Match Captain's Report
Our final match of the season was played at the Victory Hall, Exminster, on 8 March and the venue lived up to its name with Cornwall winning fairly comfortably by 9.5 points to 6.5. The full results are shown above. As captain I have been well supported throughout the season by our senior players, with those returning to county chess after absence, notably Grant Healey and David Saqui, being particularly important in turning our results around. We have also benefited from 'new blood' with the junior international Theo Slade on a dramatic upward trajectory and by the arrival of Mate Csuri, son of a Hungarian international chess trainer, now residing in Newquay.
There were no less than nine draws, and I agree with Jeremy that most of them were solid efforts, many going down to the wire in what was altogether a steadier performance by the Cornish players compared with our narrow loss to Gloucestershire last season. Nevertheless, as Tolstoy might have put it, chess wins are all alike but every chess draw is drawish in its own way. Mark Hassall's game was equal when he agreed his draw with John Jenkins, although he had early pressure against a doubled pawn in exchange for two bishops in what resembled a Nimzo-Indian type position. Taking the pawn would have opened up the position creating pressure and Mark decided against it, but in retrospect feels that objectively he should have taken the risk.
David Saqui fought long and valiantly to turn a slight but clear advantage into a win, but the position petered out into a symmetrical King and Pawn ending that was a dead draw, to his commendably gracious disappointment, even though by then the match had been won. Robin Kneebone's opponent was the ultra defensive Philip Meade, who played a drawish line with the white pieces. Although Robin felt that with best play the structures tended to favor black, he found himself biting on granite and the game eventually subsided into a draw that resembled a standoff between two cowboys in a spaghetti western. There were no tactics worth mentioning, and the guns remained in their holsters. The fortunes in Mate Csuri's game oscillated to the extent that it was difficult to determine which one of them had 'rescued' the draw from the jaws of victory/defeat. James Hooker and his opponent Phil Dodwell agreed a draw that seemed a fair result after an interesting game in which they both had chances. Gary Trudeau survived misplaying a Morra gambit declined (playing he said 'like a tyro' which I took to mean 'novice' rather than the nature-loving one lusted after by Poseidon). He soon went a piece to two pawns down, but managed to conjure up some optical threats as his opponent drifted into mild time trouble. It was at this point that the player of the white pieces Adrian Walker took up his option to claim a draw by repetition to Gary's relief. 'I weaseled a draw in a prosaic game', was the Trudeau verdict. John Wilman's game was against the very promising junior player Robert Ashworth. The opening was an exchange Slav and John quickly established a blockade against Robert's isolated d-pawn, which he won on move 30, obtaining a nice ending a pawn up. But instead of playing for a simple technical win, he pursued a delusory sacrificial mating net and paid the price. At this point he thought he was losing, so was happy to accept Robert's draw offer. A missed opportunity for both sides! Richard Smith secured a stately untroubled draw on Board 14. David Jenkins' draw was the result of playing the black pieces in a Semi-Slav and exchanging down to a king and pawn ending that at the immediately preceding Queen swap (forced because of Peter Bending's back row problem) he had calculated as a win. But when he reached the critical pawn advance he realised that Peter had an option he had not considered, to avoid the swap and sac a pawn instead with a check. With 5 minutes and a number of moves before the time control David chickened out of the calculations and offered a draw, which was instantly accepted. Subsequent analysis suggested he should have played on, although as captain he has been peddling the excuse that the draw secured the match.
The match was, as ever, won on the basis of the wins, all admirable and hard fought except for Mick Hill on Board 15 whose opponent after a complex strategic and tactical struggle unexpectedly offered a grateful Mick the late Christmas present of an overlooked mate in one. Colin Sellwood once again (how does he manage it?) steered the game toward the kind of tactical complexity he revels in and came out a convincing winner. Grant Healey, playing quickly but with considerable aplomb, exploited his opponent's self-inflicted King side weakness to launch an early mating attack, while Theo Slade continues to impress with a combination of sound strategy, imaginative tactics, mature use of time and subtle positional play. He is inexorably moving up the Cornwall chess pecking order and is already a safe bet to be a future number one. The most bizarre win of all was that of our Board 1 Jeremy Menadue, playing the highly rated Dan Lambourne. The game lasted no fewer than 108 moves, but the last fifty were only played, according to Jeremy, because there was a 'slight chance' of his time running out. Slight? That wasn't how it appeared to the spectators who crowded around the board at the end. What other that Jeremy's trembling flag over the last ten moves would have induced Dan to continue playing on with a lone King against a King, Knight and Rook? To add to the tension, Jeremy gave every impression of calculating his moves, whereas even the patzers among us would have played the ending with instant moves on automatic pilot. 'I am not that good at King and Rook endings' explained Jeremy unconvincingly. All a tease for the spectators, I reckon.
One of the outcomes of the season is that Cornwall would have qualified by results (two wins, a draw and a loss) for a further match in the national minor counties section, but because we did not signal our intention at the start of the season it may be that the WECU will not be able to nominate us. We hope some way will be found for us to compete but that matter at this point of writing is uncertain.
I occasionally use this column to introduce some wider chess-related topic in a hopefully witty way, and I was amused in the car returning from the match by a slightly unguarded remark by John Wilman. We had been talking about the relative seniority of the chess playing fraternity and how pleasing it was to see players like Theo Slade and Robert Ashworth (John's match opponent) playing well at county level. 'These days', pronounced John, 'You often find yourself playing either kids or old buffers, but the trick is not to make any assumptions but simply play the board'. It did make me wonder about the psych-opps of chess and whether one is ever truly free from inferences that can be drawn, either legitimately or fancifully, from the visible person across the board. As an old buffer myself, and one with a prostate problem, I have often wondered how my mid-match toilet breaks are perceived, and whether opponents suspect an age-related deterioration in my calculating ability and play accordingly. When as an 11 year old I played as Board 2 for a Welsh Grammar School I could actually feel the nervousness of the lordly sixth formers I played against in inter-school matches at the prospect of losing to a short-trousered shockhead. Theo must have experienced the same psychological advantage faced with opponents unable to operationalize the Wilman principle, and indeed in a recent match was advised by his schoolmasterly opponent to 'sit still'.
I must also confess the relief I feel when I see 'old buffer' opponents keeping score in the old notation, as I take it as an index of unfamiliarity with the literature. Even though the general use of computer chess programmes should have weakened the inference, I find myself still making it.
Another further detail one notices in Cornish
chess is the deployment of stylised aggression or its opposite to
embellish the action. At the one extreme Grant Healey is Tal-like
in presenting an air of ludic menace, while Richard Smith, for all
his claims to be 'lionhearted', oozes apology whenever he produces
a good move or wins a game. Mick Hill at the chessboard cultivates
an air of indifference that treats good and bad fortune alike, while
Gary Trudeau's level of anxiety is exactly choreographed by the
extent to which his lips are pursed in thought. Meanwhile Jeremy
Menadue has perfected a minor piece of chess theatre in that when
he captures an opponent's piece he humiliates the captive soldier
by pressing it into service as a little hammer with which to press
his clock. Sub iugum missi sunt, as the classicists would
say. Careful Jeremy, it may not be legal and there could be an arbiter