Devon’s nail-biting journey to the National Final of the U-180 Inter-County Tournament continued to the very end of the trail, with a tragi-comic twist reminiscent of a famous finish to the Grand National, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
They were due to meet a Nottinghamshire team playing near their home territory, in contrast to Devon’s need to oragnise a complex and expensive combination of minibus pick-ups and private cars for the long trip north on a hot and inevitably tiring day. In addition, Devon had lost three of their regular side, with Mark Abbott (177 and on a pre-fixed holiday), Robert Thompson (175 at a family wedding) and David Toms, apparently vanished off the radar in the days beforehand, turned out to be in hospital and incommunicado.
An innovation this year was the ability to be able to monitor the state of play throughout the afternoon as results, as they came in, were posted on the East Anglian Union website. This was a little short of watching live games as we have become used to in big events, and one had to realise that the scores did not change unless one logged off and on regularly – if one stayed on-line, the score did not change. Still, it was progress.
In the event, Devon slipped behind at an early stage, but never got too far behind, and the climax proved just a nerve-wracking as their quarter- and semi-final matches. However, this was a bridge too far for the man who saved them on both those occasions, Brian Gosling, and he lost this time. Nor was there a fairytale finish in store for the venerable, 85 year old John Gorodi, who had stepped in at the last minute for the missing David Toms, as he lost too. As ever, the outcome boiled down to the last two games still in play.
Alex Billings, playing Black, had 4 advancing pawns against a solitary bishop. He couldn’t lose and looked all set for a win that would level the scores to 7.5 each. With just minutes to go, the other player, Tim Paulden, was advised to settle for a draw in order to seal the envisaged win, as an 8-8 draw would give Devon the match on the board count tie break system. Paulden duly obliged, but seconds later Billings’ opponent found a brilliant saving move, and the expected win, in both the game and the match, evaporated before everyone’s eyes.
Cruel luck on Devon, but they had the satisfaction of having done much better than expected in the National Stages in general and this match in particular.
Here is the crucial position upon which the whole match revolved. Black now played 1…a3 in order to protect his b-pawn and to pile on the pressure, but in reply White played 2.Bd1! and he can safely take on b3 because of the danger of stalemate.
Correct is 1…Kc3 after which the “save” doesn’t work. e.g. 2.Bd1 Kd2 3.Bxb3 axb3 4.Kxb2 Ke2 wins. So the bishop must stay on. Much fascinating and subtle play still invloved, but very difficult to work out in the final minutes.
The full details were as follows:
|1||G. Halfpenny||179||½||½||B. W. R. Hewson||176||W|
|2||T. Walker||179||0||1||T. F. Thynne||177||B|
|3||J. Harrison||176||½||½||A. W. Brusey||175||W|
|4||R. Hearne||174||½||½||Dr. T. J. Paulden||174||B|
|5||D. Flynne||170||½||½||Dr. J. Underwood||172||W|
|6||J. Swain||168||½||½||D. R. Cowley||170||B|
|7||A. Antunes||166||0||1||Dr. D. Regis||166||W|
|8||I. Kingston||166||1||0||A. S. Kinder||166||B|
|9||S. Burke||165||½||½||J. Duckham||165||W|
|10||G. Gibson||165||½||½||W. H. Ingham||164||B|
|11||D. Sudar||162||½||½||P. Brooks||160||W|
|12||S. Foster||161||½||½||C. V. Howard||158||B|
|13||D. Levens||159||1||0||B. G. E. Gosling||156||W|
|14||A. Garside||163||½||½||A. J. Billings||148||B|
|15||B. Hayward||158||½||½||P. J. Kennedy||151||W|
|16||E. Williamson||153||1||0||J. G. Gorodi||150||B|