A performance of high skill, flair, determination and a slice of luck saw Essex to their best position ever in the English Primary Schools' Inter-Association Championships South Zone competition last weekend. A total of 42½ points from a possible 60 won Essex a place in the National Finals of the competition with the other teams finishing in the top 5, plus Hertfordshire, who will be hosts. The Finals are due to take place in Watford on 11th May. It was quite obvious that this team was going to do well. The vast majority of the players participated in the equivalent event last year, and we have sufficient under-10s to allow a very smooth continuity into next year's team. Only 7 members of this team are year 6, and of those only Graham Walker, Luke Tomkinson and Jonathan Deeth were strong enough on current form to find themselves in the top half. Next year we should be even stronger. The jamboree format, in which each team draws lots to find which set of opponents each player is allocated in the three rounds, means that board order is not necessarily of so much importance as avoiding strong opposition. In the first round, Essex results were very slow to arrive. This was a good sign, as it means that players are thinking hard. So much junior chess consists of three or four good moves interspersed with appalling blunders, all played at lightning speed. This was not so this year, a tribute to the quality and experience of the team.
Heather Walker was the first to finish after about half-an-hour's play and a game against a Buckinghamshire player who was much too generous with his pieces. She was quickly followed by Jonathan Deeth, David Gunn and Josiah Lutton, none of whom was obliged to make more than 20 moves. Indeed, the early results all went Essex's way, and 12 wins were on the board before a loss was recorded. It was a hall-mark of the players who were in difficulties that they were sticking to their task and trying to think their way out of trouble. The one draw was on board 1 where Graham Walker had had much the better of his game against Lorin d'Costa, a very strong Hertfordshire opponent, but time trouble deprived him of the full point. Essex finished the first round in 3rd place with 14½/20 The second round saw several impressive pieces of escapology as a score of 10½ at one time seemed likely. The most outrageous of these was by Matthew Jellett, who managed to checkmate his opponent with a rook and a pawn while his opponent had two rooks, a knight and four pawns. Graham Walker lost a piece in the opening but then found a combination which left black's extra bishop an onlooker while white's b-pawn marched to the queening square, and his sister Heather found a mate while a rook down to a Richmond opponent. Liam Mullen also pulled off a win from a difficult unbalanced position. The Essex team scored 14½ for the second time. It was clear by this time that it would take a major upset for Wey Valley not to win, as a score of 50 seemed likely for them after two rounds. Richmond were comfortably in second place and Essex had increased the gap between themselves and fourth place as Somerset overtook Kent. Wey Valley did falter slightly in the final round to finish on 48, but Richmond added 15 to their score to maintain second place. Kent had an excellent final round to finish well ahead of Somerset and only half-a-point behind Essex. Again there was some fine chess played, but Ezra Lutton and Jonathan Deeth will have been disappointed to have let slip winning positions. Matthew Miller worked very hard to save his game, eventually losing on time just seconds after having missed a mate in 1: for the last 20 moves of his game Matthew's opponent had a pawn on c7 which never was able to make it to the queening square. Heather Walker managed a second Houdini trick: two pawns down in a double rook ending, she made life very difficult for her opponent, winning a rook but then having to sacrifice hers to prevent a pawn from queening. Another pawn on the seventh should have won the game for her Wey Valley opponent but a time-troble blunder allowed her to win the pawn for nothing, after which she had the advantage. This was an excellent performance by the Essex side, who will be amongst the strongest teams in the Finals.