Unfortunately, the draw for the quarter-final stage of this competition has paired Essex against Middlesex, and it was indeed Middlesex who beat Essex by a score of 13½-6½ during the Southern Counties Championships. The common wisdom is that Middlesex are invariably much stronger at home than they are away, and Essex have the consolation of being drawn at home in this match. Perhaps there is a case here for holding the match in Manningtree rather than the usual venue of Wanstead House!
Only four counties competed in the under-175 competition, and Kent won this section. Essex tied on points with Sussex for second place, but were eliminated on the tie-break because, although Essex beat Sussex 8½-7½ at home, they lost 9 - 7 away.
The Essex team in the under-150s was especially unfortunate, as they finished level with Kent and Herts on points, but Kent were placed first, having totalled 16½ in their matches against the other two sides, with Herts totalling 16 and Essex 15½. This was made all the more galling by the knowledge that the Essex team had outscored the other two counties (Sussex and Surrey) far more heavily than either Kent or Herts had done.
The under-125 team played well and thoroughly deserved their Southern Counties' Championship. They won 6 matches and lost 2 and will now play the runner-up from the Northern Counties in the quarter finals. This match is likely to be played in Milton Keynes, although Richord Joyce, the Captain of the under-125 team, has not yet been informed of the identity of the opposition.
The under-100 team finished second out of three teams and has qualified for an eliminating round against whichever team was second in the Eastern Counties' competition. The preliminary events will take place on 27th April, the quarter-finals on 18th May.
David Sedgwick, the SCCU Match Controller, commented that under the old rules, in which ties are broken by the number of game points a team scores, Essex teams would have qualified for the National stages in all five competitions. Had that been the case, then the County Captains would have had to deal with the prospect of 84 players representing Essex on one day. It would have been a bit like the old days when charabancs full of Essex County players (most of whom had the surname "Penrose") would travel to some distant town to play in a 100-board match.
The first division of the Essex League is poised for one of the most interesting finishes to a season for many years. The Wanstead & Woodford club's first team is currently leading the division. Although they dropped a point when they were held to a draw by Southend, and it seems likely that their incomplete match against Powdermill will be lost, they have had the results where it matters. Their win by the narrowest of margins against Ilford was the first for quite some years.
Basildon have had quite an influence on the title this year, not by virtue of the quality of their chess so much as confusion concerning the whereabouts of their club room, a grim building adjacent to the A127. Both Southend and Writtle, clubs who might otherwise have had their sights on the League Championship, managed to lose players on their way to the Basildon club. Basildon succeeded in winning both matches which would almost certainly have been beyond them had their opponents arrived with full teams.
Wanstead will depend upon the adjournments in their recent match against Eastbrook. Eastbrook themselves are unbeaten this season, but have not yet played so many matches as their rivals. I understand from David Rawlings, the Captain of Wanstead I, that the match currntly stands at 4 - 4 and the two outstanding games are "very level". If this match does finish as a 5 - 5 draw, it could open the way for Ilford to sneak the title, provided they can score 100% in their remaining matches.