The 1997 British Chess Championships, due to begin in the Hove Town Hall on 4th August, promises to be the most interesting for many years. Smith & Williamson, the accountancy firm, have sponsored the event to the extent that there has been a massive increase in the prize money. With a £10000 first prize, the current list of entrants includes just about all the top British players with the exception of Nigel Short and John Nunn. In the past, when first prize in the British was not a lot more than the best players could earn in an evening playing in one of the Continental chess leagues, the event was no more than a Second Division Championship.

That comment is not intended to be a slur on any of the Champions of the past, but the defending Champion, Chris Ward, is seeded 12th in the current list. There are 7 former Champions, who amongst them have won the title some 11 times since 1976. Mestel and Speelman have each won the Championship three times, and Miles, Adams, Plaskett, Sadler and Ward have won once each.

Somewhere near the bottom of the draw are the three Essex competitors taking part. Karl Mah (Wanstead) and Eddie Dearing (Chelmsford), both aged 16, must be positively drooling at the prospect of tackling some of the best players in the world. David Coleman (Harlow) is the third and most experience Essex player, but even he has probably never competed before amongst such elevated company.

As well as the British Championship itself, there are many other events in which National Titles can be won. The Major Open, an 11-round Swiss tournament following the same timetable as the British Championship, incorporates the Under-18 title, and there are three Essex youngsters, as well as some more senior players, participating in this. Tim Hebbes, Tom O'Brien and Matthew Lewsey are the hopefuls here.

In the under-16, Ellen Walker (Southend) will have her last chance of a National age-group title, having missed out by a mere half-point more times than she would care to remember. She is the only Essex participant in this section.

One has to venture to the under-12 before more Essex competitors are encountered. Ezra Lutton (Basildon), Alexander O'Neill (Ilford), Lawrence Trent (Ilford) and Graham Walker (Southend) should all find themselves well into the top half at the end of the tournament but of the four probably Lawrence has the greatest ambition. The first three of these will also play in the under-11, where Michael Bridger (Leigh-on-Sea) and the two younger brothers Josiah Lutton and Stewart Trent.

Josiah and Stewart will also participate in the under-10 Championships, in which they will be joined by Bobby Payne (Ilford), who must be amongst the favourites in this section, and Heather Walker, who will be looking to complete a hat-trick of Girls' titles.

All of the above age-related sections consist of 7 rounds over 5 or 6 days. The under-9s consists of 7 rounds in 2 days at 1 hour per player per game. Josiah Lutton and Stewart Trent are both participating in this, which will give them no fewer than 21 graded games in a 12-day period. Other Essex players joining them are Shaun Alley (East Ham), Abigail Flint (Chelmsford) and Edward Morris (Southend).

The final Championship event will be the under-8, a 6-round rapidplay. Andrew Alexandrou (Waltham Abbey), Abigail Flint (Stock), Nathaneal Lutton (Basildon) and Lee Wicks (Colchester) will take part in this, which is the event most guaranteed to increase the blood pressure of the watching parents. One to watch here is 6-year-old David Howell (Sussex). The Recorder recently included a game of his in which he beat WGM Susan Lalic in a simultneous display. In a recent coaching session with IM Andrew Martin, Andrew was completely bowled over that a 6-year-old could produce such wonderful chess.

As well as the usual press coverage in the Quality Dailies and the publicity given by teletext, this year the British Championships will also be covered on the Internet. Web pages are currently available and are regularly updated with the most recent entrants. During the Championships the pages will be updated several times each day as results and games scores come in. The address is http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~peterwalker/bcf/frame.htm.

One of the best games played in last year's Championships was the last round encounter between Jonathan Parker and Matthew Sadler. Had this result been reversed, Matthew would have shared first place wth Chris Ward. As it was Jonathan became British under-21 Champion without losing a game and assured himself of second place.

Parker,J - Sadler,M [D94]

British Championship Nottingham, 16.08.1996

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Bc4 Nxc3 8.bxc3 c5 9.0-0 Qc7 10.Qe2 Bg4 11.Ba3 Nd7 12.Rac1 Qa5 13.Bb2 Nb6 14.Bb3 cxd4 15.cxd4 Rfc8 16.Qd2 Qb5 17.Ba3 Bf6 18.Ne5 Bxe5 19.dxe5 Qxe5 20.Qb4 Be2 21.Rfe1 Rxc1 22.Rxc1 e6 23.Qe7 Bd3 24.Rd1 Qa5 25.Bb2 Qf5 26.Bc2 Nd5 27.Qxb7 1-0

[diagram for 31/7/97]

Black to play and win.

Forsyth check: 5rk1/2pb1r2/1p1p2p1/p1nPp1q1/2P1P1Pp/1P3P2/P2QR3/1R1N2KB.

Last week's solution: 1 e6 Bxe6 2 Bxd4 cxd4 3 Bxf7 Qxf7 4 Rxf7