The Centenary Celebrations of the Essex Chess Association (founded 1898) were given a tremendous boost recently when two Essex sides completed marvellously successful seasons. The under-175 and under-100 graded teams travelled to Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire, for the National Finals of their respective competitions. In recent years, the County Championships Finals have been held at the Clarendon Suites, in Edgbaston, but the switch to the Hunting County proved to be a very popular one amongst the players. Ratcliffe College is set in rolling countryside with fine views, yet is only a few minutes' drive from the M1.

Both Essex sides at the Finals were also there last year, but with differing results. In 1997, the under-175 team saw off the Red Rose, beating Lancashire narrowly when many of their players were seriously delayed by rail disruption. This year, it was the White Rose's turn, and John Philpott's team, which had won all of its matches very convincingly during the Southern Counties stage of the competition, established an advantage on several boards quite early in the proceedings. Roberto Waldteufel drew with black, and Colin Ramage, for whom the toss had provided the white pieces in all eight matches, naturally played the Grob 8 times. The best was saved till last, and Colin's opponent capitulated in only 23 moves. Ivor Smith was another early winner: his opponent had fallen into a well-known trap in the Morra Gambit and had lost material. Tim Hebbes also won relatively easily, as his Benko Gambit yielded an endgame in which his king was able to usher three connected passed pawns to the queening squares while his opponent's rook was otherwise engaged. After 2.5 hours' play several further results saw Essex establish a 5.5 - 1.5 lead as Martin McCall and Ken Clow secured draws and Peter Doye won. Peter's win was especially well deserved. It was he who had had a wasted journey to Leicestershire on FA Cup Final day when Lancashire defaulted their match at inexcusably short notice, and Peter, a lifelong Arsenal supporter, had given up the opportunity of a Wembley ticket in order to play for Essex.

During the next half-hour, the Yorkshire cause rallied somewhat as Ivan Myall and Roy Heppinstall were both beaten and several other positions appeared to be inferior. Neville Twitchell, who had won the exchange earlier, now had to return material. The three further points required by Essex were slow in arriving, but draws by Ian Hunnable, Andrew Brett and Larry Marden pushed Essex steadily toward the target. Neville finally won his game by pushing his b-pawn towards the queening square, and just a draw was needed with three games still in play. It fell to David Millward, who had earlier appeared to be losing, to secure this draw, and Trevor Coote then exchanged his bishop for his opponent's two remaining pawns for another draw. Bill Saunders then complete the proceedings by hunting down his opponent's king with rook and bishops.

The 10 - 6 margin of victory was the seventh time in 8 matches that the Essex score had reached double figures, highlighting the consistently fine performances that the strong and loyal squad of players has achieved.

The culmination of a season's fine play and hard work for the under-100 side brought them face to face with Merseyside. As with the under-175s, this was the second successive season that Essex has reached the Final of this particular event, losing narrowly in 1997 after two key players were called for England Junior duty.

Once again the Essex team was robbed of some of its regulars as Josiah Lutton, Edward Morris and Heather Walker were all playing for England against Wales in Gloucester. However, the England selectors had not applied the three-line whip to this fixture, and Stewart Trent, who was also invited to play for England, displayed great loyalty when he put County ahead of Country.

This year, Merseyside were the opponents and with Essex's grading advantage being almost 20 points per board, it would have been a huge disappointment, as well as something of a shock, if the team were not to have delivered the goods.

For an hour or so there was little to choose between any of the players, but then Katie Bates walked into a pawn fork and lost a bishop for two pawns. Ron Prickett, however, had won a piece and quickly forced the queens off, as well as most of the remaining pieces, and indeed Ron was the first winner for Essex. Graham Walker had launched an attack against f7 which forced some weakening moves from his opponent and Graham won a pawn. After this, an oversight by Black allowed Graham the luxury of a temporary queen sacrifice which won a piece. With Black's king stranded in the centre and White's rooks invading the position, mate soon followed. 2 - 0 to Essex.

The next results were draws as Phil Daley and then John Benton brokered peace deals. Meanwhile, Katie Bates had created three connected passed pawns which white, even with an extra piece, was very hard pressed to stop. A draw was finally agreed here as white, whose rook had given itself up stopping a pawn, forced a perpetual check.

It was hard to see where any win for Merseyside was going to come from, as all boards were clearly better for Essex, with the exception of John Sneesby's, which was level. However, knowing John's liking for king and pawn endings, a win was always a possibility.

Michael Bridger won material and carefully swapped into a won ending, missing a quicker win on the way, and Mark Jones and Matthew Cain both had excellent positions. Julian Winkworth also went into an ending, and although his opponent had two extra pawns for the knight, Julian carefully returned some of the material to reach an easily-won ending of two pawns against one. There is little doubt that Julian is the Find of the Season for Essex Junior Chess.

Stewart Trent had been a piece ahead for quite some time, but inconveniently-placed pawns made the going difficult. Eventually he won well. As Matthew Cain and Mark Jones both completed well-worked games, it was now left to Nigel Nice, on board 1, to complete his game but although Nigel had won the exchange for a pawn or two, his opponent lodged his knight in the heart of white's half of the board and the win was never likely to be easy. In the end the pressure told and Nigel had to give back the exchange but was unable to stop the black pawns marching through. This win must have been small consolation as the Essex team won the match 9.5 - 2.5.

The Captains were awarded the relevant trophies, the team members medals, and John Philpott came across a bottle of champagne which he had carelessly left in his Captain's hold-all

Braithwaite,T - Doye,P

Essex v Yorkshire U175

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 0-0 5.d4 d5 6.c4 dxc4 7.Na3 Be6 8.Ng5 Bd5 9.e4 h6 10.exd5 hxg5 11.d6 c6 12.dxe7 Qxe7 13.Bxg5 c3 14.Re1 Qb4 15.Nc2 Qxb2 16.Rb1 Qxa2 17.Rxb7 Nd5 18.Nb4 Nxb4 19.Rxb4 Qa5 20.Be7 Re8 21.Bd6 Rxe1+ 22.Qxe1 Na6 23.Rc4 Rd8 24.Bf4 Nc7 25.Rc5 Nb5 26.Bxc6 a6 27.Bg5 Bxd4 28.Bxd8 Qxd8 29.Rd5 Qf6 30.Bxb5 axb5 31.Rxb5 c2 32.Rb8+ Kg7 33.Rc8 Qf5 34.Rc4 Qd3 35.Qb4 Qe2 36.Kg2 Qxf2+ 37.Kh3 Qf1+ 38.Kh4 Bf6+ 0-1

Walker, Graham - Ellis, R

Essex v Merseyside U100

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5 3. cxd5 Qxd5 4. Nc3 Qd8 5. Nf3 c6 6. e4 Bg4 7. Be2 Qc7 8. Bg5 Qa5 9. Bd2 Qd8 10. Bf4 Nh5 11. Be3 g6 12. O-O Nf6 13. Qb3 b6 14. Ne5 Be6 15. Bc4 Bxc4 16. Qxc4 e6 17. Nxc6 Qc7 18. d5 Ng4 19. g3 Nxe3 20. fxe3 Bc5 21. Nb5 Qb7 22. Qxc5 bxc5 23. Nd6+ Kd7 24. Nxb7 Nxc6 25. Rxf7+ Ne7 26. d6 Rae8 27. dxe7 Rxe7 28. Rd1+ Ke8 29. Nd6+ Kd7 30. Nf5+ Ke8 31. Rxe7+ 1-0

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