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Lagan vs Ballynafeigh 2

For their final match of the first phase of the season, Ballynafeigh 2 paid a visit to the Belfast Boat Club to take on Lagan. With both teams safely through to Division 1, they were nonetheless looking to grab as many points as possible in order to steal a march on their rivals.
Lagan vs Ballynafeigh 2

The top four boards

Around Christmas, when it appeared that the league would be split into two groups of six teams for the second half of the season, the thoughts of many in Ulster chess turned to the week 11 fixture between Lagan and Ballynafeigh 2, which had the potential to be pivotal in determining the makeup of Division 1 for the second part of the season. Indeed, Belfast South's Sam Flanagan was there, camcorder in hand, hoping to capture the decisive moment. He left disappointed, though after being informed that there would, in fact, be 14 teams involved in the second phase, split into two groups of seven - meaning that the Division 1 and 2 line-ups were set in stone with a week to spare. However, with points carrying over between phases, there was still something to play for - Ballynafeigh 2, for instance, knew that if they achieved at least a draw they would overtake their clubmates Ballynafeigh 1.

The home team were missing a couple of key players, handing opportunities to the likes of Dominic Gallagher while Ballynafeigh 2 fielded their usual line-up of Redman, Cunningham, Rush, Jamison and Robert Lavery.

On board 5, the Lagan newcomer Gallagher looked well on his way to claiming the scalp of the Intermediate champion Lavery after some sloppy play on the part of the latter, but then allowed a monster cheapo involving a discovered check with an attack on the queen to put the visitors ahead.  The middle three boards - Moore-Cunningham, Rush-Kelly and Storey-Jamison - were uneventful draws for the most part, although Jamison will probably be disappointed to have drawn after being material ahead for most of the game, and so might Moore after his opponent arrived nearly half an hour late.

All Mike Redman had to do on top board to secure the match for Ballyanfeigh 2, then, was to avoid defeat against George Heathwood. Having won a pawn earlier on, this proved to be a formality as he ground out the win to give the visitors a 3.5-1.5 victory.

Both teams will join Fisherwick, Muldoons, Lindores, Ballynafeigh 1 and Belfast South to battle for the Silver King. Champions Fisherwick will start the second phase 6.5 points ahead of Muldoons, but the latter will be a force to be reckoned with thanks to the arrival of lapsed players Des Moreland and Stephen Wood, both rated around 1800 with the latter surely being the strongest board 5 in the Belfast and District League in a long time. Lindores, whose board 1 happens to hold a 100% record over GM Richard Rapport, are not far behind, while the other four teams will be looking to capitalise should any of the Big Three slip up. Meanwhile, Bangor, Fruithill, NICS and Ballynafeigh 3 will be joined by second teams from Belfast South and Muldoons and a fourth team from Ballynafeigh (again, how long has it been since a club has fielded four teams?) in the chase for the John Strawbridge Cup. This is the first increase in the number of teams competing in the Belfast and District League for several years, adding up not just to an exciting climax to the league season but to exciting times for Ulster chess.

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