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Into the Pittaway Cup Final

posted 26 Jan 2013, 07:05 by knight moves   [ updated 26 Jan 2013, 07:05 ]
Stafford reached the final of the Pittaway Cup, the Wolverhampton League 8-board open competition, with an excellent 4.5-3.5 away win over holders Lichfield.

Things began gently with an 11 move draw for Ray Hyde on board 3, against the same opponent with whom he had had a 12 move draw in the league match a couple of months earlier.  The same strange opening was played; Ray had an improvement ready but so did his opponent which allowed him to exchange queens and minor pieces before offering the draw.  A second draw followed on board 4 where Roger Butters defended against a slow queen's pawn opening and looked to be slightly better for most of the game before the exchange of queens, after which he felt unable to make progress.

Stafford took the lead with a nice win for Gerald Acey on board 2, also repeating the league match result.  He defended against white's quiet Reti / English structure and achieved a pawn wedge on d4 and c5. White erred by leaving a knight on h4 and in trying to prevent damage to his pawn structure he entered into some dubious tactics allowing Gerald not only to destroy the pawn formation but also to win 3 clear pawns. White fought on but, faced with mating threats or loss of his queen, he resigned in a hopeless position. 

Stephane Pedder, white on board 5, looked to be cramped on the queenside and particularly on the d-file file after a rather subdued opening.  However, he was able to defend all entry points and his opponent, perhaps frustrated that his initiative had petered out despite getting his knight to d3, offered a draw which Stephane was happy to accept after assessing the prospects for the remaining games. 

Andrew Leadbetter, black on board 8, looked to have some early kingside initiative as he pushed his f-pawn, but somewhere in the complications he lost a pawn.  However, his opponent's pawn structure was weak and he was probably still afraid of Andrew's initiative when offering a draw which Andrew was happy to accept.

Pavel Nefyodov's opponent went wrong to lose a bishop in a brief tactical sequence in the early middlegame.  He fought on, but the result never looked to be in doubt and eventually Pavel secured the win in the endgame to give Stafford a 2 point lead which the more observant spectators noted was sufficient to guarantee the match victory on the elimination rule (with board count tied) even if both remaining games were lost. 

By this stage, things had gone wrong for Malcolm Armstrong on board one.  Having achieved a significant advantage out of the opening, he had drifted and failed to find the right middlegame plan.  Although his opponent's kingside pawn advances appeared weakening, Malcolm could not exploit them and his opponent generated good counterplay by advancing his a-pawn.  Malcolm was also under pressure on the clock and, having had little choice but to exchange queens into a minor-piece ending a pawn down, he slipped to a disappointing loss. 

In the final game to finish, Ken McNulty had been well on top from an early stage.  He squeezed on the queenside, doubled rooks on the b-file and, after winning a pawn, he invaded his opponent's queenside.  After some favourable exchanges he emerged 2 pawns up with a clear advantage in the ending of bishop plus 4 pawns against knight and 2 pawns.  Sadly for Ken all his excellent play had taken its toll on the clock. With fewer than 3 minutes remaining he blundered his e-pawn ("Blindness", Ken said) and although he could probably still have won by advancing his h-pawn, the nervous tension may have got to him.  Although his opponent initially refused a draw offer, Ken was about to make a 10.2 claim when his opponent finally agreed.

Stafford will face Wolverhampton in the final with the teams likely to be quite evenly matched.  However, the vagaries of the competition rules will require Stafford to win by at least 5.5-2.5 with Wolverhampton having slipped into Division Two this season.