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posted 5 Feb 2013, 05:00 by knight moves   [ updated 5 Feb 2013, 05:00 ]
The draw for the Stoke League Open (8-man) Cup was not kind to Stafford this season, with the reward for getting past defending champions Holmes Chapel in the quarter-finals being a trip to league champions Cheddleton in the semi-finals.  Unfortunately Stafford were one player short and had to default board 8, but with the teams quite evenly matched there was still every prospect for a close affair.  However, that was not how things turned out as the first team suffered its first loss in 11 matches across all competitions, and a heavy loss at that.
Cheddleton went two points ahead when Kazik Wozniak lost on board 6.  A difficult opening had left him with weak pawns and his king trapped in the centre, and Kazik was unable to prevent all of the pieces being exchanged to leave him in a lost pawn ending.
Even by Andrew Leadbetter's standards, the opening to his game was rather chaotic.  Playing white, by move 10 he was a piece down but looking to recover it by trapping his opponent's knight which had reached h2. He managed this but after some order was restored with the exchange of queens he was unable to defend his c-pawn.  Although he still had some initiative, it did not look sufficient to compensate for ths lost pawn and so Andrew was probably quite relieved to escape with a draw.
Any prospects for a Stafford comeback disappeared along with Stephane Pedder's position on board 5.  Stephane had won an important central pawn when his opponent appeared to miscalculate, and he looked to be doing very well as he made progress on the queenside.  However, his opponent recognised that desperate measures were required and began to advance his kingside pawns.  As his rooks and queen joined in, the tables were turned as Stephane was unable to resist the attack.
Malcolm Armstrong was a little worse throughout but managed to keep a lid on his opponent's initiative and was perhaps fortunate that, in view of the match situation, his opponent was content with a draw.
Gerald Acey has been having an excellent season but suffered his first loss in a complicated game.  He sacrificed a pawn for what looked like good compensation, but struggled to find the right follow-up and his opponent was able to consolidate the extra pawn before a final blunder from Gerald.
The evening concluded with draws for Lee Grinsell and Ray Hyde in tough games where there had never been much imbalance.  Indeed the first exchanges in Ray's game only came after over 90 minutes of play.  As the time began to run down, and with the match result settled, none of the players had the appetite to take undue risks.
This left the final score at 6-2 to Cheddleton.  At least there will be opportunities for revenge with matches against Cheddleton in the league and Hickman Cup still to come this season.