Sep 142012

Last year’s champions fell at the first hurdle this year. This image is used under Creative Commons license and sourced from Leo Reynolds Flickr photostream

In recent seasons something of a tradition has developed in the Calderdale Evening Chess League’s first division. The reigning champions always give their title rivals a sporting chance at the beginning of the new season by losing their first match. Last season Huddersfield took this tradition to new extremes by losing their first two matches. They still battled back into contention but were a point behind Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’ when the dust had settled.

Despite dearly yearning to break this quaint custom, this year’s reigning title holders, Hebden Bridge ‘A’, ended up following the same path. Ironically against Huddersfield. To make the result even more painful, Hebden were at home, fielded a team that was strong enough to beat their nemesis and managed to lose on two boards where they probably had the upper hand. The result could easily have been turned on its head.

The night began badly for Hebden Bridge when Huddersfield’s Captain and Board 1 player, Mitchell Burke, despatched Matthew Webb summarily after an uncharacteristic blunder by Matty left him a piece down for nothing whatsoever. The other four games continued later into the evening. Hebden stabilised the match situation when Nick Sykes pressed Robert Sutcliffe for the whole game without really looking like he could find a big enough advantage to win and peace was agreed.

At this stage the situation still seemed retrievable for Hebden. Their Captain, Dave Shapland managed to exploit a small inaccuracy by Antonio Aguirre to give himself a passed d-pawn on board 4 and Pete Leonard on board 3 had the better of a complicated queen and pawn ending against the adamantine Richard Boylan. Wins on these two boards would probably have seen Hebden to victory but it was not to be.

Dave Shapland doesn’t generally get into time trouble but on this occasion he did and as he scrambled to make the control at move 36 his tiny advantage evaporated and then became a significant deficit as he decided to hunker down for a passive defence instead of looking for active options. On move 35 he blundered his queen, resigned and lost on time simultaneously!

Still the match could have been saved. Matthew Parsons, in contrast to his Captain, had gained exactly nothing from his opening against David Firth but he resolutely ground out a victory from a virtually equal position in a double rook and pawn ending to show that he is up for another big season this year.

And so, yet again, the last board would decide the result of a Hebden Bridge ‘A’ match. Last season they made a habit of saving draws or snatching wins. This season they failed at the first attempt. Pete Leonard was the man undr the gun this time and he had 10mins to his opponents 5 but it was he that had to try and find the best course of action to secure victory and his time advantage soon evaporated. In the end Richard proved to be more equal to the psychological challenge of handling the switch from slow, deliberate and caeful play to the mania of a sudden death time crisis. Pete failed to find a winning plan and seemed unable to speed up his play sufficiently to put Richard under pressure. In the end it was Pete’s flag that dropped.

A frustrating night for Hebden ‘A’ then but congratulations must go to Huddersfield who, as they always do, put in a tough and resolute performance to snatch the points. The final match scorecard looked like this:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Huddersfield
M.Webb 0 — 1 M.Burke
M.Parsons 1 — 0 D.Firth
P.Leonard 0 — 1 R.Boylan
D.Shapland 0 — 1 A.Aguirre
N.Sykes ½ — ½ R.Sutcliffe
1½ — 3½

Elsewhere in League 1, Todmorden ‘A’ crushed their colleagues, the newly promoted Todmorden ‘B’ (for whom the “retired” Alastair Wright made a surprise appearance on board 2!) by a score of 3 — 1 (both sides defaulted the bottom board). Courier ‘A’ overcame the default of their top board to defeat Belgrave at home 3 — 2. Finally, the other promoted team from last season, Halifax ‘A’ trounced Brighouse 4½ — ½ to go straight to the top of the table.

League 2 also got underway on Monday night and Hebden Bridge now has three teams battling it out in this division. John Kerrane picks up the story of their progress.

The ‘B’ team started life in the second division as they mean to go on with an emphatic 4 — 1 victory over their own ‘C’ team players. Despite serious resistance by the ‘C’ team, the superior strength of the senior team carried the day, especially on the lower boards. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
M.Wedge-Roberts 0 — 1 J.Kerrane
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 T.Sullivan
D.Sugden 1 — 0 R.Deravairere
M.Syrett 1 — 0 J.Todd
S.Priest 1 — 0 T.Wilton-Davies
4 — 1

Before we go on to the ‘D’ team report let us just give an honourable mention to Mr Kerrane himself who modestly omitted his own tremendous results against former pupil Matthew Wedge-Roberts. This result saved a white wash and was hard earned.

The ‘D’ team chalked up an encouraging 4 — 1 win away against Courier ‘B’. Although they were helped by defaults by the home side, Hebden Bridge ‘D’ won the majority of the games played, and promise to be a tougher proposition this season. The individual results were:

Courier ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘D’
J.B.Smith 0 — 1 C.Sharpe
P.Jacobs 0 — 1 K.Sharpe
R.Bottomley 1 — 0 D.Rich
Default 0 — 1 D.Crampton
Default 0 — 1 D.Leggett
1 — 4

Indeed, Danny Crampton’s ‘D’ team will trouble many more teams in the division than they did last season. With our excellent junior prospect, Kyle Sharpe, his father Craig, new club member Daniel Rich as well as Robert Murray who is still to be added to the side on board 1, I think they could be the surprise package of this season. Watch this space…

In the game viewer below you’ll find nine games from Monday night including annotated contributions from Matthew Parsons and Pete Leonard. It’s always good to see some annotated games from some of the best players in the league so thanks to them for taking the time and effort.

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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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