The Times Schools Championships is about to leave its Regional stage and enter into the National Knockout stage, and Zone 26, consisting largely of Essex, North East London and part of Hertfordshire, has thrown forward a very interesting Champion to take on the rest of the Country.

The first round of the competition in this zone should have been contested by 10 schools. Forest School had what was probably the toughest pairing as they were obliged to play Southend High. The result of the match was 4 - 2 in Forest's favour, but Southend were without Simon Armour. Simon would almost certainly have lost on board 1 to Karl Mah, but his absence forced the remaining Southend players up a board and this may well have given Forest the edge. Bishops Stortford High School beat Davenant B 6 - 0 and Norlington Boys despatched Chigwell School almost as impressively 5½ - ½, in spite of the Norlington players being almost two years younger that their opponents. The other two fixtures were not contested as Temple Sutton Primary (Southend), last year's National Under-9 Champions, walked over against Bishops Stortford College and Woodlands (Basildon) did likewise against St. Peter's (Burnham).

In round 2, Forest won by the narrowest of margins against Bishops Stortford High, in which the age difference was more than a year per player. The significance of this is that the rules of the competition state that, where the difference in age is between 1 and 2 years, the older team must win by at least a point. Where the difference is between 2 and 3 years, the older team's margin of victory must be two points, and so on up to a maximum of 4 points. In extreme cases, the older team might need to win 5 - 1 in order to be assured of victory. This was the case when Temple Sutton played King Edward VI Grammar (Chelmsford). Temple Sutton's age average was 9 years 7 months to King Edward's 13.10. When Temple Sutton won the match on merit by a score of 4½ - 1½ it was considered of sufficient significance that the match was reported in the Daily Telegraph. Bancrofts, who won this zone last year, had had a bye through to round 2 and duly despatched a young Woodlands side 5 - 1. Davenant A beat Norlington Boys 4 - 2.

The semi-finals were therefore Forest v Bancrofts, a "local derby" and a match full of interest as Bancrofts, although not as strong as Forest on board 1, were well matched on board 2. There was only a 2-month age difference between the sides, so the tense 4 - 2 win to Forest was a welcome relief for them, particularly as Adam Capal had let slip a strong position against Chris Hobbs on board 2. Otherwise the score may well have been 5 - 1 in Forest's favour. Davenant were unable to field a team against Temple Sutton so after only one match the only Primary School in the zone had reached the Final.

Forest were always going to be hard pressed to overcome the age handicap and beat Temple Sutton 5 - 1. There was little doubt that Forest, who were drawn at home, would win comfortably enough on the top two boards, but Temple Sutton are enormously experienced. All six members of their team have played tournament chess for well over a year, and most of them for much longer than that. They all participated in last year's County teams at under-9 and under-11 level, winning National Champions medals, and of course they mauled all comers in the National Primary Schools' Championships, scoring 54 points out of a possible 60 in the process. In short, there is little difference between board 1 and board 6 and slack moves on low boards were certain to be punished.

For the first half-hour or so, all the games remained persistently level. However, Temple Sutton slowly established advantages on boards 4 and 5. Tye Byram had won a piece from the opening and although Nick Darrant tried to complicate the issue with a central attack, the absence of queens made this difficult. On the next board, Tom Swift had set a trap for Simon Enoch and the Forest player unsuspectingly captured a pawn only to find his bishop pinned and shortly afterwards removed from the board. Here again, experience told as the fourteen year old was given a lesson by his nine year old adversary. As soon as he had won the piece, Tom offered exchanges and Simon accepted them, thus rendering his dwindling army even less effective. Once Tom had released the threat of a back rank mate white might have resigned, but the game didn't take much longer in any case. Meanwhile, on board 4, Nick Darrant was still trying to make inroads into Tye Byram's position, and with some hope, as Tye's queen-side was a little tangled and careful play was required. The pressure was really on the Senior School now, as every player was acutely aware that they could not afford to drop so much as another half point. However, Nick was the unfortunate player who did just that, pressing too hard and enabling Tye to capture a bishop with check and then to remove the rook which the late bishop had been guarding.

With the match effectively over with four games still in play, one might have expected the players to let up. Not so. On board 2 Adam Capal had won a piece against Nicholas Jellett's Exchange Lopez, but had to play with care to ensure that Nicholas did not get more than one pawn for it. Eventually Adam's class and experience told and Forest had scored their first point. Karl Mah was in complete control against Heather Walker but Heather was doing sterling work in delaying the inevitable for as long as she possibly could. Daniel Hedges on board 6 had reached a rook and pawn ending in which material was level. Daniel's lack of experience did tell here, and he failed to invade with his king after his rook had tied black's pieces down. Andy Lu could possibly have taken an advantage after this, but after a series of checks peace was declared.

Board 3 was the hardest fought, and the longest, of all the games. Matthew Jellett was playing the Dragon, or trying to, but Michael Fisher sensibly refused to play the best known line and a strange blocked position occured in which Michael won a pawn but then underestimated the strength of black's dark-squared bishop and lost the exchange. The Forest player continued to press and it began to look as though his bishop pair were about to murder Matthew's rooks. However, Matthew displayed some excellent resourcefulness and, anticipating a pawn push, placed his rook on the same file as Michael's king. When the pawn advance came, Michael had overlooked that his pawn was now pinned and was unable to recapture when Matthew captured with a bishop. That was White's last chance, and very shortly afterwards Matthew played a king move which allowed the advance of a hitherto blockaded pawn. Michael pushed the pawn only to suffer the indignity of being mated with his king on d5.

This win by the score of 3½ - 2½ is a remarkable performance by a primary school. Although having the luxury of an age handicap, they have yet to use it, and although the team's average age is only 9 years 9 months, they can with some justification claim to be the strongest school team in Essex, irrespective of age. Forest's average age in the Final was 16.1. There are precedents for Primary Schools winning zones: this is the fourth time it has been done in the 40-year history of the Times Championships. The two most recent occasions were both by St. Teresa's school, Colchester, but their victories involved the age handicap. For a primary school to win on merit must be unprecedented.

So far as the future rounds are concerned, Temple Sutton could conceivably go further. Firstly, six teams from the 26 zones will be awarded byes into the last 16. Thereafter, it is still feasible that some otherwise strong independent school could drop 1½ points on the low boards against them and make themselves a little bit of unwanted history. However, Temple Sutton will eventually meet a team with strong players all the way down and will be beaten 6 - 0. Whoever that may be, they will need to watch out next year as every member of this side is currently under 10 and will therefore be playing again, meaner, hungrier and out for revenge.

Forest School

Temple Sutton School

1

Karl Mah (16.1)

1 - 0

Heather Walker (10.2)

2

Adam Capal (17.6)

1 - 0

Nicholas Jellett (10.1)

3

Michael Fisher (17.7)

0 - 1

Matthew Jellett (10.1)

4

Nick Darrant (17.1)

0 - 1

Tye Byram (10.0)

5

Simon Enoch(14.4)

0 - 1

Tom Swift (9.3)

6

Andy Lu (13.9)

½ - ½

Daniel Hedges (9.1)

Ave. age 16.1

Ave. age 9.9

Total

2½ - 3½

Byram, Tye - Darrant, Nick

Times Schools' Championships, 1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 d5 5.d3 Qe7 6.Bf4 f6 7.dxe4 fxe5

8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxe5 Qxe5 10.Bxe5 Rg8 11.Bxc7 dxe4 12.Bb5+ Bd7 13.Bc4 Be6

[13...Rg7 14.Be5 Re7 15.Bf6] 14.Bxe6 Rg7 15.Bxb8 Rxb8 16.0-0 Re7

17.Bc4 Rc8 18.b3 Bg7 19.c3 Rd8 20.Re1 Re5 21.Na3 a6 22.b4 b5 23.Bb3

Rd3 24.c4 e3 25.Bc2 exf2+ 26.Kxf2 Rd2+ 27.Kg1 Rxe1+ 28.Rxe1+ Kd8

29.Rd1 Bd4+ 30.Kf1 Rf2+ 31.Ke1 bxc4 32.Rxd4+ 1-0