There were many difficulties presenting themselves to the Essex under-9 team when it travelled to Liverpool. With one or two exceptions, parents elected to travel on the Friday for the Saturday tournament and most found themselves embroiled in motorway chaos as a result of a number of bomb scares. Typical journey times were in excess of 8 hours. Paradoxically, rail travel on the Friday evening was easy, and of the few prepared to brave the road journey on Saturday morning there was just one mechanical breakdown which meant that board 6 missed round 1.
Sixteen teams contested the finals, held at the Gilmour Junior School, Garston, and the venue was scarcely suitable for the event. 192 players were crammed into a hall which would have been fine for half that number, and when games were finished those still playing found themselves being clambered over by those attempting to leave. It was not possible for team managers to keep track of how players were faring.
All of this is a result of lack of sponsorship, and although the generosity of the Schools' Governors has to be acknowledged, the fact that a venue costs the association nothing should not override the need for sufficient space for players to play in comfort. Is there really no large company anywhere in England prepared to sponsor such a potentially prestigious event?
Essex scored 6.5/12 in the first round, which placed us =6th with Nottinghamshire. At this stage joint leaders were Kent, Richmond, Devon and Yorkshire on 8.5, and Wey Valley was not far off with 7. Dean Wicks, who was the Essex first reserve, played well against the Devon board 6 and for a time was a piece up, but insufficient attention to king safety cost him the game.
Round 2 was disappointing as the Essex boards 3 to 6 all lost, three of them very quickly and the last after being two pawns up in an ending. 5.5/12 left us well adrift of the leaders, and as at the qualifying event, round 2 proved to be our undoing. There were some areas of encouragement: Josiah Lutton had demolished both opponents with ease, Francesca Berlin was playing some particularly good chess, and Alan Hawrami also reached 2/2, looking much more solid than he had in the qualifier in Leatherhead in March.
The team talk for the final round was blunt and to the point: the team had not played well enough and there wasn't a lot of point in travelling all this way unless they were going to do better. The response demonstrated what might have been, as 9 points were forthcoming to lift the Essex team into 5th place, alongside Yorkshire, on 21/36. The event was won by Kent with 28.5/36. Richmond, who were runaway winners in the Southern Zone, were second on 27.5, and Wey Velley finished on 26. Devon scored 22.5.
Events in Solihull were going somewhat better for the Essex players. After the first day, both Ezra Lutton and Lawrence Trent were on 2.5/3, and Bobby Payne and Alex O'Neill were on 2. Never before have Essex commanded so many places in the England Trial, and in fact we have achieved only 6 team places in the 7 years since Adam Capal became the first Essex player to represent England.
The England trial is a horrible tournament. Every player and every parent knows that a score of 4/6 will earn a place in the team, but also that the competition is very tough and that reputation and previous record count for nothing if you just happen to have an off day. The pressure is enormous and tears are a common occurrence. The England heirarchy expect their players to grow up very quickly.
Lawrence Trent was not best pleased when he allowed half a point to excape to a lesser player in the first round, and Bobby Payne also erred when he lost to Adam Eckersley-Waites (Cambs), a player who normally presents few problems to someone of Bobby's calibre.
During the second day, a serious problem presented itself to Lawrence, who appeared to be on the point of losing a piece to Ashley Ferguson (Liverpool). However, Lawrence composed himself and, two hours later, emerged the winner. After this sobering experience he played well during the last two rounds, and his last opponent, Chetan Deva (Surrey), was dismissed in a mere 19 moves. Bobby also had a particularly good second day, joining Lawrence on 4.5/6, but Ezra Lutton made life more exciting than it need have been by blundering away a win against Daniel Caps (London) in round 5. Ezra recovered well to win in round 6 and finish on 4, the same score as Alex O'Neill. All four Essex players have therefore now received invitations to play for England, provided of course that their respective school teams do not qualify for National Schools' Finals in Birmingham in late June, which will clash with the Scotland match.
Kent board 7 - Francesca Berlin (Essex bd 7)
EPSCA u9 Final, 1997
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 d6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Bc4 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Bg5 Nbd7 9.Bxf6 Nxf6 10.Re1 Bd7 11.e5 dxe5 12.Rxe5 Rc8 13.Bd3 Bd6 14.Rg5 e5 15.Nf5 Bxf5 16.Bxf5 Rc6 17.Nd5 Nxd5 18.Qxd5 Qxg5 19.Qf3 g6 20.Be4 Rb6 21.a4 Rxb2 22.Rd1 b5 23.Rxd6 Qc1+ 24.Rd1 Rb1 0-1
[Insert diagram for 8/5/97)
White to play and win.
Forsyth check: 3r1b2/1r3qpk/pp1p1pRp/4pP2/P1P1P1Q1/1P4R1/6PP/2B4K.
Last week's solution: 1 Nxe6 fxe6 2 f7+ Qxf7 3 Rxf7 and white won