The team of girls which travelled to Northamptonshire to represent Essex in the inter-county under-11 Championships could scarcely have been improved upon. None of the original invitees declined, and it was therefore a confident team which arrived at the Brooke Weston City Technology College in Corby. Twenty teams participated, an increase of three on last year, and at least two of the girls who played in 1997 found themselves on lower boards in 1998. It was not unreasonable to expect, therefore, an improvement on last year's 7th position.
There were no huge surprises in the first round. Wey Valley, who have spent a great deal of time and effort coaching their girls to a high standard, scored 11/12 and occupied first place. Kent were in second, half a point behind, and Nottinghamshire, on 9.5, were 1.5 points ahead of Essex. Fourth place was obviously a good position to hold in such a large field, but it was clear that there was a difficult area in the Essex team. Five out of the top six Essex players won their games, and the ill-luck suffered by Isabel Huang-Doran, who lost on time in a better position, was balanced by Laura Pearson's good fortune. Laura looked to be on the ropes for much of her game and at least twice her opponent selected inferior moves when something decisive was available, but to give Laura her credit she stuck at her task and as soon as an opening appeared she made no mistake. Three losses on 7, 8 and 9 were countered by three wins on 10,11 and 12.
The only difference between rounds 1 and 2 as far as the Essex team was concerned was that this time Isabel forced the checkmate before her flag fell, so the top 6 players had hitherto delivered 11/12. Heather Walker met an old adversary in the form of Sara Higgins (Kent): these two shared the British Girls' Championship at under-8 level some three years ago, but Sara does not seem to have improved as much as some of her colleagues. Once Heather went a piece ahead, all the fight went outof Sara's game. Indeed, the Kent top board had a brute of a draw: in round 1 she played Jessie Gilbert, who is currently BCF under-10 and under-11 Champion; in round 2 she played Heather, who holds the BWCA under-11 Champion; and in the final round she met Charlotte Kendon, N.W. London's top board and a considerable force to be reckoned with. Kent's board 1 did not contribute to the team's total.
In spite of a reserve being drafted in to play board 9, this did not affect our performance there. Again boards 7,8 and 9 dd not score, whereas 10, 11 and 12 delivered three points. Emily Grundy was especially effective on board 12, and pounced upon anything loose. Her first two games were both over in no time at all, and it is always a great relief for a team manager to be able to rely on the low boards to pick up points. Christina Gargan was also playing with considerable effect, and in one game had to withstand a strong attack. Eventually she hid her king on b3 where it was impervious to all her opponent's threats so Christine simply got on with the process of winning the game. It was quite remarkable how Christina's knight, which according to all the text books should have found its way to c3 some time during the first half-dozen moves or so, clung limpet-like to the b1 square, eventually being tempted by a stray black queen who settled fleetingly on d2 on or about move 25.
Wey Valley's lead had been increased slightly, and Essex, still in fourth place, had narrowed the gap as Kent and Nottinghamshire were now only half a point ahead, sharing second on 17.5. Another great team effort was therefore going to be necessary to attempt to overhaul the two in front.
The first two critical results to be declared were again on the low boards. Emily Grundy had wrapped up her game against the Kent player again in decisive style, and Christina Gargan beat her Nottinghamshire opponent. Francesca Berlin reached 3/3 with little effort, and Lauren Simonds, who had lost two close games earlier in the day, scored a point at the expense of Liverpool. Heather Walker found her last round the most testing, but once a piece-winning combination was achieved, it merely remained to clear the threat of a back rank mate and the rest of the game was straightforward.
The last two games of the tournament both involved Essex players. Isabel Huang-Doran was beginning to look nervous as her last 5 minutes approached while her opponent still had 20. Laura Pearson had reached the h2 square with a pawn, but white did not dare to capture it with her king as the open h and g files would have led to a rapid finish. Several times thereafter Laura had an opporunity to play Qg1, and after her queen was captured by a rook, to promote the pawn and deliver mate, but it seemed as though that pawn, being as far away as it was from the remaining action, ceased to come into consideration. Eventually white found some forcing moves and this led to a neat checkmate.
Essex now needed a win from Isabel in order to overhaul the totals of both Kent and Nottinghamshire. Isabel was a queen ahead, but her flag was now beginning to lift and she had not yet removed the threat of a back rank mate. It was with great relief that she pushed her g-pawn forward a square so that it was not now possible for her opponent's rooks to keep out her own rook and queen. The N.W. London player solemnly sacrificed both rooks, thereby using up another couple of seconds of Isabel's time, but after the rooks were gone black still had one pawn move so there was not even a stale mate. Essex finished with another 9 point total to take second place, half a point ahead of Kent and one point ahead of Nottinghamshire.
Perhaps the most noteworthy individual performance of the day was 3/3 by Leah Oaker on board 2. Leah must now be in contention for a place in the England Girls' team against Wales on 4th July. She won three very controlled games, but in each case she opted for a "safe" win when an elegant finish was available.
The following game, played by the American Master who bequeathed the chess world the Marshall Attack, includes possibly the most spectacular queen sacrifice of all time.
Levitsky,S - Marshall,F [C10]
1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Be2 Nf6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Bg5 0-0 9.dxc5 Be6 10.Nd4 Bxc5 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Bg4 Qd6 13.Bh3 Rae8 14.Qd2 Bb4 15.Bxf6 Rxf6 16.Rad1 Qc5 17.Qe2 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Qxc3 19.Rxd5 Nd4 20.Qh5 Ref8 21.Re5 Rh6 22.Qg5 Rxh3 23.Rc5 Qg3 0-1
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