The 40th Southend Congress took place at the town's Civic Centre during the Easter Weekend, attracting about 150 competitors from all over Britain and some from abroad. So far as the Open Championship was concerned, it was Business As Usual for Andrew Ledger, an International Master from Bedford. Andrew scored 6/7 to share first place with Simon Knott (Hertford). The two players each won £400 but Andrew took the M.D. Speigel Memorial Trophy. Simon won the Southern Counties' Chess Union Individual Championship and also was awarded a place in the British Championships in Nottingham this coming August, which in itself is worth another £190.

The early rounds in the Open went mostly according to form, although round 2 was a particularly good one for Essex juniors. The youngest competitor was Ezra Lutton (Basildon) at 10 year of age and the lowest graded at 74. Ezra had played particularly well to hold a 129-graded adult to a draw in round 1 and in round 2 played Alan Parsons (Southend), graded 147. Whatever it was which influenced Alan to play the way he did must remain a mystery, but the game was wrapped up in under half-an-hour, Alan having walked into a vicious pin which enabled Ezra to win a rook. Another blunder cost Alan his knight and precipitated his resignation. Meanwhile Graham Walker (aged 11, graded 100) put in a fine rearguard action to share the point with Andrew King (grade 156, age unknown) and his sister Ellen (age 15, grade 106) succeeded in winning a long game against occasional Essex first team player Graham Reid (grade 176). Finally Tim Hebbes (age 13, grade 146) played marvellously well to beat the Grays top board John Anderson (grade 196).

The third round saw about the most unlikely pairing of all time as Ezra Lutton played Jonathan Rogers, graded 221 and having dropped half-a-point early on. This game did not last long, but at least it was the expected result! At the start of round 4, only 6 players remained on 100% and of course these 6 played one another. Andrew Ledger drew with Paul Cooksey, Steven Ledger drew with Simon Knott, but local player Michael Twyble beat Eddie Dearing and thus became sole leader at the start of round 5.

Twyble now played Knott, but when asked how he was faring replied "Losing: I blundered on move 7," and certainly Michael was struggling to retain equality. Finally he achieved this and the game was adjourned with a rook and two pawns each but a draw agreed on resumption. Andrew Ledger now beat David Sands, who had put a stop in round 4 to your correspondent's fine run. Simon Knott drew with Michael Twyble and Steven Ledger beat Eddie Dearing. This now meant that Ledger, Ledger and Twyble shared the lead on 4½/5.

It was now decided that the Ledger brothers should play one another in round 6 while Michael Twyble floated down to play Jonathan Rogers. Andrew beat Steven (a form result) but the board 2 game was drawn, so now Andrew Ledger, the pre-tournament favourite, was sole leader.

The final morning was rather anti-climactic, as Michael Twyble offered an early draw to Andrew Ledger, clearly content with a prize of at least £200 and allowing Ledger at least a share of first place. Simon Knott's fine win against Jonathan Rogers allowed him to catch up with Andrew Ledger. There was a 4-way tie for 4th place on 5/7, with Paul Cooksey and Steven Ledger from the top seeds being joined by John Moore (Rayleigh) and Tim Hebbes (Ilford) from the lower grading groups.

There are many excellent opportunities available for chess players over the coming weeks. Firstly, there is a brand new event, the Chigwell Junior Congress, to be held at the Chigwell School on Sunday 21st April. Competitors for this event (which appears to be heading for a bumper entry) should contact Howard Berlin on 0181 550 0718. There are sections for under-8s up to under-18s.

The next event in Essex is the 47th Essex Chess Association Congress, which this year will be at a new venue, the Woodlands School, Basildon. Only a few minutes' walk from Basildon station, the Woodlands school has been used for several very succesful junior events in the past.

The ECA Congress is divided into three sections: the Open Championship, the Major Tournament (for under-150 grades) and the Minor (110 BCF and below). Entry fees are £25, £20 and £18 but with significant discounts for junior players. Enquiries should be to John Sargent on 0181 270 9196.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lutton, J. Ezra - Parsons, A.J

Southend Open, 1996

1.e4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.Nf3 c5 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.0-0 d6 6.d3 Nf6 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.h3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Ne5 10.Qe2 Nxc4 11.dxc4 h6 12.Bh4 0-0 13.Rad1 a6 14.e5 Ne8 15.exd6 Bf6 16.dxe7 Qb6 17.exf8Q+ Kxf8 18.Bxf6 Nxf6 19.b3 Re8 20.Qf3 Qa5 21.Qxf6 1-0