The first weekend of the London Junior Championships returned to the Queen Elizabeth's Girls' School, Barnet, after an absence of some 16 years. In the intervening period, parts of the old building had been severely damaged by fire, and these had been replaced by a modern, well-lit playing hall. This, combined with comfortable rest areas, made this possibly the best venue so far selected for the London Championships.

The main event was the Under-10 Championship, contested by 140 players. Technically speaking, 140 competitors is too many for a seven round tournament, as it is theoretically possible for two players to reach 7/7, if no players in the leading group agree any draws. Of course, in practice draws are agreed, but even so the consensus was that this was one of the strongest under-10 Championships for many years and that an outright winner might not be found in the number of rounds available.

From the point of view of Essex, this is the age group which performed so well during the spring and summer of 1996, winning the National County Title at under-9 level. Once again, our players performed excellently, and the 15 Essex boys and girls who qualified for the finals was probably the largest contingent from any County. In fact, there were at least three other qualifiers from different parts of Essex who were, for various reasons, unable to take their places at the finals.

The first round included few surprises and a haul of 10 points for the Essex players. Round 2 was nearly as good in that 9 points were scored by the Essex contingent, but the talking point of the round was Heather Walker's defeat of the Tournament Favourite, Thirumurugan Thiruchelvam (Richmond), who has been hailed by some as the second Luke McShane. Essex players reaching 2/2 were Heather, Matthew and Nicholas Jellett, Josiah Lutton, Bobby Payne and Stewart Trent. Heather, Bobby and Stewart continued to 3/3 as Heather beat Timothy Robinson, Bobby despatched William Foster and Stewart dealt with Adam Boakes. With 'Murugan's demise in round 2, the favourite now became Thomas Rendle (Hastings) and he beat Josiah Lutton.

The final round of the first day left only one Essex player on 100%. Stewart Trent, still an under-9, outplayed James Heppell to reach 4 points. Bobby's run came to an end at the hands of Timothy Woodward (London), and Heather lost to Graham Morris (Bucks). Other Essex players to reach 3/4 were Josiah Lutton and the Jellett twins.

Round five saw Stewart Trent's fine run come to an end, but not disastrously, as he was held to a draw by Graham Morris. Bobby Payne was back to his winning ways, but unfortunately at Heather Walker's expense: it has been known for the controllers at the London finals to succeed in keeping apart players from the same local associations, but this apparently was not possible on this occasion. Jason Klimach won again, bringing his total to 3/5, and Josiah Lutton came back into contention with a win against Adam Boakes.

At the start of round 6, every player had dropped at least half-a-point. Stewart Trent now met Chetan Deva, also on 4½, and Stewart was beaten for the first and last time in the tournament. Bobby Payne won comfortably against Jack Biggs, and Josiah Lutton enjoyed a splendid win against Thirumurugan Thiruchelvam. 'Murugan likes to play 4 Ng5 against the Two Knights Defence, and Josiah is happy to go along with this old-fashioned and agricultural line with the enormously tactical 4...Bc5. Both sides then hack away merrily at each other's kings with various sacrifices, and the wild play which ensues requires a strong nerve, the ability to calculate complex variations and a good memory of the correct move order. A rumour went around that Josiah was losing, but he finally emerged triumphant and alongside Bobby on 5/6. The Jellett twins both won, bringing their totals to 4, as did Heather Walker, although no longer the leading girl in the tournament as Sara Higgins (Sevenoaks) had reached 4½/6, winning another wild game after being a rook down. Jason Klimach drew to reach 3½.

Another unfornunate set of pairings forced Bobby and Josiah together. They last played a whole week previously at a London Qualifying Tournament at Newbury Park School, Redbridge and Josiah had won well with a sacrificial attack on the king-side. This time Bobby gained revenge. Josiah sacrificed a pawn for the attack and it was indeed Bobby's extra pawn which won him the end-game. Josiah felt that he perhaps should have made more of the attack. Bobby finished the tournament on 6/7 and had to wait for other games to finish to find out if he would be Champion.

Stewart Trent beat Joshua Rubin, a greatly improved player from Ipswich whose younger brother Jacob won the under-8 section. Matthew Jellett beat Jay Dienn to reach 5/7 for the second year running. Heather Walker played Adam Eckersley-Waites (Cambridgeshire) and her Yugoslav attack against the Sicilian Dragon almost gained her the whole point. In the end she was obliged to settle for a draw and a share of the Girls' prize with Sara Higgins, who lost her last round, and Clare Morris (Bucks) who picked up three points on the second day.

The early predictions about 7 rounds being insufficient to separate such a large and strong field proved entirely accurate as no fewer than 6 players shared first place on 6/7. These were twins Ameet and Sumeet Ghasi (Birmingham), Thomas Rendle, Samuel Williams (Surrey), Chetan Deva and Bobby Payne, but only Bobby and Chetan were eligible for the trophy as everyone else was from outside London. This was eventually awarded to Chetan as his sum of progressive scores was slightly better than Bobby's. Stewart Trent's 5½ won him the prize for the best under-9. Josiah Lutton must have been satisfied with his 5/7 as he is still an under-9 and his two losses were to the co-Champions.

Here is the round 5 encounter which helped Bobby Payne on his way to the top.

Walker, H. - Payne, R.

London under-10, 1996

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Be3 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Nxe5 7.Bf4 Nc6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.Nxc6 Bxc6 10.Nc3 Bb4 11.0-0 Bxc3 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.bxc3 Ne7 14.Qd4 Nf5 15.Qc5 Qd7 16.Rab1 Rc8 17.Rfd1 Qe7 18.Qb4 Qxb4 19.Rxb4 f6 20.Rb7 e5 21.Re1 0-0 22.Be3 Nxe3 23.Rxe3 Rf7 24.Rb3 c5 25.Rb5 d4 26.cxd4 cxd4 27.Re2 d3 28.Rd2 dxc2 29.Rxc2 Rxc2 30.Rb8+ Rf8 31.Rxf8+ 0-1