The London under-12 is normally just about the strongest annual age-related event to be held in this country. In order to take part at all, players have to qualify in advance either because their grade is high or because they have performed particularly well in one or more of the qualifying events which are held throughout England during the preceding three months. This year, three or four of the most exceptional under-12s were missing, no doubt because in some cases the attraction of the Hastings Congress was greater. Even so, there was a great deal of strength in depth, with a large number of players whose grades are already in excess of 100, and plenty more for whom rapid recent improvement shows that their playing strength is considerably in excess of their grade.
Since the results from the London under-12 are used to assist with selection for the England team at under-11 level, it is especially important to perform well. Ian Cowen, the Manager of the England under-11 team, and Victor Cross, another of the selectors, were in attendance and spent the bulk of the three days watching games and taking notes.
Essex currently has 10 players hopeful of a place in the England team, and as National Champions at that level, probably about 4 of the County's players have realistic chances of being selected. Not that the matches played by the England under-11 team are especially taxing: intending no offence whatever to the Welsh and Scots, at this level their chess teams find it very hard to score as much as 25% against the English. In a recent 12-board, double-round under-12 match between South-East England and Wales, played in Chepstow, the South-East England team, including Essex players Graham Walker and Lawrence Trent, won by a score of 20 - 4. The real objective of achieving a place in the England team is that the successful players are thereafter members of the BCF Junior Squad, and elite for whom special coaching is arranged and from whom are selected parties and individuals for foreign travel, World Championships and the like.
In the early part of the Under-12 Championships, Karim Virani and Josiah Lutton (both Basildon) scored well, finishing the first day on 2½/3. Lawrence Trent (Ilford) had won his first two games, but then lost an important match against Peter Titmas (Maidstone). Bobby Payne (Ilford) had exactly the same scoring pattern as Lawrence, but his third round loss was to Lorin d'Costa (Herts.) On the second day, Lawrence and Bobby both resumed their winning ways. There was one unfortunate pairing of the top two Essex girl players were forced to meet. Heather Walker won with a very neat manoeuvre against Katie Bates in a game which had otherwise been generally dull and error-prone. At the end of day two, Lorin d'Costa and Peter Titmas were the only two players on 5½/6, having just played each other. Nicholas Mulrenan (Saffron Walden) had reached 4 points, as had Lawrence Trent, but Bobby Payne was on 4½, a well-deserved leader amongst the Essex contingent, as his fifth and sixth rounds had been against Adam Swersky (Richmond) and Christopher Rawlinson (Wey Valley), both of whom achieved an England place in 1996.
The final day saw two of the Essex players fall by the way-side. James Berlin withdrew ill at the end of day 2 and Karim Virani, who had performed very well on the first day, was unable to continue after round 7, both players victims of 'flu. Of the survivors, Bobby Payne reached 5 points from 7 rounds with a draw against Belgian player Rafe Martin. Lawrence Trent caught up with Bobby after a win against Samuel Williams. Meanwhite, Ezra Lutton (Basildon), who had been the top scorer for Essex in this event a year ago, had been busy collecting points and was now also amongst the leaders with 5/7.
In round 8 it was now Lawrence Trent's turn to play the Belgian, and his agreed draw in a time scramble did not make the England selectors over-happy. Lawrence had been attacking well with the black pieces and he had some very dangerous-looking pawns approaching the queening squares. It is a fact that the England selectors are always keen for any foreign visitors to be given a hard time by their English opponents. Bobby Payne drew with Liam Varnam (Berks) and these results gave Ezra Lutton the chance to become the leading Essex player with a straightforward win against Oliver Wilson, when the Surrey player made an elementary error which cost him a knight.
The final round saw both Bobby Payne and Lawrece Trent win quickly against Adam Eckersley-Waites (Cambridge) and Mark Hughes (Cornwall). Ezra had a much harder, and also longer, game against Thirumurugan Thiruchelvam, Britain's strongest 7-year-old. Ezra's fine run of four consecutive wins and 6 points from 7 games came to an end, but 6/9 in a tournament of this strength is a very good total indeed.
The Hastings Premier has so far been an excellent tournament for Mark Hebden, who is not usually reckoned to be amongst the strongest of the English Grandmasters. Here is his round 8 win against John Nunn.
Hebden,M (2530) - Nunn,J (2605)
Premier Hastings ENG (08), 1997
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Be2 c5 7.Ne5 Nc6 8.0-0 cxd4 9.exd4 Qb6 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Na4 Qa5 12.c3 Nd7 13.b4 Qd8 14.Qd2 e5 15.Bh6 Bxh6 16.Qxh6 Re8 17.Rfe1 Rb8 18.dxe5 Rxe5 19.Qd2 a5 20.Bf1 axb4 21.cxb4 Qf6 22.Rxe5 Nxe5 23.Re1 Kg7 24.Nc5 Bf5 25.a3 d4 26.f4 Nd7 27.Nxd7 Bxd7 28.Re5 c5 29.Rxc5 Bf5 30.Rd5 d3 31.Bxd3 Qa1+ 32.Bf1 Qxa3 33.Qd4+ f6 34.Rd6 Qxb4 35.Qxf6+ Kh6 36.h3 Qxf4 37.Rd4 Qe3+ 38.Kh2 1-0