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.
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 email@example.com .
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.