Thursday, 31 March 2011

"Good! That's the spirit"

As it appears increasingly likely that the ‘B’ team will be getting relegated from division 1, the side’s board 2, Dave Shapland, reports on last week’s tragic battle against the dying of the light…

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty
“At the climax of the cult sci-fi film “Bladerunner” (the link goes to a YouTube clip that includes the quote but if you haven't seen the whole film go watch it now!) the superhuman android Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is knocking seven shades of the proverbial out of Deckard (Harrison Ford) and gleefully utters the immortal line of dialogue above as the Deckard smashes an iron bar over his enemy's head more in hope than expectation. The line, and Hauer’s grinning physog, came immediately to mind as I read a text message from Huddersfield ‘A’s team captain last week. But before we get to that, let’s rewind for a moment…

Last Thursday Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were due to travel to face champion’s elect Huddersfield. Having beaten our ‘A’ team in the last round of fixtures Huddersfield had put themselves into the box seat for the championship. Meanwhile Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were languishing in the relegation zone in desperate need of a result to climb out of the mire. Could the ‘B’ team redeem themselves and at the same time hand the initiative in the title race back to their colleagues? The chances of success were virtually zero, but sometimes in the face of adversity astounding human stories are written. Who’s to say this wouldn’t be one? We had a shot at immortality.

Then I got the phone call on Tuesday evening from our Captain. Which went something like this.

“I’ve defaulted the match on Thursday… you’re the only player we have available… we’ll have to hope we can get results out of the last two matches and scrape through.”

After he had hung up I stared at the phone. No! No, no. This wasn’t right. We couldn’t hand Huddersfield a 5-0 walk over. We might as well hand them the league trophy too. I played for the title winning ‘A’ team last season. I didn’t want Huddersfield to take it back so easily. This was too much. But what could we do? No players available! I went to bed feeling depressed.

On Wednesday morning I woke up still thinking about the default but then I had to get myself in a more positive frame of mind. I had a match for my other club in Leeds that evening. Then it hit me… could I get a team together for the following night by pulling in colleagues from Leeds? It was very short notice, but surely worth a try? One thing I’ve learned about Leeds Chess Club is that they have a sizeable pool of players and plenty of those just want to play games at every given opportunity. If I was going to do it I needed to swing into action straight away.

First things first. I called Huddersfield’s Captain, Robert Sutcliffe early on Wednesday morning to ask if he’d contacted his players to cancel the match the previous evening. Only one it turned out, and he could call him back to re-instate the match. I asked Robert to give me 24hours grace to get some sort of side together. Fortunately for me Robert is the kind of chap who’d much rather play a match than take a walk over and he accepted my proposal happily.

Now I had to get a team together. Next up I spoke to the main man at Leeds Chess Club, Tony Ibbitson. He organises the teams, manages the negotiations with the venue, sets-up out of season activities. He’d be able to help. By 10 o’clock on Wednesday morning Tony had agreed to play against Huddersfield himself and also to send an e-mail out to club members giving them a heads up.

“We’ll talk to players at the club tonight as well. We’ll definitely be able to get a team out for you” he said.

By the end of Wednesday evening I had 4 players including myself! That was enough to take to Huddersfield and Tony was very optimistic about recruiting a fifth player during the course of Thursday. I texted Robert on Thursday at lunch time to confirm that we could play the match, that we had 4 players and were trying for a fifth. Robert replied…

“No prob and very well dun – that’s the spirit!”

The game of chess does actually make an
appearance in the film when Batty assumes command of
J.F.Sebastian's pieces against Eldon Tyrell
And that’s when I thought of Roy Batty. Robert had in no way intended to be condescending towards me but the irony of this turn of phrase was not lost on me. In the film Batty knows that Deckard can’t beat him and so does Deckard. Nevertheless, Deckard fights desperately for his life as Batty toys with him. I felt a bit like Deckard did in struggling to get out a team that I knew would be weaker than our regular line up and playing against the strongest side in the division. We were going to get killed.

Thursday night came around and we did get a fifth player. I picked up 3 of the team from Huddersfield station and took them to the match to make their lives a bit easier. I owed them all several drinks. When we arrived at the venue I was very surprised to see that Huddersfield were well below their usual strength. Their board 2 player had made regular appearances on board 4 this season. That said, they still out graded us on every board by at least 20 points and on board 1 I had to face Leo Keely from whom I had not extracted even one half point in two previous attempts.

So we sat down to play and it wasn’t long before I started to feel a faint tingle of optimism. Tony was playing against David Firth on board 2 and had deployed his Black Knights Tango against Dave’s QGD. This was just what I’d hoped for and the reason I had opted to play Tony on board 2. I’ve scored well against Dave in the past with the Budapest Gambit and I was confident that Tony’s eccentric choice could undermine the grade difference between the two. In reality Dave built up a big central space advantage but, like the true hypermodernist that he is, Tony worked around the flanks and slowly wormed his way to equality. In the end Dave offered Tony a draw and Tony accepted. What a brilliant start!

Looking at the other boards at this stage of the evening I was feeling really pleased with how things were developing. We were competing well on all boards including, somewhat to my surprise, on board one! My game with Leo is given below. We debated a Meran System of the Semi-Slav which was also the battle ground for our last contest. On this occasion Leo obtained excellent chances when I went astray late in the opening but he didn’t capitalise and I ended up playing the endgame with a decent advantage.

Leo thought for a long time before accepting the draw I offered in the final position above and I could understand why because the match situation was very tight. On board 3 Dave Summerland had gotten himself into trouble against Nigel Hepworth and gone a piece down. He later regained the piece to go into a knight and pawns vs. bishop and pawns ending but sadly, he made another mistake and lost. On board 4, John Mahoney was playing Robert and had been under pressure in the opening but gradually relieved the situation and had offered a draw in the middle game. Robert declined but shortly afterwards he blundered a piece and John converted his win very smoothly. That levelled the scores and at that point I was pretty confident our board 5 player could hold a draw. It was on this basis that I had offered peace terms myself because even though I had an decent advantage I couldn’t figure out how I was going to convert it and I didn’t want to get swindled.

So it came down to board 5 with the match all square. I could never have dreamed that we’d have come so close to a result but here we were all staring intently at the game between Stuart Oliver and Phil Rhaim. Stuart was having all the fun but Phil was defending bravely and had a bit more time on his clock. I’d have been over the moon with draw and a drawn match, but unhappily, Phil couldn’t hold on and Stuart’s attack finally broke through in dramatic fashion. The final score 3-2 to Huddersfield. Unlike “Bladerunner” then, no fairy tale ending to this story, but if the ‘B’ team does go down, we’ll go down fighting to the very end.”

Here is the score card for the match:

Huddersfield ‘A’ – Hebden Bridge ‘B’
L.Keely ½ - ½ D.Shapland
D.Firth ½ - ½ T.Ibbitson
N.Hepworth 1 – 0 D.Summerland
R.Sutcliffe 0 – 1 J.Mahoney
S.Oliver 1 – 0 P.Rhaim
3 – 2

Saturday, 26 March 2011

I'm playing all the right moves...

"You're playing all the wrong notes!"
Some readers may be familiar with the classic Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch from their 1971 Christmas show. It’s the one with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra. Eric Morecambe is going to play Greig’s piano concerto and Previn is conducting. Of course the joke is that, despite his confident posturing Morecambe doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. After a series of excuses and prevaricating antics Previn finally looses his cool and says.

“You’re playing all the wrong notes!”

In response Morecambe comically draws himself up on his toes, puffs out his chest, performs that little comic aside that he does to camera where he pushes his spectacles back up his nose and then grabs Previn firmly by the lapels of his dinner jacket and says…

“I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

How many times could every chess player ruefully exclaim the appropriate paraphrase of that punch line at the end of a game? The order moves are played in in a chess game are just as important as the moves themselves. Last Wednesday I was the beneficiary of just such a move syntax error. Take a look at the position below which developed out of a Sicilian Sveshnikov.

Intermezzo vs. O.P.Ponent. Position after Black's 21st move
How would you assess the position before White’s 22nd move? Well, it’s certainly complicated! Black appears to stand very well because he has an open f-file to wreak havoc down and his bishop on h6 prevents White from castling long, which he would very much like to do. With my king trapped in the middle of the board I felt that I had to take steps to restrict Black’s active pieces so I played 22.Qe6 which I felt rather pleased with. It is a good multi purpose move as it pins the Black rook to its king, ties the Black queen to the defence of d6 and also enables White to prepare some back rank threats.

The game now continued
22… bxc3
23.bxc3 Qb8
24.Bh3! Nd4??
25.cxd4 Bd2+
26.Kd1 …

... and my adversary, shacking his head in dismay, resigned. Of course he had forgotten that after 25.cxd4 my knight is guarding the b4 checking square. Oops!

However, that blunder doesn’t mean that my opponent’s concept was flawed. On this occasion he just executed it inaccurately. Let’s go back to his 23rd move. What if he played 23…Nd4!! here?

Position is Black had played 23...Nd4!!
Now this is simply winning for Black. White can’t capture the knight on d4 because then 24…Qa5+ will be mate. In addition to this point the White queen is attacked and if it moves then 24…Nc2+ will win the exchange. Ouch! As it turns out my ‘great’ multi purpose move was a terrible mistake which I succeeded in surviving only because my opponent got his move order wrong.

Later on, as I drove home I imagined Mr. Ponent disconsolately making his own journey home and muttering disappointedly to himself.

“I played all the right moves, but not necessarily in the right order.”

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Check these out

Today I would like to offer something a little different for Hebden Bridge Chess Club members in the form of a lengthy post on the subject of check and checking!

“How dull!” I hear you cry. “What can there possibly be to say at any length on this most trivial of chess-related subjects?”

All I can say is, please bare with me folks because I really think this journey is worth going on! Let’s start with a question. Have you ever played a game where checks occur in a series of consecutive half moves? Probably you have even if you don’t remember. The position on the left is a simple and typical example.

White, to play, can play 1.Qh3+ to which Black will reply with 1…Qxh3+ and we have two consecutive checks. This isn’t uncommon and some forcing tactical sequences can generate even more than two consecutive checks. By way of an example take a look at the position below which I found on Tim Krabbé’s treasure trove of a website, “Chess Curiosities”.

Zarrouati vs. Brauckmann,
Toulouse 1990
The game continued with...

27...          Ng4+
28.Kxf3+  Nde5+
29.Rxe5+  Nxe5+
30.Qxe5+  ...

... and Zarrouati won a few moves later.

Krabbé thinks that this game may share an “unofficial” record with another game (below left) for the longest series of mutual checks in tournament play.

This second game continued...

Cardona vs. Conejero
Mislata (Spain), 2003

22.Rg1+   Bxg1+
23.Rxg1+ Qg3+
24.Rxg3+ fxg3+

... and Black resigned 10 moves later.

Both these examples are very unusual indeed in normal play and all the more attractive for it.

Now take a few seconds to look at the next position below left. It’s White’s move.

Composition by C.van de Loo
The first thing you may notice is that White can play 1.Re5++ and it’s checkmate. Very pretty! But this isn’t a position from a game or even a problem. It is something even more unusual. Play through the moves in the viewer below and see what actually happens next.

Wow! 29 consecutive checks! This composition belongs to a category of chess problems called “Fairy Chess” in which the normal rules and conventions of orthodox chess problems are usually bent a little. The composition above was actually entered into a competition Tim Krabbé set for the Dutch chess magazine Schaakbulletin (which has since metamorphasised into “New In Chess”) back in 1978. At the time he kicked off the competition, Krabbé thought that the record for a series of mutual checks in a composed position was 28 half moves and held by one G.Leathem.

On his site, Krabbé goes on to say how delighted he was when 3 readers managed to beat Leathem’s mark. One of those was van de Loo and another (H.Gieske) matched his mark of 29. However, the winner of the Schaakbulletin prize was an endgame composer called Rol who stretched the record out as far as 31.

By now readers will have realised that we have entered into a magical realm where chess ceases to be a mere game and starts to become an art form. Some artists use music to convey their genius; others use words and rhyme; still others use oil and canvas or clay. It is only a select few who choose to use the 64 squares and 32 pieces of a chess set to express their imaginations.

So, the question now is; how far is it possible to take this theme of consecutive checks? 35, 40, 50? Well, the story doesn’t end in 1978 because during the course of his research Krabbé discovered (much to his disappointment!) that Rol’s ‘world record’ wasn’t a record at all. His mark of 31 had already been bettered. First Krabbé unearthed a series of 32 checks by an Englishman called A.J.Roycroft from as long ago as 1956. He then went on to find a more recent position (1974) by a German composer, Werner Frangen, who set the mark even higher at 35! As far as I know (Krabbé doesn't say) this may very well still be the record for consecutive checks where having promoted pieces on the board in the start position is not allowed.

Even this is not the end though. The number of consecutive checks that are possible soon escalates once you allow the composer to use promoted pieces in the starting position of their solution. Indeed, Frangen himself produced an effort in 1974 that set the bench mark very high at 45. Then in 2007 a new gladiator entered the contest for the record and has continued to raise the bar by increments ever since. Sampsa Lahtonen of Finland has been conducting a personal duel with anyone who tries to take the record off him since he bettered Frangen’s 45 mark in 2007. By the end of 2007 (a very busy year for this record it seems!) he himself had increased the mark to 47 and then lost his record to his compatriot Unto Heinonen who reached 49 moves. In 2008 he snatched the record back by reaching the landmark of 50 consecutive checks only to lose the record once again, this time to the Russian, Alexei Kanyan, who posted 51 moves.

After the Russian threw down this gauntlet, Lahtonen went quiet for 2 years but then, finally, at the end of last year, Tim Krabbé published Lahtonen’s latest effort which currently stands as the world record position for consecutive checks in a legal position with promoted pieces allowed. The new record is 53 moves!

What makes this acheivement all the more staggering is that, in order to verify the legality of the position Lahtonen had to construct a ‘proof game’ setting out all the moves that could be played to reach the start position of his composition. Clearly the long, dark, cold nights of the Finnish winter hold nothing but the prospect of extra time to compose for Lahtonen!

I must confess that I didn’t really use to enjoy or understand chess problems and compositions. To me it wasn’t real chess. Having recently spent some time getting to grips with what was involved in setting this record however I think I’ve finally grasped the point. Problems, studies and compositions are really the only way to express the full depth, beauty and wonder of the game. A game of chess is all about combat. You play against your opponent and you try and win. But when problemists compose they aren’t fighting anyone or anything except the pieces and the squares themselves. They fight, and sometimes they win and they do things that you can’t even begin to imagine are possible when you sit down to play a game over the board or online. I think I’ve finally found an art form that I can really appreciate!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

News Flash: Calderdale Individual Championship Final Round

Your blog editor has been enjoying a recreational break
and is looking forward to witnessing first hand the Winter
X Games which are happening this week in Tignes
Greetings to all our readers from the Alpine slopes of Tignes! I mention this not to boast about my current location but rather to explain the absense of news updates on this blog during a particularly busy period of the chess calendar in Calderdale. Needless to say I don't have a great deal of spare time to write blog posts or analyse chess games at the moment so there is going to be a hefty backlog for me to deal with when I get home! In the meantime, the least I can do is acknowledge what's been happening over the last couple of weeks although I'm afraid it gives me little pleasure to do so.

First up is the final round of this year's Calderdale Individual Championship which took place on Monday night. Of course I was not there to witness the events myself but fortunately for this blog, John Kerrane was present and writes this report for the Hebden Bridge Times.

"On Monday evening at the Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge Chess Club hosted the fifth and final round of the Calderdale Individual Chess Championship 2010/2011, with 34 players taking part.

The championship depended on the result of the game on board 1 between John Morgan, of Courier, who started with 3½/4, and Hebden Bridge’s Matthew Parsons on 4/4, with Morgan needing a win to secure the title, while a draw would be enough for Parsons. After a game in which Parsons started slowly, the players reached a tense end-game in which Morgan created a passed pawn, which caused Parsons enough difficulties for Morgan to force a win.

So this year’s Calderdale Champion is John Morgan, with Matthew Parsons in second place on a tie-break from David Wedge (Hebden Bridge), who won the first band grading prize after a flamboyant early mating attack against Huddersfield’s Robert Sutcliffe.

Unusually for the last round with prizes at stake, the evening was characterised by a lot of dynamic attacking chess making for interesting games and few draws. Other grading prizes went to Martin Syrett and Josh Blinkhorn, both of Hebden Bridge, and Tom Webster of Todmorden."

Our congratulations go to John Morgan who is having an excellent season for Courier and has succeeded in carrying his form into the Individual Championship as well. I've not been playing chess in Calderdale for all that long but in that time (5 years) I don't think anyone from outside Hebden Bridge Chess Club has managed to annex the title. Perhaps someone can tell me who the last person to do so was and when it happened. Your blog editor certainly hopes that John's success will encourage even more players from other clubs to take part next year.

Obviously from a Hebden Bridge perspective we must also offer our commiserations to Matthew Parsons for coming so close to winning the title and also to Dave Wedge for relinquishing it after two successive years of ownership. However, on the positive side, Martin Syrett and Josh Blinkhorn deserve much credit for their grading prize performances. It sounds like there were plenty of interesting games to look at and, although I haven't yet been able to review them, you can be sure that when I do a more detailed report will be prepared for your edification.

Now, I'm afraid, onto more grave news. Just before I took off on holiday the club's 'A' teams faced their last remaining title challengers for the Division 1 title. Sadly, the result was a chastening defeat at the hands of a powerful Huddersfield side who now take command of the title race by a single point. It seems very unlikely that Huddersfield will slip up on the run in but Alastair Wright and his team will have to hope they do and themselves succeed in beating their remaining opponents if they are to retain the title. Understandably, no one in the 'A' team has offered their games to this blog for publication so I'm afraid the match score card will have to tell the story of a disappointing night.

Huddersfield 'A' - Hebden Bridge 'A'
L.Keely 1 - 0 M.Parsons
C.Booth ½ - ½ D.Wedge
D.Keddie 1 - 0 A.Wright
D.Firth 1 - 0 M.Wedge-Roberts
R.Boylan 1 - 0 N.Sykes
4½ - ½

Sadly, the news was also grim for Hebden Bridge 'B' as they lost a few days earlier in their crucial relegation battle with bottom side Todmorden 'A'. Todmorden had beefed up their squad significantly with the addition of two strong players from the Lancashire League since the two teams last met back in November. In the end this additional musle on the top 2 boards proved to be decisive as, although Hebden Bridge held their own on boards three to five, they lost both of the games on boards one and two. I do have games from this match which I will get round to sharing at some point but for the moment here is the match score card.
Hebden Bridge 'B' - Todmorden 'A'
P.Olley 0 - 1 M.Hamer
D.Shapland 0 - 1 A.Clarkson
A.Leatherbarrow ½ - ½ C.Edwards
M.Syrett ½ - ½ S.Gornall
J.Kerrane ½ - ½ P.Edwards
1½ - 3½

This result leaves Hebden Bridge 'B' in a most precarious situation a point from safety behind Halifax 'A' who have a game in hand on them and a further point behind Brighouse who they play away on the last day of the season. They could help themselves and their colleagues in the 'A' team by scoring a result away against Huddersfield next Thursday but such a result would be an absolute miracle assuming Huddersfield put out the same side as they did last week.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Definition of a 'thrilling draw'

Savielly Tartakower
"Drawn games are sometimes more scintillating than any conclusive contest" - Savielly Tartakower

As I sat watching the fantastic and astonishing drawn match between England and India at the cricket world cup last week I found myself recollecting this famous quote by Tartakower. Of course the key word in the sentence is "sometimes". In chess (as with lots of other competitive sports) we normally assume drawn games to have been dull affairs conducted by risk averse contestants who fear failiure to such an extent that their main aim is to avoid defeat. Certainly football has produced plenty of turgid draws. This seems especially to be the case when the stakes have been at their highest, in World Cups for example.

Cricket is an interesting exception to this rule because (in the limited overs version of the game at least) a genuine draw is a very rare occurrence. I say "genuine" because of course some games are drawn due to bad weather. When games are played in full however a drawn fixture is a collectors item.

Why do we enjoy the "thrilling draw" so much? I think it is because the very best drawn games are the ones in which the outcome is in doubt right until the very end of the contest and the longer the contest has taken to complete the more dramatic the climax becomes. In fact as I watched the cricket coverage one of the commentators summed this all up nicely by saying that "all three results" were still possible in the last over of the game. Indeed, all three results were still possible even on the last ball of the game!

So, if we want to try and define a brilliant draw ( in chess or otherwise) then I think we must say that it must have the following characterisitcs:
  1. Both contestants/teams must have strained every sinew and taken some risks in order to try and acheive a victory. It only adds to the drama if the stakes are raised because, owing to the broader context of the game, nothing less than a win will do for either player or team
  2. The quality of the play must be of a high standard. Two simpletons can draw a game through sheer incompetance. That doesn't make the contest "thrilling"
  3. The balance of power during the game must change hands at least once. If one player or team has been on top all the way through and throws away his/her/their advantage at the end then that's just an error or a swindle
  4. The outcome of the contest must be unclear right up until its end. Some games just tail off and it  becomes obvious that a draw will be the result some time before the end with both contestants just going through the motions
Here are a couple of chess games that I hope readers will enjoy for all of the reasons set out above.

Truly a 'thrilling' draw from two of the worlds greatest players.
Now, I would like to offer a draw from my own score book that I hope readers will also enjoy even though it is really unworthy of sharing space alongside the modern classic above.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

'Guile and resoluteness' is the key

'C' team Captain/Manager Pete Rawling's has rightly
heaped more superlatives on his side's recent play
It was a busy night at the Trades Club on Monday as both of Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s Division 2 sides played home fixtures. In addition, the ‘A’ team played a re-scheduled fixture in Division 1. John Kerrane reports on the night’s events for us. Starting with the ‘A’ team.

“Hebden Bridge ‘A’ took on Halifax ‘A’ in a re-arranged match and scored a 3-2 win, aided by a default on board 5 by the visitors, who otherwise ran the current league leaders very close, Matthew Parsons scoring the only win for the home side over the board.”

The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ – Halifax ‘A’
D. Wedge 0 – 1 D. Ursal
M. Parsons 1 – 0 C. Velosa
A. Wright ½ - ½ R. Cully
N. Sykes ½ - ½ A. Dawson
M. Wedge-Roberts 1 – 0 Default
3 – 2

Here is Captain Alastair Wright’s draw with Ray Cully on board 3. This result means Alastair is still unbeaten in the league this season although I suspect he feels he has drawn a few too many of his games so far.

Back to John’s report…

“Meanwhile, the C team continued their terrific run of good form of late by brushing aside the challenge from Halifax B with a thumping 4½-½ win. Pete Leonard, the team’s new acquisition this season, scored his fourth win in a row, while in the only game where one of the Hebden players looked in trouble, Steve Priest managed to hold on to score a draw.”

The individual results were:
Hebden Bridge ‘C’ – Halifax ‘B’
D. Sugden 1 – 0 B. Wadsworth
J. Blinkhorn 1 – 0 J. Aldridge
S. Priest ½ - ½ J. Nicholson
P. Leonard 1 – 0 G. Cash
N. Bamford 1 – 0 J. Gilhooly
4½ - ½

Here is Josh Blinkhorn’s win against John Aldridge. I fear that the last few moves of the game may be missing but the bulk of it is here for your enjoyment.

‘C’ Team Captain Pete Rawlings had this to say of his charges…

“Another glory night for the Cs with a resounding victory against Halifax ‘B’ against whom in October we managed to lose 3-2. We remain in contention for the top two places and promotion. This is a good team with each player offering guile and resoluteness at the board.”

Finally, John tells us about the ‘D’ team’s result…

"Their junior partners in the second division, Hebden Bridge ‘D’, didn’t fare so well, however, going down 3½-1½ to Courier B. The home side’s best result here was Chris Greaves’s draw on board 4 but the Courier higher boards were too strong for the home players."

The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘D’ – Courier ‘B’
J. Todd 0 – 1 J. B. Smith
P. Dearden 0 – 1 J. Whitehead
M. Levy 0 – 1 P. Jacobs
C. Greaves ½ - ½ R. Bottomley
D. Crampton 1 – 0 default
1½ - 3½

Here is as much of Chris Greaves draw as I can salvage from the score sheet. This was a good result for one of the club’s rookies.

Next week the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams face massive challenges in their fight for the Championship and against relegation respectively. The ‘B’ team play at home on Monday against Todmorden ‘A’ who are bottom. Lose that match and they will be as good as down. Then on Thursday the ‘A’ team travel to Huddersfield ‘A’ who are, realistically, their only challengers for the title. Win that match and the Champions will almost certainly retain their title. Lose and Huddersfield will become favorites. “Squeaky bum time” as a certain football manager has been known to say!