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QUB March On After Humbling Hillsborough

Back in November, a mere four weeks into the chess season, QUB suffered dropped bonus points for the second week in succession, drawing against Portadown in the Peter Froggatt Centre. At this stage confidence in the under-achieving Galacticos was dwindling, with their stock crashing to an all-time low. However, rather than feeling sorry for themselves, the university outfit, evidently taking inspiration from their captain, embarked on a six-match winning streak. This run has brought them to the summit of the league, but with the finishing post growing ever-closer, a steadily improving Hillsborough side stood in their way. With players of the calibre of Bruce Maclean and David McAlister in the visitor's line-up, the league leaders were not expecting an easy ride.
QUB March On After Humbling Hillsborough

McAlister is humoured by Mendicute's post-match analysis while MacLean's torso looks on

Nevertheless, Calum Leitch was quickly off-the-mark on board 4 to give Queen’s an early lead. Gaining a significant advantage in the opening stages of his clash with Michael Harkness, Leitch didn’t hang around in pressing home his superiority. Harkness struggled on for a period, but was eventually subdued by Leitch’s ever-growing material dominance on the board. The briefness of Calum's victory was soon explained, as he swiftly abandoned his team-mates to fulfil a prior engagement in the Students’ Union. His work here was done though, and the individual victory gained in this match should boost Cal as he prepares to captain the Ulster Under 19 side in the Irish Interprovincials this weekend.

In stark contrast to the ease in which Leitch dispatched his opponent, the rest of his side seemed up against it in their matches.

It was QUB board 3, Vladimir Pucovsky, that was the first to navigate his way through the troubled waters. Facing Geoffrey Collins, and his esoteric approach against the Sicilian Defence, the Slovak soon found himself committed to a game divided into king and queenside. In his last meeting with a Queen’s player, Collins was on the end of a rather dubious piece sacrifice from the aforementioned Leitch. Only time-spared Calum’s blushes that day, but Geoffrey discovered that the clock was not going to come to his rescue when he sacrificed rashly in this encounter. Pucovsky held off his opponent’s attack, and then converted his superior position into a 2-0 QUB lead.

Next to conclude was the encounter between QUB student Chris Millar, and QUB lecturer Alisdair Armstrong, whose loyalties, on this occasion, lay with Hillsborough. Armstrong clearly intended to continue a strong run-of-form, while your author was attempting to bounce-back from the ending of an unbeaten streak, stretching back to April, which he lost to John Bradley on Monday evening. The Queen’s captain gained an edge in the opening, but despite claiming a material advantage for the middle-game, the match nevertheless remained unclear. Exploiting tactics though, the student forced exchanges to reach a favourable endgame which was duly converted into a win.

With victory now secured for the home side, the remainder of the matches were to determine only the margin of success. Could QUB even claim successive whitewashes?

First to finish was an open encounter between John Masterson and Bruce MacLean. The Maestro has experienced a return to top-form post-Christmas, while Bruce was keen to follow up on a hard-fought victory over Paul McLoughlin the previous week. A well-balanced clash was expected and thus it proved, with Masterson falling short of time yet again. However, John built up a strong attack and gained a piece advantage – to the voluble surprise of a bewildered MacLean, who voiced his bemusement that his equality had evaporated. With a passed-pawn of Masterson’s about to find the eight rank, he gleefully prepared a spare queen to add to his forces. This was enough for Bruce, who offered his hand in resignation.

The final match to be completed was the board one encounter between UCU President David McAlister of Hillsborough, and Queen’s Spaniard Claudio Mendicute Fierro. It was perhaps not a coincidence that this was the last game to finish, given the lateness of McAlister’s arrival – a consequence, or so he inferred, of the misleading directions from unscrupulous QUB bystanders. That said, the nature of the game certainly provoked its fair share of time-consuming dilemmas in its own right. Claudio, apparently under the influence of unrecognised chemicals leaked into his laboratory that afternoon, decided to break from tradition and employ the Sicilian. McAlister responded well though, defying his time disadvantage to gain a drawn position where he was actually an exchange up against his higher-rated adversary.

Mendicute’s lack of ruthlessness may see him discarded for next week’s trip to Portadown, as QUB aim to clinch the John Strawbridge Cup at the mid-Ulster venue. However, a much-improved Queen's display compared to that offered in the early-season encounter of these two sides will be required for these hopes to be fulfilled. On current form though, Portadown will be shaking in their boots.

QUB 4.5 v 0.5 HILLSBOROUGH

1/ Claudio Fierro (1985) 0.5-0.5 David McAlister (1649)
2/ John Masterson (1856) 1-0 Bruce MacLean (1677)
3/ Vlad Pucovsky (1765) 1-0 Geoffrey Collins(1404)
4/ Calum Leitch (1748) 1-0 Michael Harkness (1448)
5/ Chris Millar (1526) 1-0 Alasdair Armstrong (1395)

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