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Malone stumble at Hillsborough

The battle for first place in Division 2 continued on Tuesday 20th February with the top two teams having away matches. Leaders QUB travelled to Portadown (reported on elsewhere on this website) while second-placed Fisherwick were hosted by Hillsborough.

Division 2 was rocked this week by the withdrawal of the two Bangor teams, after the UCU Committee turned down Bangor Winston's appeal against their match versus RVH being declared a loss by default. A quick inspection of the League rules suggests that all the Groomsport and Winston matches will now be declared defaulted, so this will have some impact on the points totals of the other teams in the League standings.

Still life goes on. The battle for the top spot in Division 2 continued with second-placed Fisherwick (playing under the Malone label) travelling to play Hillsborough at Derriaghy Cricket Club. The hosts had seen a mini-revival snuffed out last week by the QUB Galacticos and were again out-rated on all five boards by their Fisherwick rivals, who would be anxious not to lose ground on the top-placed university team.

First game to finish was between former Newtownards Chess Club team-mates Graeme McCormick and David McAlister. McCormick, the Fisherwick board 1, facing the Sicilian Defence met it with his usual Closed Variation and followed it up with a trademark advance of his kingside pawns, which was met with a counter thrust in the centre. The Fisherwick player used his Knights to pressure the e6 and f7-squares, but a well-placed Black Knight on d8 prevented a White breakthrough. Black then found a strong move with his Queen, forcing White to offer an exchange. With a very drawish Rook and pawn ending in the offing a draw was agreed.

After taking some time out to watch the Champions League encounter in the bar, your correspondent, fortified by a Britvic orange (untainted by any additives) duly returned to find the match score 2.5-1.5 in favour of the visitors. A heavyweight encounter on board 2 between Neil Green and Hillsborough captain Bruce MacLean had always looked a likely draw. On board 4 home player Michael Harkness had demonstrated that his shattered queenside pawns were not a sufficient weakness to prevent him drawing a Queen and minor piece ending against David Ruben. On Board 3 despite some imaginative play Geoffrey Collins had not been able to withstand sustained pressure from evergreen Sam Ferris (Ulster Schools champion in 1950 and 1951), playing at his usual fast tempo.

The only remaining encounter was on Board 5 between Norman McFarland and Alasdair Armstrong. Fisherwick's McFarland had a strong kingside attack throughout the game and looked to make the final breakthrough by pushing his pawn to h5. McCormick pointed out some pretty variations to your correspondent (fortunately out of hearing range for the players) and indeed routine moves by the Hillsborough player could have led to him being checkmated but an exchange sacrifice produced a devastating counter-attack and McFarland resigned with checkmate inevitable.

So the visitors were only able to draw the match, and with QUB victorious at Portadown, the Division 2 title seems destined for the University players.

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