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Surbiton win the Alexander Cup for the first time

Surbiton team: (left to right, back) Paul Shepherd, David Scott, Steve Jones, Mark Hogarth, Chris Briscoe, Tony Stewart, Mike Singleton; (left to right, front) Ian Henderson, Oliver Gill, James Holland.

Surbiton Chess Club, in its current incarnation, has been around for 69 years. Until recently it had been amongst the also-rans. However over the last five years the club has claimed some top honours, including the Thames Valley Division One title twice in a row (one of those times it was shared), the Thames Valley Knockout Trophy four times in a row (a record winning sequence) and in 2018, the 2020 Grand Chess Final winners, 4NCL Division Four winners followed by, after several near miss losses in Finals in the recent past, the Surrey County Chess Association Alexander Cup winners.

Many thanks and acknowledgment to John Saunders for kindly agreeing that we could post some of his fine photos of the event in this article. Now its over to Surbiton captain Chris Briscoe to talk us through the Alexander Cup 2018 triumph..........

This season, Surbiton won the Alexander Cup (Surrey Knock-out trophy) for the first time in their history with a win over Kingston by 6 - 4 in the Final, held at Ashtead. That, however only covers the bare bones of a remarkable Final of a competition that Kingston had not won since 1976, and Surbiton had never won.

To get there, Kingston beat Guildford, 5.5 - 4.5 in the Quarter Finals, and Wallington, 6.5 - 3.5 in the semis. Surbiton beat Wimbledon, 6.5 - 3.5 in the quarters, and a weakened CCF, 8.5 - 1.5 in the semis. On paper, Surbiton would be red-hot favourites, especially considering that Kingston had just gone through tough seasons in the top flights of both the Surrey and Thames Valley leagues.

As captain, my original plan was to play 8 very strong players, and Mark Hogarth (143) on board 9 (who included me in his Hilsmark Kingfisher side 10 years ago in Europe), and David Cole (121) on board 10 (who I am currently coaching). Both were really up for the game, but also both, along with anybody else I spoke to about this, (my fiancee included!) thinking that I was silly for not putting my absolute best players in the team!

As the match drew closer, even I had to reconsider this plan, the reason being that it was becoming clearer to me that Kingston were going to give this match a real go, and I mean - a real go! Indications that they were going to field a strong team (arguably the strongest in their history) were impressed on me by their wanting to play the match at a hotel, resulting in negotiations between their captain, Stephen Moss and Paul Shepherd, our Fixtures Coordinator, as to where eventually the match would be played. Seeing some of their internal emails during this negotiation showed me that K's really would be up for this. Whilst I was busy losing to James Holland in the Surrey championships, Ashtead's board 1, who had played top board for Kingston in their previous rounds, told me that he would be playing, but not on Board 1! I then saw who was eligible to play for Kingston on the SCCA website, and the names included Martin Jogstad (219) and GM John Nunn! Having read 'The Rookie', by Stephen Moss himself, I realised that he was a man who could very easily 'get the bit between his teeth', and potentially put out a team with a bottom board of 174!

Reluctantly, I had to abandon my plan.

So I managed to get 10 very strong players, but only 10. Well, it was 11, but someone dropped out a few days before, so only 10, with Mark Hogarth getting the nod as first substitute. This was slightly precarious for we needed a strong substitute. This was confirmed on the day, as one strong player, through no fault of his own, had to withdraw due to work. So we had 9 strong 180+ players, and Mark Hogarth in the side.(my fiancee points out whilst reading this that Mark Hogarth did get a draw in the match, whereas I didn't!)

Bittersweet, as Mark was really up for his challenge against Jon Eckert (152) on board 10. Kingston's 174 (Julian Way - FM!) was on board 8. I remember people on both sides being impressed by my being able to predict their team accurately!

So to the match, and I don't remember too much about it as I was too engrossed in my game with John Nunn on 1, but Mike Singleton had an early draw with Julian Way on 8, and Steve Jones (206), lost quite quickly against Mike Healey (214) on 3. It looked like we were struggling. On paper, it appeared I would always be struggling against John Nunn, but it was nice to play in a way that he would play/used to play with White by sacrificing a piece for a pawn to tie him up a bit, and to make him sweat as to how he could defend a position where he was tied up. Defend he did, by covering as well as he could, entry points into his position, and threatening counter attacks. To my credit, as far as I could see, I made prophylactic moves against his break outs, causing him to give back the sacrificed piece for an ending that was probably only slightly better for him, but which I could draw, if I found the right moves quickly. This I could not do, as I left myself short on the clock, and I was unable to solve the problems in time thereby making my position worse and losing on time. This is what I meant when I said to my opponent afterward, "I think you just about deserved to win that game!", of course saying such a thing to a Grandmaster can be taken in a different light, and the Kingston players told me later, that John had a good laugh about it in the bar afterwards!

James Holland got an interesting draw on board 2, Black against Martin Jogstad (219), Tony Stewart drew with Alan Scrimgour on 4, and Mark Hogarth made a very eventful draw with Jon Eckert - the king and pawn ending being analysed extensively by some Surbiton players, including Mike Basman, (Mike couldn't make it as he was watching 'Chess' the musical up in London that evening) afterwards. It had many twists and turns... A funny incident before the match was when Mark turned to me and said, "I'm gonna kill him!!" before interjecting, "Or at least die trying!!". The rest of our players, Oliver Gill on 5, David Scott on 6, Ian Henderson on 7, and Paul Shepherd on 9 all managed to win their games, to enable Surbiton to run out winners by six to four.

Kingston's average grade over 10 boards = 187.8, Surbiton's = 190.3 - Very close.

Kevin Thurlow from Redhill presented the Alexander Trophy, and Jon Saunders wrote a report on the event, which many of you will have seen by now. This one is mine. In the speeches afterward, the very good sporting atmosphere that the match was played in was mentioned several times, and when I came up to speak, I first praised Stephen Moss, the Kingston captain, for his ingenuity in getting out the players he did - some travelling from abroad to make the match! Also it was said that John Nunn, as honorary vice president of the club, played his first match for the club after a break of some 44 years, which may be some record somewhere! Paul Durrant was praised several times, and I mentioned that he will be my father-in-law in about 2 months time, as I will be marrying his beautiful daughter, Jo!

One person I forgot to thank, was Paul Shepherd, who did a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure the match got played. And for his getting the date (also for previous rounds too), which, with our huge fixture lists was some achievement. Apologies Paul!

By the way, I should like to state that I am perfectly happy with the composition of our opponent's team. They were all registered at the start of the season and, in fact, I was more or less accurate in predicting what their team would be in advance! It's worth noting that current Surrey rules actually don't preclude a club bringing in entirely new players of whatever strength just before a match. Some people might find that odd but it is an issue for another day and another occasion. Neither team felt that was appropriate for this match.

The whole atmosphere was very friendly, albeit serious, as both sides were determined to give their best, and for once, Surbiton were successful in an Alexander Cup Final ---- finally!!!!

Congratulations to all our players who took part, and in the previous rounds too. As promised, you will all get a trophy each to commemorate this momentous, historic victory...

Chris Briscoe

Kevin Thurlow (left) presents the Alexander Cup to winning captain Chris Briscoe and Surbiton chairman Paul Durrant