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West of England Under 14 Team Event Saturday, January 22
Jim Wadsworth writes:

Click for larger photo
Click for larger photo

Despite being arguably 3 or 4 players below full strength, Berkshire's under 14 team narrowly failed to retain the West of England & South Wales championship, being beaten by a strong team from hosts South Wales.

This time the competition was held in Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, close to the beautiful Brecon Beacons. As well as South Wales, we also faced Devon and Wiltshire.

After a long journey the day started promisingly, with 6.5 points from 10 in the first round. There were relatively comfortable wins for Alfred Wong, Ryan Wong and Ragul Sudhakar. Making his debut at this level, Shabarish Sriraman held on well when an exchange down and eventually won on time (his Welsh opponent had sought protection from the arbiter but when the digital flag fell the arbiter correctly ruled in the Berkshire player's favour). Louise Head won with a well controlled king and pawn endgame. Perhaps the best result of the round, however, was that of Charlie Bucknell. He went a couple of pawns down but played well to equalise to what really ought to have been a drawn position. However by then, Charlie's opponent was in severe time trouble and blundered his rook for Charlie's bishop - Charlie took full advantage, giving checkmate with just 2 seconds left on the Devon player's clock. So we had had a good round. But South Wales had done even better, so they were a whole point ahead at the end of round one.

In round two, Charlie B won quickly, having trapped his opponent's queen. Alfred and Ryan won again, as did Shabarish. James Kinsler-Lubienski (another debutant at this level) won nicely, making up for his round 1 misadventure (he had been exchange up but in the end had had to settle for a draw). Matthew Wadsworth won as well, having gone into a rook and pawn endgame with an extra queenside pawn. When his opponent won a central pawn, Charlie Pye settled for a draw, having earlier in his game been an exchange up. Ragul also drew. So we scored 7 points, and had halved the gap to South Wales. We seemed to be struggling in the head-to-head games against South Wales (with just two and half points from the 7 games to date, but were being much more clinical against the other two counties).

After the traditional team photo, we went into the playing hall for the final round. Giles Hutch was first back to the team room, having realised too late that when his opponent had said "checkmate" in fact it wasn’t....a painful lesson learnt. Charlie B was also back all too soon, having slipped up against the South Wales board 2 player. Charlie Pye was the first Berkshire winner of the round, having taken confidence from getting onto the scoreboard with his earlier draw. He was closely followed by Matthew, Shabarish and Louise, victors all. And then there were 3 games left, and South Wales were overall one point ahead. Alfred won, having been an exchange up and then trapping his opponent's king....but the key game proved to be Ryan's, against the Welsh board 5. It was level, if anything Ryan slightly better, but then catastrophe! Ryan picked the wrong move and walked straight into a back rank checkmate. The Welsh supporters started to celebrate.....ignoring the fact that a couple of games were still going, including that of Ragul. In what was arguably the Berkshire game of the day, Ragul calmly picked off a couple of hanging pawns then liquidated the remaining rooks and minor pieces to go into a king and pawn endgame, three pawns up. A lovely controlled finish.

However, the reigning champions were narrowly deposed. In the end it was our poor head-to-head results against South Wales which made the difference - and showed that the Welsh were worthy event winners. So regretfully, but with heads certainly held high, the Berkshire team collected their silver medals and headed back to the M4 for the trek home.

Many congrats to Alfred and debutant Shabarish for their 100% scores. Also to Ragul for remaining unbeaten on the day. Thanks as always to all the players, to the drivers and Nigel Dennis for making the time available (and for making the 300 mile round trip), and to the organisers.

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