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

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