The annual Essex Junior Rapidplay Championships took place in Colchester at their usual venue of the Gilberd School. The number of entries was considerably fewer than has customarily been the case, but a timely innovation by the organiser, Roger Sharman, saved the top section from total oblivion. Traditionally, the under-18/16 section of a junior tournament is not so well supported as the sections for younger players and Roger had taken the decision to run it as a Open. The result was that a section which would otherwise have contained 5 players under the age of 18 (hardly a viable proposition in a 6-round tournament) was boosted to an entirely satisfactory 28 by the inclusion of 23 adults.

The top seed in theis section was Jim Howson, for many years one of the leading Essex players but now resident in Dartford. He was closely followed by Steve Gregory (Ipswich) and Ivor Smith (Writtle) and a late entry in the form of David Spence (Ipswich). David is no longer entitled to call himself a junior, having reached the age of 18 during the 1995-96 academic year, but nonetheless he has kept the winning habit in chess. Messrs. Howson, Gregory and Spence eached scored 5/6 to share the prize money. The Essex under-16 Rapidplay Champion was Ellen Walker.

In the age-related sections, Ben Collins (Suffolk) scored 5/6 to take the top cash prize, but of couse as not eligible for a County title. The under-14 title was won by Iain Gunn (Maldon) for his 4½ and Bobby Payne (Ilford) scored an impressive 3½ to take the under-13 trophy. Had he wished to do so, Bobby could have entered the under-10s.

In the under-12, top seed Graham Walker dropped half-a-point against Suffolk's Christobell Harrington in round 3, but finished with four straight wins to take the top prize and the under 12 title. His final round was against Ezra Lutton (Basildon). Ezra had won all of his first 5 games, but was having to withstand a tremendous onslaught from Graham's king-side attack in the final round. Graham won a piece, but then went for a checkmate on g2, forgetting that Ezra's queen on a8 was protecting the critical square. Massive exchanges then ensued, leaving Graham with a bishop and 3 pawns against Ezra's rook and 2. Finally Ezra's flag fell in a position which was completely drawn but, because Ezra had not claimed the draw before the fall of the flag, was ruled to have lost. How important it is to know the rules!

The under-8 and under-10 sections were combined. Josiah Lutton (an under-9) won the section with 5½/6. His last round, was against Heather Walker, who was half-a-point behind. This game was agreed drawn quite early. Josiah took an advantage and offered the draw to assure himself of first place and the under-9 trophy. Heather accepted, knowing that she would at least share 2nd/3rd prize and gain the under-10 title. The under-8 shield was won by Lee Wicks (Colchester) and the under-7 by Andrew Alexandrou (Waltham Abbey).

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The first British Schools' Chess Problem Solving Finals, sponsored by publishers B.T. Batsford, were held at the City of London School during late September and attracted 21 teams from schools from all over the country. In general, the norm was for the entrants to be from large Public Schools, and many of the strongest under-18s in the country were putting aside their normal gladiatorial approach to chess to examine the game as an art form.

There were two competitions. Firstly, teams of up to three solvers tackled 10 problems against the clock, one hour being allowed. Secondly, there would be an individual solving event, with another set of 10 problems in an hour.

Essex schools participating were Forest, being represented by Karl Mah, the Ockendon School, again putting forward a team of 1 in the form of Luba Lazarovich, and the only Primary School to qualify for the Finals, Temple Sutton. They took their full entitlement of two teams of three solvers. One team consisted of Graham Walker, Matthew Jellett and Tom Swift while the other was Nicholas Jellett, Heather Walker and Daniel Hedges.

The winning school was St. Paul's (London), which over the years has almost certainly been the leading British chess school. Former pupils include Jonathan Speelman and William Watson. Their total score of 91/100 won their school chess books from Batsford's to the value of £250 and allowed them to push Oakham School into second place, the winning margin being 1 point. Oakham's prize was books to the value of £100. Forest School were in third place, on 85, winning £50 in books.

Other scores by Essex schools were 25/100 by Temple Sutton A (13th place) and 23/100 by the Ockendon School (14th). While the solvers were involved in their arduous task, your correspondent, the Head Teacher of Temple Sutton Primary School, along with a former pupil and the former Deputy Head of a Suffolk school, were locked in mental combat attempting to solve the same set of problems which had been presented to the children. After 55 minutes, when we had solved two to our satisfaction and had reasonable stabs at two others, we looked at each other in horror. "What have we done to these poor kids?" we asked ourselves. We were very relieved when we found that both teams from the Primary School had actually scored points and that the A team had actually solved all of the first four problems perfectly but had not attempted the other 6. Perhaps they should be given 2½ hours in future!

In the individual solving event, Nicholas Pert (Oakham) scored an amazing 100%, ahead of Karl Mah (Forest) on 98. David Moskovic (City of London School) scored 97 and Richard Bates (Tiffin School) managed 94. Their prizes were Batsford Books to the value of £250, £100, £50 and £25 respectively.

The difference between Karl's score and Nicholas's was that Karl failed to write down one variation in an endgame study. Nicholas's answer sheet was perfectly presented: no doubt that he has been well trained by Graham Lee, Chess Master at Oakham and himself a former British Champion at Problem Solving.