The King's Head Chess Club, based in Bayswater, has for about two decades been one of the leading British chess clubs. It has included among its members most of the top London players during that time, it has won the National Club Championship on several occasions and has represented England in the European Club Cup. The Club has, of course, suffered a number of setbacks, possibly the most damaging being the occasion that two misguided new landlords decided that the presence of the Club did nothing to enhance their prospects of making a quick buck and the chess players were summarily evicted. The Club now meets at the Durham Castle.

During the recent public holiday weekend, the Kings Head's annual journey to Capelle la Grande took place. Capelle la Grande has an extremely enlightened Mayor, M. Gouvart, who is prepared to finance some excellent chess events. It is remarkable that such a small town (population about 9000) is host to the World's largest Open Chess Tournament (637 competitors in 1998, including no fewer than 93 Grandmasters). The King's Head visit has been a fixture for some 17 years, during which time the Dunkirk-based Club has been beaten more often than not. This year, Capelle la Grande were aiming for a hat-trick of victories and since many of the King's Head's strongest players were on duty in the Four Nations' Chess League, it seemed probable that they would get it.

Peter Grant-Ross, the Captain of the King's Head team, was also concerned with another problem. As a cultural exchange visit, it was necessary for the King's Head team to contain a number of junior players, but the Club, which has always met in licensed premises, not surprisingly is rather short in this department. By the good services of Derek Winkworth, whose son Julian is one of the most rapidly improving Essex juniors, an arrangement was reached by which Essex juniors were drafted in to add a little backbone to the King's Head team.

The 46-strong party met at Paddington Station and boarded the coach, which was more than an hour late, before setting off for Dover. The initial delay was exacerbated by very heavy traffic and we eventually arrived in Dover just in time to see our ferry disappearing over the horizon. Fortunately, there was not too long to wait for the next one and it was at about 4 p.m. that we eventually set sail for Calais. We were originally intended to spend an hour or so in Dunkirk before setting off for the Civic Reception in Capelle la Grande, but there was not the time for this.

On the Saturday morning we were treated to a fascinating tour of the Palais de l'Univers, a model of the Solar System of quite extraordinary quality in such a small provincial town. After lunch, the chess began and the shortcomings of the King's Head team were almost immediately apparent. On board one for Capelle la Grande was J. de Graeve, a Grandmaster who looked as though he would not have been out of place in the front row of the French Scrum. For King's Head board 1 was Andrew Whiteley, a highly talented and mercurial IM, but not as consistent as he was a decade or two ago. After this, though, the Kings Head team went straight into the 160 grades on board 2, whereas Capelle la Grande had some 8 further players rated in excess of 2000 FIDE, the equivalent of 175 BCF. There were very few points to be gleaned for the British side in the top quarter of the match.

There were some very early setbacks for the King's Head, as many of the low boards lost quickly and some of the high ones did too. Some of the Juniors performed very well, and Caius Turner (Waltham Abbey) scored one of the first points for the visiting team, rather undiplomatically at the expense of the Mayor's son! Graham Walker followed suit with a fortuitous win against the Kings Indian Defence: black attacked strongly on the king-side and Graham was forced to jettison two minor pieces for a rook and pawn, but this also involved the exchange of queens. Graham worked hard to create a passed pawn on the c-file but lost his knight in the process and it should have been a simple matter for black to round up the pawn. However, one bad king move was the undoing of the French player, allowing Graham to force the pawn home and win one of black's remaining minor pieces. Chris Rawlinson, a Surrey junior player who was a team mate of Graham's two years ago when they represented England at under-11 level, agreed a draw.

One of the most exciting games was Ellen Walker's fine win with black against Karim Grason. Ellen took control of the h1-a8 diagonal and white resigned when mate was inevitable. But without a doubt the most stirring win was on board 1 where Andrew Whiteley overcame a rating difference of about 300 points to win against M. le Graeve. The score at the end of the first round was 26-11 in favour of the Capelle la Grande team

The second round was on Sunday morning and started so early that many of the party were obliged to forego le petit dejeuner. Andrew Whiteley was given dispensation to miss the Sunday game as he had done some overtime on the Saturday giving a simultaneous display to all of the junior players from both sides. Caius Turner alone succeeded in beating him.

This time, it was the lower boards who provided the bulk of the points. The deficit this time was 21 - 17, which considering the grading difference was quite an achievement. Again, amongst the Essex players Graham Walker and Caius Turner both won well, and Ellen was a trifle unfortunate: she had a knight and four pawns in an ending against a bishop and 2, but the disadvantage was that her king was stranded on the a-file blocking one pawn whereas the other pawns were on the wrong side of the board and were prey to black's wandering king. White could almost certainly have sacrificed her knight for the h-pawn at this stage, but she wanted to win. In the end white's pawns were mopped up and it was black's h-pawn which decided the game.

The final round was a much better one for the King's Head. Caius Turner drew his game, but Graham Walker, filled with bravado after two successes, attacked strongly on the king side against an opponent of approximately his own age. An injudicious sacrifice was easily refuted by the French boy and Graham finished on 2. Ellen again won in style, invading white's position with her knights and, just as white played his rook to the 7th rank to attack her queen, she ignored the threat but instead offered a rook as well. Neither piece could be captured because white's back rank was undefended and the presence of the black knights made it indefensible. With just two games to go, the King's Head needed both points to win the final round. Whereas one of the games went to plan, the other was agreed dawn in a very difficult position and with both sides down to their last two minutes.

After conclusion of the round, a splendid banquet ensued. M. Gouvart spoke at length about "fraternite" and Peter Grant-Ross responded in a suitable manner. Andrew Whitely acted as interpreter for both, and the Capelle la Grande Captain received the trophy. Since it has now been won on three consecutive occasions by the Capelle la Grande team, they now keep that one and the King's Head are obliged to provide a replacement.

Whiteley,A - de Graeve,J [E32]

Capelle la Grande

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0-0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 Qe8 7.f3 d6 8.e4 e5 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Be3 Qe7 11.b4 Rd8 12.Bd3 Nc6 13.Ne2 Nd7 14.0-0 Nf8 15.Rad1 Ne6 16.Bc2 f6 17.Rxd8+ Ncxd8 18.c5 Bd7 19.Qc4 Be8 20.Rd1 Bf7 21.Qd3 Nc6 22.Ba4 Rd8 23.Qc3 Rxd1+ 24.Bxd1 Qd8 25.Bb3 Ncd4 26.Bxd4 Nxd4 27.Bxf7+ Kxf7 28.Nxd4 exd4 29.Qc4+ Ke7 30.Qd5 Qd7 31.Qxd7+ Kxd7 32.Kf2 a5 33.Ke2 axb4 34.axb4 Ke6 35.f4 g5 36.g3 1-0

Return to Index