The forty-second Southend Congress again took place over the Easter weekend and at its usual venue of the Civic Centre. Around 160 competitors played in five events. The Open Championship, played over 7 rounds, attracted about half of these. The remainder participated in seeded 5 round events. There are several elements which make the Southend Congress especially attractive. Firstly, having the luxury of four days means that there are no rapidplay finishes - forty moves in the first two hours and then 20 per hour means that those tricky endings can really be given the thought they deserve - and these luxurious time controls qualify the event for FIDE rating. Therefore, players can achieve a place on the World Ranking list through playing in Southend. Another attractive aspect is that the Open is the only 7 round event, and more than any other allows supposedly weak players to rub shoulders with the Great and Famous and, occasionally, to embarrass them. This year's top seed in the Open was Grandmaster Julian Hodgson, who has participated in the Southend Congress fairly regularly since he was in his early teens. There was no great surprise when he scored 6.5 / 7 to take the £500 first prize outright. His closest rival was IM Andrew Ledger, who scored 6. The Ledger brothers turn up every year at the Southend event, and it was Andrew who took the draw against Julian in round 5. Andrew had previously drawn against IM Colin Crouch, so it was left to Andrew's brother Stephen to attempt to take the point off Julian in the final round to give the Ledger family a share of first prize. Julian was simply too strong.
There were some very noteworthy upsets. In the first round, Ellen Walker (grade 117) turned the grading list on its head as she beat Neville Twitchell (Ilford, grade 160) and Lawrence Trent continued to do what he has been doing since winning the Braintree u160 tournament last September. Lawrence's grade is 120, but it will be about 160 when the new list appears in August. He played some really enterprising chess and took some fine scalps, but perhaps his best game was one that got away. In round 6, he was paired against top Essex player Andrew Lewis. Lawrence was actually a pawn up for much of the game, but Lewis whipped up a central attack and the game reached an ending after a desperate time scramble in which the senior player just completed his 40th move before the flag fell. Lawrence had a knight and five pawns against a rook and three, but although Lawrence's position looked menacing, in fact it was fairly easy at last for his opponent to stop the advanced pawn and create a threat of his own on the other side of the board. Although Lawrence's final forlorn draw offer was nonchalantly dismissed by Andrew, the body language betrayed the enormous relief of one who has narrowly avoided a defeat, news of which would have winged its way rapidly around the British chess playing fraternity. Lawrence had other excellent results. He held Sheila Jackson, former British Women's Champion, to a very worthy draw, and enjoyed a fine win against Alan Barton, who regularly travels from Morecambe to play in Southend. Other scores against strong players ensured that Lawrence is now "part-rated", scoring the required number of points against opponents who are already on the FIDE list. Ellen also completed this achievement, clinching it with a final round draw against Alan Barton.
There were many other prize winners in the Open as well as the twelve players who shared the place money. Each grading group is allocated a £100 prize, and winners of each group included David Millward (Writtle), Lawrence Trent (Ilford), Thomas Doherty (Richmond) and your correspondent. In the five round sections, Brian Kemish (now Swindon but formerly Brentwood) was talked into playing his first game of chess for two years and won £100. Ivor Smith (Writtle) was second in the "A" section, for players graded over 140. Section B (grader 139 - 110) was won by Ron Gooch, whose son's company is the event sponsor. Nigel Nice scored 5/5 in section C (109 - 80) and Gavin Strachan scored 5/5 in section D (players grade below 80). Amongst the players in Section D to score 3.5 was Heather Walker, who won the Derek Fields Memorial Trophy for the highest percentage score of all participating Essex Juniors. The following game, played in Round 6, was voted by Julian Hodgson as the most entertaining game played in the Open section.
Lo,B - Jackson,S [C86] Southend, 12.04.1998 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Qe2 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.Rd1 Bg4 10.d4 Qe8 11.d5 Na5 12.Bc2 c5 13.Nbd2 Nh5 14.h3 Nf4 15.Qf1 Bd7 16.b4 Nb7 17.Qe1 f5 18.Nf1 Nxh3+ 19.gxh3 f4 20.Kh2 Bxh3 21.Kxh3 Qh5+ 22.Kg2 Qg4+ 23.Ng3 fxg3 24.Qe2 gxf2+ 25.Kxf2 Bh4+ 26.Ke3 Qf4+ 27.Kd3 c4# 0-1