At this time of year, the days get brighter, daffodils are in bloom, spring is in the air, and Taunton Chess Club readies itself for yet another Somerset Cup Final... And sure enough, this year is no different. But, as regular readers will know, this annual tale normally ends with us having our title dreams snatched away....
Well, true to form, yet again, days are brighter etc. and we are in the Somerset Cup Final again. I genuinely can't remember exactly how many times in recent history we have been in the final, only to lose - it could easily be five or six. - What I can say is that sadly, Taunton has *never* won the Somerset Cup ever... thus far....
Anyway, after beating Norton Radstock in the semi-final, held at Glastonbury, we arranged the date for the final as March 28th, and I set about arranging a team. Sadly, MarkH couldn't make it, but amazingly everyone else was suddenly free, so although we weren't at ultimate strength, we did have good strength in depth.
The team was MikeR, Terry, Dave, Nick, Jerry, Robin, Martin and Stan - big thanks to Stan and Martin for helping out with lifts.
The theme for the evening is 'Miracle' (which, yes, might ruin the surprise for anyone not yet knowing the final result.).
The first miracle occurred on the way over to Glastonbury. I picked up Terry from my house and had arranged to get Terry from Monkton Heathfield at 6.45ish. Anyway, when I finally rolled up to collect him at 7ish (sorry), he was busy chewing the fat with some crony which meant I had to come to a complete stop before he eventually got in the car (I much prefer a rolling climb in...). Just as I was about to screech off, I remembered that yesterday (Sun 27th) was census day, and I had to post my form back. So I made a small detour to ensure this vital document was safely on its way. Only then did I drive onwards to Glastonbury. I should point out I recently made a mental decision to drive more slowly and carefully when ferrying others around in my car (I'd feel dreadful if I crashed and they died, you see...) so off I went at a measured speed... and arrived a minute or two late at Glastonbury.
"Why is he boring us with this travel rubbish" I hear you ask? Well the first (albeit lame) miracle happened... Seconds after I pulled in to the car park, Martin arrived in his 4x4 - yet busily told me how he'd passed Jerry, while Jerry was waiting at Monkton Heathfiled, and yet he'd arrived later than us. We'd not overtaken him, and there is only one route to Glastonbury... So how did we arrive before him? Miracle! (or Jerry has an impersonator, who brazenly wanders around Monkton Heathfiled, when he knows the real Jerry is out of town..)
Glastonbury play in the Tor club which is great as it has - 1) A bar, 2) A pool table, 3) Sometimes a semi-hot barmaid (but not this time sadly), 4) Ample car parking facilities. On the downside it has three playing rooms, 1 with no lights, 1 with a comedy squeeking door, but an entertaining wall Muriel to help stave off boredom and 1 in a vast open room (the poshest option).
Being the final, we'd already been promised the poshest option - yay!
Glastonbury have Millfield players, and before the game, rumours of a new 10-year old wunderkid had been circulating. This in addition to the normal will the GM play or not rumours. The GM (Matthew Turner) is always a mixed blessing - yes we will drop a point, but its worth it to see him play (and with him busy at his board, it stops him looking over your own game, with you knowing he's spotted everything whilst you stumble around looking for a decent move..).
Anyway, Glastonbury fielded a near normal team, no GM, and the wunderkid was only on 3 - but a high boarded 10year old when ungraded could is going to be on a fast upward path...
We went through the motions of the toss, but as I was on board 4, it was inevitable Glastonbury would end up with white on their evens... and thus it was.
On paper it looked very close. No real grading differences - Mike was down a fair bit on Rhys Cummings but everyone else was less than 10 points per board. Of course I worry as I view players like Dave Wood and Roger Morgan as being 10-20 points higher than their actual grades..
Anyway, the games got underway, and ended like this -
Board 8: Stan Wojcik (132) 0.5 v Roger Morgan (140) 0.5
Stan, as white, played a strong opening with well supported central pawns, and by move 11 was ahead slightly, looking to press forward, increasing this advantage into the middle game. Unfortunately, at this point the game was agreed as a draw. Ok, no miracles here, although as I said earlier, I rate Roger higher than his grade, so a good result for Stan. Of course, this being the Somerset Cup, if the final result is a draw, then the lowest board is removed followed by a recount. As this board is drawn, suddenly board 7 takes on extra significance, as it could be a tie-breaker...
There was quite a delay before the next decisive game, suffice to say that all games looked very even at this stage...
Board 5: Jerry Kilby (u/g) 1 v Dave Wood (145) 0
Dave is a stronger player than his grade, so Jerry would have a tough game here. Jerry likes to attack and Dave likes solid postions, so the game followed a predictable path of Jerry massing his forces against Dave's cramped but well-defended king. It looked like a tough struggle until suddenly Jerry uncorked a lovely sacrificial combo either forcing mate or winning Dave's Queen. Very nice and a great result!
Board 4 Nick Wilson (161) 1 v Nigel Dicker (156) 0
As everyone knows, my openings are terrible - I either get in a horrible mess, or lose a pawn somehow. So with this in mind, I decided to meet fate on my own terms - I chose to give away the pawn (hah! - What are you going to do about that, fate? huh?), but in doing so, had a slight lead in development. This continued until the middle game where I would rate the position as balanced - I was still my pawn down, but black didn't have any decent castling options and his black bishop was undeveloped (and tricky to do so). Black also had a strong knight on e4 which I had to get rid of. I attacked it, and black exchanged it, fatally allowing a zwischenzug (if you don't know what one of those is, ask our German International Player!!!) with check, and suddenly blacks uncastled king was trapped in a quick mating attack. The game was over. Yes black blundered, but in the spirit of the theme, I will call it a miracle! Thank you!
So Taunton lead 2.5 - 0.5, and we need two more points - but where are they coming from? None of the other games looked decisive for us at that time, so I did what any captain would do in these circumstances - i wandered off to the bar...
i think next to finish was Martin -
Board 7 Paul Moody (145) 0 v Martin Worral (139) 1
This was an interesting game. These two have met many times in the past and understand the spoils are pretty much equal. This game focussed around a struggle on the queenside, with apparently many nasty looking pins, combos and threats revolving around some advanced pawns. After much exchanging the dust settled and Martin emerged a pawn up. Now, I being in the bar at the time, I'll have to assume it was this pawn that sealed the victory... Well played.
I did have a quick wander round the remaining games. hmm... Robin seemed to have all of his pieces en-pris.. Terry was two pieces for a rook down.... Dave was even against the wonderkid and Mike was currently even against someone rated 20+ points higher... even though we were leading 3.5 - 0.5, I wasn't confident we'd win... so I trotted back to the bar..
Whilst there, Robin wandered though, smiling. I said "Aren't all your pieces en-pris?", Robin cheerily replied "Don't think so...". I was too puzzled to reply and wondered if my pathetic shandy was actually something stronger... anyway Robin bought something at the bar and wandered back to his game (it turns out this was a pivotal moment..)
Back in the playing hall a further miracle was about to happen -
Board 2 Terry Stuttard (u/g) 1 v Sharan Soni (166) 0
Terry had white in a Ruy Lopez, and started a king side attack. Suddenly there came his usual game winning stunning sacrifice. Yes, knight f5, saccing an attacked bishop. What brilliance. Now lets see... pawn takes bishop, knight takes h6, then... er... blimey, this ones a bit tricky to work out, er.. then... oh crap.. this is one of these brilliant sacs that doesn't have a force win behind it... hmm.. is this a blunderfice? Anyway, Terry played on, now material down and technically on the back foot. He wandered over and started talking about wanting to take a draw (i.e. crap, I'm not gonna won this one, maybe I can swindle a draw) But his opponent declined the draw offer. And then the miracle happened - a bishop was exchanged, and suddenly blacks game fell apart - uncoordinated pieces allowed a quick pawn rush by Terry and black had to resign. Wow! Where did that come from? Anyway - game won and now Taunton had won overall!!!
Board 6 Tim Wallis (153) 0.5 v Robin Challenor (141) 0.5
Robin was outgraded here. He'd had a good opening, picking off a pawn or two, but by late middle game he'd lost a piece (albeit with the compensation of many pawns). But things looked dodgy. What to do? Think harder? Come up with alternative plans? Hope his opponent relaxes being so far ahead? No! Robin had a much better plan! Out came the pork scratchings! And in the most rustly bag ever. Thistling in the bag and munching through the pork scratchings did the trick as the noise and roasted port fat aroma wafted through the air. Tim had no chance and soon his position deteriorated and Robin levelled the game! A tasty pork flavoured crunchy miracle draw snatched from the jaws of defeat!
Board 3 Nikita Atyazian (u/g) 0.5 v Dave Littlejohns (166) 0.5
So the much heralded wunderkid is infact on board 3. Get ready for a Dave grind... The game got underway, and by about move 10 the position looked equal, and solid. Except Nikita had only 15 minutes left on his clock! Had anyone told him the time rules? He still had 25 moves to make. A bit later things were worse. A balanced middle game, ripe for some Dave grinding, and Nikita had less than one minute for his last ten moves - he was making his moves instantly now. Then it struck me - Dave's grinding only works when as an opponent you have time to think and see how you are gradually being ground. Nikita, moving instantly had no time for these negative thoughts and the grinding had no effect... White made the time control, Dave tried a few tricks to win a pawn, but the position was a solid, dead draw rook and pawn ending. The only miracle was that Nikita made the time control!
Board 1 Rhys Cummings (191) 0.5 v Mike Richardt (177) 0.5
Mike was outgraded and Rhys is undoubtedly a good player. Mike, correctly expecting to be black, had prepared some lines but I'm not sure if Rhys took that route. Eitherway, Mike was understandably playing cautiously and soon the game fizzled out into a very drawn looking position. Obviously this was fine for Mike, and eventually it was agreed a draw. A good result.
So final result - TAUNTON WIN 6 - 2 and collect the Somerset Cup for the FIRST TIME EVER!!!
What a fantastic result - a true miracle! Well played and big big thank you to everyone for this, and previous, matches here!
An interesting stat is that in the three rounds of the Somerset cup this year, we didn't lose a single game! The two 6-2 results were via draws and of course we won 8-0 in the semi final. A further miracle!
Man of the match - could go to any of us, but today I think Jerry pipped it for his nice forced win. Well played.
The winning team: