Essex Junior Championships

Li Wu in a class of his own

The Essex Junior Championships were dominated by Li Wu, formerly a Warwickshire player, who scored 6/6 in the under 18 section of the event, thereby taking the Fazekas Cup at the first attempt. Li currently plays top board for Wanstead & Woodford Club and represents Essex in the Open County Championships.

Indeed, this was the poorest-attended of Essex Junior Championships for some years as only 10 players took part in the under 18 section, and all of those were under 14. However, that takes nothing away from Li's achievement. Amongst under 18s in Essex, only Lawrence Trent is higher graded and he has not taken part since 1999, when he won the event. Since then Julian Winkworth & Bobby Payne (2000), Graham Walker (2001) and Ezra Lutton (2002) have all proved worthy winners of the Fazekas Trophy. All were still young enough to participate this year. Had they done so, each would have been underdog to Li Wu, even though he is younger than all of them.

In grading terms, Li, at 187, outgraded his nearest rival, David Smith, by a mere 98 points. However, it was not David who gave Li his toughest game. That honour went to Andrew Lillie, whose grade of 70 does not do his true ability justice. Andrew is probably performing nearly 50 points higher than that at present. As the game progressed, material remained stubbornly level, in which Andrew, playing white, had queen, rook and knight against queen, rook and bishop, the pawns being equal and balanced. However, Li kept up the pressure and eventually this induced a mistake.

Ethan Finney played some enterprising chess, and against David withstood a strong attack. David won the exchange, and created three passed pawns, all on the a & b files. However, Ethan had a wonderful bishop pair and a passed pawn on the h-file, which was much further advanced than were David's. This eventually won the game for Black.

Apart from his loss to Li, Ethan's only other loss was to Andrew. Meanwhile, David, who seemed to be involved in many of the longest games, reached an ending against Andrew in which each side had a dark squared bishop and five pawns. David had less than two minutes for all his remaining moves and called in the arbiter as he felt that his opponent would not be able to win by normal means. Sadly, this was not tested as, almost immediately after his claim, David placed his bishop where it could be captured.

Meanwhile, there was one player who was quietly accumulating points as the competition progressed. Kimberly Hirst-Jones, way down in terms of grade, played a good deal of sensible chess. Her first game, against David, lasted for more than 2½ hours and, although David won, it took a good deal out of him. Then she won two on the trot, against Adam Sears and Lee Miles before reaching a fascinating endgame against Andrew. She had an extra pawn or two with the rooks still on, but made the all-too-common mistake amongst relatively inexperienced players that she pushed her pawn just a bit too far without sufficient support. Although it managed to reach b2, it was never going to get as far as b1 because White's rook was in the way. It was not long before this overambitious footsoldier was attacked by the King as well, and its extermination was guaranteed. This game then developed into an interesting King & Pawns ending with the position as follows:-

8/5pp1/8/8/2k5/2p5/2K2PPP/8 8/5pp1/8/4k1PP/8/2p5/2K2P2/8

There is an awful lot of play in this position, based upon the possible pawn break for White involving h4-h5-g4-g5 (in whatever order Black's replies deem appropriate) intending to make a passed pawn. f6 is a critical move for Black, holding up the g-pawn and thereby preventing the final h6 break. f4 may therefore become necessary, but this makes the White pawns vulnerable to a flank attack by the Black king. With best play the game should probably be drawn, and that was indeed the result, but play continued 1.h4 Kd4 2 g4 Kc4 3.h5 Kd4 4.g5 Ke5 reaching the second position shown above. Now White could have won with 5.f4+! Kf5 6.Kxc3 as 6...f6 fails to 7 g6!! and Black cannot touch the f-pawn. The key difference is that if Black's pawn were already on f6, the simplifying capture f6xg5 would be possible. Sadly, Andrew missed this possibility and went straight into 5 h6? and Black's king is inside the queening square. The game was drawn as both sides were left with easily guarded f-pawns.

Li Wu's first place was never in doubt, right from his first moves, but the battle for the next few places was always tight. Eventually, Ethan Finney and Richard Maynes shared 2nd place on 4 points and, but for both sides' somewhat fortuitous rearguard actions at different stages of the endgame, would have been joined by either Kimberly Hirst-Jones or Andrew Lillie. It had been announced at the start of the competition that, since all competitors were eligible for the under 14 title, the Fazekas Cup for the Under 18 Champion would be awarded to the winner, the Writtle Rosebowl for the under 16 Champion would be awarded to the runner-up and that the Alan Gilder Memorial Trophy for the under 14 Champion would go to the third placed player and that tie-breaks would be used where appropriate. Ethan was therefore placed 2nd and Richard 3rd because of the result of their individual game.

A shortage of players was not a problem in the under 11 and under 9 section of the competition as no fewer than 45 sat down to contest the first round. There were three noteable absentees; George O'Toole was globe-trotting again, this time as a competitor in the Capelle la Grande Open near Dunquerque. Subin Sen had other priorities and Simon Payne likewise was without suitable transport. Thus it was that Rhys Lloyd, Temple Sutton School's Board 2, playing on his home turf, was favourite. However, his 8 / 8 was not without an occasional scare. William Cheung (Maldon) reached a better position but then missed a critical tactic which drew his rook from the back rank and allowed Rhys to queen a pawn.

There is a disappointing element in an event like this. When so many players know each other well, there is a tendency for them to play much too quickly and not take seriously an opponent they are accustomed to playing during the lunch break. So it was, when Lloyd Carter, on 100% after an excellent effort on the first day, lost to Rhys Lloyd in under 10 minutes. In the next round, Lloyd turned the tables as Jack Sirkett, having scored 3½/4 on day one with some thoughtful chess, walked straight into a back rank mate trap that Lloyd had set. A few seconds taken just to look around the board would have sorted that out and Jack would have had an excellent position.

There were some very good games, and David Pedro (Loughton) featured in a couple of these. He should have been beaten by Peter Fernandes (Saffron Walden) from the following position:-

6k1/5ppp/3N4/2r5/8/7P/5PP1/6K1 8/5pp1/8/4k1PP/8/2p5/2K2P2/8

The second diagram illustrates what happens after 1...f5 2.Kf1 Kf8 3.Ke2 Ke7 4.Nb7 Rd5. This is a most marvellous illustration of why a rook is normally a more valuable piece than a knight. The knight cannot move without capture, White's king is unable to dislodge Black's rook, and all that is needed is a king walk along the 7th rank and it's all over. Sadly Peter missed the opportunity, allowed White's knight to devour all the pawns and in the end was perhaps a trifle fortunate to get a draw: quite often, at this level, a knight is actually more valuable than the rook because it can unleash a dreaded fork!

The final scores, in which Rhys Lloyd completed the tournament on 100%, 2 points ahead of his nearest rival, was perhaps predictable, but one or two of his wins were a little shaky. Essex can look forward to another good season in the forthcoming English Primary Schools' Championships, and one piece of news here has come as something of a shock: Suffolk, for so long the marvellous chess-playing County whose junior policy produced Nick Pert, the World under 18 Champion, as well as Edmund Player, British under 12 Champion (1994) and which is the only non-home-counties association to win the National under 9 Championships, is this season unable to raise teams for either the under 11 or the under 9 Championships. Alex and Tom Huband, currently living in Suffolk, have therefore declared themselves available for the Essex teams (Essex is their birth county and they lived until a couple of years ago in Maldon). With the SCCU u18 Championship under our belts and the possibility of more to to come, this should be another good season for Essex juniors.

The crosstables will appear here when completed.

Click on the images below for a larger version.

Rhys Lloyd v Lloyd Carter Top four boards, rd 5 Richard Maynes v Ethan Finney Andrew Lillie v Kimberly Hirst-Jones Lee Miles observes Adam Sears v Chris Sheehan
Lloyd v Carter Top 4 boards, rd 5 Maynes v Finney Lillie v Hirst-Jones Sears v Sheehan
In the foreground, Peter Fernandes v Hamish Hore Eight more players, most prominent being Elliot Holland v Laura Malbon The en passant capture often present problems Another troupe of battlers Jonathan Fallman v Peter Maynes
P. Fernandes v Hore Holland v Malbon & others En passant causes problems More players Fallman v P. Maynes
Top 4 boards, final round Andrew Fernandes, Essex u9 Champion Roland Johnson, runner-up, u11 Rhys Lloyd, Essex u11 Champion When Harry met Hagrid
Top 4 boards, rd 8 Andrew Fernandes, u9 Champion. Roland Johnson, runner-up Rhys Lloyd, u11 Champion When Harry met Hagrid
Kimberly Hirst-Jones won the grading prize Ethan finney, Essex u16 Champion Li Wu, Essex u18 Champion
Kimberly Hirst-Jones Ethan Finney, u16 Champion. Li Wu, Essex u18 Champion

A week late, but that's better than never, we have the critical game between Ezra Lutton and the Richmond top board from the SCCU u18 Championships. Given that Essex won the event ahead of Richmond by just half a point, it is worth bearing in mind that the Richmond board 2, Michael Healy, lost his first game against Josiah Lutton but was then paired against the Hertfordshire top board Lorin D'Costa. Lorin is the leading candidate for the title of the strongest under-18 in the Country, Michael was in a good position and a crowd was gathering, hoping that Richmond could pip Essex against the odds. Whether it was the pressure of the crowd, the clock or the situation which got to Michael one will never know, but he "hung" a rook, letting Lorin back into the game and virtually giving the title to Essex. I understand that the Richmond management were not particularly pleased with the outcome. One's heart bleeds...

Ezra Lutton v Thirumurgan Thiruchelvam
1NBk4/p2p4/8/3K4/8/8/8/8 3b3k/4n3/8/8/7B/8/8/5KR1
White to play and win. Again, no pawns, but do we have a skewer...? Last week's solution (T. B. Giorgiev, 4th Place, USSR Championships 1929): 1 Bf6+ Kh7 2 Rg7+ Kh6 3 Rf7 Kg6 4 Rf8 Nc6! 5 Bxd8 Kg7 6 Re8 Kg7 7 Rh8 Kg7 it looks as though White must allow a repetition or lose the bishop...but 8 Bf6!! Kxf6 9 Rh6! and wins. 3...Nc6 4 Bxd8 Nxd8 5 Rd7 Ne6 6 Rd6 also wins for White

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