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posted 13 Mar 2014, 14:46 by knight moves   [ updated 13 Mar 2014, 14:46 ]

This was the crunch match for Stafford’s first team in the North Staffs League.  A draw would clinch the Division 1 title.

According to skipper Stephane Pedder the team wasn't at full strength, but still it was a strong team against a formidable Cheddleton line-up.  The pairings were (Stafford names first): L. Cooper v D. Buxton; G. Acey v R. Shaw; M. Armstrong v S. Edwards; R. Butters v A. Cartlidge; S. Pedder v J. Boswell.

Anyone expecting fireworks on Board 1 was to be disappointed. Lawrence Cooper, playing Black defended with a Bogo-Indian Defence. The game followed one of the main lines with Black attempting to expand on the Q-side. White neutralised this threat so Black switched to the K-side where it appeared he could open the f-file with some chance for advantage. Again this was neutralised. With Black’s Q-side ambitions cancelled out by White’s solid pawn formation on the white squares, a draw was quickly agreed.

Meanwhile on Board 4 Roger Butters, playing White, was confronted by the increasingly-popular Sniper defence, a hybrid of the Sicilian Dragon and Modern Defence. The game soon settled into a mainline Dragon but not one of the better lines for White. Black had a clear edge throughout and after exchanges was left with the perfect “mini-centre” with mobile pawns on d6 and e6 well supported by Bishop and Rooks. Surprisingly, Black agreed to an early draw when there appeared to be a lot of play in the position.

So, 2 draws and Stafford still on target for the title.

On Board 3 Malcolm Armstrong had appeared to be uncomfortable right from the opening. Malcolm, playing black, opened with the French Defence rather than his favourite Caro-Kann. Simon Edwards played his customary exchange variation followed by a quick c4 gaining space on the Q-side. White also gained a lot of time, at one point being 17 mins ahead on the clock. Under some pressure, Black sacrificed his a7 Pawn to gain some activity with the possibility of a Queen and Knight counter-attack. However White defended well enough and, though still a Pawn to the good, offered a draw.

Stephane Pedder, playing Black on Board 5, was up against 11-year old Jake Boswell (young, but graded 144!). White played the exchange variation (is this a Cheddleton speciality?) and exploited Black’s cautious set-up with a small combination which won a Pawn on c7. As Black counter-attacked with Knight Queen and Bishop on the K-side, White played another little combination which netted a second Pawn and on move 14 Black was lost. Fortunately for Stephane, and for Stafford’s ambitions, at the critical moment White blundered with the win in the bag. Instead of the consolidating, probably winning, 15.Bf1, White played the aimless 15.Bb5, still well ahead but now giving Black some hope. Following White’s later awful blunder (19.Ne4) Black took his chance with a Knight sacrifice on g2. White didn’t seem to recognise the full peril of the situation and went in for an attack with temporary sacrifice of his Queen but overlooked an intermediate check on the g-file which resulted in the loss of Queen and Knight and game. Phew!

On Board 2 Gerald Acey, playing White, was up against Rob Shaw’s trusty Tarrasch Defence where Black happily accepts an isolated queen’s pawn (IQP) in exchange for mobility of pieces and attack. At one stage, Gerald seemed to be holding the position quite comfortably. He followed the well-known line in which White seeks control of c5 and forces the exchange of black-squared Bishops but at the critical moment he moved his Knight to c5 rather than his Bishop. This allowed Black to free his position, to dominate the e4 square and to attack down the centre with the IQP, Queen and Rook. The end came rather swiftly after that and when Black’s Rook landed on e2 Gerald resigned.

So, final score 2.5 – 2.5 and Stafford are the Champions.