Wed 5th April – Crewe hosted two matches involving title chasers for the NSDCA Division 1 and 2 trophies.
Starting with the Division 1 competition, Crewe B played Cheddleton A with both teams in pursuit of the league title as outsiders behind Crewe A, while Fenton A and Holmes Chapel have games in hand. Only a win for either team would keep title ambitions intact, as our B team were strengthened by the availabilty of Lee Farrington playing on top board but hampered by the last minute withdrawal of Rick Renegade due to illness, meaning George Bulbeck was making his 1st division debut on board 4. For the visitors Cheddleton they were seriously effected by their top two players both under age 21 being unable to play due to exam commitments, therefore giving Crewe B the unusual position of being higher rated than their opponents by approx 200 pts, unlike the first clash between these teams where Cheddleton were 600 pts higher than us.
There was an early grandmaster draw on board 1, where Lee held the higher rated Simon Edwards to a quick draw as both players were content to conclude matters. This gave our Bees the start they wanted as the remaining boards would have expected to give us the edge. On board 4 George Bulbeck won an early pawn in a strong position and went on to sacrifice an exchange to open up his opponents defences further. Despite being low on time George played accurately to notch up an important win for us. On board 3 David Hulme had survived an early positional mess, to gain a pawn and create a massive central pawn mass. After an exchange of major pieces he was able to leave an endgame with opposite colour bishops but pawn advanatges on both sides of the board that would ultimately divert the bishop away from one of the queening options, as his opponent ran out of time. On the remaining board Simon Layhe had faced a tough game before emerging successfully as the victor, to conclude a big win for the Bees by 3.5-0.5.
The Bees now have 13 pts (from 11 games) and are joint top of the league with our “A” team who have a game in hand, although we now have the mouth watering possibility of either team winning the league, as these two go head to head in their next match. Cheddleton now cannot catch the leaders, so it is a four-horse race to the line, with Fenton and Holmes Chapel both on 10 pts from 9 games who have to play each other yet, as well as Fenton having to play Crewe “A”.
In the division 2 match, our C team were too strong for Fenton B who fielded a very young team, including one junior making his league debut on board 4, where Richard Fish got the score board rolling with our first win. Neville Layhe on board 3 got the better of another rapidly improving junior to give us a 2-0 lead before Chris Hankey won the battle of the captains on board 1 for the visitors. It was left to the “in-form” Carmel Barwick to bring home the bacon, but she was pushed to the limit by the 3rd of Fenton’s young trio, as the game hit the 3-hour mark before defences were breached, and victory was sucured by the score of 3-1.
This win moved our C team joint top of Division 2 on 11 pts, but like our B team have played one more game than their immediate challenger (Newcastle), and have the prospect of playing each other in the C team’s final match. However the title favourites must be Stafford who have 8 pts from 7 matches, who have two matches to play against Cheddleton B, and one against our D team who are mathematically still in contention with 8 pts, and would need to win both reamining matches and to see the two leaders draw with each other, and then Newcastle lose their other match also against Cheddleton B.
There were just 3 Club championship games played on Wednesday with Julian Bulbeck picking up a win to take him clear (with 4/8) of the relegation squabble in division 2, while Steve Ballantyne concluded his campaign with a draw against James Marshall. James is now in 4th position on 4.5/7, with George Bulbeck (5/7), Doug Barnett (5/8) and Andrew Crosby (7/12) all in sight at the summit. Steve’s tally of 3.5 pts should seem him avoid any relegation issue.
In div 3 of the Club championship Vicky Kelsall moved into 2nd position on 3.5 pts, but trails the runaway leader Phil Grocott by 2 pts having played two more games.