The First team was especially successful. Under the captaincy of John Cooke, they won the SCCU Championship, which gave them the supposedly easy pairing against Nottinghamshire. Although Essex outgraded the Midland County by almost 20 points per board, this match was decided in the top half, Essex scoring 6.5 from the top 9, but only 3.5 from the botom 7 boards. One seasoned campaigner observed that the Nottinghamshire players seem to be very good in the rapidplay finish. The Essex League has never introduced this means of completing matches in one session, preferring adjournments and adjudications, but the Nottinghamshire league has had rapidplay finishes for many years. Even so, Essex won the match 10 - 6 and will next play Greater Manchester in the Semi-Finals.
The under-175 team also finished as SCCU Champions in their section. John Philpott is captain of this team, and he had conducted a very efficient campaign throughout the season, being successful in every area with the exception of winning the toss, which he has now lost on seven consecutive occasions. In their quarter-final, Essex played Hampshire, captained by a certain Andrew Smith, son of Essex C.A. Treasurer David. This time the match was won in the bottom half, Essex scoring 7.5/8 in that department, whereas the match score was 12 - 4 in favour of Essex.
David Smith doubles up as Captain of the under-150 side, and their quarter-final was a much tigher affair. This match was played at West Bridgford, Nottingham, against Cleveland. A 300-mile round trip in one day for one game of chess is not to everybody's liking, and this can be especially galling if one leaves one's brain behind and suffers a quick loss. Essex were two down early on, and with Tom Winter dropping a piece, the chances of progressing further seemed remote indeed. However, gradually Essex clawed their way back into the match with wins by John White, Stan Harwood and Dave Cannan, this last taking advantage of the ultimate oversight by his opponent, who allowed mate in 1. Tom Winter's rearguard action proved successful and he salvaged the draw, which enabled Roger Sharman to make an offer of a draw that his opponent, who was losing badly, coud scarcely refuse, thereby winning the match for Essex by the score of 8.5 - 7.5. The semi-final will be against Warwickshire.
Alan Trent opted to take the under-100 side all the way to meet Shropshire on their home soil, and it was an excellent demolition job carried out by this mainly youthful side when they visited Telford. Wins by Bobby Payne, Lawrence Trent, Alex O'Neill, Caius Turner, Dominic Allen and Stewart Trent (combined age 68) compared well to the 1/3 mustered by the three more senior players in the side (combined age about 168). Essex won this match 8.5/3.5 to give them a place against Suffolk in the semi-finals. Bob Jones, the Suffolk Captain, is exercising his right to exclude all ungraded players from the team. This is a little unfortunate, as Alan Trent himself will now be unable to play, having taken up chess relatively recently as a result of following in his sons' footsteps.
The only Essex side which did not qualify for the National stages was the under-125 team. This team's lack of success was largely a reflection of their good 1995 - 96 season: most of the team which played last year are now graded too highly to be eligible, leaving captain Richard Joyce with a relatively small pool of regular players. Even Richard himself was unable to turn out, having reached the grade of 126. On at least one occasion he was let down at the last minute in an away match. Last season, when his grade was 124, he kept himself in reserve as often as possible, but that was not an option this year.
As well as success at County level, two teams from Essex clubs have done particularly well in the National Club Championships. Southend, in their Centenary Year, have reached the Finals of the under-150 competition with a 3 - 2 semi-final victory against Basingstoke. Their opponents in the Finals will be either Great Lever or Hereford.
However, pride of place must go to the Ilford Club, who have reached the Finals of the National Club Open Championships with an excellent team display. Captained by Jeff Goldberg, the team is without a titled player, but in the quarter-final beat Crowwood (Glasgow), whose team included three International Masters, by a score of 5 - 1. In the semi-final Ilford beat Guildford in a much closer match, with wins from Philip Rossiter and David Coleman and draws from Karl Bowden, Mike Twyble and Graham Moore.
It is likely that Ilford will beet Slough in the Finals and this will be a very stern test. It is one of the rules of the National Club Championships that all players have to be bona fide members of the Club concerned, but Slough, as one of the most successful teams in the Four Nations Chess League, have drafted in several Grandmasters just for the purpose of the 4NCL. The question must surely arise concerning these players' right to play in the National Club Championship.
Philip Rossiter - Nigel Povah (IM)
Ilford v Guildford, 1997
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.Nf3 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qa5 5.Be2 Bg4 6.h3 c6 7.0-0 Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Qf5 9.d4 Nbd7 10.Re1 0-0-0 11.a4 e6 12.a5 a6 13.Qe2 g5 14.Ne4 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Qf6 16.Ra4 Nb8 17.Bf3 Rg8 18.Be3 Qg6 19.c4 f5 20.Bh5 Qh6 21.d5 cxd5 22.Bb6 Bd6 23.Bf7 g4 24.Qxe6+ Qxe6 25.Bxe6+ Nd7 26.Bxd8 Rxd8 27.hxg4 fxg4 28.cxd5 h5 29.Rc4+ Kb8 30.Bxd7 Rxd7 31.Re8+ Ka7 32.Rcc8 b5 33.Rcd8 Rxd8 34.Rxd8 Bb4 35.Rh8 Bxa5 36.d6 Kb7 37.d7 1-0
[diagram for 5/6/97)
Black to play and win.
Last week's solution: 1 ...Nc2+ 2 Kf1 Rd1+ 3 Bxd1 Ng3+ 4 fxg3 Qe1 mate