Dec 222016

christmas-number-1No, not who’s top of the music charts for Christmas. The only question on the minds of chess players in the Calder Valley for the last two weeks has been ‘who will be top of the league at the halfway point in the season?’
Two rounds of fixtures have been held last week and this so there is plenty for us to catch up on before we settle down to our turkey and brussel sprouts.

But even before that we should report on the postponed match from round 5 between champions Todmorden ‘A’ and Hebden Bridge ‘B’. The storm last month prevented Hebden from travelling but the teams were able to re-schedule quickly for the following week. Unfortunately, Hebden were unable to raise a full team and travelled with four players. To add to their woes, they were roundly thrashed by the title holders who were smarting from their first loss for over a year at Huddersfield in round 4. Only team Captain, Martin Syrett was able to withstand the hosts to draw his game against Phil Cook (he might have liked to transfer this result to the game the two played in the Calderdale Individual a few weeks later!) The individual results were:

Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘B’
M.Hamer 1 – 0 J.Allan (White)
P.Cook ½ – ½ M.Syrett (White)
A.Clarkson 1 – 0 T.Sullivan (White)
D.Patrick 1 – 0 N.Bamford (White)
D.Innes 1 – 0 DEFAULT
4½ – ½

Then last Monday came the sixth round of fixtures. Top spot holders Hebden Bridge ‘A’ had a bye for this round but kept vigil over the pack of teams arranged closely behind them in the table.

First up the champions benefitted from a walkover as Halifax ‘B’ defaulted their away trip to Tod ‘A’ for the second successive season. I’m sure that Todmorden would have much preferred to play this match than have 5-0 handed to them and if the title hunt comes down to board count this results could yet be a factor in the outcome.

Meanwhile title contenders Halifax ‘A’ and Huddersfield were scrapping it out at Huddersfield for the right for second place in the table. Halifax won it in a gory match where all boards ended decisively. Winston Williams, Bill Somerset and John Morgan all won their games on boards 2,3 and 4 respectively but on board 1 Darwin Ursal lost to Greg Eagleton and on board 5 Richard Porter lost to Steve Westmoreland. This result meant that Halifax took second place on the same points but a lower board count than Hebden Bridge. Huddersfield meanwhile having played all three of their closest rivals with the Black pieces in the first half of the season found they had lost to Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Halifax ‘A’ but beaten Todmorden ‘A’. They have a postponed match in hand against Halifax ‘B’ and if they won that they’ll get to 8 points and remain in contention for the title.

Finally, Belgrave hosted a Hebden Bridge ‘B’ side who were once again a player short. Despite having a decent pool of players Martin is struggling to find enough of them who are available for each match and this was compounded last Monday by the lack of a driver to get the players to Halifax. With the ‘A’ team having a bye, Nick Sykes was able to ease the situation by appearing on board 1, but the rest of the team had to get to the venue by public transport and taxis.

Despite these travails the visitors still succeeded in extracting a point from the fixture thanks to some good play on the other four boards. They might even have won the match had not John Kerrane been short of time due to his late arrival after a heroic journey to the Belgrave Social Club once the Hebden Bridge junior club had finished at 7.15. Joh had an extra piece against Karim Khan with his team level pegging but in time trouble he lost his extra material and the players agreed a draw. Here are the full match results which still represent a great result for the ‘B’ team:

Belgrave ‘A’ vs Hebden Bridge ‘B’
I.Hunter ½ – ½ N.Sykes
R.Bowman 0 – 1 M.Syrett
K.Khan ½ – ½ J.Kerrane
G.Farrar ½ – ½ N.Bamford
M.Barnett 1 – 0 DEFAULT
2½ – 2½

Finally then we come to this week’s seventh round fixtures. The choice match up was undoubtedly Todmorden ‘A’s trip to Halifax ‘A’ in a clash that would decide who would go top of the league should Hebden Bridge fail to beat Belgrave at home. Todmorden had already enjoyed having the White pieces on all boards against Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Huddersfield this season but had only managed a single point with their draw at Hebden. They really needed a win to keep them in contention in 2017 when they will have to play Black against these three rivals.

Todmorden took a commanding lead in the match as Martin Hamer (playing on board 2 possibly for the first time ever!) beat Bill Somerset and Dave Patrick beat Carlos Velosa on board 5. They then secured the match win with draws on boards 3 and 4. Pete Mulleady on board 1 looked like he would round off a commanding performance as he had the better position against Winston Williams. However, at the end of the evening’s play and no doubt in time trouble, he stumbled to defeat and Halifax succeeded in taking some of the gloss off the score line which finished 3 – 2.

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were due to play Halifax ‘B’ at the same venue but a series of calamities forced them to default the entire match at the last moment. Once again Martin Syrett was struggling to find available players. He had again scraped four together but then John Kerrane came down with the lurgy on the day and had to withdraw. Once again without transport for an away match and with only three players, Martin decided to concede defeat and so Halifax found out what it feels like to have a match default. Not ideal.

Finally, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ played host to Belgrave ‘A’ knowing that a win would ensure they at least shared top spot. In fact with the result at Halifax turning out in their favour it transpired that a win would put them top on their own – though of course they didn’t know that during play.

Belgrave put out their regular line up of Ian Hunter, Karim Khan, Gordon Farrar, Mike Barnett and Angel Gonzalez. Les Johnson turned up as well but when offered the chance to play on board 5 he deferred to Angel. Hebden meanwhile were without their strongest player, Matthew Parsons, but were still able to field a line-up that looked strong enough on paper to secure victory, especially on the lower boards, in the form of Andy Bak, Chris Bak, Dave Shapland, Pete Leonard and Nick Sykes.

In the event, although Belgrave battled hard, Hebden took control early in the evening and managed to keep their noses in front. First of all Nick Sykes benefitted from a blunder by Angel in the opening. He simply left a piece en prise. Next Chris Bak agreed to a draw against Karim Khan on board 2. After an unusual line of the French Defence appeared on the board the queens came off on move 8 and thereafter the game simplified further. Neither side took any chances and, at move 18, with two rooks, two bishops and six pawns each on the board, the players shook hands.

A little while later, Dave Shapland managed to continue his winning streak in Yorkshire competitions against Gordon Farrar who elected to play the rarely seen Belgrade Gambit of the Four Knights. Dave played cautiously to begin with but managed to secure the extra pawn and then found some energetic continuations to push forwards in the centre. The game got complicated towards the end but Dave seemed to have everything under control and bagged the win when Gordon blundered into a mate.

Hebden had now secured at least a tied match but on the last two boards matter were not straight forward. On board 1 Andy Bak secured what looked like a clear advantage against Ian Hunter in a sideline of the infamously complicated Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav. However, as is often the case with these types of openings, one slip is fatal and so it proved as Andy over looked a zwischenzug that caused him to lose a rook.

With blunders having decided all three decisive games thus far it now fell to Pete Leonard (hero of the hour at Halifax in November) to avoid making another one to hold what looked like a tricky ending against Mike Barnett on board 4. Indeed, it appears that Mike missed some good winning chances as time pressure built up before they reached move 36. It looked like the main danger Pete might have would be to take a risk playing for a win when a draw was all that was needed. However, in the event it looks like he too missed a couple of winning tries just before time control.

Finally, as Pete battened down the hatches, Mike saw there was no way to break through and accepted the draw offer that gave Hebden a 3 – 2 win and puts them top of the League at the half way point in the season. Here are the individual scores for the match:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Belgrave ‘A’
A.Bak 0 – 1 I.Hunter (White)
C.Bak ½ – ½ K.Khan (White)
D.Shapland 1 – 0 G.Farrar) (White)
P.Leonard ½ – ½ M.Barnett (White)
N.Sykes 1 – 0 A.Gonzalez (White)
3 – 2

You can find all five games from this match, plus Nick Sykes’ draw with Ian Hunter from the Hebden ‘B’ match with Belgrave, in the game viewer below.

So at the halfway mark this season, Hebden Bridge ‘A’ have 10 points and are the only unbeaten team in the league. Todmorden ‘A’ are just behind them on 9. Halifax ‘A’ have 8 and will be joined on that score by Huddersfield assuiming they win their match in hand against Halifax ‘B’. It’s very much game on at the top then with all four of these teams still in genuine contention. We’ll have a much better idea about Hebden’s chances of taking the title at the end of February when they will have played both Huddersfield and Todmorden again.

At the bottom, Belgrave have 3 points and Hebden Bridge ‘B’ and Halifax ‘B’ both have 2. Here too then, there is still a great deal to be decided in the relegation battle.

All that remains is for us to wish all our members and visitors a very happy Christmas and a health, prosperous and check mate filled 2017!

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