Sunday, 7 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 3: Games 11-15)

This is the final part of the review of my own playing season. (Click for Part 1 and Part 2).

At this stage in the season, Redcar were definitely in the driving seat for a league and cup double, especially as we had already beaten Middlesbrough Rooks in both competitions. It is, however, a big mistake to relax the efforts before the job is done and we were very aware that just one match defeat would reignite the title chase.

SM vs. David Oates (Darlington)
Darlington had been strengthened by the return of David Oates. Remarkably, we shared the top spot in the local grading list, at 214. At the end of an interesting game a winning tactic appeared. 32 Re8+ (and if 32 ...Rxe8 then 33 Qxd5.) The game continued 32 ...Kg7 33 Qg4+ Kf7 34 Qg8+ 1-0.

Bob Harding (Westgarth) vs. SM
I last played Bob back in 1992, when he was a Middlesbrough Rook! The Rooks were the second Middlesbrough team back in those days, behind Middlesbrough A. This had been a very tough game but Black's passed pawns exert terrific influence on the position and it should be no surprise that a winning tactic is available. 41 ...Rb1+ 42 Ke2 Rb2+ and the knight is lost to the skewer, so 0-1.

SM vs. Bob Harding (Westgarth)
Having not played Bob for so many years, it was ironic that we should play each other in two consecutive matches. This time it was in the Tom Wise KO Cup semi-final. Black found his pieces tangled after 13 Bd3 h6 14 Nc4, winning a piece. 1-0.

SM vs. Mike Hardman (Great Ayton)
Mike is very difficult to beat, as his record on board 1 over the years will show. This very tense game was decided by an unexpected kinight sacrifice, 25 Ng4. Now 25 ...hxg4 26 Qh2 cannot be allowed, but the knight is also on the way to a better square. 25 ...Qd8 26 Nh6+ 1-0

Steve Dauber (Darlington) vs. SM
And so, we conclude with the final of the Tom Wise Knockout Cup. Steve and I had played side-by-side for Elmwood over the course of a whole decade and have played each other many times. Steve held an advantage in the middlegame, with his bishop pair causing me problems. However, a late, sacrificial counterattack changed the course of the game. 

We both missed stronger continuations in my time trouble but in this position the advantage is with Black, despite the material discrepancy. 28 ...Nxg3+ lights the blue touch paper. What cannot play 29 hxg3 due to 29 ...Qh3+ and 30 ...Qg2 checkmate, so he tried to run away with his king with 29 Kg1, but there was nowhere to hide. 0-1, 34.

This brought my personal score for the season to 15/15 and increased my grade again, this time to 221.

Thus Redcar A won the Cleveland A Division and the Tom Wise Knockout Cup.

I have yet to make a decision on whether or not to play again for the 2016-7 season.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 2: Games 6-10)

Following on from yesterday's post, here are some moments from games 6-10 of my recent chess season.

SM vs. Brian Ellis (Thornaby)
This was my first-ever game against Thornaby, although I did play Brian Ellis twice back in the early 1980s. One of the Thornaby team refused to play against me. In this position I thought it would be a good idea to prevent Black from castling, so I played 9 b4. 9 ...Qxb4 10 Rb1 and 9 ...cxb4 10 Nb3 were the ideas. In the game, Black tried 9 ...Qb6, but after 10 bxc5 dxc5 11 d6 Bd8 12 e5 the writing was on the wall (1-0, 20).

SM vs. Bill Wilson (Hartlepool)
Bill offered me the exchange on d7, but I preferred to keep the pressure at maximum. After 29 Rg1, Bill resigned, with material equality still on the board. This was in the Tom Wise Knockout Cup, so we were still hopeful of a league and cup double.

Paul Gregory vs. SM (Middlesbrough Rooks)
A big match against our main title rivals. Paul was Cleveland Champion just a couple of years ago and a tough game was always in prospect. Here, with both clock flags hanging and the match depending on the result of this game, I checkmated his king with 45 ...Bf7!

Sean Cassidy (Stockton) vs. SM
Sean and I used to play lots of friendly games when we were both at Elmwood, but this was our first serious encounter. His king never quite found safety in this game. 22 ...f3+ brought matters to a swift conclusion: 23 Nxf3 Nf4+ and 0-1.

My game against Sean was my last on board 2. My run of wins had given me a new grade which meant I had to play on board one for the rest of the season.

Bernie Price (Hartlepool) vs. SM
I only made one big blunder all season, and here it is. I played 26 ...Bb4, overlooking 27 Nxc4! dxc4 28 d5, when my bishop is trapped on e6. I glanced to see the position on board 2, and saw what I believed to be another lost position. Julian, it seemed, was the exchange down to Bill Wilson and the queens were about to be exchanged. Two losses would see us lose the match and undo a lot of our good work in the league so I couldn't resign. I reached an endgame with two pawns against the spare bishop (plus a rook each) and Bernie ran very short of time, which allowed me turn the game around (0-1, 72). Julian won too. He hadn't been the exchange down at all; his water bottle had obscured his second bishop from my view.

So the league and cup campaign continued, with Redcar now clear favourites for both titles...

Friday, 5 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 1: Games 1-5)

Having returned to local league chess for the first time in a decade, I wasn't sure how successful I could be. 10 years of absence is always going to produce a large amount of rust. 

The season provided a very interesting experiment. Which parts of my game would be weaker? Which parts would be (more or less) unaffected?

The 15 games I played for Redcar in the Cleveland League and Tom Wise Knockout Cup all had interesting moments. Following my personal review of the season, I have selected one brief moment from each of the games.

SM vs. Andrew Killick (Stockton)
Andrew and I used to work together at Yarm School. We also played for Elmwood when we had a super team that also included Mike Closs, Steve Dauber and John Garnett, so we know each other's game very well. My first move for 10 years was the same one I played when I last faced Andrew over the board - 1 c4! Andrew played very tactically, trying to exploit my rust, but despite using a lot of time on the clock I managed to navigate my way through his sacrifices (1-0, 45).

Bill Wilson (Hartlepool) vs. SM
Bill was a new opponent for me. Hartlepool had a tough season in the A Division but never stopped fighting. In this game I crowned a white-squared strategy with 16 ...Qc4, after which White must lose material (0-1, 19).

SM vs. Jonathan Sams (Darlington)
This was a tough game. White's endgame advantage consists of one pawn, but a neat liquidation increased the winning chances. 26 Rc7+ and one pair of rooks is coming off, no matter how Black replies. After the exchange, Black's pawns will be a shade more vulnerable and chances of counterplay will be reduced. (1-0, 38)

David Richardson (Westgarth) vs. SM
'Dangerous Dave' and I first played in the Middlesbrough Junior Chess Congress back in 1982. His attacking prowess cannot be taken lightly. However, in what became a running theme through my season, I managed to increase my advantage with a timely liquidation. It is unusual to swap two bishops for knights on consecutive moves, but after 31 ...Bxe3 32 Bxe3 Bxc4 33 bxc4 Rb2 the advantage grew (0-1, 42).

Paul Perrett (Middlesbrough Rooks) vs. SM
Middlesbrough Rooks were always going to be one of the toughest teams to face in the league. However, this was is the Tom Wise Knockout Cup and they were not at full strength, so we were able to progress comfortably to the second round. Paul was in my Under-9 county team a long time ago. He excels in attack and here he is limbering up for a knight leap to g5 after an exchange of bishops. At this key moment of the game, I was able to cut the lines of communication within his ranks with 24 ...Ne3! when all of the tactics are in Black's favour (0-1, 35).

This brought us to Christmas 2015, with Redcar on top of the league and into the second round of the cup. Great drama awaited us in the New Year...