Amid scenes of tremendous excitement and tension, the Essex under-11 side completed a spectacular double, winning the National Championships just as the Essex under-9 side had done for the lower age group two weeks ago. The margin of victory over the second-placed Richmond team was just half-a-point.

This was clearly a very good Essex side but, in competitions such as this, being one of the top four or five teams does not ensure a victory, it merely guarantees a place near the top. These competitions are always very close and, as with the under-9s, every player's contribution was vital to the Essex cause. It is invariably possible to look back at incidents throughout the day upon which the victory ultimately depended: one player announced mate and the players shook hands but then the Cornish opponent noticed that he could capture the rook delivering check. The arbiter ruled that the result had been agreed. Cornwall appealed but the result stood. Another player was offered a draw but the Team Manager (your correspondent!) told him to play for a win: he lost. Of course, such incidents abound when the team plays a total of sixty games throughout the day, and no doubt all teams have similar tales to tell.

The first round yielded 14½ points for the Essex cause, including all three on the top boards. Most players found their opponents to be "easy", but Graham Walker had his hands full with a young gentleman named Murugan Thiruchelvam. Murugan is still only seven years old but has had such excellent results over the past year that his ability has been likened to that of Luke McShane. Certainly, Richmond regard him as their top player in spite of other, older, pretenders for Board 1 being in attendance. Graham found a tactic which won a pawn in the ending, but even after the queens were exchanged, the game still took some winning.

Round two was even better from the Essex point of view as 15½ points were forthcoming. With one exception, every player who lost in the first round made amends in the second. The top two were not so successful this time. Graham Walker was outplayed by David Shaw (Manchester) and Alex O'Neill lost to Peter Titmas (Kent). It is my view that Peter is currently the strongest under-10 player in Britain. Ten members of the Essex side made it to two points from two games and Luke Tomkinson was unfortunate that he was not amongst them. He had outplayed his opponent throughout but called in the controller under the rapidplay rules as he had a completely won king & pawn ending but probably less than 15 seconds to the fall of his flag. Luke was awarded the draw: checkmate was probably about 20 moves away.

The team talk for the final round contained a simple message: more of the same, please! More of the same was exactly what the players delivered, but the finish was amazingly tense. To begin with, points flowed in with the greatest of ease, and the only game which appeared to be going against us was on board 1 where Lorin d'Costa (Herts) had won two pawns in the opening. Lawrence Trent had a difficult, unbalanced position and that petered out into a draw. Michael Bridger had the more active rook in the ending but was unable to break through. Katie Bates worked hard but was unable to convert what looked like an advantage. Alex O'Neill was offered a draw but declined and then won a critical pawn after which his oppnent also lost a rook. There was some transitory danger to Alex's king, but he defended well and then systematically removed all of black's pieces. Ezra Lutton, from being a pawn up, suddenly emerged with extra rook and knight.

The last three games to finish were all of great importance. Josiah Lutton was playing Leila Nathoo (Richmond) and while the queens were on, Josiah's king appeared to be in some danger. When Josiah succeeded in exchanging them, he looked to have a big advantage. When the ending simplified further, Josiah had rook, knight and 5 pawns to Leila's rook, bishop and 3. It was then that Josiah blundered and allowed his rook to be pinned to his king. Fortunately Leila took the rook straight away and lost her bishop for it: if she had attacked the rook a second time she would have won it for nothing. A draw was soon agreed, as Josiah had no weaknesses in his position but was unable to make progress.

Meanwhile, there was a great fightback under way on board 1. Graham had won his opponent's knight, although it had cost him all his pawns. A series of checks now left white with a rook and two pawns against black's rook and knight. Graham now merely had to play his king to c7 to stop the pawn from queening and the game would be a draw: instead he played his knight to c6, missing that b8=Q allowed a discovered check from the rook. He was not a happy boy.

Now the Championship hinged upon Jonathan Livesley's game on board 19, against Wey Valley. Essex needed a win. A draw would place Richmond ahead of Essex on a tie-break, both scoring 45½ points. A loss by Essex would give Wey Valley 45½ and place them ahead of Richmond on the same tie-break rule. Firstly Jonathan had the advantage. Then his opponent launched an attack which left Jonathan's king surrounded by rook, knight and pawn. After exchanges, Jonathan was left with a rook against black's bishop & knight, but he also had two extra pawns. The decisive manoeuvre was when Jonathan checked black's king, forcing it to the back rank, and then checked again, winning the bishop on h8. Checkmate soon followed and the celebrations began.