Match Report: Northwich A vs Culcheth A (Peninsular Cup) by James Harrison

We started the season with some new players, a new captain (me) and an old opponent (Culcheth). It was a Peninsular Cup match with 6 boards, and we had a stroke of luck when they announced they would only field 4 players. That meant one win and one draw from the four games would be enough to clinch the match – and a semi-final place! The pairings were as follows:

 

Northwich

Culcheth

1.

Harrison, James 1950

Mazek, Marek 2064

2.

Breakspear, Adrian 1890

McCarthy, Damian 2007

3.

So, Ingmar 1436

Furness, Robert M 1906

4.

Gajbhiye, Sumedh 1400 (estimate)

Dubov, Ilya 1931

The numbers are ECF ratings, and as you can see we were out-rated on all boards. Also I lost the toss, and they chose to have white on odds.

I’ll report on the games in the rough order that they finished, to keep some of the dramatic tension. Remember that the match score started at 2-0 to us.

Board 3: Rob Furness (white) vs Ingmar (black)

The opening was normal and well played by both sides. They developed their pieces and castled and so on, and everyone was a happy bunny. It seemed like Rob wanted to play for the win, but rather than forcing the issue just tried to get a long game where he could eventually outplay Ingmar. However our young man had other ideas, and played some very classy strategical stuff himself. For example he played a5-a4 clamping white’s pawns on b2 and a3, which is a classic Magnus Carlen idea. By around move 20 it seemed like Ingmar was even outplaying his higher rated opponent slightly. 

However the game then took a tactical turn as Ingmar decided to go “all in” on a big queenside advance, even if it allowed Rob an attack on the kingside. The next several moves were very complicated and either player could have collapsed, but for a while the balance was maintained. Ingmar ended up with a strong passed pawn on b2, but at the cost of many weak squares around his king. It was a game that looked likely to be decided by one mistake, and Rob’s experience showed as he continued to play calm sensible moves. On move 35 Ingmar made a critical error, allowing his b2 pawn to be won by tactical means, based on a detail he missed. With his main asset in the position lost, there was nothing to be done after that and Rob achieved a winning rook endgame.

Match score: Northwich 2 – Culcheth 1

I’ll jump between the top two boards in the interest of telling a story.

Board 2: Adrian (white) vs Damien McCarthy (black)

This is based on Adrian’s own account of the game, but I’ve edited a bit to fit into the report.

Adrian played his favoured Colle system. Damien played relatively passively, and Adrian gained an edge through active play on the kingside. A few tactics were missed and his advantage settled to only a slight edge (according to later computer analysis). However he thought his position was still clearly better. Before proceeding further though he decided to consider the wider match situation…

Board 1: Marek Mazek (white) vs James

We played something of a sideline in the opening, but luckily I happened to know it quite well and avoided any trouble. I believe we were both out of book at the same time around move 12 or 13, and immediately after there was already a big moment in the game. He played a very aggressive but (in my opinion) slightly crazy looking move Ng5, making a triple threat on f7. I only had two realistic replies, bishop takes knight or the more interesting Ne5, and I opted for the latter. After some careful calculation, since it gave him options, including grabbing my rook in the corner. Actually he went for this “free rook”, but as we both saw his queen wouldn’t escape and he’d have to accept two rooks for the queen. Normally that’s a fair trade, but here I thought I was clearly better due to his rooks still being in the corner.

The middlegame (or semi-endgame) was quite pleasant for me, and I’ll give some of the positions as puzzles. How should I play with black to keep a positional advantage? 

 

(1)

The first big decision…

(2)

There are several ways here, and later analysis shows I didn’t pick the absolute best

(3)

One move stands out

Around the time of position (3) above, Marek apparently decided he’d had enough of being toyed with positionally. He noticeably sped up his play, and decided to take radical measures to liberate his rooks. I then had to do a certain amount of calculation in order to transition the advantage. I managed to do it pretty well, and got to something that looked like this.

Now we’ve caught up and can return to the board 2 situation:

Adrian judged that I was clearly winning and made the decision to offer a draw. This put the Culcheth captain in a bit of a pickle, as he wasn’t thrilled by his position or by the match situation generally. Of course the rules allow the player to use as much time as they want when considering the draw offer. So rather amusingly, Damien eroded most of his remaining 15 minutes while paying more attention to my game than to his own. He was hoping for a blunder.

Here are the final moves from board 1.

I held my nerve despite getting slightly low on time. Damien accepted the draw, and our victory was complete!

Match score: Northwich 3.5 – 1.5 Culcheth

Meanwhile there was an intriguing “B plot” developing on board 4…

Board 4: Sumedh (white) vs Ilya Dubov (black)

Although it may seem a bit condescending, I hadn’t been expecting us to get anything on this board. Not least because it was Sumedh’s debut in English chess, and he was being thrown in at the deep end against a much higher rated player. Once the game started though it was clear our new man meant business, as he put ear protection on and focused on the board with an intensity rarely seen at club level. 

The opening was innocuous and led to a typical queen’s pawn kind of position, with tension on c4/d4/c5/d5. Sumedh captured first in the centre and Ilya’s choice of recaptures steered the game into an IQP position, which he perhaps thought would give him chances to attack. But this was a double edged sword, as if he failed to prove the initiative he could be strategically weakened. Sumedh handled the position calmly, stabilising the kingside and fending off Ilya’s attack. He then proceeded with a common sense plan of taking over the c-file, infiltrating, and trying to trade queens off. At that stage it looked like he had real winning chances. However much like Ingmar’s game, things turned concrete and tactics were to have the final say. First Ilya allowed a nice little fork trick and could have lost there and then. But Sumedh missed the chance, and presently presented a tiny tactical opportunity to Ilya. This chance was grabbed, but it wasn’t a complete disaster for white’s position. The consequence was effectively to neutralise the game – there were mass exchanges and ultimately a drawn endgame.

I would like to say a big well done to Sumedh for that very respectable draw, and I hope he’ll be playing for the club for many years to come.

Final match score: Northwich 4-2 Culcheth

It’s a very positive start to the season! Albeit we still have progress to make if we want to win these tough matches without a head start. I’m hoping that the return of regulars Richard and Richard, as well as some new blood, will give us a fighting chance.

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