The first division in the North Staffs League is the closest it has been in years. Although Crewe A are currently top, Crewe B, Fenton A and Cheddleton A also remain in contention having matches in hand on Crewe A. Therefore last Friday night’s trip to Cheddleton was a 6 pointer to use football terminology. On the way there it was agreed that a draw would not be a bad result. After negotiating some of the seemingly narrowest roads in Britain through which the Sat Nav had taken us, we arrived safely just in time, just before the clocks were to be started.
The openings in three of the games were very close however captain Martin Burns on board two playing black had a worse position, with his King unable to castle, double central pawns and a bad bishop he looked to be struggling. Harry was first to finish. Winning a pawn and then keeping control of the position he managed to turn his extra pawn into a passed pawn on the 7th rank. Then he twice put his opponent in check on consecutive moves only for his opponent to make a move apparantly not noticing he was in check, until Harry told him. A few moves later being unable to prevent the passed pawn from queening he resigned giving Crewe their first win. On board 4 Karl playing black in a relatively cramped position sacrificed a central pawn for more piece activity, winning the pawn back a few moves later. Then in an even position his opponent failed to notice that his queen was en-prise and so blundered his queen away, he carried on but a few moves later lost a bishop after which he resigned. This meant Crewe had two wins so at least a draw was guaranteed. On board 1 Bart, with White was two pawns down but had a dangerous passed on the 7th rank. His opponent was blocking it from queening but his pieces were awkwardly placed. After Bart’s attacking moves his opponent decided that he could not prevent the pawn from qeening without the loss of a piece and so resigned. This meant Crewe had won the match, On board 2 Martin was now in an endgame somehow a piece up, whilst both also having a rook, a bishop and a number of pawns. His opponents position was almost resignable but he kept going probably because Martin only had three minutes on his clock. His opponent set a few traps for him which Martin did well to avoid, considering he was short of time. Martin simplified the position (after the exchange of a couple of pawns) by forcing the exchange of rooks, his opponent seeing he was lost immediatly resigned.
This meant Crewe A had gone to Cheddleton A, usually one of the best, if not the best teams in the league and beaten them 0-4, this was an amazing result which had not been achieved by any Crewe A team at any time in its history. You can therefore imagine there were high spirits on the car journey home (on better roads this time!)
Crewe A’s next two games are against Crewe B in second place and away at Fenton (which could be a title decider) it will be interesting to now see how the chasing teams perform in the meantime. What may also be significant is that, thanks in part to last night’s result, Crewe A have by far the better board difference.
It’s all up for Grabs now
What a week it has been for our teams in league action. After last week’s reference to “squeaky bum time” five of our teams have been in action and all remain firmly in the picture for possible divisional trophies, as we continue to chase every trophy the league will present at the 2023 AGM in July.
Tue 21st March: 2nd placed Crewe B made the short trip to face Alsager A in the NSDCA 1st division. Alsager although at the foot of the table, are only one of two teams to inflict defeat on our brave Bees. As always the B team were the underdogs due to being the lowest rated team in the division, but a 267 point shortfall is far from insurmountable especially when the imbalance is more than exceeded on board one, to allow us smaller advantages on lower boards.
First over the line was Dave Lambton on board 3, who for the second week in a row faced the same opponent and emerged with a monster pass pawn in the early middle game. It did not take too long to convert into a 1-0 lead for us, and with Carmel Barwick much in the ascendancy on board 4 where a neat combination produced a full piece gain it was 2-0 not long after 9.30pm. The key to the match was whether we could generate a draw or more from the top two boards. On board 2, captain David Hulme had unsoundly sacrificed a Knight for 2 pawns on move 9. However David had stayed in the game to fight on and appeared to have created drawing chances when his opponent had refused to swap pieces and allowed a dangerous attack to unfold. David’s optimism was unfounded though as John Booth used his time wisely to find a controlled defence and finally produce the killer counter-attack despite both players being down to less than 10 seconds on several occasions, so just before 10.25 Alsager had reduced the score to 2-1. The remaining game saw our Simon Layhe up against the near 2300 rated Jonathan Blackburn and seemed to be holding his own with a pawn advantage. Gradually Jonathan was building pressure for the pawn and was taking the game as deep as possible. With time pressure adding to Simon’s dilemma, the position became too complicated as he was “flagged” facing tough options. A final score of 2-2 pushed the B team to joint top of the league with our “A” team, having played one more match.
Wed 22nd March – the division 2 derby took place between Crewe D and C – with the D team winning the “Showdown in Hightown”. For full details and a brilliant report please see Nigel’s Match Reports .
League division 2 took on a big turn on Wednesday as both of the top two teams (Newcastle and Crewe C) were beaten by two of the chasing pack, as Stafford and Crewe D threw their hats in the ring to contend for the trophy.
Thur 23rd March – Crewe E (3rd place) travelled to Kidsgrove (5th place) for a re-arranged Division 3 match. On this occasion it was Crewe who went into the match as slight favourites with a 247 rating point advantage (very similar to Alsager’s in the div 1 match). Captain Dave Price reported that it was a relatively calm team performance as Mike Keenan (board 4) and Kobus Nienaber (board 3) took us into an early 2-0 lead. On board 2, Doug Barnett applied the “team first” mantra by accepting the draw offer to ensure match success. This left Dave on board 1 with a “free-hit” to push for a win, but was held by the opposition’s Dave Johnson to a draw, to make it 3-1 to the E team.
This win leapfrogged the E team into 2nd place to put them in the mirror of leaders Alsager B who sit on 16pts from 10 matches at the Div 3 summit, while the E team have 13pts from 9. Although Alsager are stronger on ratings and hold all the aces, they can be overtaken if the E team win their game in hand and the head to head on 11th April.
Fri 24th Mar – our division 1 league leaders – Crewe A – made the trek to the moorlands to face title contenders Cheddleton A.(See above report)
In our internal Club championship Div 1, Julian Hawthorne’s 100% record was halted by Dave Price with a draw, that looked like Dave would win at one stage and later reversed with Jules as the likely victor. The draw moves Jules to joint 2nd on 4.5 pts trailing joint leaders Harry Gardiner and Martin Burns by half a point, but having two games in hand on Mart and three on Harry.
In Club Championship Div 2, Andrew Crosby’s commitment to organising games is bearing rich fruits. Having played 11 of the possible 12 games, he now sits at the top of the table with 6 pts, ahead of George Bulbeck and Doug Barnett who both have 5 pts. Andrew’s remaining game is against George so could be critical in deciding who the trophy is awarded to.
Phil Grocott has taken total control of the Div 3 Club championship, and added another full point on Wednesday to move onto 5.5/6, and has a huge lead over 2nd placed Matthew Dean on 2.5/7.
Again it was great to see 35 members at the Mals on Wednesday as attendances stay their near record levels, as we cement our position as the NSDCA’s largest club.