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Onwards and Upwards in Wolverhampton Division One

posted 13 Feb 2013, 15:33 by knight moves   [ updated 13 Feb 2013, 15:33 ]
Stafford's good run in Wolverhampton League Division One continued with a 4-2 win at Rushall.

Strengthened by International Master Lawrence Cooper, Stafford enjoyed an average grading advantage of around 14 points per board, and things appeared to be going to plan as the match moved into the second hour.  Stafford players looked to be holding edges on all six boards but suddenly things took a turn for the worse as, in quick succession, Ray Hyde blundered a piece and two games were agreed drawn.

Ray had been doing very well as he exploited his opponent's rather optimistic kingside pawn advances.  In particular, his bishop on h4 pinning the knight on g3 against the uncastled king was very awkward for his opponent.  Ray had a near-winning sequence available, but sadly played the moves in the wrong order to allow a zwischenzug which cost him a piece.  He battled on, so that at least a point did not actually appear on Rushall's side of the scoreboard until later in the evening, but the damage had been done.

Lawrence had a slight edge as he played against his opponent's isolated d-pawn and established a knight on d4.  The scene looked set for a long grind but Lawrence, a little unsure of how to proceed and confident of the prospects on the other boards, accepted a well-timed draw offer.

Malcolm Armstrong was comfortably better out of the opening but struggled to find a good middlegame plan.  After a long think he began a kingside attack with g4 followed by a rook lift from c1 to c3 to h3, but his opponent defended accurately.  Malcolm had opportunities to weaken his opponent's pawns but rather rashly pressed on for more.  As time ran short and his opponent's queen and knight began to exploit the weaknesses left behind by the g4 advance, Malcolm rather gratefully accepted a draw offer although the computer subsequently showed that he still had a strong continuation in the final position.

With Ray a piece down, this effectively left Rushall with a 2-1 lead, but the Stafford players all standing clearly better in the three remaining games.

Gerald Acey had slightly misplayed the opening and allowed an early exchange of queens, but he managed to saddle his opponent with doubled and isolated f-pawns which he then set about trying to exploit.  It was a tough rook and minor piece ending, but Gerald had also built up a very useful edge on the clock which may have been the crucial factor following the exchange of rooks as his opponent blundered and resigned when faced with mate or the loss of a piece.

Stephane Pedder's opponent castled on the opposite side to Stephane but was rather slow in advancing his kingside pawns and so Stephane's attack on the queenside was first to arrive by some way.  With the a-file open, it looked as if Stephane must be winning and his opponent was sufficiently convinced to resign, although it was not perhaps quite as clear as that.

With Ray having finally had to throw in the towel, Stafford were now 3-2 up with Pavel Nefyodov's game remaining.  Defending against the English opening, Pavel had looked to stand a little worse when his opponent's knight reached d5.  However, Pavel was able to calmly regroup and evict the knight, after which his own knight reached the d4 outpost on a rather more permanent basis.  Pavel's queenside pressure won a pawn and so he had an active rook, knight and six pawns against rather passive rook, bishop and five as well as a slight advantage on the clock as the game went into the latter stages of the allegro finish.      Although Pavel momentarily appeared to be losing his control of the position as the moves were blitzed out, he probably always had at least a draw by perpetual check available but it was the clock which finally proved decisive as his opponent's flag fell to leave the final result as a 4-2 win for Stafford.

With two matches remaining it may well be that Stafford have moved to the top of the league, subject to the result of some other postponed / unfinished matches, albeit having played two more games than closest rivals Bushbury.  Still, with Bushbury due to visit Stafford in the next match, there is everything to play for at the right end of the table, which makes a pleasant change from the more familiar struggles of recent seasons to avoid relegation.