After an absolutely first rate team effort, the Essex under-9 side became National Champions when they visited Torquay for the English Primary Schools' Chess Association Championships, sponsored by Centrax (Gas Turbines). Essex had qualified for the Finals last month by virtue of finishing second by a mere half-point margin to Kent after a nail-biting competition, the result of which hinged upon the last game to finish.

This time the competition was just as close. Although Essex's margin of victory was actually one point with Kent in second place, the Wey Valley team was also very strong. They had won their zone by a large margin and shared the lead, firstly with Essex and then with Kent, until a complete disaster overtook them in the final round. Another strong team was Richmond, who had finished in third place in the Essex zone.

It is always difficult to take young children to a distant venue and expect them to do well, and on previous occasions when Essex have travelled away, it has been with the attitude "we're not good enough to win but the experience will do us good". Changing this attitude is one of the keys to success in junior chess. If the parents have strong expectations, then so do the children, and there can be no doubting the determination of this particular group of parents. The vast majority made arrangements with Head Teachers for time off from school in order to travel down in plenty of time for a good night's sleep and this tactic appeared to pay off.

In the first round, Essex managed 8½ points, which left them sharing the lead with Wey Valley and half-a-point ahead of Kent. Richmond and Somerset were also hovering around the seven-point mark, so this was going to be a close battle. In the Zone competitions, there are normally two or three weak sides who score so badly that the best sides are made to look even better. In the finals, the very weak sides are absent and this adds an extra significance to the gathering of every possible point.

In round two Essex again scored well, gaining 8 points out of 12, but this was not enough to keep pace with the leaders. Kent scored 10/12 and Wey Valley added 9½ to their first round score to leave Essex in third place on 16½ points, 1½ points behind Wey Valley and Kent. Bobby Payne and Josiah Lutton each scored their second win, as did Nicholas Jellett, Sam Waterson and Maximilian John. A small piece of history was made when Heather Walker's 100% record for the County came to an end at long last in her 15th game representing Essex.

This was an ominous sign for the Essex team. Too often managers of the County's junior sides have seen promising starts wither away in the heat of battle and it appeared to be happening again. It is a tribute to Roger Sharman, who managed the team on the day, that he turned this setback round.

The final round was a rout. The Essex team scored 10/12 in fairly quick time, throwing down a gauntlet to Wey Valley and Kent which they were simply unable to pick up. Josiah Lutton, who is barely eight years old, totally destroyed the Wey Valley board 2 in 15 moves in a manner which caused great admiration from the watching adults. Matthew Jellett, who had hitherto scored only half a point, made amends to finish on 50%: Matthew was Essex's lowest scorer! Heather Walker scored her second win of the day and her 15th from 16 games for Essex; Nicholas Jellett overpowered all comers to score his third point on the day and his 9th from 9 Essex matches so far this season. Tye Byram, Edward Morris, Stewart Trent and Francesca Berlin each raised their personal tally to 2/3, but the only representative from North-East Essex, Sam Waterson, scored 3/3. This was a very pleasing performance by Sam, who had failed to score in the qualifier. The two bottom boards, Maximilian John and Jason Klimach, each completed the day on two points.

Wey Valley's response to the late Essex surge was feeble indeed: their final round gained them only another 2½ points. Kent were made of sterner stuff and by the time Essex had finished, Kent needed to score wins on all three of their games still in progress to level the scores. Essex did not have long to wait for Kent to drop a point and ensure that Essex won the Peter Ayckroyd Trophy for the first time.

1

Bobby Payne

1 1 0 2
2

Josiah Lutton

1 1 1 3
3

Matthew Jellett

0.5 0 1 1.5
4

Heather Walker

1 0 1 2
5

Nicholas Jellett

1 1 1 3
6

Tye Byram

1 0 1 2
7

Stewart Trent

0 1 1 2
8

Edward Morris

0 1 1 2
9

Francesca Berlin

0 1 1 2
10

Sam Waterson

1 1 1 3
11

Maximilian John

1 1 0 2
12

Jason Klimach

1 0 1 2

Total

8.5 8 10 26.5