As mentioned in my previous post (and the first in this series) most of the opponents I faced when playing for my school were weak players. As a result, I didn’t learn a great deal from these games, as not only did my opponents often gift me the win, but I was also able to get away with various mistakes, even some crude blunders. Where I really started to learn how to play chess properly was in Junior Tournaments, where the opposition was generally of a much higher standard. I have the master in charge of chess, Mr. Thorne, to thank for giving me and other pupils who attended the Royal Grammar School, Guildford the opportunity to play in proper events, since he not only encouraged us to enter, but also helped organise transport to and from them. In addition, he and others organised an annual junior tournament at the school, which was of equal strength to the Surrey Junior Championship, and equally prestigious.
I played four “seasons” (corresponding to the school year) as a junior. The first season (1988-1989) saw me enter three events: the R.G.S. Junior (U15 section), the Surrey Junior (U16) and the Maidenhead Junior (U18). I enjoy some success in my first event, the R.G.S tournament, with two wins against four losses, but my second, the Surrey Junior, was something of a disaster, with one draw and four losses. Things picked up at Maidenhead, where I scored +1=4-3, including my first really decent individual result, a draw against Peter Langdon, who was one of the best players at the R.G.S. and competing as part of the school’s contingent at the tournament.
My results really started to take off in my second season (1989-1990). I achieved my first 50% score in a tournament at the Berks and Bucks Junior (U18) with +3=1-3. Of historical interest is the fact that I played both Harriet and Adam Hunt in that event (I lost to both). Then I achieved my first really good tournament result at the R.G.S. Junior (U18), where I finished second with +4=1-1, beating both Blair Connell and Matthew Anderton in the process, the latter in a dramatic last round encounter.
My play and result in the London Junior (U16) that followed was a big disappointment. I scored +1=1-3 and vowed never to play there again, in light of the poor playing conditions.
My result in the Surrey Junior (U16) was much better, with +4=1-1 earning me second place. However, I was disappointed as I felt that I had an excellent chance to win the event, given that it was U16 rather than U18 and therefore the most dangerous players from the R.G.S. event were in the higher section. The crucial game was in the second round, where I blundered in a winning position against Fiona Webster.
I wasn’t to be denied in my next event, the Maidenhead Junior (U18), where I tied for first place with Alex Warren and Steve Hampton, with +6=2-1. I had a couple of good individual results when I beat Alex Warren and Steve Langdon, although as can be seen below, the game was decided in both cases by a sudden blow.
Following this success, I decided to enter the British Junior Championship for the first time. That year (1990) it was played at Eastbourne. Unlike the other events mentioned so far, attendance at this event was not organised by my school. Rather my mother rather kindly agreed to accompany me, and we stayed in a bungalow belonging to a family friend for the week.
The event was tough, but after a rocky start, I settled down and managed to achieve 50% with +3=1-3. I didn’t play any especially good games, though the following gritty effort from the last round is quite typical of my play at the time.
My third season (1990-1991) was a frustrating one. In the R.G.S. Junior (U18), I was well placed going into the last round with +3=2. I had drawn with Marcus Osborne and Steve Hampton, and won the following nice game in round two.
However, disaster struck in the last round. Having, after some adventures, achieved a winning position, I blundered terribly on my 41st move, and lost simply instead.
This was one of my most disappointing losses ever. I should have achieved outright second, which would have been my best result up to that point.
There was more disappointment at the Surrey Junior (U18). I started well enough with a win and a draw, but three losses out of the four remaining games gave me +2=1-3, my worst result in a junior event for a while.
In the spring of 1991, I was invited along to a BCF Junior Squad (U18) tournament. This was played down in Wales, and I was again accompanied by my mother. There I scored a solid +2=2-2 but was unsatisfied with the level of my play.
The final junior event I entered that season was the Hampshire Junior (U18). There I posted a creditable +2=2-1, including a draw as Black against James Poulton, a very strong junior at that time.
In my final season as a junior, I stared poorly in the R.G.S. Junior (U18) event, with losses in rounds 1 and 3, and was never in contention. My final score of +4-2 was less disappointing than the fact that I should have been competing for first place that year, given that Andrew Webster was no longer taking part.
The Surrey Junior (U18) took a similar course, as I lost in the first two rounds. I bounced back with three wins, only to lose to Richard Bates in the last round.
I had given the British Junior (U18) a miss the previous year, as I had been attending an Ancient Greek summer course instead. The event was in Plymouth that year, alongside the main championship as usual. The whole family took a holiday in the region that year. The event was tough, but I emerged with a creditable +4=1-5 at the end. The following game was probably my best effort at the championship.
As well as playing in junior events, I also started playing in adult tournaments. These are out of the scope of the current post, but I shall start having a look at them next time.