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QUB Win Battle of Ulster Chess Leviathans

The ninth round in the race for league glory and the John Strawbridge Cup saw Queen’s University host their south-Belfast rivals Malone/Fisherwick.

The match-up of these Ulster chess powerhouses generated interest in the game not seen since the heady days of the Spassky v Fisher World Championship Match of 1972. This was of little surprise to aficionados of the local game, given that not only do these two institutions represent the province’s most successful active Belfast chess clubs (with over 30 Division 1 successes between them), but the pair entered the fixture positioned first equal in Division 2, with a stuttering Groomsport trailing in their wake after Malone and QUB recorded resounding 4.5-0.5 and 5-0 wins respectively in Round 8.

Cynics may highlight that neither club currently plies their trade in the top division, but one need look no further than the two team line-ups to see that both sides boast players the envy of any other team in the province. Just to underline the point, Malone saw fit to include Michael Waters, reigning joint-Ulster Champion (although he was actually first on all tie-breaks, as he will remind you) on board 1. His match with Catalonian Claudio, or “Matador Mendicute” as he is affectionately known, was an enticing prospect in itself.

Malone were not alone in springing a selection surprise in terms of team line-up. Your author, with an ever-growing reputation for such tactical precociousness, played his trump card by not fielding himself in the QUB panel. It is only correct that my stepping aside should be perceived as a gentlemanly concession to my former team mates, even if it merely allowed the talented John Masterson, a player rated 300 points higher than myself, to fill my boots.

Indeed it was Masterson, clearly eager to repay his captain’s faith, whose match, against Malone’s vice-captain Neil Green, was to finish first. The Malone player opened with his usual English, but was encouraged into a textbook King’s Indian Defence position by the attack-eager Masterson. As it turned out, Neil’s queenside attack was barely simmering by the time John’s kingside thrust boiled over and produced a checkmate.

This result heartened QUB spirits in the Peter Froggatt Centre, with all other team members holding positions which at best offered even chances, if not somewhat bleaker prospects. None more so was this the case than with the board 5 encounter of Cal Leitch, Ulster Under-19 Champion (after your author finally stepped aside to let him have a taste of the title), and Malone’s Norman McFarland. Leitch quickly equalised with black – with the aid of the opening preparation supplied by his thoughtful captain – before suffering another case of b4 blindness, and falling two pawns behind. However, with little or no opportunity for counter-play, the youngster intelligently shut-up-shop, and held out for what had become an unlikely draw.

The mettle of the (admittedly self-proclaimed) QUB “Galacticos” was further evidenced by the display of Vladimir Pucovsky in the face of an impressive performance by Graeme McCormick. Graeme skilfully utilised the black pieces to develop a transposition into a Dutch Leningrad setup, from which he gained an edge by opening the centre - to the delight of his bishop pair. In contrast, Vlad was left wondering what was to be done with his singularly useless knight. However, the normally scintillating Slovak dug in his heels, swapped off all the minor pieces, and gratefully accepted the hard-earned draw offer from his opponent. Such displays can only be explained by the inspiration of the team captain’s pre-match e-mail.

Similar attributes were always going to be necessary if his QUB neighbour Mendicute was to gain a result from his opponent. Michael Waters, enjoying his first venture into league chess since securing last year’s board 1 prize in Division 1, was clearly out to build on his 100% start to this year’s Fisherwick Tournament and use the white pieces to teach the leading galactico a lesson. However, Waters' sustained kingside pressure simply wasn’t enough to break through the kingside resistance of the QUB top board. Nevertheless, the lordly Waters, bolstered by coffee and chocolate biscuit, showed his razor-sharp competitive edge by eventually winning on time in what consensus agreed was probably a drawn endgame.

This left the titanic tussle all-square at 2-2, with a tight finish being played out by Fred “the Russian” MacDonald and Malone danger-man Ian Woodfield. Unfortunately for Ian, he was to be the victim of a vintage example of MacDonald at his best. Fred gave up a bishop to play out a superb combination which saw him emerge two pawns to the good. With time very much of the essence for both players, Fred expertly converted his lead into individual and team victory.

So the QUB Galacticos gratefully emerge from a tremendous test of both their skill and grit to see-off their challengers-in-chief, opening up a 3-point cushion at the summit of Division 2. Needless to say, Millar’s mob must now guard against misplaced complacency in the weeks ahead. Further tests await in the form of not just a strengthened Hillsborough side, but also notably against two teams which have already snatched bonus points from the University men - Portadown and Bangor Groomsport.


QUB 3 v 2 MALONE

1/ Claudio Fierro (1985) 0-1 Michael Waters (2057)
2/ Vlad Pucovsky (1765) 0.5-0.5 Graeme McCormick (1718)
3/ John Masterson (1856) 1-0 Neil Green(1689)
4/ Fred MacDonald (1709) 1-0 Ian Woodfield (1637)
5/ Calum Leitch (1748) 0.5-0.5 Norman McFarland (1577)

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