John Cooke continues as captain of the Essex First Team after a very successful season which saw his team finish first in the Southern Counties' Championship and runner-up in the National Championship. Provided he can get them out, John has no fewer than nine players graded over 200 this season who were available for Essex last year, of whom Karl Mah is now the highest graded, on 221. If Karl Bowden, who still plays Essex League Chess for Writtle although he lives on the Essex / Suffolk border, can be persuaded to play for his original county, then that will strengthem the top even more, because Bowden is now 223. Jonathan Rogers has slipped a little,but is still a formidable 217, and Andrew Lewis is next on 212.
Eddie Dearing has gone above 200 for the first time, now 208 from last year's 195, an impressive performance for someone who took a break from competitive chess to study for hs GCSEs. David Coleman is also on 208, up from last season's rating of 205. Jon Manley remains on 205, David Sands is now 204 (was 201) and there are two players on exactly 200. Gary Kenworthy has spent three or four years in the 190s but has now hit the magic 200 again, and Mike Twyble has reached the same grade from the other direction, having been 208 in the previous list. There are a further 8 Essex players graded between 190 and 200.
John Philpott, the under-175 Captain, has more problems than John Cooke. The first team Captain knows that there will not be a great deal of difference between last year's team and this, as pretty much the same players in more or less the same order will be available for his team. The under-175 team Captain's success last season in winning the National Championship has been rewarded with the knowledge that some of his players are no longer available, their grades having been pushed beyond 175. Last season's most reliable, and successful, player was Paul Williamson, who occupied board 1 all season only to be rewarded with a succession of games with the black pieces as his captain lost toss after toss. Paul is now graded 184 and is therefore out of the reckoning for all but the first team. Although there are approximately 20 players in Essex higher graded than Paul, it is quite likely that he will find a place in the first team: in the unlikely event that this team has no need for a player as strong as Paul Williamson, then it will indeed be formidable.
Board 1 for the second team this season should be Tim Hebbes, who has pushed his grade up from 156, where he was not often called upon last year, as the County's only 174. Trevor Coote played two or three critical games towards the end of last season, and will have the chance to do so again with his new grade of 173. Ken Clow was a regular last season, and Ken's grade has returned to the 170s after a dip last year to 158. Peter Doye and Roy Heppinstall were also regulars last year, both of them now graded 170. Lawrie Marden and David Millward have both dropped a little to 169 and 168 respectively, but they will now strengthen the middle order. Colin Ramage is now 167 and Ian Hunnable 166. Paul Savin, whose grade is up to 167 from last year's 160, may be persuaded to turn out occasionally. Ivor Smith and Mark Weighell will both add strength, each on 161 and they are joined by Simon Armour, whose new grade of 161 is an increase of 18 points on last year's total. This team was almost totally devoid of strong juniors last year, and with Tim Hebbes and Simon Armour in the side, both of whom are likely to improve further, this will be an undoubted boost.
So far as the various clubs in the Essex League are concerned, Southend will clearly be keen to defend their title, which last season they won for the first time since the early 1960s. Wanstead will try and do everything to win the title outright, as in the past two seasons they have missed out as a result of losing the play-off. Ilford will always be able to present a strong challenge, but last season they arranged a flurry of fixtures in the last month of the season, only to hit poor form at the wrong time.
The Essex League team which seems regularly to stumble unaccountably is Writtle. Their players have been amongst the highest-graded available for any club, but it is quite some time snce they won the Essex League Championship. During the coming season they will be able to field a team whose bottom board is 160, choosing only players who regularly turn out in any case. If they can avoid the sort of accident which happened to them in their last match last season, when they only managed a draw against an Ilford side they appeared to be beating comfortably, then they are perhaps the team to watch.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the World Championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. This match so caught the media by surprise that American Television suddenly found that their viewers demanded to know how the All-American Boy (!) was faring against the Evil Empire and there was no-one on the staff quallified to tell them. Accoringly, Bruce Pandolfini was whisked away from his job in the Manthattan sorting office and became a star overnight. This is probably just as well, as he has written some excellent books aimed at developing players.
The following game was the sixth in the match and was reckoned by many to have been the best game.
Fischer,R (2785) - Spassky,B (2660)
1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 0-0 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 b6 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.Rc1 Be6 12.Qa4 c5 13.Qa3 Rc8 14.Bb5! a6 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.0-0 Ra7 17.Be2 Nd7 18.Nd4!Qf8 19.Nxe6! fxe6 20.e4! d4? 21.f4 Qe7 22.e5 Rb8 23.Bc4 Kh8 24.Qh3 Nf8 25.b3 a5 26.f5 exf5 27.Rxf5 Nh7 28.Rcf1 Qd8 29.Qg3 Re7 30.h4 Rbb7 31.e6! Rbc7 32.Qe5 Qe8 33.a4 Qd8 34.R1f2 Qe8 35.R2f3 Qd8 36.Bd3 Qe8 37.Qe4 Nf6 38.Rxf6 gxf6 39.Rxf6 Kg8 40.Bc4 Kh8 41.Qf4 1-0