Sadly, there were no Essex participants amongst the 62 in Championship, making it a very poor year for the County in that respect. However, in other areas Essex players achieved a great deal. Colin Ramage (Eastbrook) won the Weekend Intermediate tournament with 5/6, and there was plenty of encouragement to be found amongst the Junior sections.
In recent years the Under-18 title has been contested as part of the Major Open, and Tim Hebbes (Ilford) was well placed in this, with 6/9 and two rounds to go. Unfortunately, Tim ran out of steam at the end of a long tournament, losing his last two rounds, but his grading performance of 183 was still an outstanding achievement. Matthew Lewsey (Colchester), still an under-12, scored 4/11, another fine performance. Many juniors in the 13 to 16 age groups opted to play in the Major Open, which weakened the specific age-group Championships. However, this was not true of the younger sections. Without doubt, these sections are becoming ever stronger, and the general standard was extremely high.
The under-12 section was won by Chris Charman, (Solihull) with a splendid 6½/7. This was a good example of the grading list being turned on its head, as 14 of the 33 competitors' grades were higher than Chris's. The only Essex competitor in this was Graham Walker, who scored 2½. There were several Essex players in the under-11, Ezra Lutton's 4/7 being the best.
The Essex players really came to the fore in the under-9 Championships, played over Saturday and Sunday. Seventy-two competitors entered this event, making it the biggest Championship section of all, and 10 of these were from Essex. Bobby Payne (Ilford) scored an unbeaten 6/7, taking second place. He was unable to force a win against Ameet Ghasi (Birmingham) in the final round, which meant Ameet took the title on 6½. For the statistically minded, Ameet is a worthy champion indeed. All but one of his opponents scored 5/7 or better, and the sum of his opponents' scores was 35½ out of a possible 49, compared to Bobby's opponents' 30. Other impressive Essex scores were 5/7 by Josiah Lutton and Heather Walker, the latter carrying off the Girls' title. Matthew Jellett and Stewart Trent scored 4½, and Nicholas Jellett 4. This completes a wonderful year in this age group for Essex players in which the County Team won the National Championship, Temple Sutton School won the Schools' Title, Heather Walker won the British Girls' Championship and Bobby Payne was within a whisker of carrying off the British Championship.
The under-10s was almost as strong as the under-9s, and again there were some very good Essex performances. There was an added interest in this event as Kumardip Chakraborty (Bengal) was looking to win his fourth title in two years, much to the chagrin of the England selectors. Last year, Kumardip won the under-8s and under-9s and in the first week this year he had shared the under-11s with Nicholas Timms (Somerset). He had a weekend off, eschewing the opportunity of winning the under-9 for the second year in succession, but was hot favourite for the under-10s.
There was a look of some relief upon the faces of the selectors when Kumardip was held to a draw by David Butler in round 3, thereby allowing a gap of half-a-point to open. This relief was very short-lived, however, as the three leading British players, all from Kent, agreed quick draws allowing Kumardip to join them in the leading group again. The Indian boy was then held to another draw, by David Ho (Maidstone) and Krunal Kahar (Cheltenham) took the lead with a win over Thomas Rendle (Crowborough). Krunal then played Jonathan Fish (Manchester) and won a long endgame which was very interesting from a technical point of view (R & P v R) and this left the final round pairing of Krunal Kahar against Gawain Jones (York) and Lawrence Trent (Ilford) against Kumardip.
Krunal had a nightmare game in which he blew his chances of a National Title in 19 moves and only half-an-hour's play, leaving Gawain, who the previous week had become British under-8 Champion, awaiting results on board 2 to see if Kumardip could beat Lawrence. This was an epic battle in which Lawrence almost achieved what no-one else had managed. The Ilford player was white and went "straight for the jugular", sacrificing a pawn and launching a central attack which had Kumardip reeling. Black's queen was removed for both Lawrence's rooks, but with black's forces a disorganised rabble on the back rank, the win was fairly easy. There was frustration amongst the onlookers as Lawrence retreated a knight instead of hacking open the centre, and once black organised his forces white's game became increasingly difficult. Lawrence continued to play good moves, and at one point threatened to win one of the central passed pawns upon which all of black's winning chances were pinned. Kumardip had a long think and found the only move, a superb exchange sacrifice after which Lawrence could only hope for a draw by perpetual. He seemed unaware of the danger of black's king marching up the board to help the pawns, and once it did, white had no further resistance to offer.
This was obviously a disappointment for Lawrence, who finished the tournament on 4½. However, he showed a fighting spirit which was clearly lacking amongst some of the higher-graded and more experienced players in the section. The one aspect of his game which I particularly like is his eagerness to tackle the toughest opponent available.