The end of 1998 brings to a close the Centenary Year of the Essex Chess Association and an appropriate time to take stock of the County's activities. Essex, despite numerous changes to the local authority structure during the past century, has been pretty well unchanged in definition as far as chess is concerned. "North of the Thames, East of the Lea, South of the Stour and West of the Sea" sums the County up and only rarely have clubs from outside those boundaries taken part in County events.

The County teams were successful in their events this year, winning two National titles, at under-175 and under-100 levels. Very few Counties can boast a first team to rival Essex for quality and consistency, and in footballing parlance Essex is a genuine Premiership side. It has to be said that in this department Kent have been the strongest side for some years, but Essex did inflict a rare defeat upon the Kent team in last year's Southern Counties Championship only for Kent to gain their revenge in the National Final. It is to the County's great credit that we enter teams in all five divisions of the County Championships - very few counties have the organisation to achieve that.

There is one area in which Essex is the undisputed Champion County and that is Correspondence Chess. Steve Abbott has been the Captain of Essex for more than a decade and hardly a year goes by without one of our three teams winning its division. In 1997, indeed, Essex were Champions in all three divisions and our first team has won the Ward Higgs trophy more times in the past 15 years than all the other counties put together.

One area in which Essex has improved considerably in recent years is that of Junior Chess. For many years, individuals from Essex have achieved great things in chess, but it would be wrong to say that the County had "produced" such players. Eddy Lee, Neil Carr, Andrew Keehner and Karl Mah were, and still are, all exceptionally strong players who achieved National titles and Neil went on to win a World Championship and Karl a European one, but this was less due to a County coaching structure than to the singlemindedness of the players concerned allied to guidance from first rate coaches like the late Roy Wagstaff. None of the first three is much more than 30 years of age and indeed Andrew is considerably younger, but none has a published grade any more. Today there is a close-knit group of strong players aged between 12 and 14 who are capable on its day of beating any other county - indeed Essex took second place last month (to Kent again!) in the National under-14 Championships. It is my belief that Kent's junior policy, which has been in place for more than 10 years, is one of the chief reasons that their adult team is now so strong. Kent boasts no fewer than three home-grown Grandmasters (10% of England's total) in Matthew Sadler, Chris Ward and Neil MacDonald (the first two of whom are former British Champions) and the fact that these three still occasionally play County chess is a demonstration of loyalty that is earned when a County provides so well for its junior players as Kent clearly does.

Paradoxically, one of the worst tragedies to occur in Essex Chess, the death of 19-year-old student David Wood in a road accident nearly 30 years ago, has benefitted many of Essex's junior players as a result of the setting up of the David Wood Memorial Trust. This fund now benefits the junior chess players of Essex by several hundred pounds each year in such areas as coaching, supporting tournaments and assistance on foreign travel.

One record held by an Essex player which is never likely to be beaten is that held by Jonathan Penrose. Dr. Penrose won the British Championship ten times in the 12 years 1958 - 1969, his last attempt at the title being in 1977 when he was famously beaten by the 12 year old Nigel Short. Penrose became one of a very select band of Englishmen to beat the reigning World Champion when he inflicted defeat on Mikhail Tal in the Leipzig Olympiad in 1960. It is a great shame that he is no longer active as a player, as it would indeed be fascinating to see how the oldest English Grandmaster (amazingly, he is still only 65) would have coped against the generation which followed him.

And what of the future? There is no doubt that the Essex Chess Association is well placed to continue to encourage existing players and nurture new ones. I am always heartened by the excellent results achieved by our County officers on minimal budgets; however, I cannot help but ask myself how different these results would be if chess were as well supported financially as other activities. The recent Dunmow Rapidplay tournament was an excellent example of what can be achieved when a generous sponsor sees first hand how hard our officers work. Some 70 players participated in this event and the sponsor, Cambridge Financial Planning Ltd, has agreed to sponsor the event again next year. It is not necessary to find new events to be sponsored - many of the existing tournaments would benefit - and the sum of £250 can make a huge difference to a chess tournament by paying for the venue and printing costs while some of the multinational companies whose headquarters are situated in Essex simply would not miss such a trifling sum. The goodwill engendered can make such sponsorship very cost-effective indeed.

Companies or individuals wishing to support Essex Chess during the next 100 years can contact Peter Walker on peterwalker@ndirect.co.uk or 01702 309693.

Penrose - Mikhail Tal

Leipzig ol, 1960

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.Nge2 0-0 9.0-0 a6 10.a4 Qc7 11.h3 Nbd7 12.f4 Re8 13.Ng3 c4 14.Bc2 Nc5 15.Qf3 Nfd7 16.Be3 b5 17.axb5 Rb8 18.Qf2 axb5 19.e5 dxe5 20.f5 Bb7 21.Rad1 Ba8 22.Nce4 Na4 23.Bxa4 bxa4 24.fxg6 fxg6 25.Qf7+ Kh8 26.Nc5 Qa7 27.Qxd7 Qxd7 28.Nxd7 Rxb2 29.Nb6 Rb3 30.Nxc4 Rd8 31.d6 Rc3 32.Rc1 Rxc1 33.Rxc1 Bd5 34.Nb6 Bb3 35.Ne4 h6 36.d7 Bf8 37.Rc8 Be7 38.Bc5 Bh4 39.g3 1-0