After last year's spectacular achievements, in which the Essex under-9 team were runners-up to Kent in the Regional Heats but then won the National Finals, it was only to be expected that this year's team would not meet those standards. Every year, of course, there is a strong element of the unknown when dealing with such young children, but this year there were seven "established" players, all of whom played in last year's team and as such have a fair amount of experience, and nine relatively unknown quantities.

For about the first time since Essex began playing in the English Primary Schools' events in 1991, no single school dominated the team. Last year, 7 of the 16 were from Southend's Temple Sutton, and on previous occasions St. Teresa's (Colchester) have been well represented. This year marked the end of an era at St. Teresa's school, as neither of their teams qualified for the semifinals of the National Schools' Championships and this Essex team included none of their players.

The heats took place at the Therfield School, Leatherhead, and before the Essex team sat down to play they were well drilled in the virtues of slow, methodical play. The team listened well, because of all of the 72 games played during round 1, 5 out of the last 6 to finish involved Essex players from which the team gained 4 points. The one loss was Francesca Berlin's loss on time against a Richmond player. Francesca had been slightly ahead on material before the time scramble began. The team's total for round 1 was 9 points, all scored on the top 10 boards (Francesca was board 6), an excellent effort which placed them second, just half a point behind Richmond and half a point ahead of Kent.

Much of the good work which had been achieved during the first round was promptly undone in the second as game after game was lost through indisciplined play. The two reserves who had won in round 1 were brought in to boards 11 and 12, and of course the results were promptly reversed! Even experienced players were losing quickly and the Essex board 3 was out inside 10 minutes, the victim of a bad error in the opening. The Essex wins were also fairly quick, as Josiah Lutton on board 1 demolished his Hertfordshire opponent in no time at all. Shaun Alley (Ilford) reached a difficult double-rook and pawns ending and then found a neat tactic to win a rook. David Livesley (Colchester) became only the third player to reach 2/2 after a careful win. Francesca made up for her first round setback with more slow play, but this time against an opponent who caved in. All the Essex gameswere over with almost an hour of the scheduled time still to play.

The result of this setback was that Essex had slumped from 2nd place to 5th, having been overtaken by Kent, Wey Valley and N.W. London. Richmond had completed a perfect round, going from 9½ to 21½, thereby being almost certain of qualification with a whole round to spare. The problem for Essex was that there were only four places in the finals available to the nine teams at the Leatherhead zone. We now needed to outscore N.W. London by more than one point.

A damage limitation conference amongst the three team selectors was then held. It was decided that the children would be allowed to "let off steam" for a while so that the great disappointment which they all felt could recede a little, and then another firm team talk would point out the errors of the second round. It was a very determined and serious group which left the team room for the playing hall at the start of the final round.

Round 3 was a very rewarding experience for all concerned. All of the players gave of their best, and another 9 point round pulled the team back into 3rd place and earned an invitation to Liverpool on 26th April. Two of the three losses were, significantly, to Richmond players, but in one of these David Livesley, who had been a piece up at the time, accidentally caught his queen as he reached for another piece. His opponent called touch-and-move and David did not protest. This cost him a rook and, some while later, the game. This piece of ill fortune was countered by Alan Hawrami's game on board 11. Alan had been in trouble against his Wey Valley opponent, at one point being two pieces adrift. However, the queens were still on and Alan kept on attacking. Somehow he managed a checkmate, much to the chagrin of the Wey Valley coach, IM Mike Basman. In the two critcal games against N.W. London, Dean Wicks and Tom Swift each gave his respective opponent something of a lesson.

This is a good team. The experience of the second round will prove very useful when the finals arrive, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Richmond, whose winning advantage in Leatherhead looks formidable, will be toppled.

Essex

Final Scores

1

Josiah Lutton

2/3

1

Richmond

32
2

Stewart Trent

2/3

2

Kent

24
3

Daniel Hedges

2/3

3

Essex

22
4

Edward Morris

2/3

4

Wey Valley

20
5

Tom Swift

2/3

5

N.W. London

19
6

Francesca Berlin

2/3

6

Barnet

16
7

Antony O'Toole

2/3

7

Herts

13½
8

Shaun Alley

2/3

8

Croydon

10
9

Lee Wicks

2/3

9

S. London

10

David Livesley

2/3

11

Alan Hawrami

1/2

12

Abigail Flint

0/1

11

Andrew Sheldon

0/1

12

Dean Wicks

1/2

Reserves

Alan Hawrami

1/1
Abigail Flint 2/2
Andrew Sheldon 1/2
Dean Wicks 1/1
Richard Mason
Max Stechman 1