The 1997-98 UK Chess Challenge reached its penultimate stage recently at Nottingham University where the "Gigafinal" was held. This particular competition, which is the brain-child of Mike Basman, the Surrey-based International Master, is so rapidly increasing in popularity that it is in danger of becoming a monster. Some 34,000 competitors from well over 1,000 schools took part in Stage 1. This was a 7-round Swiss tournament organised in each school in which there were no age-related barriers. Stage 2 was held in early May when the best competitors from each school were invited to participate in their regional "Megafinal". This second stage was organised into age-groups and segregated by sex, so each Megafinal contained 16 sections. From the Megafinals, all players scoring 4.5 / 6 or better, or the top 15% where there were insufficient players reaching this score, were invited to the "Gigafinal". This event, then, has now assumed the status of a National Rapidplay Junior Championship in all but name.

There were many Essex schools and chess clubs participating in the event, and similarly plenty of the strongest juniors in Essex Chess made the journey to Nottingham. Some had booked a place in one of the Simultaneous Displays against the varied IMs and Michael Bridger performed especially well to earn a draw against Harriet Hunt. This was adjudicated by Mike Basman himself after about 5 hours' play, and in the final position Michael's knight was not so effective as Harriet's bishop. It was certainly the case that the practical chances lay with Harriet, and perhaps Michael was a little fortunate to get the draw. However, there is no doubt that 5 hours' hard work deserves some results.

When the Sunday event commenced, at least 300 competitors sat down to play. Last year, Bobby Payne (Ilford) was one of the section winners as an under-10, and he was indeed leading the field for a considerable length of time in this year's under-11 Championship. One of the critical games was against Thomas Rendle, whom Bobby had beaten in a recent encounter, but this time, although Bobby launched a strong central attack after the exchange of queens, Thomas was able to find a saving resource which kept Bobby's pawns at bay and the game was drawn. Because of the large number of competitors in the section, this draw made it very hard for either Bobby or Thomas to win the event, and although both of them won all their remaining games, the eventual tournament winner, on a tie-break, was Christopher Dorrington.

There was some comment about the standard of controlling in the tournament. Many of the controllers were not familiar with the players, and there were some early pairings which should have been left until later. Edward Morris (Southend) faced Jonathan Zoubaida (Richmond) in Round 1, and although Jonathan has a reputation as a slightly tougher player than Edward, the fact that this game was drawn means that the Surrey player has still to gain his revenge for the defeat he suffered in the London under-10 Championships last December. It was also reported that in at least one section players on different scores were unnecessarily paired against one another. Some parents were particularly concerned when one of the section winners, whose final score was 6/6, had not been paired against the toughest available opposition. Since this tournament has large cash prizes for section winners, and relatively small prizes for runners-up, it is vitally important that pairings are seen to be correct.

Two players with near misses were the Lutton brothers, from Basildon. Josiah has yet to shrug off the unforunate habit of relaxing against lesser opposition and an early draw left him with a mountain to climb. Although he did score 5/6, this left him only in 3rd place. His brother Ezra had calculated that a draw in the last round against Michael Zoubaida would assure him of first place if the right result occurred on board 2, and second place in any case. Sadly for Ezra, the board 2 game did not go as he would have wished and he had to settle for second. Michael Bridger scored an excellent unbeaten 4.5 in this section, a particularly impresssive rapidplay score for a player who likes to take his time.

The under-15 section, which incorporated the under-14s and under-13s, was perhaps the most interesting of all. Two strong Essex competitors played in this. John Sneesby, who was the under-15 Champion in the Basildon megafinal, unaccountably lost his first round, but Graham Walker, who had lost to John in Basildon, reached 2/2 before he was obliged to play Leigh Debbage (Swindon), a former British Junior Champion two years Graham's senior. After 5 rounds, Graham had reached 4 points, losing to Leigh, and John was now on 3.5. His draw, which was very well earned, was against Richard Jones, a Welsh player who at the start of that game was on 100%. The final round saw Richard paired against Matthew Broomfield (London) who had hitherto won all his games. On board 2 Leigh Debbage, who had earlier lost to Matthew, was playing Lorin d'Costa, who had also dropped a point. Graham was on board 3 playing a close friend in the form of Chris Rawlinson (Surrey). John was on board 4.

With exactly the right set of results on the top three boards, Graham could have taken second place. As it happened, all the results were other than those which Graham wanted, but it certainly led to interesting chess. Richard Jones needed to play for a win against Matthew, and this he did with great success. Matthew must have felt very sick at the end ot the game, as first prize of £70 slipped through his fingers, as well as a place in the last stage of the competition, the "Terafinal", where the 16 competitors actually receive appearance money. Lorin d'Costa beat Leigh Debbage, and Graham's game against Chris went to the wire. Chris won a pawn, but Graham overlooked the chance to win a piece. After exchanges, Chris had three pawns, two of them doubled, against Graham's one, but Chris's flag was hanging. Not surprisingly, Chris did not find the best continuation and Graham managed to win two of White's pawns for his last one. Now White had just an h-pawn and since Graham's king occupied h8, it could never become a queen so the players shook hands on the draw, giving them a share of fourth place.

All players scoring 4.5 points or better were told in advance that they would win a book prize, but by the time the older age groups' prizes were distributed, there were no books left.

This tournament will continue to be very popular, and deservedly so. However, the Final is such a large event that it seems to require more section organisers, and particularly experienced section organisers, for the event to run smoothly. Hopefully these problems will be addressed next year.

Payne,R - Rendle,T

London v Rest of England, June 1998

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 h6 4.Bh4 Be7 5.Nbd2 0-0 6.e3 b6 7.Bd3 c5 8.c3 Ba6 9.Qe2 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nc6 11.0-0 d5 12.Ne5 Nxe5 13.dxe5 Nd7 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.f4 Rad8 16.Qe2 Nb8 17.Rf3 Nc6 18.Rg3 Kh7 19.Qg4 Rg8 20.Nf3 d4 21.Ng5+ Kh8 22.Qh5 Rdf8 23.Ne4 dxe3 24.Nf6 Rd8 25.Nxg8 Rxg8 26.Rd1 c4 27.Rxe3 Qc5 28.Qf3 Ne7 29.Kf1 Nd5 30.Re2 Rf8 31.f5 g6 32.f6 Rd8 33.Rde1 Kh7 34.Re4 Nc7 35.Rd1 Nd5 36.Rdd4 b5 37.Qh3 Qf8 38.Rh4 Rb8 39.Rxh6+! Qxh6 40.Rh4! Ne3+ 41.Ke2 Nf5 42.Rxh6+ Nxh6 43.g4 g5 44.Qh5 Rg8 45.h4 gxh4 46.g5 Rg6 47.gxh6 h3 48.Qxh3 Rxh6 49.Qg4 Rg6 50.Qh4+ Rh6 51.Qe4+ Rg6 52.Qb7 Kg8 53.Qxb5 Rg2+ 54.Kf3 Rg5 55.Qe8+ 1-0

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