WHAT THE PAPERS SAY
Read Toby Neal's Column in the Shropshire Star on Tuesdays for the latest Shropshire Chess news.
Here are some recent cuttings.
If you have a news item email - TNeal@shropshirestar.co.uk.
Newport strike to bag a rapid success - 14/03/2018
Newport A have retained their title as champions in Shropshire's rapidplay chess league, with two rounds of matches still to go.
Newport have an unassailable 24 points, 14 points clear of their nearest challengers in Division One. In the rapidplay league players have to complete all the moves of the game within 20 minutes.
And the team are also on course to retain their title in the "normal" Shropshire Chess League - here the time limit is 95 minutes - being four points clear in Division One.
Shropshire players proved fast on the draw in the MCCU Congress at Walsall which comprised a nine-round rapidplay and nine-round blitz event.
Newport's Nat Paul was second in the U2000 rapidplay, winning £100, and Telepost's Phil Zabrocki was third in the same section, winning £25. Zabrocki also secured a £30 performance prize in the blitz event.
Grandmaster Keith Arkell, who has turned out for Newport several times this season, was joint second in the Open rapidplay section, and a clear second in the blitz tournament.
Trophy returned - just 32 years late - 06/03/2018
Some of Shropshire's junior chess players of the past have made a "comeback" of sorts thanks to the rediscovery of a long lost trophy awarded to county under-16 champions.
The Shropshire Star Trophy was last awarded to Tony Preece in 1986 - and he never gave it back. Tony stopped playing chess and it seems the missing trophy was forgotten about.
"It's the Shropshire Star under-16 chess cup. I think it was open to Shropshire schoolchildren. I have to confess I have had it since the mid-80s," says Tony, who plays for Priorslee Lions. "I used to play for Wellington's B team with Derrick Powell who was my science teacher. I left school and would probably have given it to him to return but I lost contact, so it has been stored away until now. As I have started playing chess again I remembered I had it and would now like to return it."
Tony has made a return to chess after a long absence and his name is the last recorded on the trophy, for 1985. The first name, for 1980, is Mike Hollier - who made his return to chess last season after a decades-long break. The other names are: Jeremy Spearman, 1981; Paul Mukherjee, 1982; Richard Archer, 1983; and A Moreton, 1984.
Tony thinks the names of later winners could now be added to the cup - if of course the competition continued without it - and in any event, with its return it will now be available to be presented again.
Meanwhile there were mixed fortunes for Shropshire's teams in the Four Nations Chess League, with the first team scoring a win and a draw, which keeps them in third, two points behind the leaders, but sadly the second team lost both matches despite some titanic fights.
Local 4NCL organiser Nat Paul said: "A special mention should be made of Dominic Bareford who finished the weekend on 1.5 points. He was thoroughly outgraded in both games, but played brilliantly and in my mind it is one of the best, if not the best, debut by a Shropshire player since we entered the 4NCL a few seasons ago. Beating Tim Hilton, a 173 graded player, was a particular highlight for Dominic."
Division Two promotion battle hots up - 27/02/2018
Newport Juniors have tripped up their own high flying club colleagues in a victory which sets up a grand promotion battle in Division Two of Shropshire Chess League in the final weeks of the season.
The youngsters, with a little help from not-quite-so young Chris Lewis and Simon Maydew, scored a 3-1 win - both teams were shorthanded, meaning only four boards were played - over division leaders Newport B.
With Church Stretton A and Shrewsbury B drawing their encounter, and Telepost B beating lowly Priorslee Lions B, it means the chasing pack has closed in. Only three points now separate the top four teams who, as it happens, are all in action against each other in the next round of Division Two fixtures in early March in matches which will have a major bearing on the promotion battle.
New social chess venue opens in Telford - 20/02/2018
Leaders Newport A remain on track to retain the championship in Shropshire Chess League with their latest win which open up a three-point gap at the head of the table, although chasing Oswestry A do have a game in hand.
With Newport able to field their Grandmaster star Keith Arkell, as well as his super-strong brother Nick, Priorslee Lions were always going to be up against it and it was indeed Newport's wins on the top two boards which proved decisive.
Ludlow A's draw on their travels to Shrewsbury had something for both teams, as the point takes Shrewsbury within touching distance of the second spot in the table, while the south Shropshire outfit can now forget about any relegation worries, barring an extraordinary combination of unfavourable results.
Meanwhile there's a new venue for social chess in Telford.
Kate Walker of the Telepost club says: "I've just been made aware of a fantastic community cafe/bar setting up a games afternoon and evening which will include chess. This will be on every first Tuesday of the month from 3.30pm to 7.30pm. The cafe/bar is called Forge Urban Revival, The Wakes in Oakengates, Telford.
"They already have some people that are interested in playing or learning chess so this would be great opportunity to get new people to join our clubs. If people could go and support it by donating any spare boards or by going along to play that would be great."
Nat Paul, organiser of the recent simultaneous display at Newport featuring Grandmaster Nick Arkell, was surprised by my report last week of the game by Matt Clark - because Matt wasn't there. Of a handful of players who took Arkell close, Bill Bates seemed to have a mating attack, but Arkell stood firm.
Masterful display in Newport - 13/02/2018
Keith Arkell 17, The Rest 1 - that was the score when chess Grandmaster Arkell took on 18 players from across Shropshire in a simultaneous event hosted by Newport Chess Club.
The only player to beat him was Phil Zabrocki, of the Shrewsbury-based Telepost club - and it wasn't a fluke either, with Zabrocki getting a better position and gradually building up his advantage into a winning endgame.
Arkell, who has been turning out for Newport on occasion this season, is himself a renowned endgame expert, and although a number of his challengers were well aware that he is also an expert in the Caro-Kann defence (1 e4 c6), some of them chose to take it on head on, albeit trying different variations.
There were tales of "what might have beens," with Matthew Clark, for instance, building up an attack which would have probably beaten many club players, only to have it deftly beaten off and the tables turned.
Arkell had five games with the white pieces, and 13 with black.
In the league, there was a top-of-the-table clash in Division Two, and Church Stretton's victory over leaders Newport B take them within two points of the south Shropshire outfit. Wins on the top boards were decisive, with the bottom three all drawn.
Shrewsbury B are also well in the promotion fight, just one point behind Stretton after their thumping win over lowly Priorslee Lions B.
Newport flex their muscles - 06/02/2018
Newport A brought out their big guns to put title challengers Oswestry A in their place in a top-of-the-table clash in Shropshire Chess League.
For the first time since November, Newport fielded the Arkell brothers - Keith, who is a Grandmaster, and super strong Nick - which meant hosts Oswestry were always going to have an uphill task, made even more difficult by the absence of Richard Bryant.Newport's 4.5-0.5 victory takes them a point clear at the head of Division One and if there is any surprise, it is that with such firepower available they have not already run away with the title.
Elsewhere losses by Telford A and Wellington A, also by 4.5-0.5 as it happens, leaves them both rooted to the foot of the table with any hopes of avoiding relegation fast disappearing.
With Telford B not having a fixture until next week, Oswestry B seized their chance to open up a two point lead in Division Three, albeit having played an extra match.
In the county individual championship, round four sees the two strongest regular Shropshire players, Nick Rutter and Nigel Ferrington, go head to head. Ferrington is in the lead in the tournament on 2.5 points, but Rutter, on one point, has two unfinished games yet to play.
Shrewsbury win local derby - 30/01/2018
Chess bragging rights in Shropshire's county town have gone to Shrewsbury A after victory over Abbey Foregate-based Telepost A in their derby match - their first league win over Telepost since March 27, 2012.
With the visitors unable to field their strongest team, Shrewsbury closed the deal by going into an unassailable 3-1 lead and on top board David Everington was actually a piece up against Nigel Ferrington, only for his position to go to worms as the clocks ran down, leading to a final score of 3-2. It ended Shrewsbury's run of 10 league defeats against Telepost and takes them to third in the table, albeit some points adrift of the leaders, while Telepost find themselves closer to the relegation zone than they will be comfortable with.
Meanwhile Nick Rutter and Ferrington remain head and shoulders above the rest of the field on the Shropshire chess scene in the newly-published grading list - the chess "form book."
Rutter, who plays for Newport, has a grading of 212, which must be at or near a personal best, while Ferrington is back over the 200 mark, which divides the strong from the super strong, with a grading of 205. Among the highest climbers are Tony Preece, of Telford-based Priorslee Lions, who is up 13 to 122; Newport's Tony Holdford, also up 13, to 151; and two Newport clubmates who are up 10 - the junior Edison Xu, who is now 149, and Ian Jamieson, who is at 187.
The gradings are an assessment of a player's strength based on their most recent results and are significant both for personal pride but also because teams must field their players in order of grading strength, albeit with a leeway allowed of five grading points.
The ups and downs among leading Oswestry players will mean that Charles Lowick Higgie, now the club's strongest player at 180, can be expected to lead their attack for the rest of the season, followed by Brian Whyte at 178, and Richard Bryant at 176.
The return of spiderman - 23/01/2018
Shropshire chess players are enlisting the help of their own "spiderman" to achieve success in national competition.
Carl Portman, who was part of the all-conquering Telford-based Coddon team in the 1990s, winning the league title six times on the trot, has joined the squad for the county's teams in the Four Nations Chess League. Portman, who moved away from Shropshire, is a spiders expert and has also played a leading role in taking chess behind bars, as volunteer manager for prisons at the English Chess Federation.
In the latest round of 4NCL matches, Shropshire 1 performed well, drawing with top seed Warwickshire Select 2 and beating Manchester Manticores 3, despite Charles Higgie being stuck in a traffic jam resulting in the Salopians, losing that board by default and under the rules of the competition being hit by an additional penalty point.
The Shropshires' second team were outgraded in round 3 against Holmes Chapel.
Nat Paul, Shropshire 4NCL organiser, said: "However, they gave them a good battle which resulted in two good draws for Chris Lewis and Windsor Peck and an excellent win for Dave Bennion on board one. They then came up against Bradford Knights B in Round 4, who again were heavy favourites. This didn't seem to matter though as Shropshire 2 ended up winning comfortably."
The next match weekend is at Bolton on February 10 and 11.
In Shropshire Chess League, the leading pair, Oswestry A and Newport A, are matching each other blow for blow, both scoring 4-1 wins, while Wellington A have lifted themselves off the bottom of the table, despite a late cry-off through flu of board two Colin Roberts, with John Storey - now recovered from his recent heart attack - stepping in at the last minute to ensure they could field a full team.
In Division Three, Oswestry B have drawn level with Telford B at the top of the table.
Oswestry go top - 16/01/2018
Oswestry A have celebrated the New Year by moving to the top of Shropshire Chess League with a victory over Priorslee Lions A. Oswestry, who are unbeaten, leapfrog reigning champions Newport A to go to the head of Division One.
Richard Bryant of Oswestry reports: "We got off to a good start with wins for Charles Lowick Higgie and David Bennion, followed by a draw on bottom board. On top board Adrian Zdanowski outplayed me for a win, leaving the result depending on board three, where Brian Whyte was playing Steve Tarr. Whyte was better, then blundered his queen for a rook, but managed to set up a fortress, so a draw was agreed."
This secured Oswestry a 3-2 match win.
Newport's star player, Grandmaster Keith Arkell, has agreed to give a simultaneous display - in which he will take on a host of opponents at once - at the Newport club at 7.30pm on February 6. It is organised by Nathanael Paul and cost is £15 for adults and £7.50 for under-18s. A buffet will be provided by Newport Chess Club. Details at http://www.newportchessclub.com/newport-events/simul-keith-arkell/
Meanwhile Church Stretton club have been on the move. Their new venue is The Bucks Head, 42 High Street, Church Stretton. Their club night - Thursday - remains the same.
Major success for home players - 08/01/2018
Glyn Pugh and Chris Lewis were the Shropshire stars in the county's chess congress, which attracted 146 players from across the country seeking a share of a prize fund totalling £3,500.
Against hot competition which makes it tough for local players to score "home wins," Pugh, who plays for the Telford-based Priorslee Lions club, and Lewis, who plays for Newport, both scored four points in the five-round tournament to become joint winners of the Major section, with further glory for Shropshire thanks to three local winners in the new Intermediate section.
"I was extremely lucky," admitted Pugh afterwards."I had two swindles, one of them against David Everington (a multiple Shropshire champion). At this tournament I always play dreadfully."
Pugh is a past winner, and was equal third in the Major section three years ago, and was naturally pleased with the local double at the competition, played at the Telford offices of Wrekin Housing Trust. "At least it gives Shropshire something. Both Chris and I work for the Wrekin Housing Trust, so it's good for the trust as well."
Lewis said: "I had a slow start, with two draws to begin with, so I thought I was probably out of the running."
He secured joint first prize by converting an endgame in which he had bishop and knight against opponent Sam Gibbs' rook in the final round.
Gibbs, from Lancaster University, had as it happens played Pugh in the first round and despite any luck Pugh felt he may have had in other games, Gibbs said: "He completely outplayed me. It was the best game somebody has played against me for a while."
With two Grandmasters and a posse of International Masters playing in the strongest section, the Open, Shropshire players were never going to be in with a realistic chance and the winner for the second year running was Alan Merry, a 21-year-old International Master from Great Barton, near Bury St Edmunds. Merry, an accountant in the family business, won all his five games and took the £1,000 first prize, although he is not planning to splash out.
"I'm building up savings at the moment," he said.
Even Merry felt he rode his luck in the penultimate round against the French IM Sophie Milliet. "She is a very good attacker and I reckon I was clearly worse until she let me wriggle out of it."
Joint second in the Open were GM Stephen Gordon and IM Ameet Ghasi.
The prize for the best performance by a Shropshire player in the Open was shared by Nathanael Paul, Phil Zabrocki, and Nigel Ferrington, with Zabrocki and Paul also sharing the grading prize with Tim Hilton and Richard Webster.
The new Intermediate section, just below the Major, saw three Shropshire players among the four winners. They were Richard Szwajkun of Telford club, Colin Mace of Wellington club, and Oswestry's Dominic Bareford, with David Gilbert completing the set. They were all on four points.
Church Stretton's Graham Shepherd was one of four joint runners up in the Intermediate with 3.5 points, the others being Sam Bradley, Michael Carroll, and Paul Doherty
Windsor Peck of Telford shared a grading prize with Alan Woollaston and Victor Brown.
In the Minor, the winner was Chinmay Monga, with John Hodges and Tom Skerratt equal second.
Best placed juniors across the competition were Beren Griffiths of Hereford Cathedral School and Rohan Pal. Martin Ayes, of the Shrewsbury-based Telepost club, won a grading prize.
Francis Best, one of the organisers, said: "It's gone very smoothly. You always have a few little hiccups. We have broadcast the top ten boards on the internet and I know there are a lot of people interested in that."
For the first time the tournament had seen a fourth section added, the Intermediate. "It encouraged players in the mid to lower club bracket to enter as they thought it gave them a chance to win a prize." He said the total entry of around 146 players was up on last year, but short of the record set a few years ago when 159 players entered.
Strong field enter Shropshire Congress - 02/01/2017
Chess talent from across Britain is descending on Telford for the biggest event in the county's chess calendar - Shropshire Chess Congress - battling it out for a slice of a prize fund worth over £3,000.
Over 100 players including two Grandmasters and five International Masters are already signed up for the five-round tournament which begins on Friday evening, January 5, and continues over the weekend at the premises of Wrekin Housing Trust.
A spokesman for Shropshire Chess Association said: "It's a sign of the competition's status that it attracts players from around the country. This year, for the first time, there are four different sections, giving local players more chances to get among the prize money.
"The strongest section is the Open and has a bumper first prize of £1,000 and while the favourites to win will be the Grandmasters, there is a separate prize for the Shropshire-based player who is highest placed in the section.
"A feature of the tournament is that some of the games are played on hi-tech chessboards meaning that people can follow the moves live on the internet through a link on the Shropshire chess website www.shropshirechess.org ."
The competition has five rounds, with players paired in each round against opponents on equal points, meaning that in the climactic last game on Sunday afternoon the leading players will be going head-to-head.
Congress deadline is fast approaching - 19/12/2017
Shropshire's chess congress is shaping up to be a masterclass in its strongest section, with two Grandmasters and four International Masters already signed up for January's event.
But one deadline for would-be entrants is fast approaching, as any entries received after December 22 will attract a £5 late entry fee.
The tournament from January 5 to 7 at the Wrekin Housing Trust in Telford is Shropshire's biggest chess event with a first prize of £1,000 in the Open section. And for the first time there will be three other sections - previously there have been two - giving players of all abilities better hopes of getting among the prize money, which is £300 for the winner in each.
Unless they take a bye in any round, players will all play five games over the weekend.
League games are of course taking a break over Christmas, and in two of the latest results Shrewsbury B drew against Division Two leaders Newport B, while Newport Juniors beat Priorslee Lions B in an encounter at the foot of the division.
The Missing King Mystery - 12/12/2017
A game in Division Two of Shropshire Chess League was agreed drawn in extraordinary circumstances when it was suddenly noticed that one of the kings was missing from the board - and in the mad time scramble neither the players nor spectators could say for sure when or how it had happened.
The game was the head to head between Tom Williamson and Ian Davies in the match in which Church Stretton A entertained Shrewsbury A.
With a winning position but only seconds left on his clock Williamson was playing his moves instantaneously and in the process must have accidentally knocked his king off the board because Davies suddenly saw that his king had disappeared.
The rules don't seem to cover situations in which kings have mysteriously gone awol, so the agreement of a draw saved a lot of headscratching.
Despite being a player short Shrewsbury won 3-2, and Stretton, who were missing their strongest players, have seen their promotion ambitions take a knock.
Two matches have been postponed because of the bad weather - Shrewsbury A vs Telepost A and Telepost B vs Church Stretton A.
Meanwhile George Viszokai of Priorslee Lions wants everybody to know about his own "bad move" in his team's recent visit to Shrewsbury's venue. George was slapped with a £35 parking fine because he hadn't registered at the desk after parking at the Shrewsbury's venue at the Redwoods Centre, simply having walked in with everybody else.
George, who had faced paying double that if he didn't pay promptly, didn't know he was supposed to register after parking up.
"Other players need to be made aware of this," he said.
Shrewsbury A shock the champions - 05/12/2017
Shrewsbury A have scored the shock result of the season by tripping up Newport A on their seemingly triumphal march to retaining the Shropshire Chess League championship.
And it was a case of two players who weren't there, and one player who was.
Newport were missing brothers Keith Arkell, who is a Grandmaster, and super-strong Nick Arkell, but even without them had on paper more than enough firepower to overwhelm the home side.In their absence it was a return to the Shrewsbury ranks by Jamie Hopkins, who has not played this season and hardly played at all last season, which was the key to Newport's first defeat of this campaign.
Although Hopkins lost on top board to Nick Rutter, the fact that he was able to play at all ensured that the lower boards were more of a fair fight than they would otherwise have been, and Shrewsbury were able to take advantage of this rare opportunity.
With the running score on the evening level, the result all turned on the outcome of the encounter between Daniel Lockett and Chris Lewis. Lockett won a pawn with a tactic but it also unleashed a raging attack and Lewis soon resigned, meaning a famous match win for Shrewsbury.
County aces off to a flying start - 28/11/2017
Shropshire's first team have made a storming start in the Four Nations Chess League.
Nat Paul, one of the organisers of the Shropshire teams, said: "Our first team made a fantastic debut in Division 3 North with two 5-1 victories to put them top of the table on game point difference.
"The victory against Bradford A, one of the top seeds, was particularly impressive. It is clear that Shropshire 1 have realistic prospects of gaining promotion to Division 2 even though we've been seeded in the B pool for this season's competition.
"The Shropshire 2 team also had a very good weekend against much higher graded teams. Unfortunately both matches were lost but there were realistic opportunities of gaining points in both of those fixtures. Obviously Shropshire 2 will find it tough this season, but the opportunity of challenging ourselves against such good players is one that we all very much relish."
Back in the Shropshire Chess League, shorthanded Wellington A had a long journey to Woofferton to play Ludlow A, who were using the Salwey Arms as a one-off venue following a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire's disease at their regular venue.
There were tragi-comic finishes in two of the games. Wellington's hopes of going home with a result perked up quite early on. After his encounter against Toby Neal on board one, Ludlow's Lee Davis demonstrated a deeply thought out and spectacular checkmate he had worked out. The reason it didn't happen over the board was that it involved a blunder which saw him instantly checkmated himself. "I over-analysed the position," he said.
And Wellington's James Kuczynski seemed to have it all wrapped up when he promoted a pawn, giving him two queens to one. Alas, his new queen was far from the action and was a helpless spectator as Paul Barker cleverly constructed a mating net with his queen and rook.
New section boosts hopes of home win - 21/11/2017
Details have been unveiled for January's Shropshire Chess Congress which will include a new innovation which gives local players more chances to muscle in on the prizes.
The congress, which is a five-round tournament being held over the weekend of January 5 to 7, attracts players from all over Britain.
A new fourth section is being added which will have the effect of making the various sections even more competitive as there will not be such a big gulf between the sections' strongest players and the weakest.
The sections will be the Open, in which the strongest players compete and, as the event has attracted Grandmasters, chances of a "home win" are very slim; the Major, for players graded under 170 - this compares with a grading limit of 160 last time; a completely new Intermediate section for players graded under 140; and the Minor for players graded under 100, which promises a real scrap for prizes as in the last event the grading limit for the Minor was 125.
First prize in the Open is £1,000, and £300 in the other sections.
One of the organisers, Steve Rooney, said: "We are heartened by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from last year and hope to continue to improve the event and make it one of the best weekend congresses in the country. Once again, we can promise excellent playing conditions, professional administration, unbeatable catering quality and value, and above all, a warm and welcoming atmosphere."
The tournament is at its usual venue, the Wrekin Housing Trust in Telford.
In the league, Church Stretton A were without key players on their travels to Division Two promotion rivals Newport, and paid the price, suffering their first defeat of the season.
Although Newport B now head the table, there is a worrying undercurrent over stretched player resources - they defaulted bottom board and also defaulted two boards in their Newport Juniors team in a match played the same night.
Newport flex their muscles at Wellington - 14/11/2017
Title favourites Newport A paid Wellington A the compliment of turning up to their encounter in Shropshire Chess League with their strongest possible team - complete with Grandmaster Keith Arkell on top board. And as Newport's bottom board outgraded Wellington's top board, the 4.5-0.5 drubbing was not unexpected, although the three middle boards all went down to the wire.
The finish on board two, where Colin Roberts' flag fell when he had a rook and a pawn - blockaded on the seventh rank - against Nick Rutter's rook and knight, caused some headscratching. There was a discussion over whether it was a theoretical draw and nobody was really sure, and as Keith Arkell had headed off in the direction of the bar he was not around to ask for advice.
The view taken on the night, and accepted by Roberts, was that while it was probably drawn in over-the-board play, Rutter could still legitimately play for a win, so the loss on time stood. Happily it seems this was the correct decision under chess rules.
One board lower, the game between Tiago Faustino and Keith's brother Nick was agreed a draw in a comical position in which their minor pieces were entombed behind the pawn chains. On board four, James Kuczynski was down to his last seconds in a position in which it looked like opponent Ian Jamieson would be unable to make any progress but, pressing for more, Kuczynski opened the door to a rook invasion which, had he not lost on time, would surely have led to defeat anyway.
Incidentally there has been some confusion because an I Jamieson has been playing on bottom board for Priorslee Lions in Division Two - the solution is simple, it is a different player of the same name.
For most players taking on Keith Arkell it is going to be a question of how long they can hold the position before the slide starts towards defeat, and in the case of Toby Neal it was around 20 moves or so, when he passed up a favourable queen exchange and underwent one which was less favourable, after which it was all downhill.
Church Stretton Surprise - 06/11/2017
Church Stretton's triumphal march to promotion from Division Two has been slowed in a surprise result at the hands of bottom of the table Priorslee Lions B, who gained their first point of the season on their travels to south Shropshire.
Their draw was on the back on some spectacular performances by individual players punching above their weight, grading-wise. On top board, Gary White drew against Trevor Brotherton despite being over 50 grading points weaker, and Tony Preece beat Karl Wakefield despite being over 30 grading points weaker.
The match draw is the first time Stretton have dropped a point this season, although they continue to head the division on points difference over Newport B, who similarly dropped a point for the first time, against Telepost B.
With there being no Shropshire county teams these days, local players looking for chess action against opponents further afield have a choice of playing in congresses or in the 4 Nations Chess League, where organisers Nat Paul and Chris Lewis are looking for some additions to their 4NCL squad.
The first match weekend is at Doncaster on November 11 and 12.
Nat Paul said: "All strength players are welcome to join our squad. We have two teams that are playing in Division 3 North for this season with two weekends in Doncaster, and the other three at Bolton. If transport is an issue then please still get in touch because Chris and I will sort something out."
Oswestry looking strong - 31/10/2017
Oswestry A are proving the surprise package of Shropshire Chess League and after four matches of the new season are joint leaders of Division One along with Grandmaster-assisted Newport A. Both have an absolutely identical record, even down to their "goal difference," and it is only the alphabet which sees Oswestry taking the second spot.
Oswestry saw off Shrewsbury A by a 4-1 margin while Newport inflicted a 5-0 whitewash on visitors Telford A, even without having to deploy their not-so-secret weapon in the form of Grandmaster Keith Arkell, who has only turned out once for the side so far.
Already a gap has opened up on all the rest of the pack but as always player availability can have a big impact at all stages of the season, and the big hope of other title chasers will have to be that Newport will at some point start to struggle to field their best team.
Elsewhere Priorslee Lions picked up their first win against an under strength Wellington while Ludlow scored a narrow victory over Telepost, who would normally be considered title contenders but like everybody else are playing catch-up at the moment.
It is good news for Oswestry as well in Division Three, where their B team heads the division after whitewashing Telepost D. The borderlands club is three points clear of Telford B, who have a game in hand.
Church Stretton's phoenix is rising - 24/10/2017
Church Stretton A are continuing their march towards promotion in Shropshire Chess League in their first season after the club rose from the ashes. Stretton, which folded last year but have been reformed, beat Newport Juniors, who include a core of adults in Chris Lewis and Simon Maydew. They now head Division Two on points difference.
Lewis provides the following account of how the match went: "Chris Lewis0, Trevor Brotherton 1 - Trevor applied consistent pressure on me, taking control of the h1 to a8 diagonal. The game was practically over by about move 15 but because Trevor missed the best tactics I managed to drag it out quite a bit longer but the result was never in doubt.
"Simon Maydew 0.5, Dave Hodge 0.5 - Simon was a pawn up with a far superior positition. However with only two minutes on the clock he once again agreed a draw. I didn't see what happened on board three, where Edison Xu was beaten by Karl Wakefield, but then we have board four with Dominic Holmes 1, Steve Chadaway 0. The game went into an ending with Dominic having taken a pawn on g7 supported by his b2 bishop - Steve's king was castled kingside. Dominic was then able to force this pawn through by bringing his rook down the f-file to f8.
"Zach Maydew 0, Graham Shepherd 1 - I think Graham's experience showed and with two bishops slicing into Zach's position the game was eventually ended by a discovered check picking up Zach's queen."
Division Two is looking particularly competitive this season, underlined by the fact that Priorslee Lions B, who have a side which would normally be strong enough to be vying for promotion, are currently propping up the division with three straight losses.
Lions can be dangerous - 17/10/2017
Newport A had a surprise in store as they paid a visit to Priorslee Lions A in Shropshire Chess League - and it wasn't a nice one.
For the first time this season Newport fielded their trump card, Grandmaster Keith Arkell. And on a night when Newport's bottom board Nathanael Paul was almost as strong as the Lions' top board Adrian Zdanowski, the Lions were always going to be up against it.
However the 4-1 defeat does not tell the whole story, as Zdanowski had a chance to draw against Arkell by threefold repetition - if the exact same position occurs three times with the same player to move, either player can claim an automatic draw.
"I just couldn't believe Keith would allow threefold repetition," said Zdanowski, who passed up the chance to offer Arkell an opportunity to repeat the position.
He thought that instead of Arkell replying with the "drawing move," he would play a rook move which, to Zdanowski, looked very strong.
However Arkell said after the game that he would have repeated the position - and drawn - as the alternative move Zdanowski had feared actually would have left him struggling to avoid defeat.
In other games Glyn Pugh missed a mate in one in a time scramble, and Steve Tarr was three pawns up in the endgame but with no time.
David Unwin, a founder member of Whitchurch Chess Club when it was founded two months ago, has died at the age of 57. The club is to be renamed in his honour.
Grandmaster Danny Gormally, the recently crowned English rapidplay champion, visited Malpas and played an exhibition match against 14 opponents simultaneously, from Cheshire, Shropshire and North East Wales at the Jubilee Hall,. He beat 13 of his opponents, and drew one, to Charles Lowick Higgie, after which Danny entertained some of his opponents with interesting anecdotes about his life as a Grandmaster at The Old School Tea Rooms café.
Athar is the Grand Prix Winner - 10/10/2017
Telford's Athar Ansari has stormed to a Grand Prix win thanks to his consistent success on the chess circuit.
Ansari is the Tradewise Grand Prix winner in the section for players graded between 160 and 179, which is a strong club standard, and also had the seventh most improved grading. Ansari, who was playing for Newport at the time but has now switched to play for Telford, is graded 170.
The Tradewise Grand Prix is a year-long individual competition based on players' results in chess congresses.
Resurgent Church Stretton have started the new Shropshire chess league season well and now head Division Two after victory against Telepost B. The Stretton club had disbanded last year but have now reformed and, with Trevor Brotherton on top board with a grading of 196 - which must make him one of the strongest ever players to turn out in the second flight - must be favourites for promotion.
With two teams both playing in Division Two, the Newport club are being creative in the way they are using their limited player pool, and an example of that was Chris Lewis playing on top board for Newport Juniors on Thursday against Priorslee Lions, and then playing top board for Newport B the following night against Shrewsbury B, winning both his games.
As Lewis has also played a game for Newport A in Division One, it means that so far this season he has turned out for three different Newport teams.
Championship favourites held to a draw - 03/10/2017
Newport A are still yet to play their star turn this season, Grandmaster Keith Arkell, but were able to field his brother Nick in their encounter against Oswestry A in Shropshire Chess League. However with Nick Rutter also missing from Newport's ranks, the championship favourites drew against the visitors.
Oswestry and Newport are now early leaders of Division One, along with Shrewsbury A, who beat Wellington 4-1 in a match notable for the end of a long unbeaten run by Mike Hollier since he started playing again on the Shropshire scene last season after around 30 years away. His scalp was claimed by Shrewsbury's Peter Kitchen. Hollier had been unbeaten in 13 league games, and 18 games in total if you include the rapidplay league and minor knockout competition. He won in 13 of those 18 games.
The Oswestry club has also made a fine start in Division Three, with its B team heading the table.
This week sees the start of Shropshire's rapidplay league for those with a taste for fast-on-the-draw chess. Players have 20 minutes to complete all the moves of the game, compared to 95 minutes in the standard league.
Your chance to play a Grandmaster - 26/09/2017
Shropshire chess players are being offered a chance to take on a top English Grandmaster, Danny Gormally, who has offered to play a simultaneous display in Malpas, near Whitchurch, on October 8.
The event, in which Gormally will take on a number of opponents at once, moving at each board in turn, will be in the Malpas Jubilee Hall and the nearby Gemma Charlotte Moon's The Old School Tea Rooms will be open for refreshments, analysis, and so on. The display will only take place if enough players are interested, with a cost of £20 for adults, and £10 for juniors.
Details from Charles Higgie at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shropshire chess league has seen the first games of the new season played in the second division, with some worrying signs for the Newport club whose B team defaulted two boards in their in-house encounter with Newport Juniors.
However, the B team won on the top three boards to give them a match victory.
On paper Priorslee Lions B look like promotion contenders but their start did not go to plan, going down to defeat to visitors Telepost B.
No change given - 19/09/2017
With three teams in action on the opening day of Shropshire's new chess season, Shrewsbury's Telepost club were in such desperate straits due to player unavailability that they sought an innovative solution. Would it be possible, asked Matthew Clark, captain of the A team, to play his own game earlier than the scheduled Monday match date - on Friday or Sunday?
Telepost's problem was that their short-handed A team were facing league champions Newport A in Division One, while simultaneously in Division Three there was an in-house fixture scheduled pitching Telepost C against Telepost D, wiping out any chance of them providing a sub for the A-team.
It would mean, Clark told league controller Nathanael Paul, that the A-team would have to pick an E team-strength player to play on board five and he asked in the circumstances either for his own game to be played in advance, or for the C v D team clash to be postponed until later in the week.
In response, Paul refused to sanction a postponement, and said playing an individual game early would not be possible.
In the event, Dean Pinnington turned out for the A team on bottom board and, ironically, was one of Telepost's two winners on the night, although the team went down to a 2-3 defeat.
Elsewhere Ludlow A had the dubious honour of suffering the first whitewash of the season, at the hands of Oswestry A.
Meanwhile entries for a new competition, the Minor Individual organised by Chris Lewis, close on September 30. The tournament is for players with a maximum grade of 125 and is in response to a feeling among lower graded players that they have nothing to play for in the open individual, which has no grading limit.
Newport already odds on for title - 12/09/2017
The new Shropshire chess season kicks off this week with the outcome of the championship already looking a foregone conclusion - with Newport seemingly certain to wrap up their third consecutive league title.
The reason is that Newport will field what must surely be the strongest team in the history of the Shropshire league thanks to the import of a Grandmaster, Keith Arkell, to turn out on top board.
Board two is Nick Rutter, the highest-graded regular player on the county scene, and then comes Keith's brother Nick, who has a grading of 191, which means Newport will be fielding a player on board three who is stronger than the board ones of most other teams across the county.
The Arkells' arrival has had knock-on effects throughout the Newport club. Chris Lewis, an A-team player last season, now finds himself playing in the juniors, and Athar Ansari has left altogether, playing instead for Telford A, which means he will still be seeing chess action in Division One.
There is a bit of a back story as the Arkells turned out in Shropshire chess league last season, causing controversy when they were unexpectedly parachuted into the Ludlow team for just one match.
The incident contributed to a tightening up of the rules aimed at cracking down on here-today, gone-tomorrow players. This season a side's nominated players must play at least three times each in the season, with penalties imposed if they do not.
The bad news for other league teams is that as the Arkells are both nominated Newport players, the club must be confident that they will both be playing at least three games each.
Another major development has been the revival of the Church Stretton chess club, with a team which will play in Division Two. Stretton had folded only a few weeks into last season due to lack of player availability. While the revival is excellent news for Shropshire chess, it will hurt Shrewsbury-based Telepost, which had enjoyed an influx of Stretton players looking for a new home.
League rules crackdown - 18/07/2017
A crackdown is being launched in the new Shropshire chess season which will tighten up rules which have given clubs flexibility in how they field players.
The move at Shropshire Chess Association's annual meeting was largely prompted by a match last season in which, out of the blue, Ludlow A fielded a Grandmaster, Keith Arkell, on top board - quite possibly the first time ever that a Grandmaster has played in a league match in the county. Arkell has not turned out again and the upshot is a new rule which will require a team's nominated players to play for their team at least three times in a season. The aim is to stop clubs fielding here-today, gone-tomorrow players.
Another new rule addresses the vexed issue of the handful of players who are so keen that they play for two different clubs in the league. The effect of the rule will be to stop strong players who normally play in a higher division being drafted in by clubs with teams in a lower division.
A move which could have changed the number of players in league teams was defeated, so the current system of teams of five players in divisions one and two, and teams of four in division three, remains.
And a proposal to reduce the time controls for league games, so they finish earlier, was similarly defeated.
Among other points to arise at the annual meeting was a looming question mark over Shropshire Chess Congress, as one of the suites at the congress venue - the Wrekin Housing Trust premises in Telford - will no longer be available. If alternative space within the building cannot be found, it may mean a change of format or a change of venue for the tournament.