County Finals – Detailed U180 Report

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Andrew Hards has kindly sent us a detailed and entertaining report of the U180s match in the final of the County Championships.

Clicking on the match score will reveal the individual results.

Yorkshire U180 7– Middlesex U180 9

Yorkshire U180 7 -9 Middlesex U180
Michael Stokes ½ – ½ Simon Warman
Pierre Weller ½ – ½ Michael Tasker
Richard Archer ½ – ½ Peter Ackley
Jeremy Hamm 0 – 1 Stephen Coles
Daniel Sullivan ½ – ½ Neville Blackie
Eric Gardiner 1 – 0 Anathanarayan Balaji
Andrew Bak ½ – ½ George Dickson
John Trafford 0 – 1 Geoff Hermes
David Keddie ½ – ½ Ian Calvert
Roger Jennings ½ – ½ Chris Kreutzer
James Carpenter 0 – 1 Guy Batchelor
Andrew Hards ½ – ½ John Tobisch
Mike Bramson ½ – ½ Robert Kane
Stephen Mann ½ – ½ William Phillips
Neil Lowther ½ – ½ Jonathan White
Gabor Batonyi ½ – ½ Charles McAleenan

Pierre Weller was back in the side for Yorkshire and defended very tenaciously to secure a valuable draw.

Last season, Yorkshire U-180s had reached the semi-finals before being dumped out of the competition by Devon. This season, we had already gone one better in making the final, but this was clearly going to be a tough match – despite getting us to the final, both James Bowler and Oskar Hackner were unavailable, and Jeremy spoke with foreboding on the drive down of ‘battle-hardened London players’ and epic finals in the past where Yorkshire had faced Home County sides that had defaulted half their boards and still won with something to spare. Richard Archer then mentioned that their top four boards were all now considerably higher grade-wise when we arrived – so things looked ominous. On the plus side, however, another outstanding junior was back in the team in the shape of Pierre and the aforementioned Richard Archer was in for his first match of the season. Middlesex were also missing at least one player… and actually three of our top four boards were also now open-rated; in fact, over the 16 boards Middlesex only had 21 grading points on us. It was going to be close…

Two games finished well in advance of the rest, and they were two contrasting draws. Andy Bak found himself staring down the barrel of some particularly complicated complications in what looked like a wild king’s pawn opening but was probably utterly standard, ‘safe’ theory. In the final position, Andy took the b7 bishop and allowed a perpetual; George suggested in the analysis that this was the right thing to do and both teams were off and running. My own game was the next one to conclude; I faced John’s pseudo-Trompowsky and in a first for me found myself unable to get up and look at the other games for some time as I rapidly drifted behind on the clock. Some early exchanges, and some slightly later exchanges, resulted in rooks, queens and a knight each remaining. John centralised his knight, I offered mine and a draw in exchange. Only then did I catch up on time, as John spent some time mulling over the draw offer both before and after checking with his captain (this is where a non-playing captain no doubt comes in very handy, given what happened later!). 25 minutes of calculation, and my handshake was accepted – we immediately retired to the analysis room where a number of suggested attempts surprisingly led to some double-edged positions (I just thought it was a stale draw in my limited over-the-board calculations) but nothing clearcut for either player, provided we both stayed calm and collected.

A 14-move draw? Surely not!

One apiece… and there now followed something of a lull in proceedings. In the gap before the next game finished, I spent a bit of time looking at the various positions and both Andy and myself thought that if anything, we had a very slight advantage. Mick looked like he had good compensation for a pawn, Daniel seemed to be cooking up an attack, John was a pawn up, Roger was also making progress on the kingside (was there a sac on?) and Mike seemed to have chances (was there another sac on?). On the negative side, Pierre looked in a spot of bother, Eric looked in two spots of bother, and John’s extra pawn may have come at a cost…

All to play for, that’s for sure – but first…more draws, including a couple from two of our 2012 U-180 debutants as first Neil battled Jonathan to a standstill in an English that ended up with 5 pawns, a bishop and a rook each, and then Richard offered to share the point with Peter in a queen and minor pieces middlegame that looked very tricky to win, but perhaps easier to lose.

Gabor followed up with a half-point of his own as Charles took the draw in another position that featured queens, minor pieces, and every opportunity to throw away a point whilst very little scope for forcing a mistake. Mike then chipped in with the first result from a game we thought might go our way… a sac on e6 had opened lines against Robert’s king and Mike’s white-squared bishop looked set to dominate. However, he said afterwards that despite regaining the piece, not long afterwards a flurry of exchanges simplified the position and all his threats were gone.

BDCA Mike Bramson

Mike Bramson was in a sacrificial mood, as was…

…Roger Jennings. Both their efforts culminated in draws.

3-3 and the tension was mounting. On the remaining boards, Mick was turning the screw, Daniel looked like he might be only a sacrifice or a misstep from his opponent away from the win, and Roger seemed to be Nxh2! away from a crushing kingside attack. OK, so Pierre looked to be losing, and Eric was now in three spots of bother (at least)…but that was three possible wins versus two likely wins… so we still had good chances, surely?

And then the first decisive result of the match came in, and it wasn’t in our favour. John had nicked a pawn fairly early on but Geoff had used that as an opportunity to activate his bishop, centralise his rooks, generate tempi against John’s queen, and make a nuisance of himself in and around the king. For a few moves, it looked like John might be able to hold it all together – but it was not to be and when the foundations of the defence collapsed, the game was up and we were behind for the first time in the match. Could we recover from this setback?

Eric Gardiner – Yorkshire’s only winner on a day with many draws.

The next two games to finish were no real indication; boards one and two had looked like a point apiece for some time – however, when I spoke to Ihor a couple of hours in and discussed Pierre’s dire situation, he seemed surprised and suggested Pierre was probably better. Something had gone awry in Michael’s attack and Pierre’s position was now better – control of the long diagonal against the king and two pieces for a rook. He might have enough to win now but one thing was for sure, he wasn’t going to lose. Mick, meanwhile, had finally made his activity pay and Simon’s passive position looked unlikely to be able to stop the advancing queenside pawns. It felt like a mixed blessing when both games eventually ended drawn – but missing the conclusion of Mick’s game I can only assume that Simon found an expert defence to hold him off. Pierre’s game concluded not long after, another draw, and 1 each over the top two boards seemed fair enough.

Roger’s game was next to conclude, and this one really did feel like half a point dropped at the time as what seemed like an overpowering kingside assault simply wasn’t good enough to finish Christopher off. Post-match analysis nevertheless showed that Christopher had sufficient resources to protect his king, even with both h- and g- pawns absent; a must-win game that actually wasn’t must-win at all… But what was happening on board 6?? Eric, whom had appeared to be in more spots of bother than the entire rest of the team at one point, was suddenly winning against youngster Ananthanarayan who had missed a tactic which had cost him a piece. We were still in this!

Dave Keddie, our third player on debut, was the next player to draw (and in doing so, confirmed that every single player to represent Yorkshire U-180s this season picked up at least half a point). His king had looked exposed early on but Ian couldn’t find a way to get to it. 5 games were now left, and we needed to win at least two, probably three in order to beat Middlesex to the title.

Yorkshire U180’s Captain – Jeremy Hamm

Things did not look good. Jeremy’s position was starting to strain, Daniel’s attack was fizzling out and his central weaknesses were a concern, Eric still needed to be careful despite his bonus piece, Steve was carefully tiptoeing around William’s knights in an attempt to hold out for a draw and James was into an endgame, but a pawn in debit. It was this latter game that was next to conclude, and it went the way of Middlesex as Guy’s threats and pressure on the queenside proved decisive. The remaining four Yorkshire players now needed to eke out two wins and two draws – something that looked increasingly unlikely given the board positions.

Steve picked up one of those draws – under pressure for a lot of the game he staved off William’s attack at the expense of a pawn, but activated his king and with the heavy pieces off some precise play ensured no fireworks. All of which left boards 4, 5 and 6 to decide the fate of the match. After being on the back foot for so long, Eric played extremely well to avoid any losing tactics, and when he finally picked off Ananthanarayan’s passed pawns, that was enough to seal our first win, with only two boards remaining. Disastrously, however, it was also our last win. Jeremy had been offered a draw much earlier, and had offered his own later in the game but Steven had targetted the e-pawn and this duly fell. Others followed and the resulting rooks and pawns ending demonstrated that not all rook and pawn endings are drawn – mainly when your opponent has two more pawns than you and can walk them up the board. Jeremy was obliged to fall on his sword or face an ending with one queen fewer than Steven and that was that. All that remained was for Daniel to try and hold on against Neville – after his own attack had concluded and Neville’s counter punches had been fended off, Daniel retained a rook and connected pawns against a pawn, knight and bishop. Piece play was the order of the day, but with neither player able to make significant headway, time growing short, and the result of the match already decided, a draw was offered and taken.

Congratulations to Middlesex on winning both the Open and U180 titles, a fine achievement!

So… we came so far, only to fall at the final hurdle. 12 draws over 16 games shows how close the match was, how well we fought, how valiantly we hurled ourselves at the Middlesex fortress in an attempt to claim the prize. The opposition stood strong in the face of this onslaught, and several games that looked ‘good’ actually turned out to be ‘slightly better’ at best, and in fact, the one player who had been under the cosh more than any other, Eric, was our sole winner on the day. We can congratulate our noble opponents, who took the best we had to offer and held their nerve to claim the trophy. But we will benefit from this harsh lesson. The team will return next season (at present it appears likely that only three of those who turned out will not be available in 2013), battle-scarred, with true northern grit and determination to go that one step further and reclaim the title.

Click to view Middlesex’s County match reports

Over the next couple of days, I will post some of the interesting positions from the games played in the U180s and U160s games. Stay tuned!

Thanks to the hard work of Alex Holowczak and his team, you can download the PGN of all the games from all the sections here

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Features editor for the Yorkshire Chess website. I collate and write atricles about all the latest chess activities in Yorkshire and beyond. I've also been known to shove some pieces myself from time to time!

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