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Stafford Scrape into Semi-Final

posted 5 Nov 2012, 05:00 by knight moves   [ updated 5 Nov 2012, 05:00 ]
The top teams in the Stoke League are very evenly matched at present, and the home match in the first round of the Open Cup competition against defending champions Holmes Chapel was a typically close encounter.  The visitors held the edge on paper by a grand total of 3 grading points across the 8 boards, so it was no surprise that this became the fifth successive match in the competition to be drawn 4-4 and decided by board count, with Stafford scraping through to the semi-finals.
As all 8 games went into the third hour of play, Holmes Chapel appeared favourites.  The first result came in a tense position on board 3 where, with the queenside blocked, Ray Hyde and his opponent were both attacking on the kingside but neither player was willing to take undue risks and a draw was agreed.  Gerald Acey won what proved to be the crucial game on board two.  An early g4 thrust led to complications where Gerald temporarily won a pawn but his opponent obtained dangerous counterplay and regained the pawn as the game reached a knight versus bishop ending.  Gerald played the ending very well, eventually securing the point with an attractive zugzwang in a pawn ending.
Pavel Nefyodov had what looked to be one of the more promising Stafford positions, having obtained an early passed c-pawn and advanced it to c6.  However, he was unable to push it any further and his opponent managed to transfer his major pieces to the kingside for what proved to be a decisive counterattack.  Stephane Pedder and Ken McNulty both also went down, having struggled throughout, leaving Holmes Chapel with a two point lead and Stafford left hoping that the old maxim about points on the scorecard being worth more than good positions in the remaining games would for once prove untrue.
Malcolm Armstrong had conceded the bishop pair and looked to be in some difficulty when his opponent opened the position up with a pawn advance to d5.  A careful series of exchanges enabled Malcolm to reach an ending where the bishop pair still looked dangerous, but his opponent released the pressure to win what proved to be a meaningless pawn as the resulting opposite-coloured bishop ending was easily drawn.
This all left Holmes Chapel leading 4-2, but Andrew Leadbetter and Kazik Wozniak had both survived early difficulties to reach winning positions.  Andrew had lost the exchange in the middlegame but obtained good compensation with a dangerous pawn on d6 and his opponent's king trapped in the centre, and gradually regained his material with interest.  Kazik meanwhile had a very lively game, with his king driven out to what proved to be a surprisingly safe haven on a6 as a knight on e8 somehow held his position together.  Gradually he managed to return his king to a more orthodox location and push his passed queenside pawns.  By the time the spectators had done their board count calculations, Andrew and Kazik both had clearly winning positions and held their nerves in the final couple of minutes of play to secure the crucial victories.
Another tough match awaits in the semi-final against Cheddleton, due to be played in February.