The preliminary rounds of the English Primary Schools Chess Association u11 Championships took place at a number of venues throughout England during March. The Ravenscroft School, Barnet, has been the chosen venue for several events this year, and the Southern zone was contested there.

Roger Sharman, the manager of the Essex team, carefully avoided telling his players that their objective of qualifying for the finals was a formality as Essex will be hosting the National event on 9th May at Woodlands School, Basildon. For teams other than Essex the objective was to finish in the top four places.

The competition was in the form of a 20-board 3-round jamboree. Although there were ten participating teams, it was really quite depressingly predictable which of those teams would qualify. The Kent team always does well at these events, Essex has been one of the dominating sides in the past few seasons, and the two Surrey sides, Wey Valley and Richmond, are also strong contenders. Other areas simply do not have the correct combination of large population and good organisation which are prerequisites for success in a competition of this kind.

The pattern of results being declared is also very predictable. The early games to finish are obviously those in which a decisive error has been played early, and an immediate polarisation takes place: the top teams stay neck and neck with one another as their strings of 1s stretch across the results chart. The weaker teams, likewise, begin with a string of 0s interspersed with the occasional point where they are playing each other. In the stronger teams' rooms, there is an unspoken but keenly felt stigma attached to being the first player back with a loss, and it is generally the case that Essex, Kent, Wey Valley and Richmond will lose points only to each other and these are invariably the longer games. Well-trained chess players do not lose games in 15 minutes when 100 minutes have been allocated. It is absolutely vital to glean every last opportunity from the weaker sides and that of course increases the pressure on those players who have been drawn against the stronger.

At the end of the first round, Richmond were leading with 19/20, an absolutely formidable score. Essex were second with 16 (three losses to Richmond in that round and one to Kent) with Wey Valley and Kent sharing third place on 13.5. Essex players to score the key points against leading opposition in that round were Heather Walker, whose win against Tom McLeod of Wey Valley was the last game of the entire round to finish, Matthew Jellett, who beat a Kent player, and Daniel Skeens, who beat Wey Valley. Tom Swift was almost a casualty to a weak side, but managed to turn round a position in which he was a rook down to a Suffolk player.

Early in the second round there was a serious upset when one of our players, who had established a comfortable advantage during the first 9 moves, carelessly captured a rook and allowed himself to be mated on f2. This was against a Croydon player, and it represented 25% of their team's total to date. In fact, this was the worst round for Essex and a number of the losses incurred seemed to be directly associated with the amount of football being played between the rounds. Nine of our players made it to 2/2, and again key points were easily identifiable. Josiah Lutton beat Wey Valley, Stewart Trent emerged from a losing position against Tom Sharp (Kent) to earn a draw; Daniel Hedges beat a Kent player. Essex scored only 13 points that round at once allowing Wey Valley, who scored 16, to overtake us and Richmond to extend their lead with another 17 points. Indeed, at one point during the second round loud cheering was to be heard coming from the Hertfordshire team room. "One of the Herts players drew", an Essex parent remarked dryly, but Glynne Jones, the Hertfordshire team manager, soon bounded into the Essex room to explain: one of the Hertfordshire players had taken a point off Richmond! The Essex parents joined in the applause.

The Essex team was back on song in the final round, scoring a splendid 17 points and taking second place with some leeway. What puts this score into perspective, however, is that although it was our best round, it was also the best round score from any team apart from Richmond. 17/20 was their worst round so they finished on 53.5/60, some 7.5 points ahead of Essex. Wey Valley were third on 43.5 and Kent a further point behind them. Perhaps the most depressing statistic of all was that in those games where Essex players met Richmond players, the score was 7 - 0 to Richmond. Only half a point separated the two sides in the matches against other counties, so when the final takes place in Basildon on 9th May, the remedy will be entirely in the hands of Essex.

Essex players to score 3 / 3 were Josiah Lutton (board 2), Heather Walker (4), Matthew Jellett (7), Nicholas Jellett (9), Tom Swift (11), Shaun Alley (14), Tye Byram (17) and Daniel Skeens (18). Christopher Burlton also scored 3 in the reserves' tournament.

Final Scores:

1 Richmond 53.5/60

2 Essex 46

3 Wey Valley 43.5

4 Kent 42.5

5 Barnet 37.5

6 N.W. London 29.5

7 Herts 19

8 Suffolk 14.5

9 Croydon 11

10 W. London 3

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The following game decided 1st place in the recent Colchester rapidplay, Open section

White,R - Kenworthy,G [B06]

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.h4 h5 5.Be3 a6 6.Nf3 b5 7.Bd3 Bb7 8.0-0 Nd7 9.a4 b4 10.Ne2 c5 11.Ng5 cxd4 12.Nxd4 Nc5 13.Bc4 Nh6 14.Qf3 0-0 15.Rad1 Rc8 16.Rfe1 e6 17.b3 Qe7 18.Bc1 Ng4 19.Qg3 Nxa4 20.Ndxe6 Rxc4 21.Nxg7 Rc3 22.Qf4 Nc5 23.Nxh5 gxh5 24.Qf5 f6 25.Qg6+ Qg7 26.Qxh5 Ne5 27.Rxd6 fxg5 28.Bxg5 Bxe4 29.f4 Rxc2 30.Re2 Nf3+ 31.gxf3 Rxe2 32.Kf1 Ra2 33.fxe4 Nxe4 34.Rd3 Qa1+ 0-1

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