Fruithill vs NICS

The very first match-up in this season's Division 2 competition; NICS travel to Fruithill. After the first series of games both were more or less tied at the same level though their first encounter in 2013 ended most definitely in Fruithill's favour.
Fruithill vs NICS

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On a dreadful winter's night, the NICS squad set out across the town destined for Fruithill. With a downpour obscuring vision and drenching anyone who ventured out, one car load took its time getting there. Generously the Fruithill mob bided their time, starting those that were ready & patiently waiting for those delayed; games would hardly run on would they. So off to a rather haphazard start.

Board 3: Gerry Collins vs Drew FergusonLast to begin and first to finish was Board 3, Drew Ferguson opening against Gerry Collins. A fairly passive structure developed which Gerry evidently did not care for and when offered a pawn for free, jumped on it with a size 10. Now with his Queen committed on the 3rd rank, the blood-letting began. When the first phase was done both Kings were stranded on the centre files: Black had lost the centre altogether with his King unprotected, White had glaring holes where pawns had been. Amazingly only one pair of minor pieces had fallen by the wayside. Drew was able to reorganise his pieces by pushing Gerry's Queen about eventually getting her sidelined on b7, with an undeveloped Rook, behind a pair of doubled pawns. This allowed Drew to push down the King-side attacking the exposed King, first restoring parity and eventually gaining a pawn advantage. Trading down, White had the advantage but by not getting his King advanced far enough, let Gerry's Black King take a controlling square essentially drawing the game. A very bizarre game played at a furious rate.Board 6: Charlie Loagan vs Pete Storey

One of the early starts, Pete Storey was defending against Charlie Logan. Charlie had built himself a neat defensive structure on the King-side but he had allowed Pete to develop his pieces attacking down the diagonal targeting  h2 as well as doubled rooks supporting an advanced e-pawn. When the Black Knights also got in on the action, there was little Charlie could do but defend against the onslaught move by move. Once the blitz started the end was inevitable.

Board 2: Alan Burns vs Sean LintonAlan Burns was defending on board 2 against Sean Linton. Things were developing nicely, or so Alan thought. Sean appeared to have left a weak pawn tempting Alan to accept the Greek gift; unfortunately Alan missed the subtlety of a very elegant trap not only losing material but the keystone to his defensive structure. Black's pieces were split into two camps that could neither defend themselves nor co-ordinate any sort of counter play. Alan fought on defiantly but eventually Sean was able to advance a string of pawns virtually unopposed to the 6th & 7th ranks. Promotion of at least one was assured and with the King shouldering much of the defensive work Alan finally capitulated.Board 5: John Robinson vs Adrian Donford-Smith

Boards 1 & 5 finished close together. Adrian Donford-Smith, as White, forced to resign against John Robinson when Black gained a material advantage which Adrian could not counter. Meanwhile Mark Newman had forced Frank Carrothers' King into a8, the diagonal controlled by Whites Bishop on g2.

Board 1: Mark Newman vs Frank CarrothersWith Marks Bishop fianchettoed on g2 he made a pawn push on the Queen side to undermine Blacks pawn chain facing the bishop. Frank left castling late, whilst Mark hoped to open the centre Frank castled Queen-side just in time. Mark felt his King-side was weak and expected a King-side push. To counter, he pushed Queen-side and with an offer of a pawn unexpectedly accepted by Frank led by a Knight sacrifice,  Black's Queen pinned by a Rook against the King. The weight of material, the excellent g2 bishop and Black's exposed King gave White the Win.

At this point although NICS were even over the 5 boards, in the five that count for the match they were down a point at 1.5-2.5. The final game on board 4 would decide their fate.

Geoff Hindley defended against John Monaghan's KIA. Geoff had developed well, tenaciously holding on to his isolated pawn on d4. Meanwhile,  John was co-ordinating his pieces getting ready for what looked like a very dangerous attack down the K-side. Then disaster struck: a Black Rook calmly devoured a naked White Queen. The whole complexion of the game was transformed. Board4: John Monaghan vs Geoff HindleyTrue enough the centre was jammed by pieces defending each other & the pair of pawns on the d-file and while White managed to win an exchange, Black still had the upper-hand. Geoff favoured a softly-softly approach worming his forces down the Q-side rather than a brutal trade-off in the centre. With both players into their last 5 minutes, all the pieces - including the White King - were focused on White's d3 pawn. Rejecting White's offer of a draw, Geoff committed to the attack and with only three minutes to go, as if wielding a scalpel, isolated John's King and in 3 moves the deed was done. Much to the relief of his team-mates.

Geoff explained afterwards, with the adrenaline stilling pumping, that this was his first League win in 25 years; in this sort of situation we can imagine his fear of failing, blundering the game or otherwise letting John off the hook weighed heavier than securing the win. Well done Geoff, the first one is always the hardest; there will no stopping you now - Division 2 take note.

So the first match of the John Strawbridge Cup campaign was - inconclusive. Best thing for a league competition that will take us almost into the summer before it is resolved.

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