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Stafford Take Kings Crown

posted 13 May 2011, 03:24 by knight moves   [ updated 13 May 2011, 15:34 ]
It was winner-take-all as a full strength Stafford team travelled to defending champions Holmes Chapel Kings for their final match in the Stoke League Division One.  With Stafford heading the table by one point, a win for either side would take the title, whilst a draw would leave Holmes Chapel able to catch or overtake Stafford with a draw or win in their final match against Cheddleton.
Stafford got off to a bad start when Stephane Pedder lost on board 5.  Surprisingly repeating a poor opening with which he lost against Newcastle earlier in the season, he soon found himself well behind in development and facing a strong attack.  Although he appeared to have got back into the game, an attractive knight sacrifice enabled his opponent to expose Stephane's king and, once he was able to bring some more pieces into the attack, there was nowhere to hide and Stephane resigned shortly before being mated.
On the positive side, the remaining 4 games seemed to be going well for Stafford at that stage.   The next game to finish was on board 2 where Lee Grinsell had rebutted his opponent's early kingside advances and won a pawn as the game reached a minor piece ending.    Unfortunately for Lee, he was well behind on the clock and had little choice but to agree a draw.
Gerald Acey had a wildly fluctuating game, being much worse out of the opening but fighting back to secure a promising advantage.     A tactical sequence in which he won a rook looked certain to have secured a crucial win, but his opponent found a miraculous perpetual check with his queen to save the game and leave Holmes Chapel leading 2-1 with 2 games remaining.   
On top board Lawrence Cooper had faced a very solid hedgehog defence and brought some imbalance to the game with an early f4, obtaining the open f-file for his rooks but at the cost of allowing his opponent to establish a strong knight on e5.   A tough struggle ensued with Lawrence always appearing to stand slightly better but plenty of doubt as to whether his advantage would be sufficient to win.   The game moved into a bishop ending where Lawrence was able to obtain an outside passed pawn.    With both players running short of time and the tension running high, Lawrence looked to have reached a winning position and his opponent resigned, missing that he could secure a very valuable tempo by queening with check.     There was much debate afterwards as to whether or not the final position was indeed winning for Lawrence, but most importantly the point was on the scoreboard so it was now 2-2 and most definitely winner-take-all in the final game.   
Fortunately for Stafford, by this stage Malcolm Armstrong had secured a winning advantage, having patiently improved his position throughout the game, winning first one pawn and then a second to go into a queen and pawn ending with 2 passed pawns on the queenside, together with an extra couple of minutes on the clock.    As well as being potential queens, the passed pawns offered protection for Malcolm's king from his opponent's attempts at perpetual check, and the game ended when Malcolm was able to force the exchange of queens.
So Stafford won the match to 3-2 to take the league title for the first time since 1993 (shared) and, it would appear, the first time outright since records began 60 years ago - a tremendous end to an excellent season's chess.