There are some places, notably some primary schools' chess clubs, where there is no obvious majority for either sex. This is probably because nobody has actually bothered to tell the players that chess is male-dominated. I have noticed that, when taking primary school assemblies and "selling" chess to children, suddenly the girls are much more attentive when they are told that Britain's strongest player under the age of 18 is Harriet Hunt, a pupil at Oxford Girls' High School.
It was therefore something of a problem that when the under-9 and under-11 teams were selected to represent Essex this year, only three out of the 35 children in the two teams were girls. The English Primary Schools' Chess Association also holds an event for teams of 16 girls, which this year was in Torquay. It was felt that there was little point in Essex participating in this, as it would be impossible to select a team this size without relying on players who have little or no tournament experience; and players with little or no tournament experience will not travel 250 miles for three games of chess.
Essex were not alone in this way of thinking, and the Kent Chess Association decided to run an Alternative Girls' Under-11 Championship, inviting teams of 8 from Hampshire, Essex and Buckinghamshire. In the event, some 21 Alternative Girls traversed the Thames to compete for Essex, a First Team, a Second Team and five Reserves, for whom a separate tournament was run. As it happened, only 5 players could be persuaded to make the journey from Hampshire so three of the Essex protagonists hastily switched sides and played for Hants.
The tournament was run on the jamboree pairing system, and after the first round was complete it looked as though the Kent team were heading for a runaway victory as they scored 7½ points to Essex I's 5½. One of the scheduled first team players failed to arrive so the first Essex player to finish was drafted in to take her place. This was Caroline Beer (Colchester), who won a game on board 8 and then proceeded to make short work of board 7 as well. Other noteable wins were by Heather Walker (Southend). Heather was the Essex board 2 but she managed to outplay the Hampshire board 1, eliciting a resignation because a pretty two-bishop checkmate was inevitable. Francesca Berlin (Ilford) played well against the Essex II board 3, Lisa Dickenson (Basildon). Isobel Huang-Doran (Colchester) was in some diffculty until she exchanged into a king & pawns ending. Sadly Isobel was unaware of the value of a supported passed pawn in such situations, and allowed exchanges keeping Black's king in the game, which was eventually drawn.
In round 2, there were some quick wins for the girls on the low boards, as Kimberley Branch (Leigh) and Jill Hutchison (Harlow) scored the Second Team's first points. Likewise, the first team players again scored well, as Isobel reached the seventh rank with both rooks and Caroline demonstrated a useful understanding of the weakness of the f-pawn when the opponent has not yet castled. Heather Walker uncorked a "book" rook sacrifice in the Giuoco Piano which cost Black her queen and, not long after, her king. Once again Francesca added a valuable point to her score and Katie Bates (Colchester) won well on board 1.
Kent, however, were now almost out of sight as they added another 7 points to their total, leaving them 3 points clear of Essex with one round remaining. It would require something rather special if Essex were to catch them now...
The round began with Leah Oaker (Basildon) playing for, and getting, Scholar's Mate to make her personal contribution 3/3 on board 6. Shortly afterwards, Eleanor Milnes (Colchester) won on board 4 to pick up her only point of the day. Katie Bates beat Rachel Gargan (Harlow) and Isobel now played with confidence and had no difficulty in winning. Caroline again attacked the f-pawn and was again successful. Elizabeth Walmsley (Stock) had been the replacement for the absent player and she now picked up a point against Christina Gargan (Harlow), who was on loan to Hampshire. Meanwhile, the Buckinghamshire board 5 had beaten a Kent player, and both Heather Walker and Francesca Berlin were in play against Kent. Both had established advantages. There was the possibility of an upset.
This possibility now became a probability as Lydia Goodwin, the Bucks board 1 and almost certainly the strongest player in attendance, beat her Kent counterpart. There were now only two games left as Francesca seemed to be getting the upper hand in a game in which both kings were in danger. Francesca's rook was pinned to her king, but this rook was in turn pinning a knight to her opponent's king and Francesca was threatening mate. A closer inspection revealed that Francesca's threat of mate was actually unstoppable.
All eyes were now on Heather's game, which was the only one in progress and would decide the event. Heather had worked her queen and bishop so that a mate was threatened on g2, but the Kent girl played her knight to e1 to parry the threat. It was at this point that Heather brought her rook f5: it was needed on the h-file but h6 was covered by white's queen and bishop. Black now finished the game in the Grand Manner, sacrificing her queen as the most efficient way of checkmating. Essex took the trophy and each member of the first team was awarded a medal.
Semdon, Amanda - Walker, Heather
Girls' Tourney, Sevenoaks, 1996
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Bb5 dxe4 7.Nxe5 Bd7 8.Ng4 Bc5 9.0-0 0-0 10.c3 Qh4 11.Ne3 Bd6 12.g3 Qg5 13.d4 Qxb5 14.a4 Qg5 15.Bd2 Bh3 16.Re1 Rfe8 17.b4 Re6 18.d5 Rf6 19.dxc6 bxc6 20.Nc2 Qf5 21.Be3 Bg4 22.Qd2 Bf3 23.Rf1 Qh3 24.Ne1 Rf5 25.Bf4 Qxh2+ 26.Kxh2 Rh5+ 27.Kg1 Rh1# 0-1