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ECF U18 Championships Sunday, June 27
Chris Archer-Lock writes:

Click for larger photo
Click for larger photo

Sixty years of hurt came to an end at the ECF Under 18 championship at Wilson's School today, when an outstanding performance saw the county team win for the first time a championship according to the organiser first contested in 1950. This was all the more remarkable considering the competing attractions of England vs Germany in the World Cup, although the way the latter evolved, happy were those who had a lengthy endgame to play instead.

The pre-match analysis had Berkshire down as title contenders, but alongside impressive line-ups from traditional rivals Kent, Sussex, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Surrey. We had been there so many times in the past, only to miss out narrowly in the final shoot out, and knew that we needed to keep in shape throughout. The first round goal was to get an early lead, in case the arrival of the England match on the hospitably arranged big screen left us on the back foot in the second half. Indeed things started well, the initial point coming courtesy of a decisive attack from the team's midfield by Andrew Winchcombe, to steady the nerves. As the barbecue summer waved through the window, Robert Starley unleashed a sizzling attack, Max Papachristos set up a decisive skewer, while James Adair broke sharply from a hedgehog-style structure. A few defensive wobbles ensued, and we paid the penalty in some promising positions, before Ben Vandersluis's tenacious defence and Adrian Archer-Lock's tactical battling saw us reach half time with 8 points from a possible 12, joint leaders with Kent, and with Warwickshire also in hot pursuit on 6.5. This was an encouraging state of play, especially since it could so easily have been an outright lead. We needed to tighten up at the back, keep the attacking play flowing, and convert our opportunities in the second half.

Round two began thirty minutes before the football match, but was to be a commendable marathon rather than a sprint to the television. There were three games in the mini-match against Kent, and we worked out way into a 1.5-0.5 lead with a draw from Monish Sudhakar and another win from Andrew Winchcombe. Half time arrived in the football, and only five Berkshire games had finished, yielding four points, as James Holland's and Ben Vandersluis's opponents each melted before sharp Dragon tactics, and Daniel Noel drew the sting of his Sussex adversary. George Tunstall converted a fierce attack against the King's Indian, and Adrian Archer-Lock achieved the same result in an opposite side castled Slav. Chantelle Foster built up a space advantage and exploited this to gain a decisive exchange. Max Papachristos likewise built on a territorial advantage to net a decisive material advantage. As the holes in the England football team's defence became more gaping in the team room, it became clear that the opposite was happening for Berkshire in the chess hall. As well as taking the lead in the contest, we were performing heroically on the boards where we were under pressure. Robert Starley's long battle against a solid Torre Attack seemed to be failing; yet he saved a challenging endgame to draw. The top two boards faced different pressures against two of the strongest players in the room. On top board, James Adair had taken the battle to his highly regarded Kent counterpart, allowing a couple of pawns to drop in the process; unlike England, he judged admirably when to turn to defence, and expertly saved an opposite coloured bishop ending. Finally, James Foster had absorbed pressure throughout his game against Sussex's highly rated board two. On the black side of a King's Indian Attack, he played classically, and developed queenside pressure to relieve the attack on his kingside. His tenaciousness caused his opponent to run down his clock, and then James embarrassed the opponent's king on the counter attack, forcing the exchange of queens into a tricky but winning endgame, from which he duly scored the full point. So ended a dramatic and decisive second half, which saw the team score eight wins and four draws, and so emerge as champions with a total of 18 points, some four and a half points ahead of runners-up Kent. The day was crowned by the presence of grandmaster Dr John Nunn, whose chess achievements include winning the British Championship and the World Chess Problem Solving Championship, who presented the prizes to the team and kindly joined the team photo. Our thanks to the parents and helpers who supported the event, and congratulations to the team on their fine play and achievement.

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