Feb 182014
With four rounds to go there are still five teams involved in the dance for this season's league 1 title race! This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Jim Linwood's Flickr photostream

Swords are drawn! With four rounds to go there are still five teams involved in the dance for this season’s league 1 title race! This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Jim Linwood’s Flickr photostream

After our last post on the subject (‘Rats in a barrel’) readers will not be surprised to hear that it was all change yet again at the top of Calderdale League 1 when the teams reconvened on the 4th of February. Todmorden ‘A’ were leading the title race by a single point but they went down at Brighouse with a marginally weakened line up. Captain Alistair Wright was without top board Martin Hamer who was over in Gibraltar participating in the chess festival. Tod have struggled in previous years when Hamer has been gone and unfortunately for them they did so again. The damage was done in the middle order where Dennis Breen, Nick Hudson and Paul Whitehouse defeated Andrew Clarkson, Alistair Wright and Rob Tokeley respectively. Wins on the top and bottom boards for Pete Mulleady and David Innes at least ensured that Todmorden kept their board count ticking over. This looks increasingly like it will be a deciding factor when the final reckoning comes.

Of course this defeat opened the door once more for Huddersfield who had fallen at home to Courier in the last round and now faced a potentially tricky challenge away to Todmorden ‘B’ who have caused problems for several of the top teams. Not on this occasion however as Huddersfield cruised to a 1 — 4 victory that took them back to the top. Dave Tooley was the only away team player to go down as his scalp was collected by Rob Collier.

Todmorden ‘A’s demise also provided an opportunity for Halifax ‘A’, Courier ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ to gain ground. Halifax took full advantage by thrashing Hebden ‘B’ 0 — 5. John Kerrane reports briefly on this match:

“Out-graded by more than fourty points on all boards, the home players were under pressure from the start. Despite spirited resistance, they gradually succumbed to their powerful opponents, until, when Josh Blinkhorn resigned on board 1 after a lively but unsuccessful attack against Winston Williams, the predictable 5 — 0 scoreline emerged in favour of the visitors.”

Individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Halifax ‘A’
J.Blinkhorn 0 — 1 W.Williams
M.Syrett 0 — 1 B.Somerset
J.Kerrane 0 — 1 D.Ursal
N.Bamford 0 — 1 S.Scurfield
K.Dickinson 0 — 1 A.Dawson
0 — 5

Halifax appeared to be out of contention in the title race after losing in round 8 at Huddersfield but now they have recovered and lie just 2 points behind the leaders. They still have some tough matches to play but at the moment they have the best board count in the league and in Darwin ‘Draw-Win’ Ursal they have the leagues most destructive weapon. He’s scored an amazing 9½/10, mostly against players rated a lot lower than himself on board 3 but he has also appeared effectively on top board a couple of times.

The last match in round 10 promised to be the tightest as champions Hebden Bridge ‘A’ travelled to Courier ‘A’ for another critical encounter. The visitors knew it would be a very stiff test for they had already been defeated by the Courier outfit at the Trades Club earlier in the season. When they arrived they found that Courier had been forced to change their line-up due to John Morgan’s illness and Kevin Winter’s unavailability. Sadly, that did not lead to the kind of weakening in the home team’s line-up that the visitors might have hoped for as in came Phil Watson on board 1 (Hebden have been unlucky to have to face Phil on the only two occasions Courier have deployed him this season!) and Dave Colledge on board 5.

Admittedly, Dave Colledge is not quite as strong as Kevin Winter on the bottom board and so it was immediately clear that Hebden would have to do serious damage on the lower boards if they were to collect an unlikely victory against a side that out-graded them on every board but the bottom one. It’s become a bit of a trend for Hebden to start the night well and then run out of steam and once again this familiar pattern was played out through the course of the evening.

Captain Nick Sykes has found the going to be challenging recently and so he sensibly decided to demote himself from board 3 to board 5 for this match if only for a bit of respite from the pressure he’s putting on himself to do well further up the order. His choice looked to be a master stroke after a couple of hours of play as he smoothly defeated Dave Colledge with the King’s Indian Defence. Meanwhile the rest of the team also seemed to be doing well. On board 1, Matthew Parsons was also using the King’s Indian against Phil and he had launched a formidable attack on the White king and managed to land a knight on the g3 square. An upset looked quite possible on the top board. On board 2 Pete Leonard was also holding his own against Tony Slinger, Andy Leatherbarrow seemed comfortable on board 3 against Dave Patrick and on board 4 Dave Shapland had pounced on some early positional errors by Robert Clegg to hold a comfortable if marginal advantage.

Unfortunately the good form didn’t quite last, and having jinxed the team on this very website in that aforementioned post by quoting the statistic that the champions hadn’t lost away since March 2012, they inevitably lost the match! It was Phil Watson who turned the tide as he defended calmly in the face of Matthew’s onslaught and, when the dust of battle had settled, Matthew was a piece down in the endgame. There was no coming back from that. The match was level.

The last three games went on and on to the very end of the night. On board 4 Dave was never in any real danger of losing and had managed to hold his positional advantage right into a single rook and pawns ending. However, having played a little aimlessly in the opening, Robert now seemed to “wake up” and knuckled down resolutely to his defensive task. Probably Dave missed some opportunities to press for the win and, with the two remaining boards still unclear it was hard to know what result to aim for. Going all out for a win might have been a mistake and so in the end Dave didn’t take too many risks and Robert avoided a couple of traps to secure a draw in the end.

The match hinged on the next game to finish on board three. Dave Patrick had applied pressure persistently and Andy had resisted determinedly but at the expense of time spent cogitating. They got passed the time control and into an endgame were Andy seemed to have the advantage but was being forced into playing more and more quickly. Tragically, as his advantage crystallised into a winning one he ran out of time and forfeited the game, Courier were ahead.

The board 2 struggle had been a fascinating one. Tony Slinger had deployed Anti-Grunfeld system with 3.f3. This might have thrown Pete Leonard off course somewhat had it not been for the fact that he’d faced the same line against Dave Shapland last summer in the Bridestones Holme Brew Chess Challenge. Subsequently he’d gone away and taken a look again at the line and was able to reply with the even more offbeat idea of 4…Nh5. After that the game spiralled off into complications. The queens came off early but the piece-based play remained highly complex and the pawn structures on both sides somewhat chaotic. That said, neither player ever really looked like winning, so ultimately a draw was the just result. This gave Courier a valuable victory and catapults them into joint second on match points just behind Todmorden on board count. They still have to host Todmorden and also visit Halifax before the season ends but their back to back wins over Huddersfield and Hebden have put them right in the hunt.

Individual results from this match were:

Courier ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
P.Watson 1 — 0 M.Parsons
T.Slinger ½ — ½ P.Leonard
D.Patrick 1 — 0 A.Leatherbarrow
R.Clegg ½ — ½ D.Shapland
D.Collegde 0 — 1 N.Sykes
3 — 2

Here are some of the games from the fixtures in this report.

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Feb 112014
There were a good number of pairs who settled on a draw in round 3 of the championship

There were a good number of pairs who settled on a draw in round 3 of the championship

Pax ludus scacchorum

The Romans offered the ‘pax romana’ (Roman peace) to their allies, the Catholic Church granted ‘pax vobiscum’ (peace with you) to worshipers and chess players frequently agree on ‘pax ludus scacchorum’ (a draw!) and the more evenly matched the players, the more likely it will be that peace will break out. Round 4 was played at the Trades Club just last night and today the round 3 report and games were published over on the Yorkshire Chess website

Jan 312014
"Now, they only eat rat" Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in the most recent Bond film, "Skyfall"

“Now, they only eat rat”: Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in the most recent Bond film, “Skyfall”

I think I’ve used pretty much every analogy under the sun to describe the nature of this season’s extraordinary title race, but here is one more…

There’s a scene in the most recent James Bond film “Skyfall” where the treacherous super-villain Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem, recounts to a physically restrained James Bond (who would probably be disinclined to listen to him otherwise!) an anecdote from his childhood about the method his Grandmother used to rid the family island of a rat infestation. She buries an oil drum on the beach, hinges its lid and then wires some coconut to it. One by one the rats come for the bait and drop into the barrel where they starve until their survival instincts turn them against one another. Eventually, the strongest two rats have killed and eaten all the others and they can be turned loose again only…

… now they don’t eat coconut anymore. Now, they only eat rat.”

This memorable vignette sprang to my mind as I reflected again on what is turning out to be a truly remarkable season in Calderdale League 1. Nine rounds out of fourteen have now been played and the configuration of the leading team or teams has changed after no fewer than eight of those nine rounds. The top five teams are still separated by a mere three points. It’s rather like the rats in a barrel story, only in this instance, there will only be one rat left at the end of the struggle… and what a resilient specimen it will be!

To tell the story of round 9 we really must begin with the events from last Wednesday night at Huddersfield as the league leaders hosted Courier ‘A’. In the previous round Huddersfield had shrugged off the challenge of Halifax ‘A’ to maintain their single point lead at the top. This time round they couldn’t maintain their form as a bloodthirsty match ended with five decisive results! Mitchell Burke beat Tony Slinger on board 1 and Peter Hepworth defeated Kevin Winter on board 5 for the home team, however wins for John Morgan, Dave Patrick and Robert Clegg against Dave Keddie, Dave Tooley and Tony Aguirre respectively allowed Courier to re-ignite a title challenge that would almost certainly have been over had they lost. They now sit just two points behind the new league leaders as Huddersfield slip down to second a point behind…

… Todmorden ‘A’ who on the Monday night white-washed a plucky but hapless Hebden Bridge ‘B’ team. Todmorden’s board 3, Andrew Clarkson has very kindly sent us a report on this match along with a couple of annotated games which can be found in the game viewer at the end of this post.

Monday the 20th of January saw Hebden Bridge ‘B’ pay a visit to Todmorden, a match that I can assure you we were not taking lightly. In the previous round of matches Hebden’s ‘B’ team had earned a remarkable draw against their ‘A’ team, while Todmorden ‘A’ had struggled to a 3-2 victory against their own ‘B’ team. Clearly these ‘B’ teams are dangerous animals! We just couldn’t be sure of Hebden’s line up, so preparation was out of the window and improvisation was the recipe for the night.

As proceedings got underway the first notable event was Josh Blinkhorn giving up a pawn to Martyn Hamer on board 1, albeit an isolated Queen’s pawn. Perhaps it was something he was familiar with and had used as an equaliser in the past? Board 2 had Peter Mulleady playing his favourite line of the English Opening against Martin Syrett, and on board 3 I was happy to employ my tried and tested 7.a4… against John Kerrane’s line in the French Winawer variation. Meanwhile Alistair Wright, on board 4, was playing a hypermodern opening as White by delaying the advance of both e and d pawns until move 13! I bet Neil Bamford has not come across that before. Finally on board 5, Rob Tokeley was kicking Mr Crampton’s Queen around the board with gain of development.

Nothing was certain out of the openings despite at least a small plus on every board for Todmorden, so credit to the visitors. However as the evening progressed it was evident that the Hebden players were having to work very hard at their positions while the higher rated Todmorden players took full advantage of their greater calculating powers. Small advantages were accumulated and tactical opportunities seized. Games were won and Hebden were under relentless pressure. I am afraid to say we did not spare the wounded when we scented victory. 5-0 victories are quite rare in the Calderdale League and Todmorden were eager to chalk one up. Martin Syrett was eventually the last man standing, or should I say sitting, and two pawns down in a Rook ending when he threw in the towel.

So despite the 5-0 result I have to pay tribute to the brave Hebden team that came to do battle. They certainly tried to cause us problems but found all five Todmorden players intent on impressing their teammates.

The match score card looked like this:

Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’
M.Hamer 1 — 0 J.Blinkhorn
P.Mulleady 1 — 0 M.Syrett
A.Clarkson 1 — 0 J.Kerrane
A.Wright 1 — 0 N.Bamford
R.Tokeley 1 — 0 D.Crampton
5 — 0

Todmorden have occupied first or second place in the league since the beginning of the season and they’ve been in the top spot for longer than any other team thus far. They’ve also been hugely impressive at home, they haven’t lost a single board with white this season and they haven’t lost a home match since they fell to Hebden Bridge ‘A’ on bonfire night in 2012! If they don’t drop any points on their travels it’s hard to see past them for the title at this point. Their match at home to Huddersfield on the last night of the season could well prove to be decisive, not to mention mountainous for Huddersfield if the trail Tod at that juncture.

So Todmorden ‘A’ are top, Huddersfield second and Courier ‘A’ third. What about the champions? Hebden Bridge ‘A’ have had a poor run by their standards. They lost to Huddersfield and managed only draws against Todmorden ‘B’ and Hebden Bridge ‘B’ in their last three matches. With the title defence looking very shaky, could they find a way back to form at home to the bottom team Brighouse?

In the end they did by that familiar old score line of 3 — 2. One thing we can say for sure is that they won’t win the title on board score if it comes to that! Once again they set off from the blocks like lightening as they advanced to a 2 — 0 lead early on in the evening.

First of all Dave Shapland ran over Ron Grandage after the Brighouse man played the opening too provocatively. Soon afterwards Matthew Parsons had also seen off his opponent in what turned out to be the best game of the night. Robert Broadbent found himself in a Grunfeld-type position and either didn’t know the best way to proceed or dubiously elected to go ‘off-beat’ by trying to duck into a Grunfeld-Slav hybrid. Matthew pounced on his chance with great energy pushing his h-pawn right up the board to open that file and then sacrificing material to open up the Black king. Computer analysis shows that Robert did miss chances to equalise but he was under great pressure and failed to seize his main chance. After that Matthew needed only to apply a few further deft strokes and it was check mate (which Robert generously allowed his adversary to deliver).

It looked once again like Hebden Bridge were cruising. Unfortunately, in a familiar story for this season, the momentum was lost and the longer the remaining games continued the less likely it appeared Hebden would find the elusive extra point they needed for the win. Nick Sykes blundered a pawn in the opening against Paul Whitehouse on board 4. He managed to whip up some compensation for it but Paul slowly and securely defused the pressure and then pressed forward. Try as he did, Nick couldn’t find a way to hold the game and eventually Paul queened a pawn and found the right method to round up Nick’s remaining, far-advanced, past pawn.

Salvation came in the form of Pete Leonard who once again essayed his Closed Sicilian Variation against Bruce Bendall. The opening seems to suit Pete’s style. He certainly looked comfortable against Bruce although the win required patience and concentration to the last.

This just left Andy Leatherbarrow and Nick Hudson to finish up the match on board 3. Andy seemed to have the upper hand and Nick was in dreadful time-trouble but he managed to turn the tables on the Hebden player and stole the win at the very end of the night to leave the match score at 3 — 2.

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Brighouse
M.Parsons 1 — 0 R.Broadbent
P.Leonard 1 — 0 B.Bendall
A.Leatherbarrow 0 — 1 N.Hudson
N.Sykes 0 — 1 P.Whitehouse
D.Shapland 1 — 0 R.Grandage
3 — 2

So, Hebden close the gap between themselves and the top spot to two points. They are still in the hunt but must now face up to the critical spell in their season as their next four games are Courier away, Todmorden ‘A’ away, Halifax ‘A’ at home and Huddersfield away. They will likely as not need to win at least three of these matches to have any chance of retaining the title. It’s a very tall order but here’s a statistic to give them some hope. Todmorden may be the “masters of the home fixture” but Hebden ‘A’ are the “away players” of Calderdale League 1. Their last away defeat was at Belgrave in March 2012! They’ll need that kind of form again in the coming weeks.

This just leaves us to report on Halifax’s win against Todmorden ‘B’ by the handy margin of 4½ — ½. They might well have been considered out of contention after their last defeat at Huddersfield but now they are just about still in it three points behind Tod. However, with five rounds to go they simply can’t afford any more slip ups, they’ll probably need four or five wins from those fixtures to be in with a chance.

In the game viewer below you’l find five annotated games from the Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Brighouse matches.


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Jan 212014
Captain's Kirk, Pugwash, Sensible and Birdseye. I'll let the readers decide which of Hebden Bridge's four team captains these fellows should represent. Answers and reasoning in the comments box at the end of this post please!

Captain’s Kirk, Pugwash, Sensible and Birdseye. I’ll let the readers decide which of Hebden Bridge’s four team captains these fellows should represent. Answers and reasoning in the comments box at the end of this post please!

The first Monday night of 2014 saw Hebden Bridge Chess Club field 20 players as the Calderdale League returned from the Christmas break for round 8 fixtures which paired Hebden Bridge ‘A’ against the ‘B’ team in League 1 and Hebden Bridge ‘C’ against the ‘D’ team in League 2.

First of all let’s congratulate all four of the team captains involved in coordinating their players because it’s no mean feat to get 20 out on one night and shows that, despite struggling more often than in previous years to get enough players to fixtures, Hebden still has a significant pool of members to draw upon.

Of course one might have expected the ‘A’ and ‘C’ teams to glide smoothly to victory against their lower rated colleagues but in fact both matches were very closely contested and served up some excellent results for the underdogs. Hebden ‘A’s title defence has stuttered and ground to a halt in the last couple of fixtures as they lost narrowly to Huddersfield when they might have tied the match and then draw with Todmorden ‘B’ when they might have won. They badly needed to take advantage of this match against one of the weaker teams in the division if they were to have any chance of catching Todmorden ‘A’ and Huddersfield. Unfortunately for them they didn’t pass muster.

There’s no need to document again the travails of our ‘B’ team this season. It’s been a particularly difficult year for Martin Syrett’s men. The news got no better in the New Year as Martin discovered that Dave Sugden has moved out of the area and will no longer be able to play for the club. This left him scratching his head for a team right away. With some support from John Allan, who is not keen on playing in evening league matches, but gamely stepped in on board 1 to help his club field a full complement, and some careful coordination with ‘C’ and ‘D’ team captains John Kerrane and Danny Crampton, five players were found.

On paper it looked like it should be straight forward for the ‘A’s. Matthew Parsons out-rated John Allan by more than 25 points on board 1, Pete Leonard was about 15 points above Josh Blinkhorn in the live list on board 2 and Nick Sykes, Andy Leatherbarrow and Dave Shapland enjoyed statistical superiority of between 20 and 80 points over Martin Syrett, John Kerrane and Danny Crampton respectively as the club fielded all four team captains in one match, which must be a first!

Naturally it’s never quite as easy as the statistics might suggest it should be. Psychologically it can be challenging to ‘get up’ for a game against a club colleague who’s much lower rated than yourself. It’s not so much that complacency sets in rather that concentration levels dip, perhaps your play speeds up and your focus diminishes. That certainly seemed to be the case for ‘A’ team as they collectively had a dreadful evening and only drew a match that could very easily have even lost!

The most straightforward task of the night was given to Dave Shapland on board 5 as he squared up to the ‘D’ team captain, Danny Crampton. Dave didn’t play the opening phase the game with the level of intensity that he usually does and, as a result he drifted into a position that allowed Danny to give up two pieces for a rook and pawn. Dave’s two pieces and pawn were certainly better but it was the kind of unbalanced position that could so easily go wrong and was one that Dave might well have wanted to avoid. Eventually he knuckled down, found a tactical idea that he felt Danny wouldn’t spot and converted his advantage comfortably enough when his opponent did indeed overlook it.

Meanwhile on board 3 in the battle between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ team captains Nick Sykes was getting into very hot water indeed against Martin who had clearly learnt from his foray with the Bishop’s Opening against Dave in the last round of the Calderdale Individual. He played a more accurate move order and applied the pressure with the thematic advance of f4. Nick correctly closed the centre but then seemed to be focused on getting play on the queen’s side whilst his opponent built up a dangerous attack against his king. With most of his pieces cut off from the defence or forced onto the back rank Nick soon found he was defenceless against a mating attack and he resigned despondently.

The scores were level, but not for long. Andy Leatherbarrow played ambitiously against John Kerrane’s habitual English Opening on board 4 and developed a formidable king’s side attack of his own. John gamely tried to plug the holes in his defensive position with pieces but Andy just built up his forces and eventually, with his attack about to break through, John threw in the towel. The ‘A’ were ahead again.

This would normally have been Matthew Parsons’ cue to efficiently finish off his lower rated opponent and seal the match but that wasn’t what happened this time. ‘Careless’ is not normally a word one would associate with Matthew’s play but he wasn’t himself on this occasion and blundered a piece to John Allan who is not the sort of player to whom one should relinquish such an advantage. Matthew went down for the second match in succession and the scores were level once more.

At this juncture it seemed like the ‘A’ team would capitulate as Pete Leonard (returned only that morning from a long haul flight from Mexico) had much the worse of the play against Josh Blinkhorn. Pete was a pawn down but clung on desperately and Josh couldn’t find the accurate continuations that he needed to maintain his advantage. Slowly Pete crawled out of the mine field and the players agreed a draw to tie the match. This was a very well deserved point for the ‘B’ team who move a point closer to safety in the division with this result. They are now two points behind Todmorden ‘B’ who lost to their own ‘A’ team by the narrowest possible margin.

The individual scores were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
J.Allan 1 — 0 M.Parsons
J.Blinkhorn ½ — ½ P.Leonard
M.Syrett 1 — 0 N.Sykes
J.Kerrane 0 — 1 A.Leatherbarrow
D.Crampton 0 — 1 D.Shapland
2½ — 2½

Elsewhere in League 1 leaders Huddersfield maintained their single point advantage over Todmorden ‘A’ by beating Halifax ‘A’ despite losing on the top board as the scintillating Darwin Ursal continued to sweep all before him, this time Mitchell Burke was his victim. This result appears to have put paid to Halifax’s title challenge as they are now 4 points behind Huddersfield and it seems unlikely that they will claw that back in the 6 remaining fixtures.

That outcome coupled with Hebden ‘A’s draw meant that Courier ‘A’ were handed a golden opportunity to jump into third spot by beating Brighouse. This they did quite comfortably as they won on all of the bottom three boards and they are the next team to visit Huddersfield on the 20th. If they lose that match they too will be too far behind the leaders to have any realistic hopes of the title so it will be fascinating to see the outcome of that match. A Courier win would throw the title race wide open again not least for themselves.

In the last of the League 1 fixtures second place Todmorden ‘A’ ‘travelled’ to Todmorden ‘B’ for their second derby fixture of the season. The first one had been a close call and the second was no different as the ‘A’ team scraped home by 2 — 3. Andrew Clarkson suffered his first defeat of the season to Mike Connor on board 3 but wins by Pete Mulleady and Rob Tokeley (the very two players who had succumbed at the last in the match before Christmas against Huddersfield) helped the ‘A’ team to a victory that seems them maintain the pace set by Huddersfield.

The League 2 teams were also in action last week and this of course meant that there was a second derby match at the Trades Club between the ‘C’ and ‘D’ teams. Normally one would expect the ‘C’ team to win at a canter but with the club having to spread its resources to get 20 players to the board on a single night matters were not at all straight forward and, in the end, the ‘C’ team only just made it by a score of 2 — 3. Neil Bamford beat Karl Dickinson on board 1, James Todd defeated Hephzi Leatherbarrow on board 3 and Dave Leggett had the pleasure of winning against his own son Dylan on board 4. However, there were upsets on the other two boards as Paul Dearden downed Ray Deravairere and, in the result of the night Martha Leggett took a full point from Alex Brown with a fine performance.

The match card looked like this then:

Hebden Bridge ‘D’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
K.Dickinson 0 — 1 N.Bamford
P.Dearden 1 — 0 R.Deravairere
H.Leatherbarrow 0 — 1 J.Todd
D.Leggett 0 — 1 D.J.Leggett
M.Leggett 1 — 0 A.Brown
2 — 3

We haven’t covered off the league positions in the second division for quite a while so let’s put that right now.

With Todmorden ‘D’s withdrawal there are only 7 teams in this division now. Belgrave are currently well clear at the top with 13 points from 7 matches. They beat Courier ‘B’ last week to maintain their advantage. Next come Halifax ‘B’ with 9 points from 6 matches, they defeated their ‘C’ team on Monday. Todmorden ‘C’ and Hebden Bridge ‘C’ both have 8 points and are in joint third position but Hebden have played one game more than Todmorden who did not play last week. Hebden ‘D’ are at the foot of the table at the moment but they are still generating some encouraging individual results which is the critical factor for the development of the juniors.

All the available games from this week’s report can be found in the viewer below.

The League 1 sides play again this week as Hebden ‘A’ host Brighouse and Hebden ‘B’ travel to Todmorden ‘A’.

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Jan 032014
In Biathlon the psychological pressure of being in the lead means that the first athlete into the range is often not the first to leave it. A simliar effect seems to be gripping successive leaders in Calderdale League 1. This image is used under the terms of Creative Commons and sourced from Chiemgau's Flickr photo stream

In Biathlon the psychological pressure of being in the lead means that the first athlete into the range is often not the first to leave it. A simliar effect seems to be gripping successive leaders in Calderdale League 1. This image is used under the terms of Creative Commons and sourced from Chiemgau’s Flickr photo stream

First of all let me wish all Hebden Bridge Chess Club members and our readers a happy, prosperous and check-mate filled New Year! I make no apologies for leaving these web pages untouched over the festive period but we will make up for lost time with some match reports from the last couple of weeks before Christmas.

Seeing as we’ve begun with a seasonal theme I will continue by confessing that I have, during the course of the last three years, become a devoted fan of the winter sport of Biathlon. This is perhaps not the most glamorous or exciting of the sports that will feature in February’s Winter Olympics (which happen to be rather more enticing to me than their summer equivalent) but for me it’s enthralling and is an easy sport to get your head around. The event combines both cross country skiing and rifle-shooting and I’m always captivated by the resilience, skill and nerve of the contestants who display both incredible levels of physical fitness andalso phenomenal self-control as they transition from one discipline to the other.

“What’s this got to do with chess?” You may justifiably cry. I’ve compared our game to tennis, golf, football and cricket on these pages before but surely this is stretching it a bit far. The parallel with chess is that psychological pressure and mental strength play a huge role in biathlon. The commentators often focus on the pressure the leader of the race is under when they ski onto the shooting range for every shot they miss they incur a time penalty and so the stakes involved with shooting perfectly to maintain their lead increase as the end of the race draws closer. Very often the first contestant into the shooting range is not the first to leave as the tension and pressure they experience leads to them slow their rate of fire or miss targets whilst their pursuers, with less to lose, shoot perfectly and catch them up or even over take them. This is part of what lends biathlon it’s fascination for me as the lead can change over and over again and the winner is not only the strongest contestant physically but also the strongest psychologically.

So here’s the real point. It appears to me that this year’s League 1 title race seems to be exerting the same kind of pressure on the league leaders in each round. No team seems capable of holding onto the top spot for very long. Witness this string of results: at the start of round 4 Todmorden ‘A’ were top of the league but they then lost to Hebden Bridge ‘A’; at the start of round 5 Halifax ‘A’ and Huddersfield were top but they both lost to Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Brighouse repectively to lose their position; as round 6 was being played Hebden Bridge themselves were top with Todmorden and they lost to Huddersfield. As we’ll see, the leaders slipped up again in round 7 and allowed a rival to take the top spot.

Not all of the final matches of 2013 were played on their scheduled date of the 23rd of December. The reason for this was that, not wanting to field potentially weakened line-ups on the 23rd (why do we have a fixture in the calendar two days before Christmas Mr Fixture Secretary?) some teams arranged to play their round 7 matches a week early.

Huddersfield and Todmorden ‘A’ were always going to have to play their match the week before Christmas because Huddersfield were scheduled to host the match and they do so on a Wednesday. Even the most enthusiastic of club players would hesitate to volunteer for a Christmas Day fixture! And so it was that the top two teams in League 1 convened at Huddersfield on the 16th to decide who would be top of the heap at the half-way stage of the season. Todmorden had a one point lead over their rivals at the start of the evening and they brought with them a ferocious line-up of players that included their regulars of Hamer, Mulleady, Clarkson and Tokeley as well as their some-time ‘B’ team top board player Andy Jacques. This side averaged 169 in the YCA live rating list.

Huddersfield meanwhile were even stronger! Mitchell Burke led the line-up on board one and the three Dave’s: Keddie, Firth and Tooley have all appeared at least once each thus far. The surprise package arranged by a benevolent Robert Sutcliffe (cast in the role of Santa for this Christmas tail!) was the return of Leo Keeley on board 2. This meant Huddersfield had an average live rating of 171! Surely then, this must have been the match with the highest average rating ever in the Calderdale League. I certainly can’t remember another and others who have been involved in the Calderdale League much longer than I can’t either.

The match might have turned Todmorden’s way early in the evening as Dave Keddie didn’t appear to play against Andy Jacques on board 3 until 25 minutes had disappeared form his clock. He never the less played swiftly and secured a draw against Andy’s Caro-Kann. The board one game between Burke and Hamer was also drawn and that left Andrew Clarkson on board 4 to put the visitors ahead with a (no surprises here!) complicated win in a highly theoretical Grunfeld Defence against David Firth.

All that remained was for Todmorden to hang on in two equal (or even slightly better) positions on boards 2 and 5 and they could secure a 3 point advantage over Huddersfield for the second half of he season. However, they faltered at the last. Both Rob Tokeley and Pete Mulleady let their games slip away and Keeley and Tooley wrapped up another Chirstmas gift for the home side as they went top by a point over Todmorden, a result that keeps the championship battle on the boil.

All of this meant that Hebden Bridge ‘A’ could close the gap between themselves and the top spot to a single point if they beat Todmorden ‘B’ away. They fielded their regular line up but realised they would have a hard fight to succeed when they saw that Todmorden had replaced Andy Jacques with Neil Suttie and that Tod ‘A’ captain, Alastair Wright, was playing for the ‘B’ team on board 2. The Tod line up was completed by David Innes, Mike Huett and Rob Collier, all good players capable of beating their opponents.

Once again the result turned on the smallest of details. Alastair Wright tore through Pete Leonard on board 2 to put the home side in front. Then the board three match came to an end in a draw (though immediately after the game had finished Nick Sykes spotted a thematic and elementary winning method that he overlooked at the death) before Dave Shapland levelled the scores by outlasting Rob Collier in a tense and complicated struggle in the Budapest Gambit.

At this point it looked like Hebden might sneak it for Andy Leatherbarrow was also winning on board 4 and, though he was a couple of pawns down, Matthew Parsons looked like he had some drawing chances against Neil. As it happened Andy did succeed in defeating Mike but, despite trying absolutely everything he could think of to slow Neil up and keep him thinking in a time scramble, Matthew eventually had to admit that he was beaten. Neil played the ending very accurately to salvage a draw for his team.

The individual scores were:

Todmorden ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
N.Suttie 1 — 0 M.Parsons
A.Wright 1 — 0 P.Leonard
D.Innes ½ — ½ N.Sykes
M.Huett 0 — 1 A. Leatherbarrow
R.Collier 0 — 1 D.Shapland
2½ — 2½

This result meant that Hebden passed up on the chance to close to within a point of the leaders but they did at least pull a point back on Todmorden.

The other two League 1 matches were played on the 23rd as originally scheduled. Hebden Bridge ‘B’ have had a torrid season thus far and look like relegation fodder but they gave themselves hope of surviving to enjoy another season in the top flight by winning against a four-man Brighouse side.

The individual scores were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Brighouse
Josh Blinkhorn 0 — 1 R.Broadbent
D.Sugden 0 — 1 D.Breen
M.Syrett 1 — 0 N. Hudson
J.Kerrane 1 — 0 R.Grandage
N.Bamford 1 — 0 DEFAULT
3 — 2

Unfortunately their ‘A’ team’s failure to defeat Tod ‘B’ did Martin Syrett’s men no favours as they remain 3 points behind Tod and will probably need to beat both them and Brighouse in the second half of the season to have any chance of getting out of the bottom two places. Who knows, perhaps they can spring a surprise in the derby match next Monday?

That just leaves one match to report on between Halifax ‘A’ and Courier ‘A’ in another fixture played on December the 23rd. Halifax had suffered two painful defeats in a row first to Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and then to Todmorden ‘A’ and this left them languishing back in fifth position in the league. They really had to win to sustain any sort of title challenge. Courier themselves were still very much in contention too. On the night Courier were on the end of a furious Halifax backlash as the visitors were dismantled 4 – 1 with home wins for Winston Williams, Bill Somerset, Darwin Ursal and Sam Scurfield against Courier’s Tony Slinger, John Morgan, Dave Patrick and Robert Clegg respectively. Only Dave Colledge on board 5 managed to keep a modicum of respectibility for Courier by beating Carlos Velosa to save a whitewash.

So, at the halfway stage of the season there are just three points seperating the top five sides in League 1. Hudderfield have 11 points, Todmorden ‘A’ have 10, Halifax ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ each have 9) with Halifax’s extra board point and a half meaning that they are currently ranked third) and Courier are on 8 and still in touch with the leaders. At the bottom, Todmorden ‘B’ gave themselves a great chance of surviving this season by drawing with Hebden ‘A’ as they now have 5 points whilst Brighouse and Hebden ‘B’ have it all to do on 2 points a-piece.

The list of top players in the division is headed by (guess who?) Darwin “Draw-Win” Ursal on a huge 6½/7. He is followed by Todmorden’s Andrew Clarkson on 5½/7 and then comes Hebden Bridge’s Dave Shapland on 5/6. Can either of these two overhaul Mr Ursal? He’ll need to play some more games on board 1 for that to happen I suspect.

Looking ahead to the second half of the season it would appear that there are several factors that might have an impact on who the title winners might turn out to be. For what it’s worth here is my assessment of the top 5’s chances:

  • Huddersfield are of course in the cockpit right now but they lost their only match of season thus far at home to lowly Brighouse, so they aren’t immune to error. It would appear that they have the strength in depth to make life very hard for all their closest rivals in their head-to-head encounters and they have the pleasure of hosting Halifax, Courier and Hebden Bridge in the second half of the season. That might well tip the scales in their favour and will almost certainly mean that Todmorden will have to beat them when they host them in the final round on April the 14th
  • Todmorden ‘A’ seem to have solved the leaky lower-boards issue that has been their bain for the past two seasons. They are absolutely tremendous at home and will host Hebden Bridge and Huddersfield in the second half. More worrying for them will be their away matches against Halifax and Courier as they only won two away matches in the whole of last season and have only managed one (a full-default against  Hebden ‘B’) so far this. If they can solve the away form conundrum then they could well win the title and end the recent Heb-gemony
  • Halifax ‘A’ also seem to have taken strides towards successfully strengthening their lower order but frustratingly have been more vulnerable at the top end than they were last year despite beefing up there too. They’ve only managed one win and one draw against their four main rivals in the first round of fixtures and so it’s not hard to see where they need to improve for the second half. They must start taking more points from Huddersfield, Tod and Hebden if they are to make up the ground on the top teams and snatch the title. They can start immediately by beating Huddersfield away on January the 8th! If they don’t win that one then they’ll be four points behind the leaders. Too much to make up. They did it at home last year can they take the next step?
  • Hebden Bridge ‘A’ are slightly surprised to still be in contention at this stage of the year and perhaps their last two results, losing at home to Huddersfield and drawing away to Todmorden ‘B,’ provide a more realistic picture of their form than their two amazing results against Todmorden ‘A’ and Halifax. They are certainly capable of upsetting the strongest sides but can they do it round after round as they did last season? It was their away form (six wins out of seven!) that helped them to the title in 2013 (Huddersfield were next best with four wins on the road). They’ll need to display similar form in 2014 as they have to travel to Courier, Todmorden ‘A’ and Huddersfield, and I guess they’ll need to win at least two of those matches to keep in contention. Too much to ask?
  • Courier ‘A’ are something of an enigma. Their regular line up is strong enough to sustain a very strong challenge on paper but somehow they aren’t performing. They are the furthest behind the leaders at the halfway point and that really means they will have to score heavily for the remainder of the season. Round 9 sees them travel to Huddersfield in what looks like a ‘must win’ match for them. If the team performs as well as the player’s grades suggest they should then they are still in with a shout but I think they’ll have to be unbeaten for the rest of the season to win the title.

I think my money’s on Huddersfield.

What do readers make of this analysis I wonder? As always, please feel free to comment and give your opinion.

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Dec 092013
Even more so than the last two seasons, this year's league one title race is a vicious do fight with five teams right in contention. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Greything's Flickr photostream

Even more so than the last two seasons, this year’s league one title race is a vicious dog fight with five teams right in contention. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from Greything’s Flickr photostream

The savagely contested, too-close-to-call, league 1 season bowls on in an increasingly disorderly fashion. By this stage of the season the front runners have usually established themselves and asserted their authority. Not this year. It‘s brutal dog eat dog scrap to the death and there are still five teams at the top separated by no more than three points.

Last week’s “Magic Monday” encounters pitted the top four teams against one another as the league leaders, Todmorden ‘A’ hosted Halifax ‘A’ and arch-enemies Hebden Bridge’A’ and Huddersfield faced off at the Trades Club. The casual bystanders watched and rubbed their hands with glee at the prospect of two more titanic battles between the league’s heavy-weights.

Todmorden were top of the league on board count before the night started and had the home advantage against Halifax ‘A’ who where struck down from their share of top-spot in the last round by Hebden Bridge. The two teams looked evenly matched on paper (both sporting line-ups averaging a mega 167!) but the statistics suggested that Halifax were facing an up-hill struggle. Todmorden had played three home fixtures before this one so far and they hadn’t lost a single game!

Halifax’s players out-graded their opponents on the top three boards and Todmorden’s took precedent on the bottom two. In the end it was Todmorden’s unbeaten home run that prevailed as Andrew Clarkson continued his excellent run of form with a win over Bill Somerset on board 3 and Alastair Wright saw off Sam Scurfield on board 4 to seal another impressive victory for Tod and secure their place at the top of the table for another week.

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ have the lowest average rating of the top five (just 156) but somehow they continue to collectively be worth more than the sum of their parts having beaten both Todmorden at home and Halifax away in their last two fixtures. Huddersfield however have always been something of a bête noire for Hebden and last year was most unusual in that they two sides traded away wins (Hebden’s first victory over Huddersfield for years) in the league on their way to finishing first and second.

As expected, Huddersfield Captain Robert Sutcliffe had inserted some serious muscle into his team following their truly shocking home defeat to Brighouse in the previous round. Their line up averaged a stellar 168! An uphill battle was in prospect once again for the Hebden team but, as always, they perform best when they are up against the odds.

The night started out wonderfully for Hebden. First of all Matthew Parsons secured a swift and painless draw with Mitchell Burke on board 1. These two players know each other’s games inside out and back to front and so it was no surprise to see that neither of them took any risks playing for a win. Matthew also said afterwards that his exertions in the previous day’s Haiyan Blitz tournament in Halifax, where he finished in an excellent share of third place, had left him feeling a little low on energy.

Next, Dave Shapland secured a swift and decisive victory in just 23 moves against “The Adamantine” Richard Boylan. Richard is a tough nut to crack and deployed a typically solid system, the Rubenstein Variation of the French Defence, but somewhere along the line he played too slowly and Dave simply developed all his pieces and then launched an attack in the centre. Inevitably there was a flaw in the winning combination but it was tough to find and although Richard still found a method for testing Dave’s nerve, he found that he had been out-calculated and Dave’s sacrifice of the exchange and a rook was forcing checkmate.

The momentum was with Hebden and it seemed that they would go “over the top” with a win on board two where Pete Leonard had survived an early assault of his Bishop’s Opening by Dave Keddie and then completely turned the tables with a direct attack on the Black king. Pete correctly sacrificed a rook to break open the pawn carapace in front of Dave’s monarch but then, with victory in sight, he chose a line that drew by repetition when check mate looked on. As the post-mortem uncovered several methods for White to complete his romp to glory Pete was remorseful but he had no cause to be for he had drawn against another player rated much higher than himself and it was his superb victory at Halifax in the previous round that had secured Hebden’s triumph.

Sadly, on this occasion, the momentum had been stopped with this result and Huddersfield’s tumescent glow returned as both Greg Eagleton on board 3 and Dave Tooley on board 4 secured solid advantages of a single pawn against Nick Sykes and Andy Leatherbarrow respectively. Both Hebden players had also taken part in the Sunday blitz contest and so perhaps they too were suffering some ill-effects. If they were they didn’t show it because both Sykes and Leatherbarrow knuckled down to some gritty defensive work as they fought tooth and nail for the draw Hebden needed to tie the match. They held out almost to the very end of the evening, when, just as it appeared the Huddersfield players might have to brave serious clock crises to get their wins both Hebden players capitulated under massive pressure. Huddersfield had pipped them at the post once again.

The individual scores looked like this:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Huddersfield
M.Parsons ½ — ½ M.Burke
P.Leonard ½ — ½ D.Keddie
N.Sykes 0 — 1 G.Eagleton
A.Leatherbarrow 0 — 1 D. Tooley
D.Shapland 1 — 0 R.Boylan
2 — 3

“What about the fifth team in the dog fight?” I hear you cry. Well, let us not forget that Courier ‘A’ are right in the championship battle having beaten Hebden at the Trades Club earlier in the season. They started the night 2 points behind Hebden and Todmorden and they had a wonderful chance to gain ground on the four above them as they were the only members of the elite group not to be playing another. Instead they hosted the tortured Hebden Bridge ‘B’ side who, having been pressed back into action after defaulting their first three matches are now struggling to get any traction in the table at all.

In fairness Courier was never going to be the kind of place where they could expect to go with any great optimism of securing their first points of the season. At the end of the night the results was predictably destructive as only John Kerrane (who is having a fine season) on board 4 was able to hold out against the superior Courier squad.

The individual results were:

Courier ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’
T.Slinger 1 — 0 J. Blinkhorn
J.Morgan 1 — 0 D.Sugden
D.Patrick 1 — 0 M.Syrett
R.Clegg ½ — ½ J.Kerrane
K.Winter 1 — 0 T.Sullivan
4½ — ½

All of this means that the top of the table is as tight as ever before the last fixtures of the first half of the season are played. Todmorden are top by a single point over Huddersfield but they must travel to Huddersfield on December the 18th for what ought to be a mouth-watering encounter for anyone able to get along and witness it first hand.

A further point behind Huddersfield come Courier ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘A’ (Courier are third on board count) and then one more point behind are Halifax. Halifax host Courier in the pre-Christmas fixture and really need to win that match to haul themselves back into content. Can they bounce back from two successive defeats? They are certainly strong enough and capable enough to do so.

Hebden meanwhile have a golden opportunity to gain ground on at least two of the other four as they face Todmorden ‘B’ away. Tod’s second string will be no push overs but Hebden ought to be able to defeat them to maintain their pursuit of a third successive title.

At the other end of the table Hebden Bridge ‘B’ may yet find a way to dig themselves out of the basement but they absolutely must beat Brighouse at home in their last match of 2013 if they are to stand any chance of staging an unlikely escape.

T0day sees round 2 of the Calderdale Individual Championship take place at the Trades Club and wed should see some very competitive games as the top half of the draw renew their acquaintance with one another.

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Nov 262013
Last week Hebden Bridge's title holders managed enjoyed a similarly picturesque view over Halifax as they pulled of an unlikely and brilliant victory. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from david_pics' Flickr photo stream

Last week Hebden Bridge’s title holders enjoyed a similarly picturesque view over Halifax as they pulled of an unlikely and brilliant victory. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from david_pics’ Flickr photo stream

It was another night of high drama and high quality chess in Calderdale League 1 on Monday night as reigning champions, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ travelled to Halifax to take on a newly modified and super-strong Halifax ‘A’ team.

Halifax Chess Club have been building a formidable line-up over the last couple of seasons and are rightly ambitious to succeed in the Calderdale top flight. First of all came Bill Somerset half way through the 2011-12 campaign to help carry the ‘A’ team back to league 1. In 2012-13 he was joined by Darwin Ursal, back after a year’s sabbatical at Hebden Bridge which helped them to win the title that season. Halifax performed very well in their return season but they didn’t quite have the strength in depth through the whole team to sustain their challenge and were too reliant on their top two boards.

Then, this season they added Winston Williams to their top board as well as Sam Scurfield to their lower order and in doing so they have transformed themselves into genuine title contenders. On Monday night their average YCA rating was 168 compared to Hebden’s 156.

The Hebden team were rightly anxious about the match but they could draw some comfort from the return of their own board 1, Matthew Parsons, which meant that, for the first time this season, they had all five players from last season’s regular title winning line up available. They aren’t the strongest side in the league on paper but they are certainly one of the most tenacious and in the last 12 months the line up of Parsons, Leonard, Leatherbarrow, Sykes and Shapland has scored a perfect record of 7 wins out of 7 against some of the most ferocious opposition the league has to offer. Could they over turn the odds once again?

As is so often the case with Hebden their away matches seem to be less stressful than their home encounters. In the last 18 months they’ve lost just two matches and both of those were at home. Once again on Monday they operated the Black pieces with some skill in the early part of the game and this established a good platform for them to build on during the evening.

The only Hebden player who seemed to be struggling out of the opening was Dave Shapland on board 5. He’d ventured 1…d6 to try and dissuade Scott Gornall from playing the London System. This worked but Scott transposed cunningly into a Pirc Defence when he played 4.e4 and after that it became apparent he was more familiar with the opening ideas than Dave was. The Hebden man was tempted into playing too ambitiously and he got himself into a mess. However, just when it seemed he was going to get punished by his opponents superior development and active pieces he unearthed a shocking and unexpected resource that, whilst being objectively unsound was quite hard to unpick at the board. Scott responded inaccurately and Dave was then able to hold the balance into dynamically balanced end game.

Elsewhere, Nick Sykes had courageously ventured the Kings Indian Defence against one of the league’s most skilled exponents of the variation, Darwin Ursal. It’s always interesting to see how a player will react when faced with one of their own pet systems and Darwin intelligently and wary of Nick’s opening preparation, decided not to engage in the Samisch Variation but play more conservatively with the fianchetto line. This worked to the extent that Nick was less familiar with the ideas and it enabled Darwin to demonstrate the gulf between the two players’ ratings with some superior middle game play. In the end he simply improved his position, pounced on a couple of inaccurate moves by Nick and ground out the win. Halifax had taken the lead that the statistics suggested they would.

That was as far as they got however for the other four games were played on and on into the evening. The board 1 encounter was truly epic in proportions. Winston demonstrated his desire to avoid orthodox opening play by beginning with the move 1.c3!? Matthew then played actively and precisely to obtain a highly complex but favourable position and eventually was able to convert this to an endgame where he had two knights and a rook against Winston’s two rooks and an extra pawn. Normally the two rooks would do well with an extra pawn but here the foot soldier in question was doubled on the h-file and Matthew was then able to exchange off one of Winston’s rooks. Slowly Matthew position improved and, with the end game accelerating into the night the players passed 100 moves but Matthews’s position just got better and better until Winston was compelled to resign. One all.

Board 2 finished next and the result was another surprise for the hosts as Pete Leonard grabbed a very hot pawn in the opening against Bill Somerset but managed to hold onto it in a highly theoretical and complicated Grunfeld Defence. Bill seemed to be gaining the upper hand in the middle game with his superior development and activity but at some point he failed to find the best way to press for the advantage and Pete managed to advance his passed a and b pawns. The players exchanged inaccurate moves in time trouble but it was Pete that emerged from the scramble in better shape and when the dust settled Bill saw that there was no hope and waved the white flag.

Now Hebden just needed to draw out the bottom two boards to win the match. On board 4 Andy Leatherbarrow had deployed the Scandinavian against Sam Scurfield. The game followed a trendy variation that Andy is well versed in and Sam did not manage to gain any sort of advantage. An endgame with queens and a rook each was reached and Andy managed to grab a pawn before getting the queen’s off. This left him in a position where he couldn’t really lose but could play on for a win and he tried his best to do just that as the top two boards remained unclear. However, the ending was far from easy to win as all the pawns were on the same side of the board. Eventually as the top two boards did end in Hebden’s favour Andy faltered and dropped his extra pawn. The players then concluded peace.

This just left board 5 to finish. Dave Shapland had managed to gain a symbolic advantage in his ending and was also the only player gunning for a win. However, both he and Scott were now running out of time to complete their game and with Scott reduced to passive defence, Dave accepted the offer of a draw that sealed another famous win for Hebden to follow up on their last round victory over Todmorden ‘A’.

The individual scores at the end of the match looked like this:

Halifax ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
W.Williams 0 — 1 M.Parsons
B.Somerset 0 — 1 P.Leonard
D.Ursal 1 — 0 N.Sykes
S.Scurfield ½ — ½ A.Leatherbarrow
S.Gornall ½ — ½ D.Shapland
2 — 3

Whilst the ‘A’ team were locked in a crucial tie at the top of the table Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were engaged in a relegation dog fight away to Todmorden ‘B’. John Kerrane briefly described a disappointing night for Hebden in a match they really needed to win if they wanted to beat the drop.

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ did not fare so well against Todmorden ‘B’, going down 3½ — 1½, despite, early in the match, looking as though they would achieve at least a draw. However, despite captain Martin Syrett’s win on board 3, the advantage seemed to slip from the other players, and in the end, Todmorden ‘B’ deserved their victory.”

Individual results from this match were:

Todmorden ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’
A.Jacques 1 — 0 J.Blinkhorn
M.Huett 1 — 0 D.Sugden
T.Webster 0 — 1 M.Syrett
D.Milton ½ — ½ J.Kerrane
R.Collier 1 — 0 T.Sullivan
3½ — 1½

In the other match played on Monday Todmorden ‘A’ bounced back from their disappointment at the Trades Club last time out to efficiently dispatch Courier ‘A’ at home despite missing their regular board 1 player Martin Hamer. Andrew Clarkson beat John Morgan on board 2 and David Innes beat Peter Hughes on board 5 as the other three boards were drawn.

Then on Wednesday night came the scarcely believable tale that Huddersfield had been defeated at home by Brighouse, not just beaten, thrashed 1 — 4! The next day the league website confirmed the result and added in the details that Mitchell Burke went down to Robert Broadbent on board 1, Robert Sutcliffe lost to Ron Grandage on board 5 and Bruce Bendall beat Dave Tooley on board 3 to complete a wonderful performance from Brighouse.

That result leaves Hebden ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’ on the same number of points (8) at the top of the table (though Tod lead on superior board score). Huddersfield and Halifax have 7 points and face Hebden and Todmorden ‘A’ away respectively in their next matches. This pairing of the top four teams could well help Courier ‘A’ as they play Hebden ‘B’ and currently have 6 points. A win could see them gain back some ground on the leaders.

At the bottom Todmorden ‘B’ have now got off the mark at Hebden ‘B’s expense but it’s still all to play for as, even with Brighouse’s surprise win at Huddersfield, Hebden are still be within a single victory of both their relegation rivals. Two of these three will go down, that much is almost certain. The only question is “which two?”

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Nov 122013
Boom! Hebden 'A' reignited their title challenge by beating the league leaders last Monday. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from Joel's Goa pics Flickr photo stream

Boom! Hebden ‘A’ reignited their title challenge by beating the league leaders last Monday. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from Joel’s Goa pics Flickr photo stream

There was a feast of excellent and interesting chess on offer at the Trades Club last Monday night as Hebden Bridge ‘A’ hosted Todmorden ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘B’ hosted Huddersfield in two fiercely contested league 1 ties. Fittingly for the time of year there were plenty of colourful pyrotechnics and no shortage of heat as quality of the chess on some of the boards reached a very high standard indeed.

The ‘A’ team won the title last year but have looked more vulnerable without the services of Matthew Parsons so far this season. They lost their last home match against Courier and that didn’t bode well as the welcomed their nearest neighbours and early league leaders Todmorden ‘A’. For the past two seasons Hebden seem to have had something of an Indian sign over their local rivals for, in their last four encounters Hebden have won three and drawn one match. Tod brought their strongest ever team to the Trades this time out as, for the first time at Hebden Bridge, they fielded Messrs Hamer, Mulleady and Clarkson on the top three boards. Their captain, Alastair Wright took up board 4 and Rob Tokeley played board 5.

White to play in Parsons vs. Mulleady. How did Matthew secure an advantage? The answer is given in the game viewer at the end of this post. Select the appropriate game from the drop-down menu

White to play in Parsons vs. Mulleady. How did Matthew secure an advantage? The answer is given in the game viewer at the end of this post. Select the appropriate game from the drop-down menu

The home side had significantly bolstered their arsenal since that last home defeat to Courier however. Matthew Webb was recruited to cover board 1 duties several weeks ago but then, on the preluding Friday night, Matthew Parsons announced that he was ready to come back to play having missed the first three matches of the season. This meant that Dave Shapland was able to drop down to the ‘B’ team as the rest of the ‘A’ team lined up with regulars Pete Leonard, Andy Leatherbarrow and Nick Sykes.

Hebden were like wounded animals after their slip up against Courier and they were absolutely determined to win this match and haul themselves back into contention for the title. Todmorden of course are a very able team indeed so it was going to take a super-human effort from the home-side to pull it off and that they did heralds the fact that some fantastic and entertaining chess was played.

The home side were solid on the lower boards where Andy Leatherbarrow comfortably held Alastair’s Caro-Kann Defence without ever looking like he might win. Whilst this game was mostly of interest to those with a taste for technical chess the rest of the games had plenty of fireworks to light up the tie.

Some players come back from a lay-off looking a bit rusty but Matthew Parsons was truly in scintillating form as he pounced on an oversight be Pete Mulleady to secure two pieces for a rook and pawn as well as a clear positional advantage. As the game progressed he was able to convert that into a clear piece advantage and the endgame was simply child’s play for a contestant of Matthew’s calibre. This was a very smooth performance against an excellent opponent. Hebden were one up.

On board 1 the game developed along complex lines as Matthew Webb chose to meet Martin Hamer’s Alekhine’s Defence with the highly provocative Four Pawns Attack. Martin knows his Alekhine’s intimately and in fact he secured a very good looking attack as the players castled on opposite sides of the board. Martin had his queen and rook lined up on the half-open g-file and Matty seemed to be in trouble. However, at the crucial moment Martin seemed pass up on the most critical way to continue his attack and suddenly Matty’s position came to life. A couple more inaccurate moves from Martin and he found Matty’s knights had invaded his position decisively on e6 and b5. The short and brutal counter-attack was concluded with a very attractive check mate. Hebden had won the top two boards and were already assured of at least a draw.

In fact they finished a triumphant night undefeated as first Nick Sykes clung on in the face of a seemingly kamikaze attack from Rob Tokeley and then Pete Leonard held his nerve admirably to halve the point in a typically complicated discussion of the Pirc Defence with Andrew Clarkson. This was a very fine performance from all members of the team against a formidably strong side. Bravo!

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Todmorden ‘A’
M.D.Webb 1 — 0 M.Hamer
M.Parsons 1 — 0 P.Mulleady
P.Leonard ½ — ½ A.A.Clarkson
A.Leatherbarrow ½ — ½ A.Wright
N.Sykes ½ — ½ R.Tokeley
3½ — 1½

Meanwhile on the next row of tables Martin Syrett’s beleaguered ‘B’ team finally got their season off to a start with a frightening task against Huddersfield who were not as strong on the night as they sometimes can be.

Board 1 was the first to finish as Dave Shapland’s ill-conceived opening ploy backfired on him immediately and he found himself playing one of Mitchell Burke’s favourite openings without much of a clue as to what he was doing. The result was a slow and agonising death as Mitchell rubbed out all hope of counter play and simply wiped Dave off the board.

On Board 5, Hebden’s Terry Sullivan looked to be in control against the Huddersfield Captain Robert Sutcliffe. The game ended in a draw however as Robert found some cunning resources to keep himself in the game. John Kerrane was less fortunate on board 4 as he made a mistake as early as move seven and was left to suffer for the rest of the game until Tony Aguirre put him out of his misery.

Huddersfield were already over the top and needed just a draw from the last two matches. This was no forgone conclusion however for Josh Blinkhorn set about David Firth in spirited fashion and forced his higher-rated opponent to defend very accurately to hold the draw while on board 3 Hebden’s Captain, Martin Syrett, also seemed to have excellent winning chances against Dave Tooley but eventually had to content himself with a draw. A good effort from the ‘B’s who seem really to be playing for pride although Todmorden ‘B’ and Brighouse are both also on zero points after 4 rounds so amazingly, Hebden might yet save themselves.

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Huddersfield
D.Shapland 0 — 1 M.Burke
J.Blinkhorn ½ — ½ D.Firth
M.Syrett ½ — ½ D.Tooley
J.Kerrane 0 — T.Aguirre
T.Sullivan ½ — ½ R.Sutcliffe
1½ — 3½

Yesterday saw the start of the Calderdale Individual Championship which is being played at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club this year. There will be coverage of this competition round by round on the Yorkshire League website and I’ll post a link here when the first round report is up.

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Nov 072013
Courier dispatched a large consignment of disappointment to Hebden 'A' a couple of weeks ago. The image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from uccemebug's Flickr photo stream

Courier dispatched a large consignment of disappointment to Hebden ‘A’ a couple of weeks ago. The image is used under Creative Commons terms and sourced from uccemebug’s Flickr photo stream

I’m afraid that our reports for recent fixtures have gotten a little behind and so today I’m publishing a report about the league 1 fixtures from two weeks ago (!) and also league 2 fixtures from last week. Hopefully we’ll catch up with this week’s matches very soon! The league 1 fixtures saw some very interesting results (for very different reasons) that will shape both the race for the title and also the battle against relegation.

Reigning champions, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ hosted their first home match of the season (their very first game was supposed to be against their ‘B’ team but that was defaulted) against Courier ‘A’. For the past two years Hebden have edged tight matches against Courier at home and drawn their away fixtures with them so it was always likely to be a tight and tense affair, the more so since Courier have made a strong bid for the title this year by fielding an even stronger side this time around. Tony Slinger had played the first two matches on board one but he was unavailable for this match and so Courier replaced him with Phil Watson who is rated 184! He was followed in the line up by John Morgan, Dave Patrick, Robert Clegg and Peter Hughes all of whom are rated in the 150’ and 160’s.

Hebden meanwhile were still without Pete Leonard and had therefore drafted in Andrew Bak again to cover for Pete’s absence. Andrew played on board 1 followed by Andy Leatherbarrow, Nick Sykes, Dave Shapland and Josh Blinkhorn. Hebden were out-rated on every board but not by such a huge margin that they should have expected a whitewash and indeed, what followed was a hard fought affair.

Hebden seemed to be doing pretty well early on. On board 1 Andrew had gained a huge space advantage against Phil’s Caro-Kann albeit without any clear means of converting that into a full point. Andy Leatherbarrow seemed to have John Morgan in all sorts of trouble on board 2. Nick Sykes and Josh Blinkhorn both had comfortable positions against their opponents and Dave Shapland and Robert Clegg were conducting yet another theoretical duel in their pet variation of the French Tarrasch — any result was therefore possible.

Sadly the evening went downhill from there on in. It began with a reversal of fortunes in the match between the two captains on board 3. Dave had managed to get some pressure but Nick’s position looked solid enough until a slight inaccuracy allowed Dave to turn the screw and eventually Nick’s position fell apart. Next, Andy was forced to accept a draw by repetition against John when his advantage slowly dissolved away. Josh too had to accept a draw when it was clear that he was hanging on in a double rook ending rather than pressing for victory.

The match all hinged on whether Andrew could find a way through Phil’s defences and Dave could hang on against Robert after his opening choice had back fired rather badly. Unfortunately only one of them succeeded. Phil knows his Caro-Kann ever so well and it wasn’t long before he’d been able to open up the king’s side, block the centre, park his king on d7 and get his rooks on the h and g files. Eventually he broke through and Andrew had to resign. Meanwhile Robert had Dave seemingly at his mercy but he took his foot off the gas and Dave was able to give back the material he’d bagged in the opening in order to equalise. At the end they agreed a draw because even a win by Dave couldn’t have saved the match for Hebden.

The final match scorecard looked like this:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Courier ‘A’
A.Bak 0 — 1 P.Watson
A.Leatherbarrow ½ — ½ J.Morgan
N.Sykes 0 — 1 D.Patrick
D.Shapland ½ — ½ R.Clegg
J.Blinkhorn ½ — ½ P.Hughes
1½ — 3½

For Hebden this marked the beginnings of a very tough run of games. They next play Todmorden ‘A’ at home followed by Halifax away and then Huddersfield at home. If they take any points at all from those three teams it will be an excellent result.

In the meantime the confusion and uncertainty around the ‘B’ team continued. Having been reinstated to the league at the insistence of the committee (evidently the league constitution sets out that there cannot be more teams in the second division than the first) Hebden were defaulted their first two matches and asked to play their remaining fixtures. However, this was done at such short notice that Halifax ‘A’, who they were due to play last Monday, were caught on the hop and couldn’t get a team together. The result of this was not that Halifax defaulted but that Hebden did and another 0 — 5 was recorded against their names! Strange? Evidently this was due to the impossibility of re-scheduling the fixture when so many ‘B’ team players also represent the ‘C’ team who play on the weeks that League 1 teams don’t.

Elsewhere in league 1 the contenders for Hebden Bridge’s title started to make themselves known. Besides the arbitrary whitewash of the ‘B’ team there was another 5 — 0 victory as Huddersfield squashed Todmorden ‘B’ at home. The other result was similarly one-sided as Todmorden ‘A’ conceded just a single draw to Brighouse at the Todmorden Working Men’s Club.

Thee results leave Todmorden ‘A’ top of the table as the only team with a 100% record so far. It must be said however that so far they have only played the bottom three sides in the league. Nevertheless they have scored 13 out of a possible 15 board points! Halifax ‘A’ and Huddersfield are just a point behind Todmorden on 5 each. The reason for the odd point dropped was the first round draw they played out between them at Halifax. Next come Hebden Bridge and Courier on 4 points and then Brighouse, Todmorden ‘B’ and Hebden ‘B’ all have yet to score.

Now to League 2. John Kerrane reports on the ‘C’ team’s latest fixture.

“Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s ‘C’ team set off to Lee Mount Social Club to play a match against Halifax ‘B’ on Monday evening, knowing they wold face a stiff test. With regular team members missing, and a default on the bottom board, it would be an uphill struggle against a strong side.

In fact, the team played well, especially new members Chris Greaves and Alex Brown on the lower boards, and they were all at least even until late in the match, but the experience and persistence of the home side saw them through to a 4-1 win. Only Captain John Kerrane on board 1 managed a consolation point for Hebden Bridge against the much higher-graded Tim Hilton.”

The individual results were:

Halifax ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
T.Hilton 0 — 1 J.Kerrane
S.Gornall 1 — 0 N.Bamford
A.Dawson 1 — 0 C.Greaves
P.Moss 1 — 0 A.Brown
H.Wood 1 — 0 DEFAULT
4 — 1

John is being modest in his report for his victory of Tim Hilton was very well played and comprehensive. You can take a look at this and the games from the Hebden ‘A’ vs. Courier ‘A’ match in the game viewer at the end of this post.

In other fixtures in League 2, Todmorden ‘D’ (who have either withdrawn from the league or defaulted most of their matches) did not play against Hebden Bridge ‘D’ and so we must assume a 0 — 5 score will be entered for that one though it hasn’t yet been on the league website. Halifax ‘C’ were comprehensively defeated 4 — 1 at home by Belgrave and Todmorden ‘C’ edged out Courier ‘B’ 3 — 2 at home.

All of this means that there would appear to be three teams in the division fighting seriously for the two promotion spots. Belgrave and Todmorden ‘C’ have both won four out of four and are top. Halifax ‘B’ are two point behind them having lost just one match and then come Hebden Bridge ‘C’ and Courier ‘B’ both with a 50% score. Once again there are three teams rooted to the bottom with no points scored as yet, Halifax ‘C’, Hebden ‘D’ and Todmorden ‘D’.

This last Monday night Hebden Bridge ‘A’ hosted top team Todmorden ‘A’ knowing that defeat would see them slip four points behind their rivals and probably signal the end of their title defence whilst an unlikely win would take them back level on points with their adversaries and give Huddersfield and Halifax a chance to go top of the league. We’ll publish a report on this week’s fixtures very soon.

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