Once upon a time in Cumbria

Once upon a time there was an ageing chess player whose enthusiasm for the game far outstripped his ability, but who nonetheless dreamed of success one day. And so he entered the 2013 Cumbrian championships, in the bargain basement section for players graded under 125. The event was held at the Crown Hotel, Eamont Bridge, just outside Penrith on March 15-17th. Entries were disappointingly low in all three sections, the best supported being the Open with 16 entries, while the Major (under 160) and Minor had just ten entries each. Of those ten, the Ageing Player’s modest grade ranked him fifth.
He was grateful for a gentle opening round on the Friday evening, when he had black against Peter Hanks of Ulverston, graded 66. White blundered a bishop for a pawn on move 8, and further miscalculations followed, permitting the A.P. to queen a pawn. However, white was in no mood to resign, even when he was down by a Queen, rook and bishop to two pawns! Fortunately, black was able to trap his king quite rapidly, otherwise play might have continued till the cut-off point of 11p.m.! 1/1
Saturday morning saw the A.P. with white against Peter Blackmore of Cockermouth, graded 100. The two had played each other several times before and their games had always been close affairs, this one being no exception. The Four Knights opening was very cagey on both sides, with Peter striking first, swapping bishop and knight for rook and pawn, thereby weakening white’s castled king. However, despite doubled rooks on the f file, Peter was unable to break through. When white eventually launched his own kingside attack, it led to a flurry of exchanges from which white emerged with a knight and 3 pawns to black’s 5 pawns. It was just a matter of time before the extra mobility of white’s knight took its toll and Peter resigned. 2/2
On Saturday afternoon, the A.P. had black against the top seed, Chris Underhill of Barrow, graded 124. Black played what he thought was a clever variation of the Benko Gambit, but instead of emerging a pawn down with a strong attack, he emerged two pawns down with no attack at all! White’s unopposed pawns on the open a and b files were a particular worry but, more by good luck than good judgement, black managed to eliminate them and the game petered out into a dead drawn position – phew! This left the A.P. on 2.5/3, half a point off the pace being set by Kurt Moreby of Jesmond, who had a perfect 3.
Sure enough, Sunday morning brought an encounter between the A.P., with white, and Kurt, graded 123. The game was one of the most curious the A.P. had ever come across. His e4 was met by b6, which was duly followed by Bb7 and e6. In no time at all huge pressure was being exerted on white’s e pawn, forcing the A.P. to forget about castling and concentrate on plugging the gaps in his position by using his Queen. His position was defensible, but only just, when on move 12 Kurt played his Queen to g5, where it could be – and was! – taken by white’s f pawn! Kurt resigned on the spot, giving white another win, but hardly a deserved one. 3.5/4 and the A.P. leads the field!
In the final round, on the Sunday afternoon, the A.P. had black against young Holden Davis of Penrith, graded 86, who was on 3/4 and was therefore one of only two players – the other being Kurt – who could overtake the A.P. Holden played a Tarrasch in answer to the A.P.’s French, but allowed his bishop to be trapped on move 9 and had to swap it for a pawn. Later exchanges enhanced the significance of that lost bishop and on move 44 Holden resigned, when a bishop and two pawns down in a clearly lost ending.
So the A.P. finished on 4.5/5, a full point ahead of the field. It was the first time he had ever won a tournament, which only goes to show that sometimes dreams do come true!

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