The first success was at Problem Solving in which Mike McDowell, after numerous second places in recent years, at last won the British Chess Problem Solving Championship. Mike went on to represent Britain (and in problem-solving, the team is genuinely British - as an Ulsterman, Mike certainly would not represent England!) in the World Championship, finishing 23rd, a personal best.
The 1995 - 96 Essex League was particularly hard-fought, with at one time almost half of the first division in contention for the title. In the end this went to Eastbrook, who had never before won the Championship, after a play-off against Wanstead, who had.
In County Chess, the Essex first team reached the semi-finals of the County Championship, only to find that their form had inexplicably deserted them for the afternoon of the semi-final, played against Warwickshire in Bedford in June.
However, in Correspondence Chess, the Essex first team scored the most emphatic victory for almost half-a-century as they collected a massive 26/30 to take the Ward Higgs County Championship Trophy, no fewer than 8 points ahead of the team in second place. Steve Abbott continues to organise the County Correspondnce Teams with great efficiency, and such is the domination that Essex have enjoyed in recent years that the other Counties must be heartily fed up with him!
Whereas the County Correspondence teams are accustomed to success, in Junior Chess our teams have been accustomed to near misses in recent years. The Essex under-9 team was known to be very strong, so it was thoroughly disappointing to finish a mere half-point behind Kent (again) in the Southern Zonal qualifying event, held at Woodlands School, Basildon. However, it was perhaps that disappointment which spurred the team of 12 on to win the National Final in Torquay, this time one point ahead of Kent. Roger Sharman was team manager on the day, and he was even able to enjoy the luxury of a little quiet gloating at Kent's expense. In the third and final round, Essex scored 10/12 in very quick time, throwing down a gauntlet which Kent were manifestly unable to pick up. With the Essex lead at 5 points and only 4 Kent games left to play, Roger sauntered into the Kent team room and made the innocent comment to Chris Ward "I can't work out whether you are going to catch us." "I think that you are quite safe," came the frosty reply.
When the under-11 title was fought for a couple of weeks later, Roger was abroad on business and he asked your correspondent to fill in as Team Manager. Again, we knew our side was a good one, but in the qualifying event, in which we finished a respectable third, our team hardly gave the indication that they were to become National Champions. A tremendous day it was, as 1½ points separated the top three sides, with Essex leading the way. In such an event as this, played over 60 games, every player contributed. However, if there is one single explanation of the difference between the team's performance at the Zonal event and that at the Final it can be summed up in two words: Stewart Trent. Stewart, then an under-8, had been showing some good form in the preceding weeks. On Howard Berlin's recommendation, we included Stewart on bottom board and told him he had a job to do: score three points. He did just that. Shortly after that, Stewart was to win his age-group Championships at the National Final of the UK Chess Challenge, sponsored by Intel.
In the National Schools' Championship, Temple Sutton so terrified the opposition that one London school, Northbridge House, sent its teams to a semifinal in North Wales rather than the Southern England one where they would have to face the might of the Southend school. This terror was amply justified as Temple Sutton won their semifinal with a round to spare. Northbridge House did qualify for the under-9 Finals, but were the weakest of the four teams and never had the chance to play Temple Sutton, who went on to win their last two matches 4½ - ½ and 4 - 1. Temple Sutton also qualified for the Finals of the Schools' problem-solving Championship, the only primary school to do so.
At the British Championship, Tim Hebbes was in contention for the under-18 title until his last three rounds failed to deliver any points. However, he will have ample opportunity to try again, as he was only 14 at the time. There were some very impressive performances in the younger age groups, as our under-9s continued to do well. Bobby Payne was second in the under-9 and Heather Walker won the Girls' Championship. Josiah Lutton may have broken all records, as he played in 4 sections in the British, scoring 5/6 in the under-8, 5/7 in the under-9, 4/7 in the under-10 and about 50% in the under-11. His total of 17 points from 26 games in a fortnight must be very hard to beat. Lawrence Trent impressed the England selectors with his gutsy performance against the Indian player Kumardip Chakraborty in the last round of the under-10.
Perhaps the best performances of all were left until last. Karl Mah, who had led the England team superbly in the under-16 Olympiad in the summer, scoring 7/9 on top board, was selected to represent the Country in the World Championships. He finished the tournament sharing first place, unbeaten on 8/11, but was placed 4th on a tie-break and returned without a medal. Eddie Dearing represented Scotland in the same event and scored an impressive 6/11.
What, I wonder, is in store for 1997? The top half of the under-9 team will be very strong, but at this stage there is little evidence of sufficient new under-9s coming through to be able to score well on the low boards. The under-11 team will almost certainly be stronger than it was in 1996. Only three players who occupied places in the top half of the team this year are too old, and on current evidence the Young Pretenders are considerably stronger players than the Old Guard. This team certainly has the potential to be National Champions again.
The County first and Second teams have begun their seasons very well, scoring plenty of points against the teams that matter. No doubt Steve Abbott will deliver good results in the Postal competitions, and perhaps Karl Mah, GCSEs out of the way, will achieve the IM title.
Eddie Dearing - Yee Mak Weng
World u16 Championship, 1996
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