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Baracudas hold their breath

"Chess Notes" from County Down Spectator, 8 Dec 2004

For a very short time, Bangor Barracudas headed League Division 2 until RVH Hawks belatedly reported their own results; rocketing to the top of League despite their opening debacle against Hillsborough in the first week. On Tuesday 7th, the Barracudas travelled to take on RVH in a head-to-head for league honours.

Although RVH Hawks came down from Division 1 last year, their line-up is exceptionally strong - on paper. While claiming to have spread their talent to their colleagues, RVH Eagles, recent results indicate they do play up to their promise. Bangor Barracudas expected a drubbing though they did their best to field a strong away team.

James O'Fee opened on board 1 for Bangor and straight-away established a strong position against Gareth Annesley. James felt confident and as pieces were exchanged was able to maintain a slight edge - a draw looked certain, and maybe steal a win. Till an incautious move cost James a pawn; but with better position the game was recoverable. As the clock would down, Gareth's end-game expertise under time pressure began to tell and just as James looked like gaining promotion first, fine manoeuvring from Gareth's Rook dealt a fatal blow to claim the win.

Philip Todd on board 2 fared little better against Ciaran Marron. For a time holding the initiative, Philip's defences maintained the balance. After the temporary loss of a pawn both players agreed a draw when it was clear neither could make head-way.

On board 4, Kevin Agnew rubbed his hands in glee as Sean Linton led into Kevin's prepared lines. Kevin wasn't able to dominate though as he had in the past as Sean responded strongly. With an open a-file attracting all the action both players minor-pieces queued up to intimidate their opponent but there was nothing but empty threats; Kevin and Sean agreed a draw. Subsequent analysis suggested a possible edge to Kevin but by no means certain and the prospect of an awkward pawn end-game. Good call Kevin.

Bottom board Ken Browne opened against Paul Logan. Ken's careful play paid off with a two pawn advantage but Paul refused to give ground. Till the end-game arrived with only opposite coloured Bishops and Ken's material advantage; Paul surveyed a doomed position and resigned reckoning Ken would gain easy promotion. Later review demonstrated the difficulty of a win; a draw the more likely outcome. A bit of a steal for Ken but then Paul has been known to claim the odd steal himself.

Ken's steal looked like it saved some honour for the Bangor team. After Drew Ferguson agreed a friendly draw with Philip Morrison on board six, the team relaxed to watch the final game on board 3 between Bangor's Martin Rogers and the Hawk's Neil Fisher.

Martin had established a robust position securing mobility for himself with Neil uncomfortably bottled-up in a corner. Despite Martin's best efforts, Neil successfully wormed his way out of many a dilemma, "always finding the best move" as Martin described it. The finale should have come when Martin lined his three power pieces on the f-file ready to trap Neil's Black King in a smothered mate. With Neil's persistence through the game and time-pressure telling, Martin made a bizarre minor-piece play not only letting Neil escape but revealing a single-move mate on Martin's vulnerable King. Fortunately Martin recovered with a series of checks mopping up Neil's minor-pieces and finally an X-ray exchange of Queens when Neil finally conceded defeat.

A hard-won, draining battle for Martin and a fraught experience for the spectators who saw the possibility of game and match win bizarrely squandered almost to a loss. With Martin's eventual win, Bangor Barracudas enjoyed a 3-2 victory and with bonus points jump well clear at the top of the League. If the team can secure a win next week, they can relax for the Christmas break leading Division 2 against very tough opposition.

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