Thursday, 20 March 2014

All or Nothing!

SCCU Open Surrey vs. Middlesex
15th March 2014
Tony Fulton (MCCA) with the Shannon Trophy
Tony Fulton, Your Captain

Sometimes when writing reports your author gets carried away! Evidence of this is the length he went to in explaining the permutations of the possible results of Round 5. On reflection he should have been more succinct and if he were he would have written:
‘If Middlesex beat Surrey in the final round they qualify for Open Section of National Stage as SCCU Champions and retain the Shannon Trophy for the first time since 1979-80; if Middlesex lose they will need to rely on the results of the other matches keeping their fingers crossed that either Essex or Hertfordshire can do them a favour. If both Kent and Sussex as expected win, Middlesex compete in Minor. Of the two it’d be better if Middlesex control own destiny and put Surrey to sword!’ How to the point is that? Had your author thought about the comments made by some contestants who are voted off as the weakest link, those whom say, ‘Who cares who wins it’s not going to be me’, he’d have followed suit and said, ‘Who really cares about what the other teams do the focus is solely Middlesex!’ In future cycles discussions about the permutations will be kept short and sweet!

Middlesex travelled to Coulsdon knowing that the outcome of the match decided so much. Firstly the match, as is historically the case, was a title-decider: Middlesex win they are SCCU Champions; Surrey win and subject to Kent result against Hertfordshire either they or Kent became Champions. One match with 3 possible outcomes!
Second, apart from deciding the destination of the Shannon Trophy the Champions of the SCCU get an additional fillip namely as it, subject to any changes to the ECF Draw (16th February 2014), sees them pass directly into the semi-final and a potential home draw against a SCCU rival! ECF Draw in full here
One match with so many tantalising benefits if victory achieved – conferred SCCU Champions; a Trophy AND a Bye! Defeat and Middlesex could well be consigned to the Minor. All or Nothing indeed!

When facing Surrey a team of strength is required as in being able to field the likes of B. Lalic; Y. Zhou and A. Suarez among an assortment of IM’s and FM’s, Surrey are a formidable proposition. With so much at stake in this match AND having yet to attain victory on Surrey soil since their return Middlesex fielded one of their strongest line-ups, team average 199. Middlesex then were clearly intent leaving Surrey with positive result of some kind and if victory rectify a blot on their record! It would also send a psychological marker to Surrey in the event teams face each other in the National Stage!

It must be noted that in fielding a team of such strength your author was not swayed by the email received from his counterpart (Owen Phillips):
“...I reckon you are slight favourites (no kidology) – partly because I shall be missing a few key players...”
Question although qualification assured (Surrey could finish no lower than third) with a title at stake against a fierce SCCU rival and prospect of bye in the offing, why on earth would you want to miss out on being involved in such an encounter? Despite his assurances of ‘no kidology’, when playing Surrey you take a statement such as this at face value as even with ‘a few key players missing’ you should always expect to face a strong line-up, especially when they are at home (usual average 193). Yes there may be the odd occasion when they fail to field a team in excess of 190 (2007-08 vs. Middlesex and 2013-14 vs. Sussex) however these are an exception rather than norm. A ‘weak’ Surrey team is by most counties standards still a strong team! When team lists were exchanged Surrey’s line-up was in keeping with their average 193 so much for ‘missing a few key players’! Par score: Middlesex win 9-7.

With so much at stake it is no surprise that once the match got under way the first results to come in were draws. Richard and Albert playing solid lines in which neither player could eke out a definitive advantage. Score level: 1-1

In gladiatorial contests what is required is a definitive action as it set the pattern of play, in football an early goal; tennis a break; rugby converted try, etc. In chess what is desired is an early win if only to settle the nerves alternatively to sharpen the fangs. Sometimes you should be wary of what you desire as you just may get it! Imagining that the match would be tense throughout it was surprising that the next four results were indeed definitive with the teams sharing two wins apiece! It was an unfortunate return for Daniel as he met one of Middlesex’s bĂȘte noirs – Russell Granat! It has been mentioned in previous reports that Russell has a phenomenal record against Middlesex since their return to top-flight chess and once again he puts a Middlesex player to the sword. He really does seem to relish this fixture. Daniel’s defeat saw Surrey take the lead in the match for the sole time as it spurred Middlesex into action. The defeat was offset by victories for both Simon and Peter (Ackley). Simon has been in a rich vein of form for Middlesex and he once again brings home the bacon as he crushes his opponent having launched an irrepressible attack. Where Simon’s game was a demonstration of how to systematically take an opponent apart, Peter’s was an altogether different affair! At one stage when you looked at his position, it seemed as though he and his opponent were playing a game of draughts but misunderstood the rule as both were playing on opposite colours, Peter on the white squares, his opponent on black! Comparisons to draughts apart, Peter had one distinct advantage in the blocked position – his opponent had been forced to play his KB to h1 and it was entombed. It could be argued he would have been better off removing it from the board! Patient play sees Peter garner the point. Middlesex briefly gain lead but it is short-lived as Carsten misjudged his position and fell soon after. Scores level: 3-3

With almost half the games played all results were still possible but a look at the games in progress showed that Middlesex were at least equal if not better in them all: Jochem had negotiated the questions posed to him in the opening phase after grabbing a pawn; Tomer had gained two pieces for a rook and was using them to great effect to support his passed b-pawn; Andrew was beginning to realise the fruits of his positional stranglehold; Bob an exchange up; Colin involved in opposite-side attacks and Steve’s knight creating problems for his opponent as it was firmly ensconced on d3! Middlesex were looking good and it was being whispered that Middlesex were on course to win match. The optimism proved well-founded as Carsten’s loss was the last to be experienced by Middlesex on the day!

Having survived a late scare Peter (Batchelor) secured a draw the first of four from the next five results. Colin acquiesces to a draw as his opponent had defended resolutely against his attack and had set up a queen sacrifice that would allow him to get a draw by perpetual check; Jochen had laboured hard in a protracted rook and pawn endgame but his opponent always found enough to prevent him from being able to attain a significant advantage and Mark likewise found that his opponent had stopped him from making progress and in a same-coloured bishop endgame decided discretion better part of valour. The series of draws was punctuated by Andrew’s win. Middlesex gain lead for the first time and with their nose in front was determined to stay there. Middlesex lead 6-5.

With 5games remaining the first target for Middlesex was to get to 8points, if achieved it would assure their qualification to Open Section of National Stage. They were within touching distance of it as Tomer demonstrated why two pieces are better than rook and pawn. Despite rearguard action Tomer’s opponent eventually conceded. This is quickly followed up by Jochem’s draw. Jochem once again had to tackle one or two questions posed, it would seem that his opponent conscious of match position looked for sharper lines to try and force a win. However he really ought to have considered that Jochem had already calmly dealt with the questions posed and continued to sweep aside the desperate attempts for the win ensuring he had enough for the draw AND potential win himself. Draw clearly right result. Middlesex lead 7.5-5.5

Bob is next to finish and his draw ensured Middlesex could not lose match. Despite his best efforts to eke out win the position was just not quite open enough for him to benefit from his material advantage; His opponent’s bishop; knight and king taking key squares from his rook and his bishop biting in granite. With the score standing at 8-6 Middlesex know they could not lose AND had guaranteed themselves a berth in the National Stage as they could now finish no lower than second. The question was whether they could obtain the match win so they could attain their first victory against Surrey in Surrey and with it be crowned SCCU Champions?

Put simply yes! Both Ananth and Steve were in control of their games with some minor miracle having to occur for both to lose! In accordance with match rules, they were informed of match score and they knew they could both play for a win safely so long as they maintained draw in hand. Ananth however was determined to make the most of his position and he did so beautifully. All chess players are aware of the advice that in an endgame with pawns on both sides of the board ensure you have a bishop not the knight as the bishop is more flexible as it is easier for it to play on both sides of the board. Ananth showed that sometimes we must overlook such pieces of advice as his knight was able to wreak havoc on both sides on the board, helping win pawns on kingside before smoothly returning to queenside to remove the only form of counter-play the passed a-pawn! He also makes light of another piece of advice the knight will struggle against passed pawn on a- or h- files! Ananth’s win means Middlesex have an unassailable lead – 9-6 – and it just remains to see if Steve can give Middlesex a double-digit score. Alas it is not to be as despite his best endeavours his opponent demonstrates a thorough understanding of rook vs. rook and pawn endgames and forces Steve to accept the draw. Final score: 9.5-6.5. Middlesex win match and with it are conferred SCCU Champions! The title-winning cycle sees Middlesex retain the Shannon Trophy for the first time since 1979-80! The 2014-15cycle sees Middlesex have 3 home matches, could Middlesex win a hat-trick of titles something they last did in the 1930’s? This is surprising when you consider Middlesex’s success in the decade 1978-1989; one thing that eluded these teams was the fact that they never achieved an SCCU hat-trick! Time will tell if this will be rectified but for the moment revel in fact that Middlesex are SCCU Champions once again!

Well done guys!

See here for full match details.

With Middlesex controlling their own destiny in defeating Surrey there was no need to look towards Essex and/or Hertfordshire to do them a favour by either winning against Sussex and Kent respectively. Their results then are given for completion.

Hertfordshire as is known are on a remarkable run of results; they have not won a point of any kind since their last game in the 2010-11cycle (P14 L14). In their final game of season they found themselves home to title-chasing Kent. Hertfordshire were once again within a whisker of breaking this record as they lost a close encounter 7.5-8.5. With three home games next cycle surely their luck must change? Let’s hope though it’s not against Middlesex as they will be in pursuit of a hat-trick of SCCU titles!

Sussex assured of qualification to the Minor Section of National Stage harboured hopes of playing with the ‘big boys’ in the Open. In order to do this assuming Kent beat Hertfordshire they had to defeat Essex and look to Surrey to defeat Middlesex therefore pipping Middlesex to the final berth. Sussex did their bit of the job comprehensively winning against Essex 10-6. Essex’s match report indicates that they were once again without their stronger players, however when looking at the teams fielded all cycle they have only once exceeded 185 the norm being 181 – truly a Minor team. However as is known their hopes are dashed as Surrey failed to live up to their part of the bargain.

With all results in the final table of the cycle is:
League Table Round 5
1. Middlesex 4/5 (51 Game points) SCCU Champions
2. Kent 4/5 (42)
3. Surrey 3/5 (43)
4. Sussex 3/5 (41)
5. Essex 1/5 (39)
6. Hertfordshire 0/5 (24)

Middlesex finish as SCCU Champions and qualify for the Open Section of the National Stage, as do Kent and Surrey. Sussex and Essex progress to the Minor. Good luck to all SCCU competitors in all divisions in the National Stage. How many titles will Middlesex and/or SCCU walk off with?

So Middlesex’s SCCU campaign ends and attention can now be turned to the National Stage. Please ensure the following dates are in your diary:
Quarter-Final 17th May 2014
Semi-Final 14th June 2014
Final 12th July 2014 - The Trident Centre, Warwick CV34 6SW

Based on current ECF Draw Middlesex’s path to the final is:
Quarter-Final – Bye
Semi-Final vs. Winner of Lancashire vs. Surrey, If Surrey Middlesex will have the bonus of being the home team.
Notwithstanding this draw or any changes to it Middlesex will be looking to reach their 3rd final in as many years and lift a 2nd National Title. If that were to happen Middlesex would have secured SCCU/ECF double for the first time since 1988-89!

Next Match – to be confirmed, details of the National Stage will be finalised on 31st March 2014 and will be forwarded once received.

Martin Blaine Best Performance Cup
Each cycle the MCCA awards the Martin Blaine Cup to the best performing Open team player. After 5 rounds the leading positions are:
1. C. Mackenzie 29pts
2. G. Batchelor 27pts
3= R. McMichael 23pts
3= P. Ackley 23pts
3= N. Chan 23pts

Go on the Middlesex!

Play County Chess!