From Mark Murrell
Last season Kent teams in the closing stages of the SCCU County Championships were responsible for ending Essex ambitions and how close they came on the final day of the present Essex U1850 and U1450 campaigns. In the U1450 Kent raced into a 3-0 lead whilst in the U1850 three early draws against lower-rated opponents signalled a tough afternoon was in store. So it proved.
Essex, looking for match wins to maximise the pressure on the rest of the division, achieved neither but did just well enough to secure qualification for the national stages as runners up in both sections, joining the Essex U2050 and U1650 SCCU champions.
SCCU U1450: Kent 6½-5½ Essex
At St Mary Cray. In the U1450s being three down with three to play, Essex needed to narrow the gap to maintain their tie-break advantage over Kent. Elsewhere a resurgent Middlesex came within a whisker of defeating Surrey away, which would have handed the championship to Essex in a four-way tie. Winning the final game to tie the match was enough for Surrey to win the division outright. Two wins and a forced draw in the last three Essex games to finish secured second place with one game point to spare on tie-break from Kent.
SCCU U1850: Kent 8-8 Essex
At St Mary Cray. In the U1850s Kent was first to take the lead after the early run of draws but was followed by four Essex wins to open up a three point lead. Kent fought back to narrow the gap to one before Essex pulled away once again to reach the cusp of victory. Three up with four to play but Essex were struggling in three and behind the clock in the fourth. One by one Kent converted the victories to tie the match leaving Stephen Berkley, still in a middle game, to play out on increments. As his opponent’s time advantage dwindled the draw offer was made. ‘What do I do skip?’ was correctly met with ‘match all square and one to play’. Play on was the player’s call only to offer the draw back two moves later and accepted straight away (albeit with a minute advantage on the clock) to tie the match.
Alexandr’s game is given in the U1850 Kent Away page.
Essex went into this match needing to do better than Surrey at home to leaders Middlesex, so Surrey starting almost two hours later simply had to draw or win to relegate Essex to third. As it turned out the afternoon’s effort became academic as Middlesex, reeling from their home defeat to Essex, savaged Surrey to win the Championship in style, notching up their fifth win of the season and a 10 point winning margin. Essex join them in the nationals, a point clear of Surrey, but will need to match their away performance at Middlesex to progress in the national knockout competition in the late spring/early summer.