One of the perennial problems with trying to report the latest situation in the Essex League is that no one really knows what it is. David Millward, the Essex League Secretary, submitted a set of results for publication on 26th November which reported that ten matches had been started but only seven of these have reached firm conclusions. The remainder are in the balance.
Probably the most impressive upset to date is the victory of Shell over the Basildon side. With their quota of generally undergraded but wildly unpredictable juniors, Basildon have the potential to develop into the strongest team in Essex. However, in this match very few games went with grade. Ezra Lutton will have been pleased with his victory againt John Anderson and no doubt Paul Savin and Josiah Lutton will have been happy enough with theirs against Richard Weeber and Steve Murray, but apart from those, nothing went right for Basildon as lower-graded Shell players inflicted defeat upon supposedly stronger opposition.
Although Ilford have made it to 2 / 2, they are not the team they once were: they, like Basildon, have had a number of unwanted venue changes in recent years and there is nothing quite so disruptive to a club as when its senior members are diverted towards the tedious task of venue-hunting when they would prefer to be able to concentrate on organising chess for their members. Their 6 - 4 win against Upminster looked to be a straightforward affair with the slightly stronger team just pulling their weight, but the match against Wanstead was tight indeed. With seven drawn games, effectively the match hinged upon Bobby Payne recovering from the blunder of a piece in the early stages to defeat Steven Gilmour. John Hodgson chalked up a win against Li Wu, but the only other decisive result was Keith Jones' win over Anthony Kent. Perhaps it is indicative of the fact that there are simply fewer players around playing league chess these days, but ten years ago it would have been almost unthinkable for Ilford to dip below a 130 grade in their first team and teams have been fielded over the years in which every player was 150+. To a degree the same is true for Wanstead: during the past 30 years or more, these two have set the standard for others to try to reach but the gap has narrowed in recent seasons and other teams have a chance.
Southend still have a fair bit of strength in depth, but their results to date do not make them look like a Championship-winning side. 5 - 4 down against Barking, it is up to Neil Sutherland to save the day but to do this he has to beat John White; and their match against Upminster is locked a 4½ each, again with Neil having the adjourned position. In their recent home match against Maldon, I understand that Southend have it all to do in the adjournments as Maldon, lower graded on most boards, are 5 - 3 ahead with excellent drawing chances on at least one of the remaining boards.
Indeed, in their latest match, recently-promoted Maldon, who were allegedly written off by one senior Essex player as "incapable of winning a single match" in the first division, have actually rolled over the mighty Wanstead by the score of 5½ - 4½. To quote the late Harry Woolverton, "If you could tell the result of a chess match just by looking at the two teams, chess would be a dull game indeed." From Wanstead's viewpoint, however, just one draw from three matches is hardly the stuff of Champions, but even at this early stage one is tempted to write off their challenge for this season.
Two sides which have the potential to go all the way are Writtle and Barking. I would expect that the sort of strength in depth which Writtle normally display will be too much for most teams this season, but Barking held them to 5 - 5. David Sands, the only 200+ man to have put in an appearance for any team so far, was held to a draw by Russell White. The stars for Barking were the Hawrami brothers, scoring 1½/2 against higher graded players. Indeed, with Writtle fielding a 148-grade on board 9, they must be in with a great chance. Barking are also a well-organised team and they should be near the top of the table when May comes around. For the record, if Writtle and Barking tie for first place then Writtle will take the title on board count.
Powdermill have won the only match they have played to date, against Maldon, but the score of 6 - 4 was close. Powdermill will have to produce stronger teams if they are to do the kind of damage to the opposition which was the case when they were spear-headed by Gary Kenworthy and Paul Byway.
Indeed, the real heavyweight players seem to have deserted the Essex League. Neil Carr, Karl Bowden, Karl Mah, Jonathan Rogers, Eddie Dearing and Michael Twyble have all moved away from the area or have other commitments. Ilford have three players (Jon Manley, Jeff Goldberg and John Hodgson) who have been above or very close to 200 in recent seasons but all are below that magic mark for the moment. Lawrence Trent has not appeared in the Essex League this season.
|Bd||Maldon||Grd||5½||4½||Wanstead & Woodford||Grd|
|1||Marc Brazier||173||0||1||Li Wu||187|
|2||Peter Walker||152||½||½||Steven Gilmour||162|
|3||Chris Hampton||151||1||0||Terry Whitton||151|
|4||Gerald Bayliss||144||½||½||Keith Jones||149|
|5||Jim Steel||142||1||0||Paul Barclay||147|
|6||Steve Collins||130||½||½||John Philpott||142|
|7||Dave Bird||128||½||½||David Smith||138|
|8||Ian Morgan||127||½||½||Graham Brown||136|
|9||Kevin Cook||123||0||1||John Keehner||130|
|10||Don Imrie||120||1||0||Laurie Burtt||130|
Goldberg,J - Smith,D [D14]
Ilford v Mushrooms, National Club Ilford, 01.12.2002
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Bf4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Nf3 Nf6 8.Bb5 Bb4 9.0-0 0-0 10.Bxc6 bxc6 11.Na4 Rc8 12.Rc1 Nd7 13.Ne5 Nb8 14.a3 Be7 15.Nd3 Nd7 16.Ndc5 Nxc5 17.Nxc5 Bxc5 18.Rxc5 Qb6 19.b4 f6 20.Qb3 Rfe8 21.Qc3 Qa6 22.Rc1 Bd3 23.Ra5 Qc4 24.Qb2 1-0
|1. Mate in 2||2. Mate in 3||3. Mate in 2|
|4. Mate in 3||5. Mate in 2||6. Mate in 3|
|7. Mate in 2||8. White to play and win||9. White to play and win|
|10. What was White's first bishop move?|
Every year, at the Customs Chess Club in Southend, members are treated to a Problem-Solving evening. One of the Club members, Mike McDowell, just happens to have an FM title in problem-solving, is a member of the British Problem-solving team and is also editor of the British Chess Problem Society website. Mike is therefore well placed to provide members with an interesting variety of problems.
This year's collection of problems can also be downloaded here. This is a .FEN file (Forsyth-Edwards notation). FEN is very neat, space-saving means of representing chess diagrams as a text file which can be read by software such as Winboard, X-Board or Chessbase. If you haven't got Winboard or X-board installed on your computer, then don't read any further until you have clicked on the link to Tim Mann's website and downloaded it. It's free, allows you to play against your computer, play through games in portable game notation (.pgn) format and, perhaps most importantly, play on the internet at such sites as FICS or the ICC.
If you haven't attempted a chess problem before, a bit of background reading on the BCPS website may be helpful. Hardened competitive chess players often struggle to begin with because the positions look alien: we are brought up with nice, neat ideas, particularly concerning pawn structure, which lead naturally from the common opening sequences into fairly standard positions in which central pawns have moved, kings are castled, and pieces occupy "normal" squares from which they can attack or defend. Problem positions frequently do not fit into this category and the chess-player's (as opposed to the solver's) accumulated mental library of easily-recognised patterns will not necessarily be a great deal of help. Having said that, all of the positions in this year's set are fairly game-like and I suspect that Mike selected them deliberately because his target audience was a group of players graded between about 100 and 150 most of whom rarely look at chess problems.
Positions 1 to 7 above are Direct Mates, where the correct first move (and there is only one correct first move) will lead to a mate in the number of moves specified against any defence Black may try to employ (it is possible, of course, to turn a mate in 3 into a two-move mate if Black plays irrelevant moves). Positions 8 and 9 are, loosely speaking, Engame Studies (but the lack of possible Black replies to White's threats almost make them direct mates: an Endgame Study normally leads to a position in which White has a clear advantage rather than one in which an imminent mate is inevitable). The final problem is a piece of retro-analysis, i.e. a problem in which we have to find out what has happened using our knowledge of the laws of chess and logic (e.g how were the absent pieces captured?), rather than analysing what is going to happen using our powers of calculation. This really is a terrific problem and may well keep you frustrated for hours if you have never tried any retro-analysis before, but is well worth the effort. An excellent book, "The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes" by Raymond Smullyan (Hutchinson, 1980) represents a superb introduction to retro-analysis (although this position isn't in that book: it was composed by John Beasley, Librarian to the BCPS and co-author of "Endgame Magic", a 1996 publication of endgame studies).
|Just in case there are not enough problems above, here is the latest in our regular weekly series, and this endgame study is an absolute gem.
White to play and win.
Last week's solution: 1.Ke5 Rc5+ 2.Ke4 Rc4+ 3.Ke3 Rc3+ 4.Kf2 Rc2+ 5.Kg3 Rc3+ 6.Kg4 Rc4+ 7.Kg5 Rc5+ 8.Kg6 Rc6+ 9.Kg7 1 - 0