The inclusion of the word "South" in the tournament title is something of a misnomer as, althought the competition is held in the south, players from all over England, as well as a small number from outside, took part. Indeed, one of the two prestige invitation events, the under-14, was won by Craig Hanley with an excellent 5/5. Craig comes from Lancashire, a county not normally known for its Southern credentials.
Although the under-14 section included no Essex representatives, there were four in the under-12. Again, this was a very hard-fought section and was won by Thomas Rendle (Sussex), who beat Peter Titmas (Kent) in the final round. All the Essex players struggled to score points against enormously tough opposition. Lawrence Trent completed the tournament on 2.5/5, losing his final round game against Rafe Martin (Belgium). This was a repeat of the London under-12 final round 5 weeks previously: on that occasion Lawrence scored the point in a desperate time scramble to share second place. This time it was Rafe's turn. Bobby Payne also score 2.5. His last round was against Thomas Nixon (Surrey) and Bobby lost after a long endgame. It is a measure of the strength of the tournament that just one game represented the difference between 50% and third place. Alex O'Neill also scored 2.5, whereas the only other Essex representative, Ezra Lutton, scored 2. Ezra had completed four rounds without a win, and then found himself playing Jonathan Fish (Manchester). Jonathan has in the past proved himself to be an excellent player and it appeared that he was getting the better of Ezra as one of his pawns was poised to queen. Each side had just a queen, a rook and a scattering of pawns and Jonathan's problem was far easier to describe than it was to solve: how could Black force the pawn home without leaving his exposed king a prey to perpetual check? Jonathan became so engrossed in this problem that he overlooked the simple fact that Ezra was attacking his rook. Ezra completed the event with a gratefully accepted win.
The under-13 event was an Open, and some 24 players took part. Graham Walker and John Sneesby were the Essex representatives here, and both appeared to be heading for 2/2 when Graham failed to simplify a position in which he had a material advantage and suddenly found himself on the receiving end against Jonathan Somekh (Richmond). John drew in round 3 but lost round 4. Graham, meanwhile, had beaten two players to find himself playing Chistopher Dixon (Surrey) with whom he drew in the final round of the London u-14 Championships in December. Both players started the round half a point short of the lead so, when the top board was agreed drawn, they were playing for a share of first place.
The queens were exchanged early. Graham decided to open the position by giving up knight and bishop for rook and pawn. Immediately afterwards Christopher miscalculated and lost a piece, but even then it was extremely difficult for Graham to make progress. The material balance was bishop, knight and 5 pawns to white, bishop, rook and 6 pawns to black, but black's difficulty was based upon the fact that none of his pieces could find their way into white's half of the board. All Graham's pawns were blocked on white squares, so his light-squared bishop was trapped. His rook occupied the only open file, but white sensibly guarded all the entry squares with his king. Finally Christopher made a mistake and allowed Graham to push a pawn. This released his bishop and suddenly all of black's forces were in and white's pawns began to disappear. Graham gave up his rook for the knight and a pawn and, now with three passed pawns and an agressive king, he too reached 4/5 and shared first place with Jonathan Somekh and Paul Grist (Hampshire). All three of these will automatically be invited to next year's Under-14 Closed Championship.
The under-11 Championship was dominated by Josiah Lutton. His 5/5 was outstanding, as he quite simply overpowered his opponents. Stewart Trent also played excellently, sharing second place on 4. Stewart had had to play extremely well in round 4 as his opponent, Kenji Nicholas, had launched a blistering attack and was threatening two different mates. Stewart had no defensive resources available to counter these threats, so he was forced to launch an attack of his own. He sacrificed both his rooks and then invaded with his queen to force a draw by perpetual check. Stewart's final round was even more impressive as he reached an ending in which he had rook and bishop against rook and three pawns. One by one Stewart rounded these pawns up and then set about the fiendishly difficult task of trying to force a mate. This was one of the most careful and logical pieces of play I have witnessed in a 9-year-old. I am certain that Stewart has never read any books or been coached in this ending: indeed, if he had he may well have agreed a draw straight away as R & B v R is one of the legendarily difficult endings and in many positions it is not possible for the attacking side to make progress at all. Gradually white's king was forced back and Stewart improved his position. Finally white had to sacrifice his rook for the bishop. This only delayed the mate by a move or two, and Stewart had only 3 minutes of his original 105 left. Stewart's comment at the end of the game was one of masterly understatement: "That endgame was quite hard." Other Essex competitors in this section were Edward Morris (2.5) and three others on 2/5, Sean Alley, Antony O'Toole and Heather Walker.
In the under-7, Nathanael Lutton scored 4/6 to take third place. Alex O'Toole scored 5/6 to share first place in the under-8. Abigail Flint scored 4. Finally, there was a section for adults in which your correspondent shared first place, in spite of playing extremely badly in a rook and pawns ending in round 2.
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