No-one could quite remember when Stafford had last beaten Lichfield in Wolverhampton League Division One so it was not exactly with confidence that the team travelled to the defending champions, who had also begun the current season with a 100% record from their opening four matches. However, with Lichfield missing their top two players, the teams were quite evenly matched and so this was probably Stafford’s best opportunity in recent years.
Ray Hyde had had a tough previous week with two losses, so he was quite happy to accept his opponent’s draw offer after just 12 moves and get back on the scoreboard. Gerald Acey played a very nice positional game on board two, out-manoeuvring his opponent as both players sought to establish their knights on key central outposts. He won a pawn followed by a second as his opponent desperately sought queenside counterplay, and once both of his rooks reached the seventh rank it was soon all over.
Stephane Pedder looked to be worse out of the opening but his opponent miscalculated when opening up the centre and lost a pawn. Stephane was still struggling to get his white-squared bishop into the game, but gradually untangled his position and his opponent was very grateful to accept a draw offer towards the end of the session.
Around the same time Kazik Wozniak contributed another valuable half-point on board five. His had been a fluctuating game which was difficult to assess throughout, as his advanced queenside pawns gave him a space advantage at the expense of a rather exposed king. Kazik won a pawn as the game went into a queen ending, where king safety remained the problem and Kazik did not feel able to press for a win.
Malcolm Armstrong nurtured a small advantage throughout his game but, as the rooks were all exchanged on the open d-file, it seemed that the scene was set for another draw. However, the resulting queen ending was not so easy for his opponent to play in time pressure, and Malcolm managed to get his queen active whilst also keeping his king sheltered from threats of perpetual check. Malcolm missed a very attractive forced mate but instead steered the game into a winning pawn ending which was sufficient for Stafford to reach the winning post of 3.5.
In the one game unfinished at the end of the session, Andrew Leadbetter had emerged from the opening with no compensation for a pawn deficit, but he fought hard and had some initiative with each player down to queen and knight, albeit at the cost of a second pawn. Andrew recovered one of his pawns as the queens were exchanged but the final knight ending, which is to be sent for adjudication, does not look very promising. Still, the notable match victory was already complete and, after two successive away wins, the league table is now looking a bit healthier at P4, W2 D1 L1.