Sunday, October 18, 2015

Missed opportunity at the Ulster Masters

The live coverage of the Ulster Championship Congress proved a great success. The Ulster Chess Union has brought out all the technology again for the Ulster Masters this weekend. After technical problems defeated coverage of Round 1 on Saturday morning, normal service was restored in the afternoon with six games online, plus webcam and results.

One of the pleasures of watching the live games is to put the moves into an engine and bask in "your" superiority to those playing the games by seeing something they missed! Games
[Event "Ulster Masters 2015"] [Site "Belfast"] [Date "2015.10.18"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Lavery, Robert"] [Black "Leitch, Calum"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B00"] [Annotator "McAlister"] [PlyCount "24"] [EventDate "2015.10.17"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "NIR"] [WhiteClock "1:12:12"] [BlackClock "0:51:11"] 1. e4 a6 {Looks like a beginner's move, but better than its appearance.} 2. d4 d5 ({The most common continuation here is} 2... b5 {as in the sensational win by the English No.1 over the World Champion at the 1980 European Team Championship:} 3. Nf3 Bb7 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. Qe2 e6 6. a4 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. Nbd2 b4 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ne4 Be7 11. O-O Nc6 12. Bd2 Qc7 13. c4 bxc3 14. Nxc3 Nxc3 15. Bxc3 Nb4 16. Bxb4 Bxb4 17. Rac1 Qb6 18. Be4 O-O 19. Ng5 h6 20. Bh7+ Kh8 21. Bb1 Be7 22. Ne4 Rac8 23. Qd3 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Qxb2 25. Re1 Qxe5 26. Qxd7 Bb4 27. Re3 Qd5 28. Qxd5 Bxd5 29. Nc3 Rc8 30. Ne2 g5 31. h4 Kg7 32. hxg5 hxg5 33. Bd3 a5 34. Rg3 Kf6 35. Rg4 Bd6 36. Kf1 Be5 37. Ke1 Rh8 38. f4 gxf4 39. Nxf4 Bc6 40. Ne2 Rh1+ 41. Kd2 Rh2 42. g3 Bf3 43. Rg8 Rg2 44. Ke1 Bxe2 45. Bxe2 Rxg3 46. Ra8 Bc7 {0-1 Karpov,A-Miles,A: Skara 1980}) ({If you're looking for something really provocative, then try} 2... h6 {which another top English GM (and ironically a noted opening theoretician) tried out on his return to chess after retiring to an ordinary work-life:} 3. Bd3 c5 4. dxc5 e6 5. Be3 Qc7 6. b4 Nc6 7. c3 d6 8. cxd6 Bxd6 9. Nf3 Nf6 10. h3 g5 11. a3 g4 12. Nd4 Ne5 13. Be2 Nxe4 14. hxg4 Bd7 15. g5 O-O-O 16. gxh6 Bc6 17. Nxc6 Qxc6 18. Qb3 Bc7 19. a4 Ng3 20. fxg3 Qxg2 21. Rf1 Nd3+ 22. Bxd3 Rxd3 {0-1 Van Oosterom,C-Sadler,M: Haarlem 2010}) 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. f3 exf3 5. Qxf3 ({Sacrificing not one but two pawns. I would have expected} 5. Nxf3 {which would be similar to a reasonably respectable gambit against the Caro-Kann: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.f3 exf3 5.Nf3}) 5... Qxd4 6. Be3 Qb4 7. O-O-O Bg4 {Oops! Looks like White is going to lose the exchange, but in fact Black's move should lose.} 8. a3 ({The players had been moving quickly up to here and in so doing missed a tactical shot. Counter-attacking the opposing queen is the right idea, but this is the wrong method. Correct was} 8. Nd5 $1 {threatening both Nc7 checkmate and the Black queen - plus Qxg4 winning the bishop if he loses the protection from his queen. The best try is} e6 {but then} 9. Nxc7+ Ke7 10. Qf2 $1 {(threatening Bc5+ forking king and queen)} Nd7 {and now} 11. Rd4 $1 {allowing White to capture the a8-rook.}) 8... Bxf3 9. axb4 Bxd1 10. Nd5 Kd7 11. Kxd1 e6 12. Nf4 Bxb4 { Black is the exchange and three pawns up and he went on to win without any further alarms.} 0-1

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hi-tech record-breaking Ulster Championships

The Ulster Championships have gone from strength to strength since 2007 when the tournament was moved to the August Bank Holiday weekend and found a great venue in Belfast's Europa Hotel. This year, however, there was a little fly in the ointment with the Europa unable to accommodate the Championships in its usual holiday weekend slot.

The Ulster Chess Union decided to move the event to the previous weekend of 21-23 August, but this necessitated a change to the schedule. Instead of two games each day on morning and afternoon, 2015 saw a Friday night start followed by three games on the Saturday and then two more on the final day. The triple-header on the Saturday meant that the playing session had to be reduced for all rounds but sensibly the organisers retained a 30-second increment.

The good news is that the enforced change of date did not impact on the number of entries with a new record high of 62 for the three-title Championship Congress.

Play taking place in the early stages of the final round
The Ulster Chess Union organising team produced a really top-notch event. Investment in equipment saw the Championship games being played on top quality wooden boards and sets and there were also DGT boards relaying a number of games each round. Also going out to the audience outside the playing room was a live webcam feed. Add in that results and standings were regularly updated on the new UCU live webpages after each round and it can safely be asserted that this was a 2015 Championship well up to 2015 hi-tech standards.

DGT Boards
The Senior Championship was spiced up for the local players by the appearance of one of Munster's best in Rory Quinn plus the promising young Blanchardstown player, Luke Scott.

Quinn (left) and Scott awaiting their opponents just before the start of Round 2
Quinn finished top of the final standings with 5.0 out of 6 with defending Ulster champion Gabor Horvath second, a half-point behind. With Quinn ineligible for the title, Horvath retained the Dr McSparran Cup for a second year.

Dr McSparran Cup - awarded to the Ulster Senior Champion
The Intermediate Championship was won by the young Ballynafeigh player, Thomas Donaldson who conceded only a single draw - to Stephen Rush - in finishing 1.5 points ahead of his nearest challengers - Eoin Carey (last year's Junior champion), David Ruben and Chris Kelly - all of whom he defeated in individual combat.
Donaldson (left) in play against Ruben in Round 2.
In the Junior Championship, which had an impressive number of 32 competing, there was an even more emphatic winner with David Barr, still very much a newcomer on the UCU tournament scene, finishing with a 100% record.
Round 2 in progress in the Dublin Room of the Europa Hotel. 2015 Junior Champion David Barr is facing the camera on the outside of the the second row on the right.
Click on the photographs to enlarge the images

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A little bit of history

Nowadays, no major chess tournament is complete without live transmission of the games on the internet. It is even quite commonplace now in Ireland. though this year the recently completed Irish Championships did not have live coverage, apparently because the ICU  has no electronic boards of its own.

The UCU recently announced that they had bought a number of electronic chess boards and it had already been trailed that the Ulster Championship is likely to have 6 games transmitted each round.

It's probably a good idea to trial the system in advance of the UCU's top tournament and the UCU did just that last night. Perhaps understandably (in case things went wrong) there was no big fanfare for the first outing of the UCU's new toy. However, I picked up a tip on Facebook and logged on yesterday evening to events at the Summer Tournament in the Bankers' Club where the top game of the night was all plugged in. The game can still be found here and it's a nice touch that the game can be downloaded in a pgn-file (which I hadn't seen before with the DGT Boards). So making use of that facility, I thought I'd treat you to an annotated version. This comes with a health warning, because I've never been able to play the Modern Benoni well with either White or Black.

[Event "UCU Summer Tournament"] [Site "Belfast"] [Date "2015.07.15"] [Round "11.1"] [White "Pilkiewicz, Nicholas"] [Black "Masterson, John"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A67"] [Annotator "McAlister"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2015.05.06"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "21"] [EventCountry "NIR"] [WhiteClock "0:37:21"] [BlackClock "0:48:51"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. d5 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. f4 Bg7 8. Bb5+ Nfd7 9. a4 O-O 10. Nf3 Na6 11. O-O Nc7 12. Bc4 a6 13. Qe1 Re8 14. Qg3 b6 ({ Snatching a pawn here with} 14... Bxc3 15. bxc3 Rxe4 {would give White plenty of attacking compensation after} 16. Bd3 Re8 17. f5) ({However} 14... b5 {was more thematic. Now after} 15. axb5 Nb6 $1 16. Bd3 axb5 17. Rxa8 Nbxa8 18. f5 c4 19. fxg6 hxg6 ({but not} 19... cxd3 20. gxf7+ Kxf7 21. Ne5+ Kg8 22. Rf7 $18) 20. Bb1 b4 {Black has counterplay}) 15. Re1 (15. e5 {seems more in keeping with the previous moves. After} dxe5 16. d6 Ne6 (16... exf4 17. dxc7 $1 fxg3 18. cxd8=Q Rxd8 19. hxg3 $18) 17. fxe5 {White would have a clear advantage}) 15... f6 {Heading to a hedgehog-type formation seems completely wrong in a Modern Benoni.} ({Black probably had to try} 15... Bd4+ 16. Kh1 (16. Nxd4 cxd4 17. Ne2 Rxe4 18. Bd3 Re8 19. f5 Ne5 {and Black should be OK}) 16... Nf6 {and if now} 17. e5 Nh5 $1 18. Qg5 Qxg5 19. Nxg5 Bf5 {with counterplay}) 16. f5 $1 { Black is in real trouble now} Nf8 17. Bf4 {The threat of Bxd6 is so strong that Black decides to give up the exchange. However it is to no avail as White plays very accurately from here on.} Re5 18. Nxe5 fxe5 19. Bg5 Bf6 20. Bxf6 Qxf6 21. Rf1 g5 22. h4 h6 23. hxg5 hxg5 24. Nd1 Ra7 25. Ne3 Ne8 26. Ng4 Qg7 27. f6 ({After} 27. f6 {White might try sacrificing his Knight for two pawns. One nice line now would be} Qg6 28. Nxe5 dxe5 29. Qxe5 Bg4 30. d6+ Kh7 31. Qe7+ Rxe7 32. dxe7 Qh6 33. f7) 1-0

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A new kid on the block

Does the Ulster Chess Union have a competitor?

Looking through the forthcoming events Calendar at the Irish Chess Union website, I came across Northern Ireland Chess Grand Prix 4, Northern Ireland Chess Grand Prix 5 and Northern Ireland Schools Rapidplay Chess Championships 2015, all organised by the Northern Ireland Chess Association.

These three events are confined to schools (or if you prefer, junior or youth) players, though there could also be an intention to organise adult chess - the NICA membership page hints at this with a "normal" membership outside the two youth categories of Under 12 and Under 18.

Since the breakaway of the UCU from the ICU ten years ago, the ICU has been conspicuous by its absence from any attempt to organise in Northern Ireland. However this new body seems to have links with the ICU, perhaps through Moves for Life which is headed by Kevin O'Connell, long-time ICU Delegate to FIDE.

My understanding is that the UCU was aware of those behind the NICA and their plans for junior chess in Northern Ireland but had decided not to engage with their project. Now it looks like the NICA organiser may have gone elsewhere for assistance. Which, of course, leads us to this question: If the NICA is successful in recruiting a large number of junior members, in the medium-term will the ICU return to local chess through this newly-created portal?

Monday, April 13, 2015

City of Belfast wrap-up

After my visit to the City of Belfast Championships on Saturday, I didn't find the time to pay a visit on the second and final day to see how things turned out . However, UCU Tournament Director, Ross Harris, very kindly e-mailed me the results. Pending what I am sure will be a more comprehensive report at the UCU's official website, here's a summary:

Nemtzov Cup

WFM Karina Kruk during Round 1
Going into the final round, Gareth Annesley had a half-point advantage over Ulster Champion, Gabor Horvath, They had drawn their individual game but Horvath had also conceded a draw to John O'Doherty in Round 5. However, Gareth went down  to a last round defeat to Stephen Rush while Gabor won against Mark Newman to move into the top spot. Karina Kruk has won the supporting Henderson Cup on no less than four occasions but this time she was just above the grading limit. However she kept up her good form in these Championships by finishing in third place after holding Ulster Masters winner, Calum Leitch, to a draw in the final round.

Henderson Cup

Pat McKillen first won the Henderson back in 2006 and took the title again last year. The defending champ was only seeded ninth but romped home to a three-timer, conceding just one draw and finishing a full point ahead of 2000 winner Stewart McConaghy with Richard Gould, Robert Lavery and John McKenna a further half-point behind. Only unbeaten player other than McKillen in the Henderson was Martin Kelly, joint winner with Kruk in 2011.

Final Crosstables for the Nemtzov and Henderson Cups

Saturday, April 11, 2015

City of Belfast 2015

The City of Belfast Championships are being held over the 11-12 April weekend at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion. 29 players have entered the lists, a bit down on the numbers playing in the Ulster Masters and Williamson Shield earlier in the season. However, it's still up on the recent editions of the City of Belfast - sufficient to return to the usual two sections.

There are eight players in the Nemtzov Cup with the top four in the Williamson Shield - Gabor Horvath, Gareth Annesley, Calum Leitch and Mark Newman - renewing their rivalry.

Nemtzov Cup players
No Name            Rtg  Club        

1. Gabor Horvath   2098 Lindores    
2. Gareth Annesley 1976 Muldoons    
3. Calum Leitch    1889 Lindores    
4. Mark Newman     1760 NICS        
5. Stephen Rush    1664 Ballynafeigh
6. John O'Doherty  1655 Ballynafeigh
7. Martin Sloan    1621             
8. Karina Kruk     1610 Ballynafeigh

Nemtzov players in action during Round 1
There are 21 competing in the under-1600 Henderson Cup. Pat McKillen is defending his title and three other previous winners - Stewart McConaghy, William Storey and Martin Kelly - also play.

Henderson Cup players
No  Name                Rtg  Club         

1.  John McKenna        1513 Belfast South
2.  Richard Gould       1510 Lindores     
3.  Robert Lavery       1504 Ballynafeigh 
4.  Stewart McConaghy   1403 Bombardier   
5.  Jim McLean          1331 Lindores     
6.  Cathal Murphy       1326 Belfast South
7.  William Storey      1324 Belfast South
8.  Martin Kelly        1311 Belfast South
9.  Patrick McKillen    1289 Muldoons     
10. David Barr          1251 Lindores     
11. Robert McDonald     1244 Belfast South
12. Roy Stafford        1206 Bombardier   
13. Stephen Scarborough 1171              
14. Christopher Roe     1163 QUB          
15. Andrew Todd         1128 Bangor       
16. Edward Doak         1076 Ballynafeigh 
17. John McGann         994               
18. Paul Anderson       753  Ballynafeigh 
19. Norman Rainey       698  Ballynafeigh 
20. Ben Campbell        610  QUB          
21. Craig Stevenson    

Monday, February 02, 2015

Irish Chess Union - interesting times

On the 27th January 2015 this official announcement appeared on the ICU website, authored by its Chairman:
"Rules Governing ICU Membership and Participation in Tournaments
Pat Fitzsimons
With effect from the 1st of February the following rules will apply to all tournaments (other than international team tournaments held under the auspices of the ICU, such as The Glorney Gilbert International) held in Ireland which are ICU rated:

All participants in such tournaments, irrespective of their nationality or native chess federation, must be fully subscribed members of the ICU.

No person can be accepted as a participant in any tournament governed by these rules unless he/she fulfils the above condition.

The responsibility rests with the organisers of the tournaments in question to ensure that these rules are fully implemented.

Where a person wishes to become a member of the ICU in order to participate in a tournament or event, the organisers should facilitate the collection of the requisite fee prior to the commencement of the tournament or event through the use of the ICU online subscription form.

Where a player who is not a member of the ICU participates in a tournament governed by these rules, the tournament or event organisers will be liable.

The ICU reserves the right to take action in cases where it perceives that the organisers of a tournament have been negligent in applying these rules or have been persistent offenders in this regard. Such action may include refusal to rate the tournament as a whole, withdrawal of grants to the organisers in question, and any other action which the ICU deems appropriate."
Essentially, despite the ICU Executive's two well-known attack dogs blithely claiming tht the ICU was merely implementing existing policy, this was an attempt to make tournament organisers cough up membership fees for players resident outside Ireland (and for "Ireland" read "Republic of Ireland"). Previously players from outside the island of Ireland had never been required to become ICU members if competing in ICU-rated tournaments. The position with regard to Ulster Chess Union players is admittedly more complex and I'll come back to it later.

However, to return to the general point, it does seem extraordinary that the ICU would change membership rules in the middle of the season and particularly without any consultation with tournament organisers. It may also have been in breach of Article 5.2 its own Constitution. The suspicion is that the ICU saw how many non-ICU players were entering Bunratty, Ireland's biggest Congress, and decided it would like to get a bigger cut of the money flowing into the Congress coffers.

Well, Bunratty was having none of it: this appeared on its website
"Due to some uncertainty regarding the recent posting by Pat Fitzsimons on the ICU web regarding ICU membership and entry into chess tournaments I have set out below the position regarding the upcoming Bunratty Chess festival. 
We have a contract with players who have entered the event, these are set out in our Terms and Conditions and are binding on all players;
We also have a contract with the ICU in their Bye-laws for Membership of the Irish Chess Union particularly paragraph 10.
Therefore we will run Bunratty 2015 as we have run the event since 1994 namely:
  • Foreign based players including those of the Ulster Chess Union will be exempt of ICU membership as per the aforementioned Paragraph 10.
  • First time players and those with no rating will not be required to have ICU membership.
  • Established players resident in the Republic of Ireland will be subject to our aforementioned Terms and Conditions.
We will assist the ICU Membership Officer in these matters as we have done in the past. 
Signed, Ted Jennings FA
On behalf of the Bunratty Chess Festival Committee."
Rumour was that Bunratty was heading up a number of major Irish Congresses who were making it plain that they wanted this new edict withdrawn - and were just as happy as the ICU to play hard-ball. The ICU quickly had a re-think; this announcement went up on its website on 1st February, the day the amended Membership Rules were intended to kick in:
"Since announcing the decision to strictly apply the above policy with effect from 1 February 2015, a number of concerns about its operational impact have been expressed to the ICU Executive by tournament organisers. Having regard to these concerns, the Executive has decided to: 
  • defer the implementation of the decision; and 
  • establish a working group representative of the ICU Executive and tournament organisers to examine all of the issues involved and to report back to the ICU Executive with recommendations/options for the implementation of the policy.
The terms of reference and the membership of the working group will be posted on the website in due course."
Now to return to how this affects Northern Ireland players. In 2005 the Ulster Chess Union left the ICU. When that happened, attempts by the UCU to forge a new relationship with the ICU got nowhere. The UCU Constitution was changed so that it became a Northern Ireland-only body. Also, despite expressing its regret at the UCU move, within months of the split the ICU Constitution was altered significantly: Article 2 had read:

2.1. As the Union is affiliated to and officially recognised by the International Chess Federation (F.I.D.E.) it shall have the sole power and authority to confirm the entry of all individual Irish players and teams invited to tournaments or events directly sponsored by that body and shall have the right to confirm the entry of any Irish player or team invited to compete in an International tournament or event as a result of F.I.D.E. membership. It shall also have all necessary powers to enable it to act as the supreme authority in Irish Chess (including the power to award national chess titles and other titles connected with Irish Chess and to recommend to F.I.D.E. the award of F.I.D.E. titles) provided however that in the exercise of such powers it shall have due regard to the powers and duties existing at the date of adoption of this constitution of: 
(a) The Leinster Chess Union, the Ulster Chess Union, the Munster Chess Union and the Connacht Chess Union in their own functional areas. 
(b) The Irish Correspondence Chess Association. 
(c) The Braille Chess Association of Ireland. 
(d) Any club or other organisation involved in Irish Chess. 
2.2. The Union shall also have the power to bestow honorary offices in or honorary membership of the Union for Life or otherwise on any person whether such person is a fully paid-up member of the Union or not."
This was changed to:
"2. The Union is the governing body of chess in Ireland, and is affiliated to the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and the European Chess Union. In this capacity it has the sole responsibility to nominate individual players and teams to represent Ireland in international chess tournaments or events organised under the auspices of these bodies."
Article 4 had read:
4.1. Individual membership of the Union shall be open to all persons who agree to be bound by the provisions of this Constitution (which shall be deemed to include any amended version which may be duly passed in accordance with rule 15) and who comply with the bye-laws of the union. In addition the Leinster Chess Union, the Ulster Chess Union, the Munster Chess Union, the Connacht Chess Union, and such other bodies or organisations connected with chess in Ireland as the Executive Committee of the Union may from time to time decide to admit to membership, shall on payment of their affiliation fees as prescribed by the bye-laws mentioned in rule 4.2. be members of the Union and shall be entitled to send two voting delegates to every general meeting of the Union. 
4.2. The fees and subscriptions to be paid for such membership, the subscription years, the affiliation regulations for affiliated bodies and the venues for general meetings of the Union shall be regulated by bye-laws entitled "Bye-laws for Membership of the Irish Chess Union". Notwithstanding the powers of the Executive Committee in relation to bye-laws generally the said bye-laws shall only be made repealed or amended by the Committee after 8 weeks notice of the intention to make or repeal the same and the text of any intended amendments have first been given to members of the Union."
A new Article 4 was inserted in relation to a Code of Good Conduct for Children and the old Article 4 was replaced by new Articles 5 and 6:
5.1 Membership of the union shall be open to all persons who agree to be bound by the provisions of this constitution and who comply with its bye laws.
5.2 The fees and subscriptions to be paid for membership shall be determined by the Executive annually in advance of the Annual General Meeting and shall be reported to that meeting in the Treasurer’s Report. 
6. The Union recognises the special role played by provincial chess unions in helping it to promote the sport. These bodies are affiilated to the Union and have a right of representation on its Executive and to send two delegates each to General Meetings of the Union. The Union may recognise other bodies or organisations connected with chess in Ireland as affiliates."
In relation to Provincial Chess Unions, at this page on the ICU website, it is explained that Bye-laws for affiliation are "rules for bodies such as the Connaught, Leinster and Munster Chess Unions." ]

So, post 2005, it is clear that in its formal documents that the ICU has removed any reference to the Ulster Chess Union. Also the ICU has not made any attempt to organise in Northern Ireland. The one place where a different approach is taken is at the heart of this recent dispute - Article 10 of the ICU's Bye-laws for Membership of the Irish Chess Union:
"Foreign players whose ordinary residence is outside the island of Ireland shall not be subject to payment of any fee or subscription to the ICU for participating in Irish tournaments (other than the Irish Chess Championships), upon production of proof that they are affiliated to another national body which is a member of FIDE."
When the UCU left in 2005 it was with the intention of becoming a member Federation of the world governing body, FIDE. However, with amendments made to FIDE Rules, this became an impossibility and the UCU will have to accept that, despite England, Scotland and Wales all having separate membership of FIDE, this will not be extended to Northern Ireland.

It may well be that Bunratty and other Congresses in Ireland will push to retain the status quo since 2005 of not requiring Northern Ireland players to be ICU members and that they get their way. However, if the outcome of the negotiations between the ICU and tournament organisers results in a membership fee being payable by "foreign" players, Northern Ireland competitors would just have to accept it.

However, at the moment, my understanding is that the ICU proposal is that "foreign" players would pay a reduced 20 euro fee, whereas UCU players would be required to pay the full 35 euro fee. So, while this membership issue is being addressed by the ICU, it may be a good time to re-examine the precise nature of the 2005 split and finally to establish a sensible working relationship between the ICU and the UCU.

It seems to me that such a relationship must accept that the ICU and UCU are separate bodies but that they would mutually recognise that members of one body would be eligible (without any additional fee) to compete in competitions in the other jurisdiction. [In view of the lower membership fees in the UCU, it would probably be necessary to restrict UCU membership to those born or resident in Northern Ireland].

I would also suggest that, as proposed by it in 2005, the UCU accepts the right of the ICU to organise various "all-Ireland Championships" - the advantage to the ICU would be that if these events were to be held in Northern Ireland, the financial responsibility would be borne by the UCU.

There is a small window of opportunity here - I reckon it would be a good idea for the UCU Executive to take action as soon as possible on this.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Williamson wrap-up

Round 2 action
Ulster champion Gabor Horvath conceded only a single draw to Lindores club-mate Calum Leitch on the way in adding the Williamson Shield to his growing palmares in Ulster chess. It was a 1-2-3 in matching order for the top seeds with defending champion Gareth Annesley second and Leitch third.

In the Challengers section John Phillips overcame his surprise first round loss and executed a perfect submarine gambit with five straight wins to take first prize in the Challengers. John McKenna was a half-point behind in the runners-up spot.

Crosstables for both sections and more photographs

Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Year Williamson

The Williamson Shield has moved in 2015 to the first weekend of the year and there were sufficient entries to run a Challengers section. The Williamson Shield itself has 14 competing, including four young Dublin players - the Gonzaga CC trio of Ben Cullen, Andy Keenan and Marc Lincoln, plus Fiachra Scallan from Rathmines CC. Top seed is Gabor Horvath, who last weekend added the UCU Blitz title to his 2014 Ulster Championship win, Second seed is the defending champion Gareth Annesley and third is Calum Leitch, winner of the Ulster Masters in October 2014.

In the first round all the games were won by the higher-rated players. During my visit during Round 2 Annesley was well on his way to a win over Brendan Jameson, a sharp kingside attack having netted a piece; Horvath had a Knight firmly entrenched deep in Cullen's territory and was typically taking his time to work out the most precise way to cement his advantage; Leitch had reached a Rook and 5 pawns endgame against Mark Newman with the latter having a number of weak pawns - however it might well be a difficult task to disprove the old adage that all Rook endings are drawn.

Annesley, Jameson, Cullen and Horvath (left to right)
There are 24 competing in the Challengers. Play in Round 1 was less predictable that in the Shield: although top seed Richard Morrow won, youth upset experience (and the seedings) on boards 2-4 with Chris Roe and Andrew Todd both drawing with John McKenna and Peter McGuckin respectively, while Paddy Magee went one better by beating John Phillips.

Round 2 panorama

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas chess cornucopia

The Belfast and District Leagues will soon be taking a short Christmas break but local chess players can enjoy a veritable feast of festive chess. In the space of three weeks all three formats of the game can be consumed.

First up is NICS Lackadaisical #1, the initial event in the returning Civil Service CC Rapidplay Grand Prix series, now renamed in honour of Alan Burns. There will just be room for a final week of league fixtures for 2014 before tucking into turkey in all its forms for a few days. After that it will be time for the 4th UCU Blitz Championship, now a regular feature in the immediate post-Christmas slot and returning this year to the Belfast Boat Club.

The final offering in this particular menu is the main course and it's back to the Civil Service Pavilion. Having been played in February or March for the past three years, the Williamson Shield will this time round occupy the first weekend of the New Year. So just enough time to recover from celebrating the arrival of 2015 before tucking into two days of the long form of the game. After that there might just be enough time to take down the decorations before getting stuck into the second half of the League season.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Good turn-out in Omagh

The decision of the Ulster Chess Union to hold a new rapidplay event in Omagh was vindicated with 34 players competing in two sections. There was a good geographical spread of entrants and the turn-out would be viewed as excellent if the event had taken place in Belfast - further evidence of both the growing enthusiasm for tournament chess and the strides being made by the Omagh club.

I'm sure there will be a full report in the new few days at the official UCU website but while you're waiting for that, here's a listing of the results from both sections.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Regular readers will remember Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Last year the League Controller aka the Ballynafeigh supremo seemed to forget the League Rules before just giving up on trying to adhere to them. This year we have a new League Controller (in fact more of a dynamic duo). He/they decided the floating juniors were turning up everywhere like wild mushrooms and the League Rules for 2014-5 needed a bit of a tweaking.

After viewing the new Rules the Ballynafeigh supremo complained that the dynamic duo had sunk the floating juniors. Batman and Robin replied that the under-1350s were still allowed to float but there was a restriction on doing it within the same week. In fact, the privilege granted to under-1350s has been extended to a wider group of players (but indeed everyone is confined to playing for only one team within the same week).

Looking at the Squad Lists for this season, the Ballynafeigh supremo still seemed to be having trouble with the designated player rule. Instead of just assigning 5 players to each team, he went overboard with 7 for each of his Division 1 teams. Having realised the error of his ways, he then sought the permission of the dynamic duo to amend his designated player lists. My understanding is that two players, one from the Ballynafeigh 1 list and one from Ballynafeigh 2 have been re-designated to Ballynafeigh 3 and perhaps there have been further consequential amendments. However, as far as I can see, nothing has been published at the official UCU website about any of this, though perhaps the various team captains have at some point been made aware of the changes.

Anyway, looking at this week's results, either the Ballynafeigh supremo is still confused (or I am!)
Wednesday 19th November, Division 2
Belfast South 2         Ballynafeigh 3 
Green, Neil        =-=  Lavery, Robert
Jaffa, Bernard     1-0  Black, Chris
Critchlow, Stephen 0-1  Carey, Eoin
Storey, William    1-0  Lavery, Bill
Murphy, CJ         1-0  Bannon, Gerard

Thursday 20th November, Division 1
Lindores 1              Ballynafeigh 1
Horvath, Gabor     0-1  Houston, David
Leitch, Calum      1-0  Jensen, Søren 
Harris, Ross       =-=  Rush, Stephen 
MacDonald, Fred    0-1  Jamison, Brendan 
Kilpatrick, Ian    1-0  Lavery, Robert

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ulster Masters finale

Senior Section
On the top two boards in Round 5 Gareth Annesley and Calum Leitch won respectively against Soren Jensen and Brendan Jamison, leaving them a full point ahead of Jensen, Gabor Horvath and Mark Newman going into the final round.

Normally players on the same points total play each other in a Swiss but the two leaders had already played earlier in the tournament - Leitch apparently had a winning advantage but Annesley conjured up a check and Leitch chose the wrong King move and went on to lose. Therefore they both floated down to players on 3 points, leaving five players still in with some sort of shout at winning the Alex Beckett Trophy. Making things interesting was that the leaders would both have to play the Black pieces, Leitch against Jensen and Annesley against Newman.

Horvath, the third player on 3.0 points, floated down to Robert Lavery and won to end the tournament on 4.0. Any chance of the defending champion making a successful defence was scuppered when Jensen-Leitch was agreed drawn in an endgame where neither player could risk more.

Now if Annesley could draw, his tie-break would almost certainly be better than Leitch's. However Mark Newman was not playing ball, having won an exchange and also having a dangerous passed pawn. Both players had little time left, Leitch was too nervous to watch his rival's game, fearing that Annesley would turn the tables but Newman found a quick way through to a victory.

So the 2014 Ulster Master title went to Leitch with Annesley having the consolation of taking second prize on tie-break from Horvath and Newman.

The Alex Beckett Trophy was in hiding on the day...

... but I was able to get this close-up of the impressive Des Forson Memorial Trophy

Intermediate Section
In Round 5 the sole leader Peter McGuckin lost to Pat McKillen. So going into the final set of games, McKillen, Matthew Chapman and Andrew Todd were in the lead on 4.0. McGuckin, William Storey and Martin Kelly, last year's Intermediate champion, were half-a-point back and still in with a chance for the prizes.

The three top games all ended in White wins. McGuckin beat Todd, but the young Bangor player had the consolation of picking up a grading prize. McKillen got the better of Chapman to secure outright victory and possession of the Des Forson Memorial Trophy for a whole year.

In the final game to finish in this section, Kelly had lured Storey into grabbing a poisoned pawn and went on to join McGuckin on 4.5, but there was to be no prize this year for Kelly with McGuckin's front-running securing second prize on tie-break.

Final Crosstables and photographs of the Senior and Intermediate winners

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ulster Masters prizewinners

(l to r) Leitch, Rush, Annesley, UCU Chairman Hindley, McKillen and McGuckin
First Calum Leitch
Second Gareth Annesley
Grading Stephen Rush

First Pat McKillen
Second Peter McGuckin
Grading Andrew Todd, Joshua Geary

Ulster Masters on the up

I paid a flying visit to the Ulster Masters today. The event has been moved a month earlier this year. and whether it was the change in date or the generally vibrant club scene at the moment, numbers were well up on the three previous editions.

Play in the Senior section during Round 4
There are 12 players in the senior section, headed by Ulster champion Gabor Horvath, defending the title he won in this event last year. In Rounds 1 and 3 he was held to draws by Brendan Jamison and Gareth Annesley. The latter went into Round 4 on 2.5 points, just ahead of a chasing posse of Horvath, Jamison, Soren Jensen, Calum Leitch and Mark Newman.

I arrived just as the Round 4 games were reaching a climax. First Jamison and Annesley drew in a Queen and 5 pawn ending. Then Jensen with Rook, Bishop and 2 pawns versus Newman's Rook and 2 pawns was saved any technical difficulties, when Newman, short on time, blundered away his Rook.

Final game to finish was between Lindores team-mates Horvath and Leitch. Horvath had an open h-file for his two Rooks aiming at Leitch's h7-pawn. Calum was trying to counter with his two Rooks and Queen lined up on the e-file. Gabor piled further pressure on the h7 pawn with a Knight going to g5. In a surprising but effective manoeuvre Leitch abandoned the pawn, moving his own Knight, stationed at f6, to g4 and then f2, which ultimately allowed a decisive penetration by his Queen and Rook, forcing resignation from the defending champion.

Going into Round 5 Annesley has been joined in the lead by Jensen and Leitch on 3.0 points, with Jamison on 2.5 and Horvath in a group of four on 2.0.

In the Intermediate section, 25 players are taking part. Top seed Peter McGuckin is in the lead after 4 rounds with 3.5, only half-a-point ahead of a group of six, comprising of John McKenna, Paddy Magee, Andrew Todd, Stewart McConaghy, Matthew Chapman and Pat McKillen.

Top boards in the Intermediate section during Round 4

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In through the out door

A story often has two sides, as Michael Waters' comment to Whither Fisherwick tends to confirm. However, it's not my intention to get into any polemics. Rather it is to run with the idea of what should be the essence of local club chess today.

If we concentrate on extremely lengthy competitions (however popular), is there sufficient variety and enough space for clubs to provide their own product to attract newcomers, returners or even current players looking for something different.

So, whatever the precise circumstances of Fisherwick taking a new path, here is an opportunity to see if renewal and regrowth will work by concentrating on building a sound club structure and offering more variety. Waters' final throwaway line might even be the most revolutionary thought. Will the first club to open its doors on a Saturday hit the jackpot?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Whither Fisherwick

It's not surprising that people are annoyed about Fisherwick's sudden jumping ship from the UCU Leagues. There's also talk about ulterior motives. Before everyone gets worked up into a frazzle, it might just be worth pointing out a few things.

Nobody complained when Fisherwick used to run its open-to-all club championship during the League season - and nobody does now, when its near-neighbour does the same thing now. If Fisherwick CC wants to run its own competition(s), let them get on with it. If the UCU is confident that it's putting together a good programme of events, what is there to be concerned about? If Fisherwick's events go down like a lead balloon, nothing will have been lost. On the other hand if they complement the UCU ones, that will be a bonus and the UCU might even learn something useful.

Fisherwick CC has made (and can still make) a significant contribution to Ulster chess. It has had a long-held reputation as a strong club in both quality and quantity but it might now need a period of regrowth. About eights years ago Fisherwick opted not to play in the Silver King (though in those days they still had a "second" team) but the following season they were back. Let's hope that will happen again (and indeed encourage them to re-engage rather than treating the club as some sort of pariah).

All change

After Fisherwick's sudden exit from Division 1 subsequent to the fixture list being published, League Controller Calum Leitch has acted very swiftly to the collateral damage, in particular the issue of too many byes week-on-week in both Divisions.

Fruithill has been moved up to compete for the Silver King producing a sensible 7-8 split between the Divisions. The League Controller has also rejigged fixtures to eradicate those pesky byes that had suddenly appeared like green balls on an Australian beach.

While I'm on record about the Leagues being overlong, I would concede that it was also logical in the changed circumstances to add a third round of fixtures in the Strawbridge Cup so that the two Divisions now dovetail nicely together.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Interesting times

About a week ago the new fixtures for the 2014-2015 local league season were posted at the Ballynafeigh CC website. Of course, we were used to official UCU announcements appearing there when its supremo was also the League Controller. Obviously old habits die hard.

A couple of days later the fixture list then appeared at the Lindores CC website, home of the dynamic duo who have taken over control of UCU team and individual tournaments. Obviously continuing the privatisation of their predecessor.

Finally the Division 1 and Division 2 fixtures did appear at the official website. A day or so later there was even an announcement there which, however, bizarrely referred the reader back to the Ballynafeigh CC website for the details.

Anyway the good news was that (despite the hibernation of Lagan CC) with the revival of the Queen's University Chess Club (or to be precise, now re-branded Society) and an extra couple of "second teams", total entries amounted to 16.

When planning this piece, I was going to inquire what was wrong with 8 teams in each Division rather than the announced 7+9 (with the top Division adding a third round of fixtures). Under the UCU plan there will be a total of 21 weeks for Division 1 and 18 for Division 2.

With an even split of teams we could have had a double-rounder for each Division over only 14 weeks. The advantage of this would have been to leave time for some further team competitions with a different format (eg all-NI, rapidplays, handicap, knock-out) which the chattering classes seemed keen on in the Spring.

Still, the announcement over at Fisherwick CC puts this all into perspective. Despite being the reigning Silver King champions and announced as an entrant on all those outlets mentioned above, Fisherwick CC "will not be participating in the Ulster Chess Union organized Belfast & District Chess League 2014-15". However, this is not some Lagan-style hiatus because a full programme events is planned, including "inter club competition."

"Cat among the pigeons" springs to mind.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cathal Murphy bags the City Of Dublin Junior chess title

A quartet of Ulster players took part in the recent City Of Dublin championships at the Gresham Hotel in O’Connell Street. Two of The three musketeers Murphy and Kelly (Morrison sat this one out) were joined by another regular southern traveller Gareth Annesley  and southern debutant Siebran Westra.

Cathal and Martin both decided to play in the junior section and strictly to their southern ratings of 1190 and 1160 respectively. Cathal  topped the 55 player section, finishing on 5.5 from 6, while Martin finished just out of the prizes with a respectable 4 from 6, just managing to hold on to his “unbeaten” record against Irish females with a win over Katherine Bolger in round 1.

Although Cathal won his first five games, two of these, against grading prize winner Suzanne Barry and second placed Adam Murphy (grand prix and Vienna attack respectively) were on a knife-edge throughout with several tactical and checkmate threats and positions played out (see below)  Barry actually missed 38...Qf3+  leading to mate in 3, while Cathal missed 22.Qxf8, while under time pressure against Adam Murphy, but went on to win and then closed out the tournament with a win against unknown Polish player Filipski and a closing draw against John Halpenny.

Gareth and Siebran finished with 3.5 and 2 respectively in a tough under 2000 Major section. Siebran started brightly with a win over Denis O’Connell, but suffered two losses and was then drawn against Gareth in round 4 and managed to succumb to Annesley “G-force”.  Gareth himself recovered from a slow start to finish on a respectable 3.5 with wins over Siebran, Tom O’Gorman and three draws.

Chess “analysis” was continued late into both evenings in Doyle’s bar, as a great weekend was had by all.

Full results and cross tables can be found on the ICU website.

Any comments and analysis on the appended games are more than welcome.

[Event "City of Dublin Junior"] [Site "Dublin"] [Date "2014.09.13"] [Round "2"] [White "Murphy, Cathal"] [Black "Barry, Suzanne"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "1190"] [BlackElo "970"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2014.09.12"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "IRL"] [SourceDate "2014.09.22"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 d6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. Bc4 e5 6. O-O exf4 7. d3 g5 8. Qe1 Bg7 9. Bd2 Bxf3 10. gxf3 Qd7 11. Kh1 O-O-O 12. Rb1 Ne5 13. Bd5 Qh3 14. Qf2 Ne7 15. b4 b6 16. bxc5 dxc5 17. Qe2 Kb8 18. a4 Nxd5 19. Nxd5 Rd6 20. a5 Nd7 21. axb6 axb6 22. Rb3 Kb7 23. Rfb1 Re8 24. Nc3 Ne5 25. Na4 Nd7 26. Nc3 Be5 27. Nb5 Rg6 28. Ra3 Bb8 29. d4 cxd4 30. Qc4 Rc6 31. Qxf7 Rec8 32. Nxd4 $2 Rd6 33. c3 Rf8 34. Qc4 g4 $2 35. Qa6+ Kc7 36. Nb5+ Kd8 37. Nxd6 Bxd6 38. fxg4 $2 f3 $4 39. Bg5+ Ke8 40. Qc8+ Kf7 41. Qxd7+ 1-0

[Event "City of Dublin Junior"] [Site "Dublin"] [Date "2014.09.13"] [Round "4"] [White "Murphy, Cathal"] [Black "Murphy, Adam"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C25"] [WhiteElo "1190"] [BlackElo "1050"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2014.09.12"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "IRL"] [SourceDate "2014.09.22"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 Bb4 4. Nf3 d6 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. O-O Bg4 7. d3 Nd4 8. fxe5 dxe5 9. Bxf7+ Kf8 10. Bb3 Bc5 11. Kh1 Nxf3 12. gxf3 Bh3 13. Re1 Qe8 14. Be3 Bxe3 15. Rxe3 Qg6 16. Qg1 Qh5 17. Qf2 Ke7 18. Rg1 g6 19. Ree1 Rhf8 20. Qc5+ Kd7 21. Rg3 Ne8 $2 22. Nd5 $4 Rf7 23. Nxc7 Rxf3 24. Ba4+ b5 $2 25. Bxb5+ Kd8 26. Nd5 $1 Rxg3 27. Qe7+ Kc8 28. Qxe8+ Kb7 29. Qc6+ Kb8 30. Qc7# 1-0

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A small announcement

In 1999 I started the Ulster Chess Chronicle to provide a contemporary record of Ulster Chess on the internet. My interest in chess history soon meant that I started writing about past events and players too. After a while the website became a little unwieldy and with off-the-shelf templates like blogger available, I started NI Chess News, so that hopefully it would be a bit easier to edit for me and to navigate for readers.

I've decided now to incorporate the contemporary material accumulated over 15 years at the Chronicle into this website and to create a new Ulster Chess History website for the historical material. Some reports and articles will go to the Ulster Chess Union website which seems only fair because the Chronicle also hosted official pages before the UCU got its own internet presence.

So, for the next while NI Chess News will resemble a construction site, so please be patient while I'm at work on all this. In the meantime you'll notice a change of colour scheme here as I try to replicate the Ulster Chess Chronicle look.

Monday, June 23, 2014

NICS June Rapidplay

Civil Service Chess Club yesterday staged the fourth and final event in its 2013-2014 rapidplay series at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion. There's already a full report up at the UCU website; you'll also find links there to the results and the final Grand Prix standings over the four events. To that, I'll add here the final crosstable.
No Name                  Rtg  Total  1    2    3    4    5    6  

1  Nicholas Pilkiewicz   1862 5      8:W  7:W  2:W  4:W  5:W  3:L
2  Damien Lavery         1749 4.5   11:W  4:W  1:L  6:W  7:W  5:D
3  Robert Lavery         1481 4     10:W  6:L  4:L 11:W  8:W  1:W
4  David McAlister       1218 3.5    5:W  2:L  3:W  1:L  6:W  9:D
5  Mark Newman           1627 3.5    4:L  9:W  6:W  7:W  1:L  2:D
6  Steven Eachus         1645 3      9:W  3:W  5:L  2:L  4:L 12:W
7  Richard Gould         1555 3     12:W  1:L  8:W  5:L  2:L 10:W
8  Alan Burns            1339 3      1:L 10:W  7:L 12:W  3:L 11:W
9  Peter Wilson          1246 2.5    6:L  5:L 12:W 10:W 11:L  4:D
10 Adrian Dornford-Smith 962  2      3:L  8:L 11:W  9:L 12:W  7:L
11 Drew Ferguson         1251 1      2:L 12:L 10:L  3:L  9:W  8:L
12 Geoff Hindley         1010 1      7:L 11:W  9:L  8:L 10:L  6:L
As part of the organising team for these events, thanks to all those who competed throughout the series and we hope to do the whole thing again next season.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

League retrospective and suggestions for the future

Belated congratulations to Fisherwick for winning the Silver King for the fourth time in a row and to Bangor for lifting the Strawbridge Cup. The general consensus is that this has been the most interesting League campaign in some time. I agree with that sentiment - everyone will have their own views about exactly why this was so, but for me the reasons were:
  • the exciting tussle for the Division 1 title (despite - or maybe even enhanced by the bizarre events of the last two weeks);
  • the arrival of a new powerhouse in the East (Lindores) and an enhanced and rebadged stalwart (Muldoon's) putting extra pressure on the imperious Fisherwick;
  • the general increase in strength on the top boards of a number of teams, with a number of strong local players tempted out of retirement and an influx of foreign talent;
  • the extraordinary and continuing ability of Ballynafeigh to add extra numbers to the overall equation (some of the other clubs are catching on here too);
  • the revival of second teams at the coaxing of the League Controller.
The temptation might be to leave things exactly the same, but there is a danger that the success of this season means that we have outgrown the current format. The League season consisted of 25 weeks of play, which might well make it into the Guinness Book of Records. There was talk early in the New Year of having some extra team events in the Spring but, not surprisingly, these never eventuated. It was therefore not that surprising either that there were a few defaults late in the season.

So here, for what they're worth, is a set of proposals for the Belfast and District Leagues 2014-2015: 
  • League competition again to be between all the Belfast and District clubs, but over a single round and with no split into two Divisions for the rest of the season. Each club would have to list five designated players. 
  •  Therefore this competition would end about the end of January and the winner would receive the Silver King (Division 1 Championship). 
  • Alongside the competition for the Silver King would be a revamped Strawbridge Cup which would be contested between reserve teams. As some clubs would not be able to field a team in this, the format would probably be a double rounder but whatever format was used, this also would finish approximately end-January. A club could play all but its five designated players in this subsidiary event. 
OK, we all know that, due to the way many of our clubs are organised, there is a considerable appetite for a lengthy League season. So what happens when February arrives? Here's part two of NI Chess News' prospectus. 
  • The top four teams in the Silver King would take part in a new competition - let's call it the "Top 4" or maybe the "Premiership" - in a double rounder over 6 weeks of competition. Not dissimilar to the part 2 of the League as presently organised, but with all the teams starting from scratch. Maybe we could make this over 4 or 6 boards just to change the dynamic a little bit. 
  • The remaining clubs (plus perhaps any second teams from the Top 4) would compete in a separate competition. We could perhaps revive the "UCU Plate" name and trophy, last played for about a decade ago, for this. 
  • Finally, to accommodate the increasing numbers of newbie adult players and also to help existing lower-rated "reserve" players, we could add a second subsidiary event for all clubs - an under 1500 Cup, limited naturally enough to players rated under 1500 (and unrated ones). 
  • So that clubs would be encouraged to enter these new competitions without worrying about having the numbers to fulfill fixtures, players would be able to compete without restriction in all three competitions (except - with the aim of creating a reasonably level playing field - for the designated players in the Premiership). Also, we might arrange these "sub-Premiership" competitions into 4 player events to assist with numbers. 
  • Finally - as I've probably cut off at least 6 weeks of the season - if there's sufficient appetite for it, we could make good use of the remaining time by reviving some sort of province-wide Cup competition.
So, if you haven't lost your way, or the will to live, through all these suggestions, I encourage the UCU universe to have a look at these ideas. Any improvements or alternatives are welcomed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

City of Belfast postponed

Just in case you haven't seen this elsewhere, the 2014 City of Belfast Championship, due to take place this weekend at Ballynafeigh Community Centre, has had to be postponed for two weeks to allow for emergency maintenance at the venue. New dates are 7th-8th June, still at the Ballynafeigh clubroom, with the same format as previously announced by the UCU.

Friday, April 11, 2014

UCU Rapid and Spring Simul

The Ulster Chess Union has recently announced two events for the post Easter period. First up will be the Ulster Rapidplay Championship which first moved to a Spring date two years ago. Last year's renewal was held on Easter Monday and saw a significant increase in numbers. Let's hope that this year's slightly later date continues that healthy trend.

The other event is the Grandmaster Spring Simul. Over the years, when club players were asked what they would like to see the UCU organising, a substantial number suggested a simultaneous exhibition by a GM. Of course good players don't come cheap and you'll only get sufficient numbers turning out if the GM opponent is a well-known figure. Last year, Damien Cunningham took the plunge and came up with former World Championship Challenger Nigel Short. Definitely a good choice and the event got an impressive amount of TV coverage. Even a year later, acquaintances are mentioning that they saw me on TV playing chess - always good for the ego! This year the simul-giver is another English GM - Gawain Jones, well known to Irish players, having lived in Ennis, County Clare for part of his teenage years and still a regular (and very successful) competitor in Irish events. Can he match Short's whitewash of last year?

Monday, March 24, 2014

High speed chess

I dropped in at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion towards the end of the 3rd NICS Rapidplay and was witness to some high velocity activity. Hoping to take some photographs of the beginning of the final round, I had positioned myself beside the top boards. Immediately after my first attempt, I heard Adrian Dornford Smith say sorry to me for having moved across my sightline. He kindly posed for a close-up to make amends.

However when I checked the "spoiled" pic, there was no sign of Adrian, just a very blurry image. Has Adrian discovered how to move faster than the speed of light? Unlike Adrian, physics is not my strong point but I seem to remember there was once a theory that if you ran backwards sufficiently quickly you could travel back in time. It appears fast-draw Ferguson has been working on this.

Here Drew (spot his speedy right hand) is just completing his journey backwards in time to a point where Ian Woodfield has played his first move but is yet to press his clock. Meanwhile Paul Anderson and Mike Redman are trying to work out what has just happened with their clock display.

Anyway, back to a more conventional report: top seed Redman put in a blitzkrieg of his own on his six opponents to finish with a 100% score. Here's the final standings direct from the Controller's laptop (BTW Mark, ever thought of cleaning the screen?)

Click on the photos to get full-size images

Saturday, March 08, 2014

More musings on the Leagues

To postpone or not to postpone
And what should the penalty be?

Fisherwick still go on their imperious way in Division 1, but Lindores continue to dog their footsteps. Their recent drawn encounter at the East Belfast coffee house still leaves everything to play for. Lindores are definitely pulling out all the stops - not content with dragging former Williamson Shield winner Fred MacDonald from retirement to fill Board 3, they then found another person to fill that space - no less than 2012 Ulster Masters champion Alan Delaney, who seems to have been carelessly left unattended by another Belfast club.

Still, to get back to the question at the top: a little of the momentum has gone out of the top tier with the recent postponements of Muldoon's v. Lindores and Fisherwick v. Ballynafeigh 2. Our local players are not professionals and there will be occasions when ordinary life gets in the way and a team captain is left scrambling about for players. However the default position ought to be that if you can get 5 bodies out, whatever their standard, the match must go ahead.

There will be occasions when a team captain really can't get a full squad out, and the Controller will consider it reasonable to grant a postponement. However, just to make sure these occasions are few and far between, should there not be some sort of penalty for an "offending" team? Might I suggest that the team responsible for the postponement shall not be entitled to any bonus match points when the match is eventually played.

One more suggestion: if the Controller agrees to a match postponement, in the spirit of openness and transparency, he should place the reason for it on the official UCU website.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pictures from the Williamson Shield

Rumours before the event suggested that this weekend's Williamson Shield was headed for a good turnout. I decided to head over to the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion, home of the Civil Service Chess Club, just in time to catch the beginning of Round 5 and found a packed playing-room. Add this to the extra numbers seen in this season's Leagues and it seems clear that the local chess scene is on the up.

45 players had entered the lists, ten more than 2012' s successful centenary edition, and the organisers decided to separate off the top ten (unfortunately later reduced by two) to compete for the Shield itself, while the remaining 35 formed a second section for Intermediate and Junior players. Look out for the results soon at the usual sources.

Click on the images below to view full size pictures

Waiting to start

Games underway

Opening moves

Top boards

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Butterflies And Hurricanes

Change everything you are
And everything you were
Your number has been called
Fights and battles have begun
Revenge will surely come
Your hard times are ahead

You've got to be the best
You've got to change the world
And use this chance to be heard
Your time is now
Some musings on the League's floating players

The perennial underdogs of Ballynafeigh 3 recorded their first ever victory this week. Just in case you might have missed this important occasion, it was trumpeted on both the Ballynafeigh and UCU websites. A source close to the League Controller had the following to say:
"The entire Ballynafeigh 3 team is a by-product of the Ulster Chess Union's floating system where players under 1350 can gain valuable match experience by being permitted to play for different teams within the same club in the same week, thus effectively doubling their opportunities of a seat at a board under competition conditions. This has meant inexperienced and novice players get the over-the-board match practice they need to progress at a much faster rate than would have been possible under a more rigid system. One of the better ideas to come out of the UCU in many a year."
As the man in the Marmite advert says, this attempt to foster new growth "must be applauded. Literally." However the system is actually a little more rigid than the League Controller realises. Let's have a quick look at the Rules:
"4.f. The Secretary of each club must submit to the League Controller 7 days in advance of the start of the League season a list of players (to be called the squad list) who will play for the club. Any team failing to do so before League fixtures begin will be penalised 5 League points.

4.g. If a club enters more than one team, the Secretary of that club must also specifically allocate 5 named players from the club's squad list for each team. Players specifically allocated to a particular team within a club shall not represent any other team of that club.

4.i. No player with a rating over 1350 may play for more than one team within the competition. Junior players, not specifically allocated to a particular team under 4g., are permitted to float and this permission is granted solely on a players rating (i.e. less than 1351) and not age."
The "junior floaters" of Ballynafeigh 3 have been playing for their 1 and 2 sister teams throughout the season in such an indiscriminate manner that it seems that the League Controller must have forgotten about the rule that junior players are only allowed to float if they are not specifically allocated to a particular team. I would be very surprised if a list of designated players for Ballynafeigh 3 could be produced without breaching the Rules or otherwise failing to produce 5 eligible players each week.

Moreover, the plot thickens. Now Ballynafeigh 4 have entered the fray and another 5 players should be designated. Even allowing for the frequency of new member uptake at Ballynafeigh, they'll be very hard-pressed to do that. Its newly-appointed supremo Dennis Wilkinson (a warm welcome back to one of the great captain/managers), had a busy first week because he also turned out for Ballynafeigh 2s, so even he can't be part of any list.

So, under this laissez-faire system, can we expect the Division 2 teams to live in a fantasy world, where, like Alice, they can't distinguish between the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Ulster chess.
Ballynafeigh 3 and 4 with Alice

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Civil Service Rapidplay 2

The second in the series of Civil Service Rapidplays took place at the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion in the Stormont estate today. "Intensive" is the buzzword for this series (translating to plenty of games within a short time frame) but this second edition also sported the paradoxical "lackadaisical" in its title.

The idea this time was to allow intending participants a lie-in on a Sunday morning, a leisurely breakfast and time to read the newspapers before setting forth to battle over the chessboard. An alternative suggested by the organisers was to turn up early at the venue and make use of its facilities to prepare for the games ahead. No, not a quick trip to the fitness suite, but something instead designed to take in calories. When I arrived at the venue, a number of players were taking this option, availing of the Sunday lunch in the Whistles Restaurant.

During a rapidplay there is usually very little time to observe what your rivals are up to, but what was abundantly clear was that top seed Michael Waters was cutting a swathe throught the opposition. After the penultimate round he had a perfect 100% score having dispatched Alan Burns, Calum Leitch, Nicholas Pilkiewicz, Damien Lavery and Ian Woodfield along the way. At that stage Michael and his victims filled the top seven positions in the standings with one interloper in the shape of yours truly.

My reward was a final round top-board pairing with the leader. In a Queens Indian, while pursuing as White an apparently logical positional path, I was suddenly subjected to a small tactical demonstration and had to resign immediately. Waters thus finished with a perfect 6 out of 6 and overall victory. Meanwhile on board 2, second place was decided in the game between Leitch and Pilkiewicz with the former prevailing in a hard-fought struggle by weaving a mating net in a Rook and minor piece endgame which forced the win of a Rook.

The Civil Service Club hope to run their next rapidplay towards the end of March with the finale of the series probably late May/early June (depending on exactly when the UCU organise the City of Belfast Championships and the rumoured revival of a Cup competition).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Groundhog day

About a month and a half ago, the League Controller woke up one morning and decided it was time for him to make a decision about the "Divisional Split". Something along the lines of doing something unexpected, like 7-4. The next morning he woke up to find himself reliving the day again, and it kept happening, morning after morning. So he reckoned this must be occurring because of his decision on the composition of the Leagues after the preliminaries. So one morning he decided to change his mind and offer up a different scenario, but he was still stuck the next day, and the next day.....So he made another different decision, and then another. He tried everything, adding an extra team, then two, then three. However, nothing could get his League Controlling life going forward from that fateful day in early December 2013.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the chess players of Belfast and its environs were getting on with their lives. League matches were played, Christmas came and went and the New Year was welcomed in. League matches resumed, getting ever closer to the end of the preliminaries. Throughout all this, they were receiving the League Controller's increasingly desperate attempts to find his route into the future. The most recent announcement that permeated into the real world was the confusingly titled "7+7=12" - the poor lad must be in a terrible state by now.

Anyway ("Final answer?"), apparently it's to be the Magnificent Seven in Division 1 (he always did hanker after that) and a different, slightly less magnificent, seven in Division 2, with 3 of those starting from zero. However, I'd keep checking the Ballynafeigh blog, just in case the League Controller is still having trouble rejoining us in 2014.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The greater good

My last two posts had focussed on the divisional split in the Belfast and District League. Since then there has been a dizzying sequence of events apparently orchestrated by the League Controller. Like a music-hall conjurer producing rabbits out of a hat, he has foreshadowed and then announced the arrival of extra teams into the League. Well done to him for not merely adminstering the League, but going out of his way to expand the number of teams. Muldoons and Belfast South have each sprouted a second team and the Controller's own Ballynafeigh has gone as far as reaching a number 4.

Rumour has it (and seeing it emanates from the Controller himself, presumably it will come to pass) that there will be 8 teams in Division 1 after the split. So it seems, after all, that the Magnificent Seven will compete for the Silver King, along with plucky Bangor. This will then leave Division 2 populated by the bottom three from the preliminares plus the three "newbies".

The greater good may well be served by this increase in teams for the second part of the season. In recent years the League has diminished in size as clubs have shied away from entering more than one team. With his recent efforts the Controller has decisively reversed this trend and hopefully the future will see increased levels of competition in the League.

However, someone concerned with process (and your correspondent confesses to being such a person) cannot help point out that the League Controller (and/or the UCU Board) has driven a coach and horses through the League protocols. When a query was raised earlier ths season as to when the rules governing the League would be published the Controller trenchantly pointed out that they remained those propogated by the UCU Board on the 22nd October 2011. The assumptions underlying those rules no longer seem to apply and the bold step to jettison certain parts of them has been taken to what seems to be large-scale approval. Obviously a re-write will be needed next season.

However, it doesn't stop there. The revival of interest in team chess is bringing forward new ideas. The Champ (over at Off the Chest) has floated an interesting suggestion for an experimental half-hour League at the end of the regular season. At the same forum the League Controller has unveiled a few radical ideas for a Cup competition. I'm not sure about these: 3-player teams - sorry, no; genetically engineered line-ups - a bit too Brave New World for me. Still, the return of a Cup competition is definitely to be applauded, but my own view is that the emphasis here should not be so much on gimmicks (though I'm not against a sensible handicapping system) but in achieving a greater geographical spread with matches (or at least some of them) played at the weekend to facilitate this.

Anyway, seems like we live in interesting times!