ team. On board 1 Scott Gornall scored his second win of the new season by beating Barry Wadswroth but John Aldridge and Adrian Dawson both lost to their lower rated opponents leaving it to Ray Cully and Howard Wood on boards 4 and 5 to bail the ‘B’s out of trouble as they scraped a 3 — 2 win. Despite this narrow margin of victory Halifax should be there or there abouts when it comes to promotion places at the end of the season.
Todmorden ‘C’ made no mistakes at home against their ‘D’ team. Their captain, Dave Milton enjoyed a night off when the ‘D’ team defaulted their bottom board and the rest of the side all won to complete a white wash that puts them top alongside Hebden ‘C’.
It looks to me like the promotion places in league 2 will be shared between Belgrave, Halifax ‘B’, Todmorden ‘C’ and Hebden ‘C’. The key factor in deciding who goes up will be “who wants it the most”. That may sound obvious but all of these teams will be able to call on a decent pool of players for back up and if the captains are tempted to “rotate” their squads to give all their squad members games then that is likely to effect their chances adversely. I expect Belgrave to go up as champions with one of the other three joining them. I’d love to see Hebden make it but my head thinks it will be Todmorden.
Next week we shold have some games to look at as Hebden Bridge ‘A’ travel to Brighouse for a match that already looks like it’s a must win for both teams if they want to avoid getting caught up in the relegation scrap.