The Essex under-11 side began the defence of its National title at the Woodlands school, Basildon, against eight other member associations of the English Primary Schools' Chess Association. A team of 24, four of whom were playing reserves, made the journey and the proceedings began at 11.45.

The event was a three-round jamboree. Every team member follows a predetermined, but randomly allocated, schedule for his or her board, so the first point of interest occurs long before play begins at the time team letters are allocated. Only then will players learn who their opponents will be, and some players have much tougher opponents than others. It has always been the case that an opponent from Richmond, Kent or Wey Valley was feared by the opposition and such games are considered "two-pointers" by other members of the elite few. During the past couple of seasons, Essex have counted themselves amongst the best, and last year we proved it by winning National Titles at both under-9 and under-11 level.

The first round began very well indeed, and some nine Essex wins were on the board before the first loss was announced. The lower boards always tend do finish early, quite simply because the players are weaker and decisive mistakes are made sooner. The difference between the strong and weak teams is at its greatest on the low boards, and a team who loses games early is simply unlikely to be in contention at the end. Probably the most significant win in this round was Ezra Lutton, restored after his appendix operation a fortnight ago, beating the Kent board 2 David Ho, although Daniel Hedges also defeated a Kent player and Katie Bates drew with another. Essex scored both available points against Richmond, thanks to Heather Walker and Nicholas Mulrenan, although Wey Valley fared better against us, Bobby Payne losing a long game to Chetan Deva and Sam Waterson performing well in a rearguard action to get the draw. Jonathan Livesley, who last year won the game which decided the Championship in our favour, once again faced Wey Valley and again won. The round finished with Essex on 15/20, Kent on 14.5, Richmond on 13.5 and Wey Valley on 11.5.

Round two was another very good one for Essex as we extended our lead to 3.5 points, with sixteen points forthcoming. Edward Morris, who had lost badly in round 1, pulled off an excellent and significant win against a Wey Valley player, Jason Klimach defeated a Richmond opponent and Josiah Lutton dealt with a Man of Kent. Essex now had 31 points and Kent and Richmond shared second place on 27.5. Wey Valley had improved on their first round total with a score of 12.5, but Essex were now ahead of them by 7 points and we were beginning to feel that the Zone Championship was ours barring serious accidents.

The frailties of even the best of teams can be exposed by a few adverse results, and the final round was not very old when it appeared that chickens had perhaps been prematurely counted. Of the first eight Essex games finished, six were losses and a famous crash appeared to be on the cards. Heather Walker won a pawn in the opening, but then became greedy and tried to win another before castling. She was summarily checkmated by queen and knight. Tom Swift, very adept at dealing with the lesser players, lost to a good one from Kent. Katie Bates blundered her queen after winning two pieces against a Barnet opponent. Bobby Payne played too quickly in the opening against an old adversary in the form of Thomas Rendle (Kent) and was a piece adrift by move 10. Suddenly the afternoon became far more exciting than the waiting parents had wished for. Kent and Richmond were both piling on the points, but the best team this round was Wey Valley, and at one stage it looked as though the 7-point Essex lead over them might not be sufficient.

Gradually, as the last 20 minutes of a 100 minute round progressed, it became clear that our opponents' challenges would fall just short. 43.5 was a possible total for either Kent or Richmond, but not both, as in two of the critical games they were playing each other. At this stage Essex had reached 41.5 with three very tight games to go. James Berlin, playing Wey Valley, had won a piece but with all the pawns on the same side progress was difficult. James is not at his best when under time pressure and he was unable to find a winning plan in the last five minutes and settled for a draw. Lawrence Trent, playing on board 1, at last completed a win against Lydia Goodwin (Bucks) and the final Essex player to finish was Ezra Lutton. Ezra had a superb day on board 2, scoring 2.5/3 against some very tough opposition. Apart from his win against David Ho, he drew with the N.W. London opponent and in the final round inflicted defeat on Michael Healey (Richmond), one of the feared players on the current under-11s circuit. The Essex score of 44/60 was enough for first place and we must now be considered favourites for the Finals, to be held in Catford next month. However, there must be no complacency amongst the team: last year, although Essex was a good side, on paper we were not the best. Wey Valley were, and they finished the event with a dreadful last round, allowing Essex to steal the trophy.

Essex Team Totals

1 Lawrence Trent 3 1 Essex 44/60

2 Ezra Lutton 2.5 2 Richmond 42

3 Bobby Payne 0 3 Kent 41.5

4 Matthew Jellett 1 4 Wey Valley 40

5 Alex O'Neill 3 5 Barnet 30

6 Josiah Lutton 2 6 Herts 20

7 James Berlin 2.5 N.W. London

8 Heather Walker 2 8 S. London 17

9 Katie Bates 1.5 9 Bucks 15

10 Jonathan Livesley 3

11 Michael Bridger 3

12 Nicholas Jellett 2

13 Stewart Trent 2.5

14 Jason Klimach 3

15 Daniel Hedges 3

16 Charles Wager 2

17 Edward Morris 2

18 Tom Swift 2

19 Sam Waterson 1.5

20 Nicholas Mulrenan 3

Lutton, J. Ezra - Ho, David

EPSCA u11 Zonal, 1997

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.0-0 Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 Qxe5 11.Re1 Qd6 12.Nb5 Qb8 13.Qf3 Bb4 14.Bf4 Qd8 15.Bg3 Nf6 16.a3 Bxe1 17.Nc7+ Kf8 18.Nxa8 Bxf2+ 19.Qxf2 Qxa8 20.Qc5+ Kg8 21.Qe7 Qf8 22.Bd6 Qxe7 23.Bxe7 h5 24.Rc1 Bc6 25.b4 a6 26.Bxa6 Kh7 27.Bd3+ Kh6 28.b5 Bd7 29.Rc7 Rc8 30.Rxb7 Rc1+ 31.Bf1 Rb1 32.Bxf6 Bxb5 33.Rxb5 Rxb5 34.Bxb5 gxf6 35.a4 1-0

White to play and win.

Forsyth: r4rk1/pp3p1p/2pq1np1/5bN1/2BP4/6RP/PPQ2PP1/4R1K1.

Last week's solution: 1 f6 gxf6 2 g7 Bxg7 3 Nf5 Bf8 4 Qg4+ Kh7 5 Re7+ 1 - 0