Four out of four Finals, F team flourish and Hawthorne chases Club Championship

Wed 15th March: Another busy night at The Mals Club witnessed two matches, Club Championship Drama, and even more potential new members.

Starting with the NSDCA Cup competition, our U1825 team hosted local team Alsager over 5 boards, and were firm favourites when the team sheets revealed an advantage of over rating 600 pts which sounds much grander than it really is. First past the winning post was Neville Layhe on board 5 as he carved open his opponent’s defences using his vast experience against a relative newcomer.

The match swung decisively in our favour when David Lambton found the way to win a tricky endgame, by picking up an isolated “a” pawn with an active King and having enough time to stop a passed “E” pawn. David’s own “A” pawn set up a diversion for white’s King. This allowed David to break the support for the E pawn to stay one pawn ahead and ultimately chaperone home one of the remaining pawns. At 2-0, skipper David Hulme became aware that a draw on board 2 would be more than enough to secure the match on board count, so was happy to agree a draw by 3-fold repitition after being on the back foot for much of the game. Next to finish was Crewe’s form player Carmel Barwick who was held to a draw by opposing captain Andrew Barker on board 3, with this ending Carmel’s 100% winning streak after 9 wins in a row in league and club tournament games. The last game to finish saw Martin Frisher playing just his 4th game of the season. Earlier viewing witnessed Martin with an exchange advantage, but by the time other games had finished the table had been turned so that he was the exchange down in an endgame with a Bishop and 3 pawns against a Rook and two. Martin then snared another pawn with his active King and was pushing for victory until Lukas Hancock recovered one pawn with his own King and then had to sacrifice his Rook to stop the sole pawn on the 7th from queening. All in all, a very satisfying result to progress to the Major Cup Final as the club made sure we have a team in all four NSDCA Cup Finals.

Alongside the cup match, our F team had a division 3 encounter with Kidsgrove with teams within one point of each other in 3rd and 4th position respectively. The visitors delivered an early blow with Mo Farah winning on board 3 after accepting an early pawn gambit, and then adding another and playing solidly to convert to a comfortable win. Tom Smith on board 2 levelled matters for us, and George Jelliss agreed a draw on board 4 to leave the match in the balance. On board 1 for us, George Bulbeck seems to thrive when his clock is near to the virtual flag and enjoying the sense of drama found his way to overcome what appeared to be a difficult defensive position and edge his way to victory for both himself and the team, securing a narrow 2.5-1.5 win. George boasts a 5/5 record for the F team and is now unbeaten in 15 games since his last reverse on 5th October. This result takes the F team to the dizzy heights of 2nd in the table – far ahead of our wildest dreams for a team that’s main function is to provide opportunities and so far has used 16 different members !

Turning now to the Club Championship, there was a shock in Div 1 as Julian Hawthorne beat the defending club champion and number 2 seed, to take his score to a perfect 4/4 in pursuit of the trophy. Jules is now just one point behind the joint leaders with 3 or 4 games in hand, and has the destiny of the event in his own hands. Meanwhile Karl Lockett consolidated his 3rd position with a win to move onto 4.5/8.

In division 2 of the Club Championship, Andrew Crosby put a dent in Doug Barnett’s title aspirations with a win that takes Andrew into the joint lead on 5pts. However Andrew has now played 10 games, compared to Doug’s 8, while favourite George Bulbeck has played 6 of the maximum 12 possible.

On top of all this drama, there was plenty of social and friendly chess taking place as another couple of newbies arrived and seemed to enjoy the club atmosphere, as a hand full of members moved down to the bar to discuss games so not to disturb the matches in progress.

Next week sees a full schedule with five (A to E) of our league teams all playing and in possible contention for league trophies, although all must be underdogs with other teams in the driving seat in all three divisions. As Alex Ferguson was fond of saying, it’s getting close to “squeaky bum time” !