The recent England trial at under-11 level turned into a disappointment for Essex players. Although Essex, with five representatives at the trial, contributed more than any other county (and that may well have been more still had three possibles not been on a week-long school journey to the Isle of Wight) only one Essex player, Bobby Payne, will gain full England honours this year. Bobby, from Park Hill School, was already a member of the England squad in 1997, having made the grade as a year 5. He has been well rewarded for his hard work, as he has been appointed Vice-Captain of the team for 1998.

This is a richly-deserved appointment. Some talented juniors react to their success by blowing their own trumpets at every opportunity, but not Bobby. Quiet and unassuming but also very popular, he is an excellent choice. He possesses a rare talent, which became obvious to those of us who were witness to his first-ever tournament at the age of 7: Bobby won his first three rounds, beating two much more experienced county players in the process. More recently, he visited Prague with a party of English juniors, playing in the Czech Open Junior Championships. Each member of the party was set a personal target. Bobby's was 5.5/9, which he achieved, playing one gem of a game which caught the eye of Dave Rumens, the England Coach.

Last weekend, Bobby led the Essex under-11 team in its bid win the English Primary Schools' Chess Association Inter-Association Championship. This was contested by 16 teams of 20 players who had all qualified from regional heats in March. Woodlands School, Basildon, was the venue for this and Arnold Lutton therefore found himself with a second consecutive weekend of mammoth organisational tasks.

The first round was a successful one for Essex as our players scored a splendid 16.5 / 20. Richmond were leaders, however, with 17 points. Wey Valley had 15 and Kent were on 14. Once again, the Big Four dominated the field, although Norfolk, on 13, were not so far behind. There were key Essex wins in this round as Edward Morris completely overpowered his Richmond opponent: this was a very welcome result as Richmond had beaten Essex 7 - 0 in the individual encounters in the qualifier. Alan Hawrami, continuing steady improvement, dealt with a member of the Kent team.

It appears that certain teams adopt certain scoring patterns during tournaments such as this. Kent are often slow starters, but on a number of occasions in recent years have demonstrated excellent sprint finishes which have lifted trophies for them from apparently hopeless situations. Richmond, one of the most successful teams over the years, nearly always get off to a massive flying start and decline somewhat throught the day. Whether or not they win the event is dependent on how successful they are at defending their first round lead. Essex have performed similarly to Richmond, but it would appear that our worst round in these events is invariably round 2. Our players rally for the last round, but this is not normally enough to achieve better than 3rd. Wey Valley are usually the worst finishers of all: there was an occasion a couple of years ago in which their team slumped from first place to fifth during the course of the final round, an absolute nightmare for their guide and mentor, IM Mike Basman. In recent seasons, no other team has been strong enough to break into the top four.

Round 2 did indeed see a decline in fortunes for Essex. It also saw a decline in the standard of chess throughout the tournament. It is not easy to keep young children at their boards for long periods, and Round 1 had been remarkable because so few games had finished within the first 45 minutes. In round 2, team talks were forgotten and all sorts of rubbish rattled out as supposed county players reverted to type. One Essex player had reached his 35th move after less than 10 minutes' play and was a rook down against a member of a weak team. He drew, but this is a perfect example of half a point thrown away.

There were some very good performances. Bobby Payne turned round an unpromising position and steamed down the centre with a pair of passed pawns. Heather Walker used uncomplicated methods against a Cambridgeshire player who was wrapped up in a very elaborate opening system which simply collapsed. Edward Morris won quickly and well, Jason Klimach notched up his second point and Nicholas Jellett played a one-sided game. Andrew Murphy scored Essex's second point against a Richmond player and Alan Hawrami also won in style. Other players to reach 2/2 were Tom Swift, Leah Oaker and Sam Waterson.

Essex scored 13 points here, but this was not enough to keep pace with the leaders. It is really necessary to average 16 points per round to win, and Richmond's 15.5 left them ahead of Kent, who were now breathing down the Surrey team's necks after a superb 17 point round.

If Essex were to take the title now, we would need 18.5 / 20 to put us on 48 points, the highest round score of the tournament by any team. Of course, it proved to be too much of a task, but some players showed what was possible with dedication and hard work. Edward Morris won again to finish on 3/3. Heather Walker had started off well against Tom MacLeod (Wey Valley), whom she has played many times without defeat at both County and School level. She gained a great deal of space on the queen-side, but suddenly found herself a pawn down as she became over-extended. This soon became two pawns down and she was staring defeat on the face.

Nicholas Jellett reached 3/3 as did Alan Hawrami with a fine display. Bobby Payne was involved in a long and difficult game against Timothy Woodward (Richmond) which finally went against him. Meanwhile, Heather Walker offered a queen exchange which would have wrecked black's pawns and would have enable her to win at least one back. Her opponent declined this, but instead got a knight trapped which Heather gratefully accepted. Now she was in the driving seat, and her hapless opponent must have wondered what he had done to deserve such savage treatment at the hands of this girl.

The last game to finish was Leah Oaker's patient end-game win to give her 3/3 and the team a total of 44 points. Kent were winners on 48, scoring another 17, but Richmond had declined to 46, scoring only 13.5 in the last round. Wey Valley were fourth on 41.

Essex players to score 3/3 were (in board order):

Heather Walker (4), Edward Morris (6), Nicholas Jellett (8), Andrew Murphy (11), Alan Hawrami (12), Leah Oaker (19), Sam Waterson (20).