Aug 042012

Today I’ll be drawing our end of season review to a close by posting individual player statistics for last season. I’ll begin in this post by looking at the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams’ most utilised players and will publish a post covering the ‘C’ and ‘D’ teams next week.

First of all, a few notes on the player statistics below. I have only examined league games played by the individuals in question. Yorkshire League matches, matches in other leagues, congresses and the Calderdale Individual Championships have not been included because the aim of the exercise is to show how a player has performed for the club over the last 12 months. An indication as to the player’s year round performance can be gleaned from the change in their end of season rating from last year to this which I have included. I’ve also included a file of ‘best games’ for each of the players below and some of these do include stand out examples from the Calderdale Individual Championships.

Matthew’s performance for his team this season was absolutely outstanding. In nine games he was unbeaten and he won two thirds of those contests. He spent the entire season battling it out with the toughest opposition in the league and he performed superbly. As always his opening repertoire was the foundation for his success because he is so difficult to catch off guard in this phase of the game. His favoured opening systems (the London System with White and the Sniper with Black) are also pretty much impossible to avoid and so his preparation always finds an expression over the board. What all this means is that he is virtually never playing at a disadvantage in the middle game and that is where his he usually finds a way to out play his opponents.

For his best game I’ve selected his critical last round win with Black against Courier’s Dave Patrick. It’s a typical example of how he utilises the flexibility of the Sniper System to great effect. Matt has a wonderful feel for this opening and he scored very heavily with it last year (four wins and one draw). Matthew will be a critical factor in Hebden Bridge ‘A’s attempt to hang on to the league title in the forth coming season.

It’s hard to come up with anything new to say about “Draw Win” because it feels like it’s all been said before. Last season he was simply unstoppable. He was unbeaten in both the League and in the Individual Competitions (hence the nickname) and his percentages outstripped even Matthews. As well as bagging the League title with Hebden he also won the Calderdale Individual Championship and the Individual Knockout competition.

Perhaps the most important aspect of his game from the perspective of the team was his ability to conjure up results when positions seemed sterile and/or when our backs were against the wall.  Despite getting into difficulties out of the opening on several occasions he always managed to wriggle out of trouble in the middle game and often upgraded level positions to victories simply by putting his opponents under acute pressure.

There were many candidates for best game but the one that left the most indelible mark for me was his win with Black against Robert Broadbent of Brighouse. Darwin was the last board to finish, the match was tied, he was short of time and the position was complex. Never the less he always seemed to be in total control of the situation and got the result the team needed. This contribution was repeated again and again over the course of the season. Darwin’s return to Halifax for next season is their gain and Hebden’s loss.

Not a vintage year from a personal perspective. A percentage score of less than 50% was the lowest in the team but Dave was an ever present in the side and took his satisfaction from selecting and organising the Championship winning side as Captain. In the previous season Dave was unbeaten with the Black pieces despite playing some very challenging opponents on board 1 and 2 with the ‘B’ team. This season his Black score was much less impressive and although his repertoire held up well in the opening he made too many errors in the middle game. Perhaps this was a lack of concentration on his own games as he kept an eye on his team mates or perhaps it was a desire to push too hard for the full point when a draw would have been satisfactory. Whatever the reason, Dave will hope to make a better contribution over the board next season and with Darwin moving on, he’ll need to!

I’ve selected a game from the Calderdale Individual Championship for his game of the season which perhaps says all it needs to about his league form.

It’s never easy to return to competitive chess after a prolonged lay off but last year Pete did just that as he began playing for Hebden Bridge ‘C’ and scored heavily. This season was always going to be a much tougher challenge and he generally acquitted himself very well and demonstrated that he is now operating at the right level for his abilities. For any returning player the opening phase of the game is usually the hardest to reinvigorate as assessments of favourite opening systems may have changed during one’s absence. It appeared to me that this was sometimes the case for Pete as usually when he got into difficulties it was as a result of an opening inaccuracy of a technical nature rather than a dreadful tactical blunder.

Pete would be the first to admit that he is a ‘grinder’ and likes to stay in control of his games of chess. His best efforts then are generally positional in nature. I’ve therefore selected a game that I would imagine would be his own favourite which was his round three victory in the Calderdale Individual Championship against the incumbent champion John Morgan. Pete went on to score an excellent 4 out of 5 in the competition and finished second behind Darwin.

All in all a good year for Pete that he’ll look to build on further next season.

Playing the lower boards in a side that is challenging for the title can be a thankless task. Often you will find yourself playing lower rated players than yourself and will be expected to extract the full point more often than not. This duty requires will power, determination and the ability to forget quickly about any occasional mishaps and bounce back immediately. Nick ‘Syko’ Sykes demonstrated all these worthy attributes in spades this season. With only two defeats from thirteen and an undefeated record at home he was critical to the team’s success. His games are often long slogs and I was particularly impressed with his record of closing out games with wins or draws when he was the last to finish and we needed a result

I’ve picked one such example of his determination for his best game in the viewer below. He had been disappointed to only draw when in time trouble in our previous match and when his game with Paul Whitehouse looked to all the kibitzers like it was headed for a draw he simply didn’t agree with the assessment and saw victory home in a highly technical end game. It may not be the most interesting game he played this year but it perfectly sums up his contribution. We’ll need more of the same next season.

When it appeared that Matthew Parsons might have to miss much or all of the season due to work commitments our search for an interim board one took us to Matty’s door. Although in the end he only turned out twice he did exactly what was required of him and his win over Peter Mulleady in our home match against Todmorden ‘A’ was a critical to securing a signal victory. This game features in the viewer below and I was hugely impressed with the way he controlled the game out of the opening and into the middle game as he maintained a modest advantage which he converted by never letting his opponent off the hook. We hope he’ll be available more frequently next season.

Now lets take a look at the ‘B’ team.

Poor old Andy was in the hot seat this season. Top board for a ‘B’ team playing in Division 1 is the toughest assignment of them all. He was out graded in pretty much every match he played in. I know from personal experience that you can play your best chess every week and still end up losing a lot. Andy seemed to revel in the challenge and was at his obstinate best all year round. A 46% return for a player graded 140 at the start of last season was a great achievement and he actually managed 50% with the Black pieces. I should mention that he represented the ‘A’ team on board five once last year and won that game which is included in the stats given here.

Andy has developed a winning habit against Courier’s top board, John Morgan. He beat him last season and he beat him with the Black pieces this season in the game given at the end of this article

The ‘B’ team Captain can always be relied upon to maintain a cheerful continence regardless of his side’s situation. For the last few years he has been leading a team struggling against relegation but he never complains and always does his best to help his team perform. This season, sadly, he lost the service of too many players to be able to mount the kind of challenge he would have liked. The ‘B’s lost quite a few matches by the odd point and drew a few more they could have won. Such is the way of things when your luck is out.

From a personal perspective Martin was forced to occupy a higher board than he would usually operate as a result of the absences and his percentage score reflects his struggles. By nature he tends to play aggressively and sharply and that tends to lead to a positive result one way or another and against higher rated opposition that uncompromising approach can lead to danger. However, Martin did pick up some highly creditable draws with much stronger players than himself. The game I’ve chosen for Martin is a typically combative effort dealt out to Huddersfield’s Stuart Oliver when the ‘B’ team hosted Huddersfield ‘B’.

Dave Sugden

Dave stepped up from representing the ‘C’ team on board one in the second division last season and, although he was clearly capable of operating confidently in division one, he seemed to find it challenging at times this season. Certainly he wasn’t helped by being drafted in to the high pressure environment of the ‘A’ team for four games early in the season and had to recover from a tricky run of form at about this time. In the end he did recover and re-find his confidence later in the season and his results for the ‘B’ team, 3 out of 6, was a very creditable return.

Dave’s opening repertoire his highly combustible and, although I’ve selected a drawn game for these pages don’t let that trick you into thinking that the game is uninteresting. This was a very exciting and complicated draw with a player rated considerably higher than himself.

I sometimes marvel that John is able to find time to play league chess because he organises the junior club, Captain’s the ‘C’ team and pretty much looks after all the administrative functions of the club. This season he was called upon to play rather more games than I suspect he would have liked. This was purely down to the dwindling numbers of ‘B’ team players which forced Martin Syrett to draft in John and Neil Bamford on a frequent basis.

The statistics above therefore represent John’s performance for both the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams. His 50% score does him credit and he almost managed to Captain the ‘C’ team to promotion, pipped as they were at the post by a Halifax team that had reinforced itself drastically in the second half of the season.

In my view John’s best game of the season was his nice win against Dave Milton in a battle between the team Captains from when Hebden ‘C’ hosted Todmorden ‘B’.

Neil had an outstanding year this season emphasising his continued improvement as a player. He was a valuable asset on board 5 for the ‘B’ team and also played a big role in the ‘C’ team’s promotion challenge as he played 23 games in the season — more than any other Hebden Bridge player in the Calderdale league. He gained 9½ rating points from his league matches and the only reason that isn’t reflected in his end of season increase (of 5 points) was because he struggled to replicate his league from in the Calderdale Individual Championships.

I’ve picked out his excellent victory over club colleague Nick Sykes from the derby clash between Hebden Bridge’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams. Neil actually scored 2 points for the ‘B’s across these derby fixtures as he also beat Dave Sugden in the return clash. The game below lurches from favouring one side to the other and Nick’s opening choice contributed to a hugely entertaining game full of interest and excitement. In the end Neil won because he managed to ensure he made the next to last mistake of the game!

It was great to be able to deploy Matthew twice this season despite his departure to Cambridge University in September. He made his appearances for the ‘B’ team on top board and drew with Robert Broadbent and John Morgan, two very solid players. I given his game with John in the viewer below. Hopefully we’ll be able to make similar use of Matthew next year.

Josh is another player who struggled a little for consistency this year. On his best days he is capable of bamboozling the best players in the league but he is also prone to occasionally over extending himself against players of a lower grade than himself.  That is generally because his style his hugely ambitious. He loves complications and he takes risks to initiate them. That means his games are always interesting to watch.

This season he finished on 50% after playing games for both the ‘B’ and ‘C’ team. It may seem harsh for me to pick a game that he has lost in the viewer below but I genuinely think this game was an excellent achievement played as it was against a player graded 180 whom he very nearly beat through his wonderful feel for the initiative. Such a shame that he missed a couple of winning chances in time pressure at the end but a really nice snap shot of Josh’s capabilities. He’ll improve further next season I predict.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of club members who will want to share their own views on my reviews, opinions and game choices. Don’t hold back if you feel I’ve dealt with someone unjustly or feel that I’ve overlooked a critical factor. Leave a comment. We love debate and opinion on this website!

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Jul 232012

What's the secret recipe for success?

Prior to the beginning of this last league season, as I pondered my new duties as a team Captain, I had a hunch that there were three critical characteristics that were common to recent title winning sides in the Calderdale League. Now that the season is ended I’ve had the time to extrapolate some of the trends from the last 4 or 5 league seasons to test my theories and I think I can say that my instincts were pretty much correct. See what you think.

1.) Use a medium sized pool of players

The theory:
My feeling was that if you use too many players (say more than 10) during a season then your side loses cohesion and can lack team spirit. A Captain who has had to use a large pool suggests to me that he is struggling to put out his best team often enough to make effective and consistent use of them. Conversely a Captain who has used a small pool of players (7 or less) may become over reliant on his best players to perform and could suffer disproportionately as a result if one or two are occasionally unavailable or lose form.

The evidence:
Looking at the championship winning sides from the last four seasons’ I noticed that they used 9 (Hebden ‘A’ this season), 10, 8 and 9 players respectively. That Huddersfield ‘A’ used 16 players in their ‘A’ team this season (as opposed to 10 when they won the league last season and 9 in 2008-09) tells you all you need to know about their struggle to field a consistently strong side throughout the year.

It seems that all successful sides need a solid and strong core of players who are committed to playing in pretty much every match in the season. However, they also need a decent shortlist of reserves who can be called upon to step in when, as is inevitable from time to time, one of the regulars is unavailable.

2.) The team with the highest average rating wins

The theory:
It seems obvious that the Captain who can deploy 5 boards with the highest average rating across the season should win the league. This characteristic is closely aligned to the first one of course. It is all very well having super-strong players at your club but if they don’t play in enough matches they can’t affect the final outcome.

The evidence:
I looked at the top four sides from the last four seasons and worked out which five players they had used the most frequently during the campaign. Then I looked up their grades for that season and calculated a five player average in each case. Here are the results from the 2008/09 campaign.

1st Huddersfield ‘A’ — average rating 168
2nd Hebden Bridge ‘A’ — 153
3rd Courier ‘B’ — 150
4th Huddersfield ‘B’ — 133

Huddersfield used 9 players during the 08/09 campaign and their average rating was much stronger than everyone else’s. No surprises that they won the league then.

The sequence continues after that. In 2009/10 Hebden Bridge ‘A’ were the winners. Their 5 most frequently deployed players averaged 158. Huddersfield ‘A’, in second, averaged 156. Incidentally, Huddersfield used 17 players in that season and Hebden used 8. In 2010/11 Huddersfield ‘A’ re-took the title and averaged a rating of 164. Hebden ‘A’ were second with an average of 155.

So it’s that simple. If your 5 most frequently fielded players have the highest average rating compared to your rivals in the league you’ll win, right? Wrong! This season Hebden Bridge ‘A’ bucked the trend. Take a look at the chart below and see the top 4 teams’ average ratings from this season:

This chart shows the average rating of each of the top 4 teams in the last 4 league seasons. It also shows the average rating of those 4 teams over the season and therefore provides a guide to the strength of the top 4 from 1 year to the next

Hebden’s average was much lower than either of the two teams (just!) below them. Of course there are some mitigating factors. Our star performer, Darwin Ursal, ended the season with a much higher rating than he began and I used grades from May 2011 to do my calculations. However, even using his end of season grade our average only rises to 162. So it would appear that having the highest average grade is not necessarily a guarantee of success but it increases your odds.

3.) Draw on upper boards and win on the lower ones

The theory:
I have always reasoned that, generally speaking, the top players in the league are pretty much evenly split across the all the sides in the league. This is probably because the best players want to compete with their peers and therefore if they are in danger of being demoted down the board order in one team they will be tempted to swap to another.

The result of this even distribution of top players tends to lead to very evenly matched resources being deployed against each other on boards 1 and 2 in many matches. Any mismatches in playing strength between two sides are more likely to be found further down the board order and so, as a result, the teams with strength in depth tend to win the league and most of the points contribution comes from the lower order of their team. It stands to reason.

The evidence:
Again I tested this assumption by looking at the last five league 1 title winning sides and calculating the percentage of their board points secured on each board. I looked at the percentage of points contributed by boards 1 and 2 versus the percentage contributed by boards 3, 4 and 5. In a perfectly balanced expression of effort one would expect to see one fifth (20%) of the points scored on each board in a team. That would indicate that boards 1 and 2 should contribute 40% of all board points scored in a season and boards 3, 4 and 5 should contribute 60%. Here’s what I found:

Going back to 2007-08, 08-09 and 09-10 we can see that boards 3, 4 and 5 were contributing 64% of the title winning side’s board points. In other words they were contributing 4% more than you would expect in a perfectly balanced scenario. This scenario did occur in 2010-11 when Huddersfield ‘A’ won the title. Of course at an individual level some variance in effort did occur but when adding up 1 and 2 and 3, 4 and 5 a balanced contribution appeared. This identical set of results from 07-08 to 09-10 certainly supports my hunch that the lower boards need to contribute a higher percentage of points than the top two in order to win the title.

But then we get to this season and something remarkable happens. Hebden Bridge ‘A’ scored as many points from board 1 and 2 as they did from 3, 4 and 5! This swung the percentage contribution from these boards massively (by 14%) compared to the 09-10 results. That speaks volumes about the form of Darwin Ursal, Matthew Parsons and Matthew Webb. Indeed, Hebden only lost two games on the top two boards all season. Both were on board 2 and the culprits were Dave Shapland and Pete Leonard!

4.) Beat your closest rivals

The theory:
One final observation that seems too obvious to justify any sort of historical analysis, but was particularly important this season, is the need to take points off the other teams at the top end of the table. It seems a no brainer but this season the league’s strength in depth increased significantly (witness the average rating of the top four teams increasing from 154 in 2010/11 to 163 in 2011/12) and this meant it was much tougher than usual for the top teams to beat one another consistently.

The evidence:
Check out the mini-league table I developed below which shows how this season’s top four faired against each other.

The significant factor was that although Hebden didn’t win any more games than the other three they didn’t lose any games at all. In fact their one defeat in the season was to Belgrave who finished 5th.

Now check out the results of the top four from 2010-11.

Clearly, Huddersfield were able to dominate their closest rivals in a way that none of the top four were really able to do this year.

I suspect that, if the league continues to operate at a similar strength next season not losing to your nearest rivals will continue to be more important than winning some and losing some. I guess that requires a consistent team available and performing well.


So, what have we learned about the winning formula required for our league?

  1. The statistics do suggest that teams using between 8 and 10 players in a season are more likely to be successful than those using more than 10 or less than 8
  2. It is also evident that, whilst one would normally expect the team with the highest average rating to win the league, it won’t always be the case. Teams with a lower rating are capable of beating the odds just as in any competition or an individual game
  3. Title winning sides do generally seem to require a greater contribution of points from their lower boards than the top two boards but again, this trend can be bucked. 
  4. Beating your closest rivals is pretty much a guarantee of success if you can do it consistently but when there are several title contenders not losing may become a more essential factor

“All a bit sad!” I hear you cry. You may well be right but what do you think of these statistics? Do they reveal anything to you that I’ve missed, do you agree with my reasoning? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Jul 092012

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.

Dave Shapland's 'A' team often struggled to get results but they were only beaten once

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.

Unfortunately Martin Syrett was often unable to get his strongest team out this season

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.

This image seems the most fitting symbol of Hebden 'A's title winning season. It was hardwork but they got there in the end! (Image sourced from of NJ...'s Flickr photostream)

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.

Jun 282012

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ are the current holders of the Calderdale Summer Team Knock Out Competition having beaten Halifax ‘A’ in last year’s final. On Monday night they got their title defence underway by playing… Halifax ’A’. The venue for this year’s contest was different, as the match took place at the Lee Mount Club in Halifax, but the result was the same; a win for Hebden Bridge.

Aldridge vs. Priest. White has just played 8.Nxe5. What would you do next? Answer in the game viewer at the end of this post.

The personnel involved had changed a little too. Seven of last year’s ten finalists remained. Halifax deployed one of their new recruits, Tony Ibbitson, on board 3 (in the place of Ray Cully who played on board 4 last seasons) whilst Hebden drafted in Matthew Wedge Roberts (who had returned home after his first year at Cambridge University) and Steve Priest to replace the missing Pete Leonard and Alastair Wright.

In the summer knockout competition the games are handicapped by using the difference in rating between each pair of combatants to give the lower rated player a time advantage on the clocks. With Hebden Bridge being a weaker side than last season and Halifax a little stronger this meant that the time differential between the two sides was somewhat reduced. Never-the-less, Hebden Bridge gave away time to their opponents on all boards except board 1.

In fact board 1 was the first of the evening to yield a result. Hebden’s Matthew Parsons had correctly divined the opening variation that his opponent, Darwin Ursal, would play against his King’s Indian set up and was quickly able to secure a comfortable game where he sacrificed a pawn for the bishop pair and some active piece play. He also had a dangerous looking passed pawn on d3 and eventually Darwin was forced to concede that had no way of playing for a win without taking great risks. A draw was agreed and the two rivals de-camped to the end of the room to play blitz whilst their team mates sweated out the result.

The remaining boards were all closely contested and took some time to resolve. When the results did come, they came in a flurry. First of all Steve Priest extracted full value from the pawn he won with a nice tactic he spotted in the opening. John Aldridge tried to wriggle but when he lost a knight in the end game Steven just had to be careful not to fall into any traps. He didn’t and the game was won.

On board 4 Nick Sykes had White against Adrian Dawson and deployed his latest secret weapon, the English Opening. Nick was up against the greatest time handicap of the evening and was forced to play fairly swiftly. Even still he built up a considerable positional advantage from the opening and, despite missing a few tactical shots, he also converted the full point in an end game with a few minutes left on his clock.

Hebden Captain Dave Shapland was the next to finish on board 3. He gave away 30 minutes on his clock against his Leeds Chess Club colleague Tony. The first surprise was Tony’s selection of the Scotch Opening beginning with 1.e4. Up until the end of last season he has been faithful to his Larsen’s Opening of 1.b3. The line selected by Tony led to an early exchange of queens and Dave was soon able to equalise. However, he then tried to squeeze for an advantage and overlooked a tactic which allowed Tony to win a pawn and secure a positional advantage as well. Stubborn as ever, Dave dug in to try and hold the game. Tony’s technique proved equal to the task as he steadily increased the pressure but then, just as victory seemed certain, he lost his concentration and put his rook en prise to Dave’s bishop. Another lucky win for Dave against a Halifax player.

The result was now secure but Matthew Wedge Roberts was still playing against Carlos Velosa. This game also saw an early exchange of queens but in this case it was beneficial for Matthew whos play was a model for the “accumulation of small advantages” technique. By exchange queens early he displaced his opponent’s king. He developed his pieces quickly and was then able to gain the bishop pair in an open position and when Carlos put his knight offside on h5 Matthew grabbed the open d-file and was able to win a pawn. He then created a distant passed pawn and the rest was simplicity itself the result never in doubt. You can view Matthew’s game and three of the other games from the match in the game viewer below.

The final scorecard for the match was: 

Halifax ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
(w) D.Ursal ½ — ½ M.Parsons
C.Velosa 0 — 1 M.Wedge Roberts (w)
(w) T.Ibbitson 0 — 1 D.Shapland
A.Dawson 0 — 1 N.Sykes (w)
J.Aldridge 0 — 1 S.Priest
½  — 4½

Hebden will now face Todmorden ‘A’ in the second semi-final. The first semi-final between Hebden Bridge ‘B’ and Hebden Bridge Juniors also took place on Monday night and the result will appear here soon.

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Jun 132012

Matthew Parsons dropped just two draws from six games. This one was against the tournament winner Peter Shaw

Who says that the end of the league season means no more chess until September? Today I offer readers a veritable cornucopia of results from across Calderdale and beyond.

Brighouse Quickplay 2012

On Saturday Calderdale players (and a number from outside the area) gathered at Brighouse for the club’s annual Quickplay event. Unfortunately entry numbers were somewhat down this year (just 24 players entered), perhaps because of the clash between this event and the semi-final matches of the National County Championships in which Yorkshire had both U180 and U160 teams. Despite this there were a number of strong players at the event and, in the end, the strongest player on paper won the event. Peter Shaw of Wakefield scored 5½ out of 6 to take the first prize.

Pete Leonard and Nick Sykes analyse a game in between rounds. Pete scored 4 points and Nick scored 3.

Hebden Bridge were represented by three of last season’s title winning ‘A’ team and they all acquitted themselves outstandingly. Matthew Parsons was seeded 3 in the initial draw and remained unbeaten by winning four games and drawing two against the two players seeded above him. This was enough to give him second place on his own with 5 out of 6. This was an excellent result. Congratulations Matthew!

Pete Leonard scored 4 out of 6 (beating the 4th seed in the process) and Nick Sykes scored 3 out of 6 a result which included a win against Brighouse’s strongest player Robert Broadbent. Well done to both Pete and Nick for their strong showing.

Nick and Pete have analysed and annotated all of their games from the competition and these can be found in the game viewer at the end of this post. Matthew has also provided us with the score from his win against Jim Vickery.

Individual Knockout Results

Over the last two weeks the Calderdale Summer Knockout Competitions have begun in earnest. A number of Individual encounters were decided over the last two weeks including all the round 1 match-ups below:

S.Priest 0 — 1 D.Ursal
J.Nicholson 0 — 1 A.Dawson
D.Milton 0 — 1 N.Sykes
M.Syrett 1 — 0 J. Aldridge
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 B.Joyce
J.Todd 0 — 1 J.P.Ellis
P.Rawlings 0 — 1 T.Webster
M.Parsons 1 — 0 D.Crampton

There were several byes in the draw in round 1 and so there are still plenty of games left to play. Anyone interested in seeing the full second round draw can take a look at the “Summer Events” page for more details.

Juniors at the Megafinal

Next up, 14 of our club’s juniors were in action this weekend as they travelled for the area Megafinals of the National Championships. There were several winning performances for Hebden Bridge with Kyle Sharpe winning the boys U10, Hephzi Leatherbarrow taking the girls U11 title and Leona Sharpe coming joint 1st in the girls U13. John Kerrane has written a full report and listed all results on an excellent day out in Sheffield. For details see the “Juniors” page.

Team Knockout Underway

John Kerrane reports on Hebden Bridge ‘B’s opening fixture in the summer team knockout competition.

On Monday evening, Hebden Bridge ‘B’ opened the Calderdale League 2012 Summer Team Knock-Out Competition with an away match against Todmorden ‘B’. It was an ironic pairing, as Todmorden ‘B’ had just been promoted to the Calderdale League first division, passing Hebden Bridge ‘B’ on the way down from the first division to the second.

The handicap system left the Hebden Bridge ‘B’ players short of time on all boards, none more so than Neil Bamford on board 5, who had only ten minutes to play his game against Bill Joyce. He was soon in trouble, but fought his way out to an early win. He was soon joined by John Kerrane on board 4, whose opponent, Tod B captain J. P. Ellis, chose a disastrous plan against the Catalan opening, and lost quickly. With two wins already achieved, the pressure was off the senior players, and Hebden Bridge ‘B’ finally won with a score of 4½-½.”

The individual results were:

Todmorden ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’
D. Milton ½ – ½ A. Leatherbarrow
T. Webster 0 — 1 M. Syrett
M. Huett 0 — 1 D. Sugden
J. P. Ellis 0 — 1 J. Kerrane
B. Joyce 0 — 1 N. Bamford
½ – 4½

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ are the defending champions in this competition and they begin their title defence with a re-run of last year’s final as they travel to Halifax ‘A’ on the 25th of June.

Thats all for now, below is a collection of games from the competitions mentioned in this post.

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May 262012

The last time peace was concluded between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians Henry VII made a new emblem to signify the occasion. This image was sourced from Wikipedia

This week it seems that the British summer has arrived. It’s time to light the barbeque, prepare the Pimms and rub in the sun-tan lotion all set to the soothing sound of leather on willow. That’s right. The test match season has begun!

Whilst England were polishing off their 1st test of the summer against the West Indies, Hebden Bridge Chess Club were also getting into the spirit of summer sport as they played a test match of their own against East Lancashire League winners Burnley. Now, they say there is no such thing as a friendly game of chess and I quite agree, especially when there is the age-old Yorkshire vs. Lancashire rivalry on the line. However, although this match was a close as it comes to a friendly between the old enemies, both sides took the challenge seriously and brought something close to their full strength to bare for the clash.

Andrew Clarkson (Burnley and Todmorden stalwart) was the brainchild for this excellent notion. Hebden Bridge had won the Calderdale League and Burnley had won the East Lancs league. He quite rightly emailed me to ask: ‘why not find out which of the two league winners are the best?’ I agreed with him and the match was arranged. In the end we decided on 6 players per team (one more than in our usual Calderdale line-up) and standard Calderdale League time limits with a coin toss to decide how colours would be distributed on the boards. The visitors won the toss and took White on the odd boards. So, at 7.45pm, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, we all sat down to begin the hostilities.

The first game to finish was on board 2 where Burnley Captain, Andrew, managed to neutralise Matthew Parsons favourite London System. He had obviously learned from a painful experience that he had suffered at Matthew’s hands earlier in the season when he lost to the same opening system in the League match between Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’. Matthew has provided some commentary on the game in the viewer at the end of this post but his gist was that he may have missed an opportunity to capitalise on Black’s move order when he played the position as he would have done if both sides had castled when they hadn’t. Later it seems Andrew overlooked a decent chance to secure an advantage and after that the position soon equalised and became lifeless. Matthew offered a draw and Andrew accepted.

On board 1 Howard Hughes (left) locks horn with Darwin Ursal

It was a while before any of the other games finished and at this stage the two sides certainly seemed very well balanced. Then, suddenly, the balance swung in Lancashire’s favour. On the top board, Hebden’s star performer of 2011-12, Darwin Ursal, was facing his toughest test yet in the form of Burnley’s 200+ rated Howard Hughes. Howard had cunningly side-stepped Darwin’s favourite Sicilian Dragon variation by deploying the double-edged Smith-Morra Gambit. In return, Darwin then deployed an unusual method of avoiding the mainlines in order to get the game into situation where both players were forced onto their own resources rather than their memorisation of opening lines.

At first Darwin’s active play seemed to give him some initiative but then it became clear that Howard had an edge. He converted this into a material advantage when he used a pretty combination to win a pawn. Darwin missed a brief window of opportunity to really test Howard’s strategy and once that chance had passed he was in trouble and dropped more material as he lost his first game ever for Hebden Bridge. It had to happen eventually.

Things got worse for Hebden before they got better. On board 3 Alastair Wright had tried to maintain a solid position against Steve Appleby. He seemed to have succeeded in keeping his opponent out until they transposed into an endgame and somehow, in the process, Alastair overlooked a tactic and lost a piece. With no chance of recovering the material and no tangible compensation he resigned leaving Hebden perilously adrift by ½ – 2½.

It looked like curtains but then, Hebden did what they have done so many times this season. They came back from the dead. Boards 4 and 5 finished within a few minutes of one another and when the dust had settled Hebden had levelled the match score with one board to play.

Last to finish... again! Nick Sykes (right) keeps team mates and the opposition alike from their beds as he and Colin Edwards battled on in a complex and interesting struggle before ultimately concluding the peace treaty.

First Pete Leonard secured a nice positional win against Steve Whitehead to break his run of 4 games without a win. Then, moments later, Captain Dave Shapland scored the only win of the night with the Black pieces (and ended his own miserable run of form) as he overcame Rob Tokeley. In the middlegame Rob focused on a plan to trap Dave’s queen but he’d overlooked a bold forward manoeuvre by her majesty and suddenly Dave had a strong attack. At the end Rob was also in desperate time trouble but resigned before the time control in a hopeless position.

Inevitably this left Hebden Bridge’s Nick Sykes (always the last to finish!) to complete his game against Colin Edwards. The game was a complicated mainline Schevenigan with play for both sides. Eventually, Colin decided to sacrifice the exchange but he didn’t quite get enough counter play for it and Nick was able to trade into an endgame where he was the exchange up. It looked like a long drawn out affair that would linger into the night as Nick looked for a way to convert his advantage. But then, after a brief discussion with his Captain, Nick offered Colin a draw and they shook hands, both player happy not to have cost their team the victory.

The final score a creditable but peaceable 3 — 3. The match card looked like this:

Hebden Bridge vs. Burnley
D.Ursal 0 — 1 H.Hughes (W)
M.Parsons ½ — ½ A.Clarkson
A.Wright 0 — 1 S.Appleby
P.Leonard 1 — 0 S.Whitehead
D.Shapland 1 — 0 R.Tokeley
N.Sykes ½ — ½ C.Edwards
3 — 3

Thanks to the gentlemen of Burnley chess club for making the trip across the boarder to give Hebden Bridge such a searching test. A good time was had by all and some good chess was played. Many of the games in the viewer below come with annotations.

Next Monday, the 28th, has been reserved for the playing of the first round of the Summer Individual Knockout Handicap Tournament. Anyone taking part in this competition should check the draw on the “Summer Events 2012” page to find out if they are playing and who against. All games will take place at The Trades Club.

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May 162012

A light in the darkness: This brilliant photo was sourced from gleasonmj's Flickr photostream

The Belgrave Club in Halifax was the scene for the traditional curtain closer on the Calderdale Chess League season as players gathered for the annual Team Lightning Competition. Those readers who are uninitiated in this fun and frenetic format should have a quick look at my post on last year’s competition which was won by Hebden Bridge ‘A’.

Hebden were probably one of the pre-tournament favourites for this year’s competition too but, on the night, they found that the strength of their own line up and the club’s representation in general was somewhat under par. Only 8 Hebden Bridge players made it to the event when last year the club fielded 3 teams of 5! This meant that, once the first team line-up had been confirmed, Danny Crampton, Terry Sullivan and Ray Deraverere had to be loaned out to other clubs who were lacking full line-ups.

As it transpired there were only 7 teams entered in total so the turn out was generally a little disappointing. However, on the plus side, several teams had taken the competition seriously enough to put out very strong line ups and that ensured the action was extremely competitive. Todmorden ‘A’ for example, arrived with most of their regular (and very strong) line up from the League 1 campaign which saw them pipped at the post by Hebden Bridge in the very last match of the season.

Halifax were bolstered by the return of Darwin Ursal to board 1 following his season long ‘loan’ to Hebden and they also fielded Will Somerset on board 2. Both these two are graded over 180! Huddersfield had also arrived with a strong side led by another +175 graded player, Mitchell Burke. Finally, Hebden Bridge themselves had covered for Darwin’s departure by drafting in yet another super-strong player of their own, Matthew Webb.

Unfortunately for Hebden, without Matthew Parsons on board 2 and Pete Leonard on board 3, they were weaker down the order than they would ideally have liked. Nevertheless, in such illustrious company they performed creditably and came pretty close to defending the title they have held for the last two seasons.

The critical round of the tournament for Hebden Bridge on the night was round 5. Having squeezed a close 3-2 win against the old foe Huddersfield in round 1 and lost by a similarly tight scoreline against Halifax in round 2, Hebden had launched themselves right back into the competition by scoring 4½ against Belgrave and a perfect 5 against Todmorden ‘B’. In round 5 they lined up against the leaders Todmorden ‘A’ who were merely a point ahead them. If they could beat the strongest team in the competition then they had a chance to lift the title once again.

The match started badly when Dave Shapland got mauled on the Black side of a King’s Gambit essayed by Pete Mulleady. Then things started to look up. On board 5 Martin Syrett put away Chris Edwards and on board 1 Matthew Webb demonstrated great technique in the endgame by grinding out a win against Martin Hamer. Hebden were a point up with two to play and on board 3 Nick Sykes seemed to have at least a draw in hand against Alastair Wright.

Then it all went pear-shaped. On board 4 Josh Blinkhorn managed to secure a winning advantage in a complex rook and pawn ending against Neil Suttie. However, when you only have 10 seconds to think about each move blundering away a winning advantage is always a possibility and sadly, on this occasion, Josh wias the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of a swindle. This left the scores level, and Nick Sykes now had to press for a win in a position that didn’t merit such aggression. Gamely he tried but it backfired and Alastair was able to win to secure a 3-2 win for Todmorden.

In the final round Hebden defeated Brighouse 4-1 to finish with 20 game points. This was enough to see them finish half a point ahead of Huddersfield and level on points with Halifax. Todmorden were the winners with 23 points. Here are the full scores for all the teams:

Todmorden ‘A’ — 23
Halifax — 20
Hebden Bridge — 20
Huddersfield — 19½
Belgrave — 16½
Brighouse — 13½
Todmorden ‘B’ —

Congratulations to Todmorden for their excellent team performance. They won every match they played and were not recipients of a 5-0 bye as many other teams were.

The individual medals were awarded as follows:

Board 1: Darwin Ursal (Halifax) — 6 points
Board 2: Peter Mulleady (Todmorden ‘A’) — 6
Board 3: Alastair Wright (Todmorden ‘A’) — 5
Board 4: Neil Suttie (Todmorden ‘A’) — 6
Board 5: Martin Syrett (Hebden Bridge) — 5½

Special mention should be made of both Martin Syrett’s excellent display and also of yet another magnificent performance from Darwin Ursal who tore colossally strong opposition limb from limb as he dispatched, Mitchell Burke, Matthew Webb and Martin Hamer (!) on his way to a perfect score.

With strength like this being displayed by the clubs for the team lightning, the future prospects for 2012-13 league season must be very bright indeed!

May 042012

Exit stage right...

There is lots for me to get through in this post and much news to bring. If you only have 5 minutes to read the contents of this article please make sure you’ve read the “Other news” section down below which highlights some crucial upcoming events that you may need to take action about.

The curtain closed on the Calderdale Chess League 2011-12 season on Monday night as the remaining league 2 fixtures were played. ‘C’ team Captain, John  Kerrane, summarises their crucial last round match against promotion rivals Halifax ‘A’.

Hebden Bridge ‘C’ travelled to Lee Mount Social Club, in Halifax, for the last game of the division 2 season, knowing that they had to beat Halifax ‘A’ to secure promotion to the first division. However, Halifax ‘A’ proved too strong, and the scoreline of 3½-1½ saw the home side to victory and through to a first division place next season, while Hebden Bridge ‘C’ remain in the second.”

The individual results were:

Halifax ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
W. Somerset 1, J. Blinkhorn 0
C. Velosa ½, T. Sullivan ½
A. Ibbitson ½, J. Kerrane ½
P. Moss ½, S. Priest ½
A. Dawson 1, N. Bamford 0
3½ – 1½

Kibbitzers gather around Josh and Will's exciting endgame

I was at Halifax on Monday night and was pleased to see all members of the ‘C’ team having a really good go at their opponents. They were outgunned on every board but they battled hard. Josh Blinkhorn gave Will Somerset a genuine scare on board 1 when he gained a very active position in exchange for a pawn and a damaged pawn structure. The compensation seemed to be perfectly adequate and indeed analysis immediately after the game seemed to demonstrate that he could have won the game with his rooks and bishops over running the White position at the end. Hard luck Josh!

On boards 2 and 3 Terry Sullivan and John Kerrane both did well to hold Carlos Velosa and Tony Ibbitson respectively to draws. Steven Priest may even have been winning his tight game against Pete Moss on board 4 but acceded to the draw when it was apparent that, as the last board to finish, the result would make no difference to the match outcome.

That just leaves me to mention Neil Bamford‘s game against Adrian Dawson. Neil has had a really good season but has found the second half much easier than the first when he set off like a bullet from a gun. Neil did well out of the opening but then, in  he middle game things went astray and Adrian had a few too many tricks for him.

Other news

  1. The annual Calderdale Team Lightning Competition will take place at the Belgrave Social Club on Monday the 14th of May. Anyone wishing to take part should first of all speak to their regular team captain to see if they are taking a team along and second of all, ensure they arrive at the Belgrave Club at 7.00pm so that there is enough time for teams to be organised and the draw made. If you haven’t played lightning before it is great fun. Check out my post on last season’s competition to find out more.
  2. The draw for the Individual and Team Knockout Competitions will take place after the Team Lightning on the 14th of May. If you want to enter either competition then you should contact John Kerrane or e-mail us here at the website to tell us you want to play and make sure you get in the draw.
  3. Hebden Bridge ‘A’ have been challenged to play a match against the East Lancashire League Champions, Burnley, on Monday the 21st of May. Dave Shapland is busy organising his side to face the Lancastrians but I’m sure the team would welcome some support on the night so do come down to the Trades Club for what is sure to be an entertaining “Champions League” final.
  4. Finally, more news from John Kerrane. This time he reports on the progress of our junior players.

At the England trials in Liverpool at the weekend, Hebden Bridge’s young star, Kyle Sharpe, played his way into the England under-11 squad by scoring 4/6 in a very strong field. At ten years old, this was a fine achievement, giving him two years to establish himself on the national stage.

Nine-year-old Harry Urquhart-Greaves, playing for Yorkshire under-9s on board 10 of 20, scored an impressive 2/3 at the EPSCA Inter-county regional qualifiers at the weekend in Loughborough. Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn’t fare so well, and the team failed to qualify for the national finals, but, in their first year of entering, they did well to get to this level.”

Congratulations to both Kyle and Harry for their excellent performances. No doubt we’ll hear more about these two in the future.

That just leaves time for me to mention the game viewer below which has 7 of the ‘C’ teams’ games from the last two rounds of fixtures and also a ‘D’ team match game from Danny Crampton who I suspect may have had his best year yet performance-wise.

Next week we’ll start our end of year reviews before the summer programme begins.

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Apr 302012

This race was even closer! A photo finish record of the first triple dead heat in harness racing: Patchover, Payne Hall and Penny Maid at Freehold Raceway (USA). Image sourced from Wikipedia

If there has ever been a closer finish in Calderdale Evening Chess League history then I hope someone can tell me about it! Hebden Bridge ‘A’, Todmorden ‘A’ and Huddersfield all finished within a point of each other as the season drew to a close this week.

On Monday night Hebden Bridge ‘A’ travelled to face Courier ‘A’ at the Belgrave club in Halifax. Also in action at the same venue against Belgrave were the reigning champions Huddersfield ‘A’ who still had a slim chance of retaining their title if Hebden Bridge lost and Todmorden failed to win. Mischievously, Huddersfield’s Captain, Robert Sutcliffe, had brought the league trophy with him expecting to hand it over to his Hebden Bridge counterpart at the end of the night. If only his counterpart had been so confident of success!

Hebden fielded their regular line up which has been strong enough to carry them through most of this season’s trials and tribulations. The question was, would they be able to over come the jitters that had affected their performance in the previous two matches? It took a while before any of the games began to crystalise into likely outcomes.

First to finish (unusually so this season) was Nick Sykes on board 5. He met Guy Thompson’s Colle System with solid, sensible development and challenged for the centre in a timely fashion. Then he made a tactical error and lost a pawn. For a little while it seemed that Black was in trouble but Nick played carefully and Guy was unable to make progress. Eventually, the pieces started to come off, Nick regained his pawn deficit and the players agreed to a draw.

Not long after that Hebden took a big step towards the title as Matthew Parsons forced Dave Patrick’s resignation. Once again Matthew’s weapon of choice was the Sniper, once again the game seemed murky and hard to understand, once again White seemed to have a decent position only to leave his forces uncoordinated and yet again Matthew finished his opponent in clinical style. The game is most instructive and can be followed in the viewer at the end of this post. Hebden were in front and needed a point and half from the last three games to secure the title.

That was when it all started to go wrong. Pete Leonard and Dave Shapland have both hit terrible form in perfect synchrony this season (they have scored 1 point between them across the last four rounds of the title race!) and there was always a chance that they would be unable to recover even though they were both outwardly confident.

Dave’s game against Dave Colledge on board 4 went astray quite early when he misplayed the move order of a complicated Semi-Slav Botvinnik variation and dropped a piece. As you’ll see in the note to his game below he could have refuted his opponent’s idea immediately but it was hard to spot. Despite this the position remained very difficult to assess and much careful calculation was needed by both players. Sadly, Mr Colledge was on top form and successfully navigated his way through a maze of hazards to get to an endgame where he had and extra bishop. Shapland forced him to play out the ending with commendable tenacity but Colledge saw the job to a close at the end of the evening.

Pete on the other hand seemed to fair well in the opening against Robert’s interesting opening choice — a Torre Attack. Then he lost his barings in the middle game and, in an unbalanced position Robert had the better of the affair. In the end Pete was down pawns and Robert had two bishops against Pete’s single rook. It was a hopeless cause and suddenly Courier were a point up with just one game to finish.

How fortunate that Hebden had this year’s hero, Darwin Ursal at the helm of this last game. John Morgan is a redoubtable opponent, especially with the White pieces, but Darwin has been unstoppable and he successfully conjured up complications in the endgame. This, compounded by John’s habitual zeintot was enough for Darwin to secure a last gasp win and Hebden had escaped with yet another draw, their fifth of the season.

Hebden ‘A’s  final match score card of the season looked like this:

Courier ‘A’  vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
J.Morgan 0 – 1 D.Ursal
D.Patrick 0 — 1 M.Parsons
R.Clegg 1 — 0 P.Leonard
D.Colledge 1 — 0 D.Shapland
G.Thompson ½ – ½ N.Sykes
2½ – 2½

I should add at this point that, like the true champions they have been, Huddersfield fought right to the end and inflicted a hefty 1 – 4 defeat on Belgrave to ensure that they did the very best they could to put pressure on both of the teams above them.

Right back at the beginning of the season, when Hebden travelled to Todmorden for the first round, I rhetorically asked whether that drawn match could be considered to be a point won or a point lost. I concluded that it would depend on how the rest of the season panned out. How true that prophecy turned out to be. If Hebden were to lose the title at the last gasp it would surely be because they had drawn too many matches despite losing only one.

So now all eyes were on Todmorden’s trip to Huddersfield ‘B’ on Thursday night. Of course they knew exactly what they had to do, only a total whitewash would give them enough to lift the title by one half point in the “game score” column. That would surely put every player in their team under greater pressure. No team had managed a 5-0 result all season. Could Todmorden over turn the odds and be the first at the last?

Andrew Clarkeson kindly sent us this report on Thursday night’s dramatic events:

The four East Lancs mercenaries drove over to Huddersfield knowing exactly what was required of them……..on EVERY board. On the way we discussed our possible opponents and game strategy; take no risks, accumulate small advantages, pounce and exploit any weaknesses, but above all stay calm! Once at the venue we met Chris Edwards the Todmorden captain who had not shirked the pressure and selected himself for board 5. Huddersfield had a new player on board 1, H.Zeglam who was an unknown quantity to us but was highly praised by their captain Robert Sutcliffe. However, we were encouraged by our large grading advantage on all the boards ranging from 60 to 20 ECF points in our favour, and we certainly were not lacking in confidence at 7:30 p.m.
My opponent on board 3 was Eddy Mellor a completely new face to me and at 117 was just the sort of opponent I wanted on a night like this. Robert Sutcliffe had introduced him with a word of caution though as he had apparently beaten a very strong player recently. Not tonight I thought. 1.d4… great lets have a main line Grunfeld. Sadly not. Eddy calmly set up a Colle System against my fianchettoed Bishop with pawns on e3, d4, and c3. It was going to be a long grind and I concentrated on my game looking for the slightest chink in White’s play.

I was vaguely aware that White had thrown the kitchen sink at Martyn Hamer on board 1, and that Martyn had been forced to defend perfectly. On board 2 we had been forced to allow White the win of the exchange for us to make headway. I could not spare a second glance at boards 4 and 5 as Eddy Mellor was not giving me the slightest weakness to aim at and I was behind on the clock. Rybka makes not one criticism or alternative suggestion to any of his moves up to the time control! So, I made my 36th move and the clocks went back 15 minutes to complete the game.

How often do we see an error at or immediately after the time control?  I was relieved to see Eddy’s 37th was his first slip, and one that I was able to convert with care 16 moves later making the match score 2-0 to Todmorden. I went out of the room with Rob Tokeley who had won on board 4 so he could put me in the picture with regards to the match. Rob was confident of wins on 1 and 2, but it was still in the balnace on 5. Then Martyn Hamer quickly joined us to make it 3-0, and I thought I could hear a fat lady singing just down the corridor.

The tension was too much so I went off to the bar. On my way back to watch the final moments of a great occasion I was met by Rob Tokeley who broke the news that Chris Edwards’ flag had fallen on his 35th move. It was no consolation that we then chalked up our fourth win of the evening on board 2 to finish the match at 4-1. Immediately we had to console Chris who we all felt for. The despair must have been awful for him, but the truth is you cannot point to that particular game on the last night of the season. Many points and half points swung both ways for Hebden Bridge and Todmorden from the very first week of the season, with every player in both teams being the benefactor and beneficiary of all sorts of outrageous fortune.
All four East Lancs mercenaries, Martyn Hamer, Peter Mulleady, Andrew Clarkson, and Rob Tokeley, thoroughly enjoyed this season’s battle and congratulate Hebden Bridge on their championship win.

And so it was that Hebden Bridge ‘A’ took the title by the narrowest possible margin. Half a game point! Thanks to the “East Lancs mercenaries” for their generous congratulations and competitive spirit throughout the season. No doubt the fight will be just as intense next year. I’m already looking forward to it very much.

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Apr 122012

It’s been the most competitive League 1 title race in years and it’s going to go right to the tape as both Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’ won their matches last Monday to ensure that the final round will be decisive.

Of course a competitive league is also a tight league and the two contenders both expended another of their cats lives on their way to victory as Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ respectively ran them very close indeed. The outcomes of both matches were heavily affected by the dreaded zeintot as critical decisions were made quickly and under intense pressure. Here are two examples:

Shapland vs. Hudson: position after 36.Kh1

In this first position (right) from Hebden’s match with Brighouse the away player clearly has the game in the palm of his hand. White is a piece down and his king is extremely vulnerable. White had been hanging on desperately for several moves when this position arose but, critically, it’s the 36th and final move before time control. As he searched for the right way to apply the finishing touch Brighouse’s Nick Hudson glanced at his clock and, suddenly realising that he only had a few seconds to make his move, jerked into life and banged out 36…Rxf2? At this point Dave Shapland (playing White) breathed a huge sigh of relief for, after the clocks had been put back, the game concluded with:

37.Qxf2 Qh7
38.Rg5  ½-½

The game assessment has changed completely and now White is winning so, why a draw? Well, you’ll have to read the match report to understand that but let’s just say that when a draw is all that is required to seal a result players can make decisions they wouldn’t make in other circumstances. However, here is a stark example of the last move before time control being critical to the outcome of a game.

Here’s another example from the Todmorden vs. Courier match:

Clarkeson vs. Clegg: position after 48.Kd3

This game has gone past the first time control and both players are (once again!) in desperate time trouble. Of course Black should be winning easily. He has an extra rook. However, when you’ve been playing for over 3 hours and the rest of the players in the match have all finished and are kibbitzing the pressure is absolutely acute.

Black played 48…Ra2?! (48…Rcd2+ 49.Kc3 exd5 50.cxd5 Rxd5 is winning for Black) and when White responded with 49.d6 and offered a draw Black couldn’t see past the various threats to find a solution. Given his shortage of time he felt forced to agree to peace.

Thanks to Todmorden’s Andrew Clarkeson for sending us this critical game. There are lots of interesting variations as it turns out. You can take a look at them all in the game viewer at the end of this post. He described the critical game in the match for us:

We only just beat Courier to keep the title on ice. We used up all our luck in that match when I managed to achieve a draw against Robert Clegg at 10:40pm. I had been lost for ages, a whole Rook down with nebulous compensation, but kept plugging away even with zero time on my clock. With everybody gathered round and his own flag rising Robert saw the spectre of a mate or pawn promotion to a Queen for myself, so reluctantly accepted my draw offer. Of course the truth was he was still completely winning in the final position but that is chess pressure for you.”

This draw turned out to be critical to the outcome of the match as there had already been three drawn games and a single victory for Todmorden on board 5. This last result enabled Todmorden to steal a 3-2 victory that ensured the title race would go to the last round of the season.

Meanwhile, Hebden Bridge ‘A’, having lost for the first time this season in the previous round at Belgrave, were suffering from a severe bout of the jitters. The team was slightly under strength without Matthew Parsons to occupy board 2 but they still appeared to have too much fire power for a Brighouse side that had travelled without their star performer, Dennis Breen.

Half-way through the evening it appeared that disaster was going to strike again for Hebden as 3 of the 5 boards were objectively lost for the home side and one of the other two seemed very drawish. That was when Hebden, who have gotten themselves out of numerous scrapes this year, started to use up more of their cat lives.

First of all Andy Leatherbarrow, deputising for the ‘A’ team on board 5, took advantage of a blunder by Ron Grandage to deliver a checkmate when he was an exchange down. It had been even worse earlier on when he’d correctly sacrificed a piece for an attack but had then misplayed the position to leave Ron with an overwhelming material plus.

By this stage of proceedings Darwin Ursal had already seen off Robert Broadbent on board 1 for the second time this season and that left the league leaders in a commanding 2-0 position that perhaps did not reflect the nature of the struggle.

On board 2, Pete Leonard mis-played his opening against Bruce Bendall and went two pawns down in the middle game. Bruce maintained an excellent grip on the advantage and when the end game arrived he had two connected passed pawns which he duly nursed home for a very creditable victory.

This result combined with Dave Shapland’s plight on board 3 really put the result of the tie into some doubt. However, as we saw from the first diagram in this post, Dave was, to all intents and purposes, saved by the bell (or at least the clock!) when Nick Hudson blundered away all his good work on the last move before time control. Dave glanced across at Nick Sykes’ position on board 4 before offering his opponent a draw that essentially secured the match win. But, as he made the proposition he also said, “I don’t deserve to win this game. Not in this fashion”.

This left Sykes in the happy position of only needing to draw his endgame against Paul Whitehouse. He was a pawn up in a pawn and piece ending but, rather than taking the easy option, to his very great credit, Nick played on. He was, no doubt, spurred on by the painful memory of failing to convert a two pawn advantage against Les Johnson in the Belgrave match and, although many of the kibbitzers felt his slender advantage could not be converted, he proved them all wrong by driving home his last remaining pawn to clinch the match in fine style.

The final match score card was:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Brighouse
D.Ursal 1 — 0 R.Broadbent
P.Leonard 0 — 1 B.Bendall
D.Shapland ½ – ½ N.Hudson
N.Sykes 1 — 0 P.Whitehouse
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 R.Grandage
3½ – 1½

So, both of the top two teams survived substantial scares to ensure that the title race goes the distance. Todmorden play the back markers, Huddersfield ‘B’ away in the last round, a match they must surely win. This means that Hebden Bridge must also win their final round encounter away against Courier ‘A’, a much tougher prospect. If Hebden draw and Todmorden win then it will come down to board count and a 5-0 win for Todmorden (not unrealistic) would snatch the title by the slenderest possible margin… a single drawn game. Could that draw in time trouble by Andrew Clarkeson or Dave Shapland’s sporting draw offer against Nick Hudson when he could have played for a win turn out to be critical moments in the campaign?

Whilst all this was going on Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were also in action at home against their ‘A’ team’s conquerors, Belgrave. With Andy Leatherbarrow having moved up to the ‘A’ team, Martin Syrett had to press himself into service on the top board and Dave Sugden and Josh Blinkhorn were also promoted. The result was immaterial for Syretts’ men as their relegation is sadly already assured. Nevertheless they gave an excellent account of themselves against a strong Belgrave side with four of the five team members earning draws. Only Josh blotted their copy book when he lost to Mike Barnett. All the games from both these league 1 fixtures are in the game viewer at the end of this post. I draw readers attention to Martin’s comfortable draw with a Kings Gambit against Belgrave board 1, Gordon Farrar.

Here is the final scorecard:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Belgrave
M.Syrett ½ – ½ G.Farrar
D.Sugden ½ – ½ M.Corbett
J.Blinkhorn 0 — 1 M.Barnett
J.Kerrane ½ – ½ A.Gonzalez
N.Bamford ½ – ½ L.Johnson
2 – 3

This just leaves me to round up by informing readers of the fate of reigning champions Huddersfield ‘A’. They played ‘away’ against their ‘B’ team colleagues and won an odd match (the ‘A’ team was very much under strength and even defaulted board 4) by the odd point. Mathematically this still leaves them in contention for the title but in order to win they would need Hebden Bridge to lose and, more unlikely, Todmorden to draw or lose to Huddersfield ‘B’.

Before I sign off I’d like to mention that Hebden Bridge ‘D’ also played on Monday night in a postponed match against Courier ‘B’. They managed to win the match to secure their second win of the season. More of this in our next post.

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