SCCU Team Rapidplay

Andrew Hebron reports on a Richmond success in this event:

An RTCC team made up of Gavin Wall, Mike Healey, Andrew Hebron, Maks Gajowniczek and Roger Scowen entered the ‘Major’ section of the Southern Counties Chess Union / London Clubs Rapidplay tournament in Hampstead. The Tournament was played over 6 rounds with 4 boards and a time control of 25 minutes with an increment of 5 seconds per move.

Teams needed to average under a 2100 rating; some had quite a range in ratings, while others opted for a much more consistent team. We had by far the strongest board 2 with Mike, but Maks and Roger were going to be under rating pressure on board 4. As it turned out, both Mike and Maks were the stars of the show, finishing on 5½/6 and 4/5 respectively – equating to performance ratings of 2493 and 2159! In fact, after the penultimate round Mike was on 5/5 with a performance rating of 2861!

Our strategy was revolutionary – it was to win all our games or, if we couldn’t do that, to draw them. With this devastatingly simple approach and an uncanny ability to spread the blunders evenly across our matches, we never lost more than one game per match and were able to secure maximum match points and the title of SCCU/London Clubs 2023 Rapidplay Champions.

Round 1: RTCC 3-1 Imperial College; W on odds

A regulation win for Gavin and Mike’s opponent failed to spot an incoming N fork made possible by his g-pawn being pinned; Andrew soon got the initiative in his game but blundered while over-pushing and lost horribly. The team needed Roger to at least draw a tense game and, ahead on the board and on the clock, he duly converted the win despite his moving hand being in a sling!

Round 2: RTCC 3-1 Streatham & Brixton; W on odds

Gavin lost after blundering whilst Mike won convincingly when his opponent got his pieces in a mess in the middlegame and chose to sacrifice a B to avoid Mike’s N winning the f2 pawn and then running amok with discovered checks. Andrew won two bishops for a rook and managed to push his pawns through for a win and Maks – a pawn up quite early – sacrificed an exchange and then a full piece to promote a pawn.

Round 3: RTCC 3½-½ Kent Juniors; B on odds

Gavin played his way confidently into a worse position but found enough complications to fork his opponent to recover a piece and then repeat the trick to force a resignation. Mike won comfortably and Andrew salvaged a draw against a higher-rated opponent while a pawn down in a R endgame. Star of the show was Maks who won – despite giving away more than 200 grade points to his opponent – with a couple of risky pawn grabs and stout defence before his opponent miscalculated a sacrifice in an attempt to get perpetual check.

Round 4: RTCC 2½-1½ DHSS; B on odds

Gavin lost to FM Rafe Martyn but Mike equalised with another solid win when his opponent found his pieces largely stuck on the Q-side when trying to defend a K-side attack. Andrew relied on necessity being the mother of invention to scrape a draw in a B v N ending while Maks won a piece with dual threats of mate and attack on a loose N. His opponent kindly declined to win a piece back, leaving him B for pawn up in a winning position.

Round 5: RTCC 3-1 Muswell Hill; W on odds

Roger, unfortunately, mis-played the opening and went down to a nasty N fork quite early on. Gavin converted a strong attack into being up 2 exchanges at the cost of his pawn structure but managed to convert a complex game into a win.

Mike and his opponent were both low on time yet still in the middle game. This caught up with his opponent who was living on the increment; the question ‘Draw?’ had barely left his lips when Mike banged in a Nxg4 sacrifice and the last few seconds of time ebbed away as he froze in the headlights of Mike’s K-side attack.

Maks, playing on board 3, defied the grading differential and won with a pawn sacrifice to ensure his B pair were – to quote Agadmator – fully operational, and went on to win a minor piece with a pin when his opponent fell into time trouble. He still managed to give his team-mates heart failure though, when – thinking the game was over – he turned away in relief at avoiding a stalemate trick, only realising his opponent hadn’t actually resigned yet and making any old move with a second left on his clock.

Round 6: RTCC 2½-1½ Streatham & Brixton; B on odds

With only 5 teams in this section, round 6 was a repeat fixture: 1st played 2nd, 3rd played 4th etc., with the colours reversed. S&B needed to win the match by more than 2 game points to snatch tournament victory.

Gavin won on board 1 whilst Maks’s run of form came to an end with a loss on 4 after trying a new opening and running out of theory. In a sightly wild game, Andrew’s opponent missed an ‘x-ray’ N fork and Andrew emerged a pawn up and managed to simplify a Q+R endgame into a winning pawn ending. Mike was down 3 pawns in an opposite colour B ending but managed to sac his B for a central pawn – leaving his opponent with doubled rook pawns – and then manoeuvre his K to the queening square which was the wrong colour for his opponent’s B. This secured a draw and, with it, a 6th match win and the tournament victory.

Final results:

 TeamWDLMatch ptsGame pts
1Richmond & Twickenham6001217½
2Streatham & Brixton402814½
3Muswell Hill303613
4Kent Juniors303613
6Imperial College0060

RTCC member Simon Illsley was also at the event, representing HM Treasury in the Inter section. He achieved a creditable 50% playing on board 1, and with it a performance rating of over 1900 – well above his seeding.

Our thanks to Brendan O’Gorman for permission to use this photo from the prizegiving. You can see his album of the event here.

From left to right: Mike, Gavin, Maks, Andrew, Roger. Photo by Brendan O’Gorman

Andrew himself played two impressive games against Streatham’s Robin Haldane, for many years one of the most feared tacticians in London club chess.

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