What a terrific night we had at The Mals yesterday, as our favourite annual event took place to compete for the “Les Hall Memorial Trophy”.
To give some background, this is a unique handicap event where all club members are invited to play in a 5 round swiss style blitz competition with a twist of handicap thown in. Firstly players are given a fixed amount of time to complete each game ranging from 5 minutes for the highest rated with up to 15 minutes for the lowest rated. Then handicaps are given where higher rated play off scratch, with handicaps from half a point to a max of two and a half for the lowest rated. These handicaps are added to the players scores over 5 rounds. Then in another twist, all previous winners have one minute deducted from their time allowance and a half point clipped off their handicap if they have one. Accordingly our 2019 winner Bart Fajfer, was seeded No 1 for the event with only 4 minutes for each game.
We had another record attendance at the club with 33 members present, and 30 taking part in the competition, with David Hulme and Steve Cross acting as the control team. 1st round pairings had been produced on the eve of the competition but then chaos ensued with 3 withdrawals and a no-show. Just to test the controllers nerve just before the start, we had some surprise arrivals with Amy Lovatt making a welcome one-off return to the club, and a potential new member turning up out of the blue – who happened to be quite a strong player – Lee Farrington. On top of this we had another late entry from one of our juniors which gave us an odd number, so then we managed to bribe one of the juniors parents to play as well – thank you to Oskar’s dad – Marek, we were able to get everyone playing a little behind schedule.
Having got under way, all of the top 15 seeds won their first round games, as expected, with the exception of Lukasz Michalek who fell to 12 year old Joe Hignett, thanks to a little skulduggery and innocence on Joe’s part (mobile phone distraction !?). Round 2 saw a couple of shocks as two of the top four got beat, to effectively remove their chances of winning the comp, but we still had 8 of the top 11 seeds on 2/2, including our two late arrivals Amy and Lee.
Round 3 cut the leading pack in half as Bart Fajfer, Simon Layhe, Amy & Lee all emerged with 3/3, while Lukasz and Joe joined the leaders with the assistance of their handicaps.
In round 4, Bart clinched a win against Simon and Amy stopped Lee in his tracks for this pair to move on to 4/4. Meanwhile Lukasz was victorious against our 2018 champion Rick Renegade, and Joe scrambled another unexpected win on the clock, to leave four players in contention going into round 5. Of course if there were to be any draws on the top boards in Round 5, this would bring several more players into contention.
As Lukasz and Joe had played in round 1, we had to separate the two 100%- ers to play the handicappers thus Bart was paired with Lukasz for an all-Polish clash, while Joe and Amy battled on behalf of the Union Jacks. In the Polish clash Lukasz’s extra 5 minutes ( 9 vs 4) proved decisive, while Amy kept her cool to defeat the surprise perfomer of the night – young Joe.
And so we had a tie after the 5 rounds, with Amy scoring a perfect 5/5, while Lukasz’s 4/5 was supplemented by his 1 point handicap. Bare in mind this was Amy’s first time playing OTB since our last handicap in September 2021, this was a superb achievement to score 5/5 with only 6 minutes on the clock and no handicap ! And so, our time-honoured way of finding the outright winner was brought into play – our version of an “Armageddon play-off”, where white is given one extra minute and must win, otherwise black is declared the winner in the case of a draw. Amy called the toss of the coin unsuccessfully, meaning Lukasz would play white and now had 10 minutes on the clock against Amy’s 6 minutes.
Lukasz quickly gained the upper hand as he attacked Amy’s Sicilian with gusto. An unusual deployment of both white knights created holes in Amy’s queenside which was exploited with a manoeuvre to attack the Q on d8 with B on b6, supported by knights and then jumped to c7 with a fork to win a rook. Amy could play Qb7 to leave herself an exchange down but boldly went for a king-side attack playing Qf5, allowing Lukasz to retain a whole rook advantage. Lukasz seemed to be cruising to victory, but Amy unleashed a blistering double Bishop attack supported by the Q against a king-side castled position. As Lukasz centralised his piece majority, Amy had advanced her h pawn and when Lukasz decided to capture this pawn, this allowed a Rook to swing over to the king side open h-file. Lukasz defended against the bishops with some pawn blocks and eventually gave up his Queen for the rook and exchanged some minor pieces. Lukasz held his nerve and allowed Amy’s attack to fizzle out under time pressure to become the deserved winner.
Congratulations to Lukasz , who becomes the 8th different winner of this event and will collect the Les Hall Memorial Trophy at next year’s AGM. Commiserations to Amy who has fallen at the final hurdle (Armageddon-style) two years in succession, and we hope she will be back next year for another assault on our favourite competition.
Leading Scores after 5 rounds:
1st = 5pts – Amy Lovatt, Lukasz Michalek
3rd = 4.5 pts – James Grange, Jarek Czyz
5th = 4pts – Bart Fajfer, Simon Layhe, Doug Barnett, Jakub Grabowski, Joe Hignett.
Many thanks to all 30 of our players who made it such an enjoyable night; Steve Cross who did a vital job in writing out all the pairing cards, and our new club steward – Harry – who prepared the room before the players arrived and managed resetting clocks for every board in every round.
A final note for Lukasz to remind him that defending the trophy will be made much tougher as he will suffer the same fate as all previous winners – a reduction in time allowed and removal of half-a-point from any scheduled handicap !
More Photos on our Gallery page.