The Southend-on-Sea Chess Club's 41st Annual Congress took place at the Southend Civic Centre during the Easter Weekend and attracted some 170 entrants. Approximately 70 of these participated in the Open Championship, a 7-round FIDE rated tournament. Because Southend is spread over four days (Good Friday to Easter Monday) there is sufficent time available for the games to satisfy the stringent demands of the World Chess Federation rating system.

Southend receives generous sponsorship, firstly from the GFI Group, an American Computing Consultancy owned by the son of a longstanding Southend Club member, and secondly from the Southend Borough Council, who provide playing conditions as good as one is likely to meet anywhere at little or no cost to the Congress. It was therefore rather disappointing that the Congress Committee chose to charge a late entry fee of £3 for all competitors whose entries were received less than two weeks prior to Good Friday. Of course, it is helpful for the organisers if players enter early, but a week's notice of intention to play should be ample. Since many of the competitors thus caught out were juniors entering as families (most Junior events have an entry deadline of just 3 days which in practice is often not enforced) there were several parents who were stung for significant quantities of extra cash. This is clearly not the best way to make friends with the people in whose hands the future of chess lies.

The top seed in the Open Championship was Mark Hebden. It is quite rare for a Grandmaster to enter Southend, as Sutton (Surrey) is also on and those London based GMs after some chess at Easter tend to go there. Mark won the Hastings Premier in January, a marvellous result, and it was therefore no surprise when he became sole leader after round 4, when he beat second seed and International Master Andrew Ledger. Southend has hitherto been a happy hunting ground for Andrew, who has either shared or won first prize outright on several occasions in recent years. However, Hebden, playing with the white pieces, won a central pawn and then demonstrated Grandmasterly technique as he pushed it towards the queening square while at the same time allowing his opponent very little in the way of counterplay.

One of the other round 4 results which was of great significance was Tim Hebbes' victory over Michael Twyble. Tim has still not reached his 15th birthday, but he had enough confidence against one of the top Essex adults to play the Benko Gambit. During the middle game complications Michael remarked to me that "Tim is finding some very good moves", and so it proved.

Another Essex junior who is making his presence felt at the highest level is Eddie Dearing. Eddie is actually a Scots under-16 international but now resident in Chelmsford. In his third round Eddie shared the point with 3rd seed IM Colin Crouch and followed this up with two wins to take him to 4½/5. It was now Eddie's turn to play Mark Hebden and he performed very creditably, as material was still level when the end-game began, although Mark had the bishop pair whereas Eddie had a bishop and knight. The only other remaining pieces were a rook and 4 pawns each. Experience eventually told and Eddie was ground down.

In the final round, Mark Hebden was now a point clear of the field and therefore a draw would be sufficient. However, it is not in the nature of Grandmasters (indeed, this is no doubt why they are Grandmasters) to take an easy half-point when there is the the slightest possibility that they might gain the full point. Colin Crouch was the opponent, and a complex struggle ensued. After exchanges, Hebden had an extra pawn and technique saw to the rest.

The interest now shifted to the battle for second place. Colin Crouch had completed the tournament on 5/7, and Alan Barton (Morecambe) was on 5 at the start of the final round. He floated down to play Eddie Dearing, and the other games which could affect the top placings were the board 3 game between Andrew Lewis and David Ledger, that on board 4 between Tim Hebbes and Phil Gregory and the board 5 game between Adrian Jackson and Andrew Ledger. Adrian had an excellent result, beating Andrew to give the Bedford IM his worst result for years at Southend. Tim Hebbes played a very exciting game against Phil Gregory, but Tim's rook sacrifice turned out to be a little too flamboyant as Phil eventually returned material to reach a winning ending. Tim finally turned his king over after some 6 hours' play.

The last game to finish was the board 2 game, and Alan eventually resigned, probably about 10 moves later than he should have done, when Eddie's material advantage was two bishops. Up to that point Alan had had two connected passed pawns which were advancing, it is true, but they were never going to reach the queening squares with Eddie's bishops waiting for them.

Final Placings

Open (7 rounds)

1st Mark Hebden (Leicester) 7

2nd= Eddie Dearing (Chelmsford & Scotland) 5½

David Ledger (Bedford)

Phil Gregory (London)

Swiss-paired Section (all 5 rounds)

A (BCF Grades 145 - 200)

1st= David Tucker (Dartford) 3½

James Stevenson (Finchley)

Ross Walker (Ilford)

John Holland (Dereham)

B (BCF Grades 120 - 144)

1st Ron Gooch (Westcliff) 4

Richard Nash (Barnstaple)

3rd= David Cannan (Westcliff) 3½

Kevin Cook (Witham)

C (BCF Grades 99 - 119)

Robert Arthurton (Canvey) 4

David Hutchings (Wickford)

Gerald Luetchford

D (BCF Grades 80 - 88)

1st= Roy Shaw (Hadleigh) 4

John Sneesby (Basildon)

Maurice Forward (Southend)

E (BCF Grades below 80)

1st Cary Hemmings (Basildon) 4½

2nd= Nicholas Jellett (Southend) 4

Donald Cuckson (London)

Twyble, M. - Hebbes, T.

Southend Open, 1997

Benko Gambit

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Nf3 d6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.Qc2 g6 7.e4 Bg7 8.Nbd2 0-0 9.cxb5 a6 10.bxa6 Bxa6 11.Bxa6 Rxa6 12.0-0 Qa8 13.a3 Rb8 14.Nc4 Nb6 15.Nxb6 Raxb6 16.b4 Rc8 17.Qe2 Ra6 18.Rac1 Rxa3 19.bxc5 dxc5 20.Rfe1 Ra2 21.Qb5 Qa7 22.Ne5 Qc7 23.Nd3 c4 24.Bf4 Qa5 25.Qxa5 Rxa5 26.Nb4 Ra4 27.Nc6 Kf8 28.f3 Nd7 29.e5 Nc5 30.Ra1 Rxa1 31.Rxa1 Nd3 32.Bg5 f6 33.exf6 exf6 34.Bc1 f5 35.Ba3+ Kf7 36.Rd1 Nf4 37.Re1 Nxd5 38.Ne5+ Bxe5 39.Rxe5 Nb6 40.Re7+ Kf6 41.Rb7 Nd5 42.Kf2 h5 43.Rb1 Ra8 44.Rd1 Ke5 45.Bb2+ c3 46.Rxd5+ Kxd5 47.Bxc3 Ra2+ 48.Kg3 f4+ 49.Kh3 Ke6 50.Bb4 Kf5 51.g3 Rf2 52.Bd6 g5 53.g4+ Ke6 0-1 Black fails to fall for White's last trap. If 53...Kg6 54.gxh5+ Kxh5 55.Bxf4 gxf4 stalemate.

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White to play and win.

Forsyth check: 5b1k/nr1q3p/4b1P1/3p1p1P/2pPpP2/1pP1B3/1P1RBQ1K/r1nr4.

Last week's solution:- 1 Nc6 Kxc6 2 Bf6 Kd5 3 d3 a2 4 c4+ Kc5 5 Kb7 a1=Q 6 Be7 mate.