ECF Online Counties Championship - Group Stage Summary

ECF Online Counties Championship - Group Stage Summary


The Group Stage of the ECF's new venture is complete and it can be safe to say Mx had the best of it. Due to COVID-19 the National Stage was suspended so the ECF devised an online version by way of compensation. The Competition is to be run in sections Open and u1825 with the top two in each proceeding to a KO phase. If there were sufficient entrants each section would be split into divisions which would thereby create a number of KO sections - 4 for the Open: Open, Major Open, Challengers and Minor; 2 for the u1825: u1825 Championship and u1825 Challengers - as the top four finishers could progress to a National Stage thereby increasing the number of counties/individuals continue to play in the competition. 

Mx were supportive of the new venture as from the off they had decided to participate. Many counties were able to field teams in Open and u1825 but Mx were the only county who could enter 2 teams in the Open. The numbers of Mx players wanting to participate coupled with an inability of other counties to field large teams meant that it was only right that Mx had two teams in Open. Had sufficient interest been expressed by those u150 Mx would have entered two teams in the u1825 also! All told 21 counties enter teams in the Open with 9 able to enter a team in u1825 also. When all things considered Mx are the sole county to have 3 teams participating in the online counties championships with two in the top section! Mx may not exist in a political sense but they certainly do in a sporting one chess included!

For full details of the competition see here however below is a quick summary of how each Mx team performed in the group stage.

MxA - Open Division 1 Group A

Mx's Open team dropped out from OTB play in 1995 and maintained this absence for the best part of a decade excepting 1999-2001 when they made an unsuccessful return. A more concerted effort to return to top flight chess was made in 2007 and ever since the past decade has seen Mx consistently reach the last four of the National Stages of the Counties Championship which suggests that the County are back on track. If converting the county's illustrious record in OTB competition it would be unsurprising if MxA were not one of the top seeds in the Open competition, certainly a final four finish would be expected.

County Team Average (12) Opponent Team Average (12) Performance Final Position
Middlesex 195 177 4/5 (+4 -1) 1st=
Lincolnshire 193 180  4/5 1st=
Devon 185 180 3.5/5 3rd
Yorkshire 181 181 2/5 4th
Cheshire & NW 169 182 1.5/5 5th
Leicestershire 155 180 0/5 6th

MxA were the strongest county in their group having consistently fielded teams 190+ for each match in this stage the only one to do so thus showing that are a genuine Open county no matter what format of chess is being played. It must be noted that after the aborted first round Leicestershire and Yorkshire haemorrhaged players at an alarming rate to the extent that both were the only counties to declare defaults so probably were weaker than expected overall. Devon and Lincolnshire conversely gained strength as the competition developed and it was this that ultimately proved the difference when MxA played Lincolnshire at the mid-point of the competition and lost. The defeat to Lincolnshire meant although Mx finished joint first they are pipped to top seeding for the National stage as a result. Notwithstanding the team as expected progress to the SF of the Open competition where they now face runaway leaders of Open Division 1 Group B Northumberland. In hindsight this is probably a good thing as it means that Mx will not enter into a phase of complacency which could happen to Lincolnshire who must be seen as firm favourites to defeat Norfolk in the other SF. Lincolnshire should beware as Norfolk punched above their weight when defeating Yorkshire in the Preparatory Round. However, matches are not played on paper and once played many would expect to see a rematch between Mx and Lincolnshire. The romantics would love to see Norfolk vs. Northumberland as neither are renowned competitors in the Open; an alternative would be Lincolnshire vs. Northumberland although it must be noted that Lincolnshire is a major player in the Minor having reached the last four Minor finals (2016-19 +2 -2) so like Mx they have form in the OTB version of the county championship.

MxB - Open Division 2 Group A

MxB were also in Open section but were separated from MxA by being placed in Division 2. This Division is effectively a combination of the Minor and u180 sections of the National Stage or put another way weak counties 1st teams and strong counties 2nd teams. Now it would be expected that a 2nd team facing 1st teams would be outclassed but it turns out that MxB were an unstoppable force. Rather than being an underdog they were a titan as they won the group with a match to spare.

County Team Average (12) Opponent Team Average (12) Performance Final Position
Middlesex 164 148 5/5 (+5) 1st
Oxfordshire 156 142 3/5 2nd
Gloucestershire 139 147 2.5/5 3rd
Berkshire 147 146 2/5 4th
Warwickshire 134 145 1.5/5 5th
Derbyshire 127 147 1/5 6th

Based on both MxB's average and performance it would seem that they would have given some of the teams in Open Division run a fair run for their money especially those in Open Division 1B as few were able to exceed an average of 180 unlike Division 1A! They now proceed to face Cumbria/Shropshire in the Challengers SF. If MxB were removed from the group it would be argued that the competition would significantly closer. Unfortunately for those involved Mx did participate and were by far and away the 'alpha' county! On paper it would seem that MxB would be considered as favourites not only to defeat Cumbria/Shropshire but to also go on to defeat the winners of the Cumbria/Shropshire vs. Oxfordshire match but as they say matches are won with actual play not paper and many a strange thing could happen.

Mxu1825 - Group B

Although billed as u150 the u1825 Division effectively combined the u160, u140, u120 and u100 OTB competitions. This was short-sighted as it proved difficult to cater for those graded u120 as few teams were capable of fielding 12+ boards. Consequently, with the possibility that the u100's at minimum could be excluded the Controller has devised the National 100 in order to cater for these players - see here for more details. Overlooking the short-sightedness of the decision-makers Mx enter a team which is placed in the smaller of the 2 groups, of course with 9 entrants it was not possible to have even divisions. Like MxB the u1825 won the group with a match to spare

County Team Average (12) Opponent Team Average (12) Performance Final Position
Essex 122 116 2/3 2nd
Oxfordshire 120 117 1/3 3rd
Middlesex 118 112 3/3 (+3) 1st
Surrey 101 121 0/3 4th

When looking at the averages of the teams fielded by each county in this group it would seem that Mxu1825 have overperformed as they rank third in team averages. This, however, would be unfair to both the squad players and the management of them. Mx have not been required as yet to field their strongest 12 as Essex with an average of 119 were the strongest team faced and even this is just above the Mx average, There will come a time when a full strength Mx team is to be fielded and woe betide the team that has to face them! A supposedly second string team blows Oxfordshire away 11-1 and then Surrey 10.5-1.5 so are the only team not to concede double digit game points this includes an adjustment for all matches played over 12 boards. Thus the following question is asked, 'Would the full strength team have achieved whitewashes?' Unknown and unknowable but the fact remains Mx will be a force to contend with in the u1825 Championship with or without their full strength team.

In short Mx finish top in all their divisions, albeit a technical second for MxA, so all qualify for the elite competition for their sections - Mx county match history would suggest nothing less! Totally awesome! These performances bode well now that the National Stage begins in earnest. Prizes though are not won for winning a group but winning the competition as a whole and all three Mx teams must be confident of winning their respective competitions. Time will tell whether this is so as many a tough challenge awaits especially MxA and Mxu1825 as Northumberland and Lincolnshire wait in the wings and both will not be a walk in the park. However, to be fair to Mxu1825 as stated they have not really had to get their full strength team out as yet, we must wonder what they will average if they do and whether in fact it should be Lincolnshire who think they have a tougher task! Regarding MxA they likewise must feel bullish as when Mx faced Northumberland in the preparatory matches a much weakened Mx held an under par Northumberland to a draw. Although both teams will be stronger going into the SF Mx must have a psychological edge as they knew they held Northumberland comfortably and will be significantly stronger should there be resting on the outcome of the match. If fact the Northumberland Captain suggests Mx have an advantage as he say, "I check your team every week and know if your best 12 are available we are not starting favourites 🙂 And if your guys walk through our games of the last fortnight they'll know so too 😂 But from where we started I'll settle for the chance." With James Moreby and Yichen Han Northumberland's top two is their captain engaing in mind games? Or is he genuinely afeard for his team?   We wait with baited breath for the outcome! 

Before bringing this summary to an end it would be worthwhile making comment on the Open competition considering 12 counties participated significantly more than the OTB version. It was good to see a number of counties participate and perform remarkably well in Division 1 Lincolnshire and Northumberland of course are the stand out performers. Other counties ought to be noted for playing such as Norfolk and Greater Manchester and the combined team of Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire the first time since 1994 when Cheshire and North Wales last took part. It is hoped that counties who have shied away from entering the Open in OTB version of county championships will be encouraged to enter when the OTB competition resumes in future. Statistics show that if you can consistently field 185+ you will be competitive; 190+ you have a fair chance of winning title overall. Of course 195+ or even 200+ will increase your chances of definitely winning, just look to Yorkshire's recent domination, but as they say, 'You need to be in it to win it!' If a county is able to field 190+ in their regional competition then it is reasonable to ask them to enter and see what happens. It could even be argued 185+ as after all one of the weakest Open finals on record is the 2007-08 one (Mx vs. Lancashire) when both teams could not muster a 185 average (Mx 175, Lancashire 184) so in essence an Open final was contested by two minor teams!

National Stage SF 8th August

Open Championship

MxA vs Northumberland

Lincolnshire vs. Norfolk

Open Challengers

MxB vs Cumbria/Shropshire - group stage adjudications outstanding

Cumbria/Shropshire vs. Oxfordshire - group stage adjudications outstanding

u1825 Championship

Mx vs. Lincolnshire

Essex vs. Northumberland

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