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Too Strong for Spirited Sutton

posted 29 Jan 2013, 13:12 by knight moves   [ updated 31 Jan 2013, 04:50 ]
Stafford travelled to Sutton Coldfield on Monday to face the reigning Cannock league Division 2 champions on their own turf.  Sutton have always been able to field a strong team in this division, so Stafford came well prepared with a combined grade exactly on the 550 limit.  It was therefore something of a shock to find that we out-graded the defending champions by an average of just under 40 pts per board, or by 45 points per board using January grades.

In the first game to finish, Ken McNulty opened with his usual 1.Nf3, then allowed the game to transpose into an advance variation of the French Defence, which is unusual for Ken in that he's normally on the other side of the French.  Ken struck the first blow at black defences with a minor piece exchange on h6 after a misplaced black knight had been forced to retreat to that square.  Black tried for counter-play on the queenside but in doing so neglected his already weakened kingside defences which fell apart under repeated attack.  Ken soon forced his way through, with his queen leading the charge and a resignation soon followed, although Ken missed a mate in 3 in the position on the right:

David Barker played into an opening with black that led to a position with an all too familiar backwards e-pawn.  He was also hampered by having doubled pawns on the e-file, but with active rooks on the semi-open c and f files, enjoyed some space for minor piece movement.  Although David's pieces were by far the more actively placed, it was difficult to see an obvious way to progress and after the exchange of an active knight which had been testing the waters at c4, the main opportunity looked to be in the centre.  With the kingside blocked, David duly abandoned the f-file to bring a rook to the centre in preparation for the big push, but was unable to effect the plan because it would have left the backwards e-pawn as a critical weakness.  In the absence of progress, a draw was agreed.

Roger Butters played his favourite King's Gambit, which was met by the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit.  He gained a great initiative from the opening and exchanged down into what looked like an easy pawn endgame.  Although material was even, black had been left saddled with a tandem pair on the c-file as well as isolated pawns on the a and e-files, which turned out to be too difficult to defend.  Roger duly won but post-game analysis revealed that with correct play the ending was actually drawn. Still, the point had been secured.

Ray Hyde enjoyed a 71 point current (Jan13) grading advantage, which wasn't apparent in the game.  Playing with the white pieces, and after a standard Tarrasch Defence to the Queen's Gambit, Ray gained the initiative on the queenside and picked up a valuable pawn which meant that any ensuing endgame would give Ray a protected passed pawn on the C file.  White retaliated, going for an all-out attack on the kingside and sacrificing a bishop on g7.  Ray had spotted that to take the bishop would allow a queen check followed by regaining a piece, and was able to play a neat zwischenzug, attacking and diverting the white queen from the intended checking square.   In desperation, white sacrificed the exchange to continue the attack but had to resign in a position where he had to lose either his rook or queen.

So, a potential banana skin was avoided and the final score was 3.5 - 0.5 to Stafford.  It must be said that such a grading mis-match was disappointing for division 2, but credit to the Sutton players who put up a spirited fight.