There was a bumper entry of 20 St Benildus players at the 2012 Bunratty Chess Festival – 7½% of the total entry! Although there were no prizes won, there were plenty of good performances across the board.
We had no entrants in the top section, although former players Sam Osborne and Oisín Benson were in action; Sam overcame the slight handicap of no sleep at all on the Saturday night to pick up a grading prize. Top of the pile – in about the strongest ever weekender tournament in Ireland, with 10 GMs and 10 IMs – were 1993 World Championship finalist Nigel Short and 2004 FIDE World Championship finalist Michael Adams, both of whom are still in the world’s top 75 and who, at their peak, were world numbers 3 and 4 respectively. For those who stayed on till the end, the title was decided by means of a blitz play-off which had pretty much everything. Game 1 was a French Tarrasch – Short as black – with an early exchange of e-pawns. After a couple of minutes, someone’s phone went off in the audience, which drew Short’s legendary wrath (quite a blunt “Fuck sake”). Short won an exchange and got two connected passed pawns on the third rank. Meanwhile, Adams opened up Short’s king with some nice tactics with the upshot that when Short queened – to have 2Q, R+2 v Q, N+4 – Short was almost immediately forced to give up one of his queens on the knight to avoid mate. Adams then picked up Short’s rook with a check fork, got the queens off and we got a manic final 20 seconds of K+3 v K+1 where Adams pushed his pawns, promoted, picked up Short’s pawn and delivered mate…only for Short to point out that Adams’ flag had fallen. There was some debate over whether Short had made the claim too late – I think the flag had literally fallen on the previous move to mate – and the controller had to step in. He noted that while Short wasn’t going to win (“Yeah, I know that”, said Short), he had seen the flag fall and so it was declared a draw.
In the rematch, Short – now as white – played the King’s Gambit (Steven Dixon was delighted; he now has two things in common with Short – that and the ability to lose games from a queen up, of which more anon!). Adams went for a Falkbeer, so it was an open enough game. Short took doubled c-pawns, which Adams seemed to hit out at and block entirely. Short was restricted to moving his rook back and forth between b2 and c2 for about ten moves, while his bishop (only other piece) was on d1. Adams marched his king and kingside pawns up the board, and Short resigned. Two superb games, and amazing to be able to watch players of that calibre here in Ireland!
The only Benildus player in the Challengers was myself. I started off – for the third year in a row! – with a first-round game against Jack Short, whom I’d also met in the first round of Kilkenny in November. This time around, I brought our personal score back to 2-2 with a nice win, which may be of interest to those looking for a line to play against the French –
Kevin Burke (1606) v Jack Short (1796), Bunratty Challengers, Round 1, 17 Feb ’12
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2
The Tarrasch. White’s other main options here are 3. Nc3 (the Winawer; black usually swaps off bishop for knight on c3 and tries to take advantage of white’s weak pawn structure), 3. e5 (the advance; comfortable enough for black) and 3. exd5 (the exchange, which often leads to fairly dull games because of the symmetrical positions that often arise)
3. … Nf6 4. e5 Nd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Nf3!?
More common here is 7. Ne2. The text gives up the d-pawn, but as black is about to find out, it can come with quite a kick attached. Black can just develop normally here instead with Be7, O-O, cxd and f6 – normal ideas in the French.
7. … Qb6 8. O-O cxd 9. cxd NxP 10. NxN QxN 11. Nf3 Qb6 (D) 12. Qa4
A look at this position will show the compensation white has for the pawn –
Black’s knight is pinned. While it can’t develop, neither can the light-squared bishop, and that needs to move to allow the a1-rook into the game. Meanwhile, white’s queen is threatening to cross over to the king-side should black castle there (and he’s not going to go queen-side), while white’s dark-squared bishop can come into the game with tempo by attacking the queen. Fritz gives this position as equal, but white’s play is very natural from this position.
12. … Qb4
The right continuation; stopping the queen from heading over to the likes of f4 or g4.
13. Qc2 h6?!
Protecting the pawn. Instead, 13. Qc5 is the main line, when white’s queen goes to e2. There’s no point winning back the pawn by playing Bxh7 and allowing the queen swap off, as white’s momentum is gone and black may even get some play on the open h-file. White then plays Be3 and Rc1 to complete development while black has only a queen and a knight in play.
White couldn’t really want a better position.
18. Qf4 g5 19. Qg3 f5?
This is black’s first real error, I think – it gives white control of the c7 square, and with it comes dominance of the c-file. Meanwhile, black’s king is that bit more open, and white’s main weakness – the lonely e5-pawn – is gone.
20. PxPep NxP? 21. Ne5
The knight jumps into the hole black has left; better was BxP, preventing this move but still leaving black to deal with the problems mentioned on the last move. The immediate threat now is Ng6+, winning the exchange.
21. … Bd6 22. Bc5?
A bit of a cheapo. The “threat” is 23. BxB and Ng6+ winning the queen. More to the point, I wanted to remove black’s dark-squared bishop to get control of c7. However, 22. f4 would have been stronger (as seen later).
22. … Kg7? 23. Bd4 Qe8? 24. f4 Qh5 25. fxg QxP (D)
Fritz actually much prefers the bizarre-looking 26. Qe1, which almost traps black’s queen. More to the point, after 27. h4, as black scrambles to save his queen, he’s going to open up lines to his king (the g-file for one), and probably hang the knight, and so white is just crushing. I do prefer my way though! White is threatening forced mate; 26. … KxR leads to mate (we’ll say nothing of the fact that I was planning to reply 27. Nc4+. having completely missed the reply e5, which Fritz gives as even!) and so black’s only option is to swap off most of his material and enter a fairly hopeless ending.
26. … QxQ 27. Rf7+
Incredibly, Fritz gives 27. Nf3 as stronger! This actually traps black’s queen, which will fall next move anyway; meanwhile, the a1-h8 diagonal is opened up, which contains a highly unpleasant series of pieces from black’s point of view.
27. … Kg8 28. PxQ BxN
28. … Bd7 is the only other move that prevents mate, and that just hangs a piece.
29. BxB KxR 30. BxR
30. Rc7! is much stronger here, keeping a complete bind on black’s position. Fritz gives 30. … Kg8 31. Bg6 h5 (what else?) 32. Re7 (threatening mate) Bd7 33. Rg7+ (forcing the king onto f8 means the rook can’t escape via h6 because of the check on g7) Kf8 34. RxB Kg8 (protecting the rook again) 35. Rg7+ Kf8 36. RxP Kg8 37. Bf7+ and white is going to mop up black’s material. That said, what I played is also a straightforward win. Once you spot one such win, why bother looking for an improvement? The rest is basic.
30. … Bd7 31. Rc7 RxB 32. RxB+ Ke6 33. Rxb7 e5 34. RxP e5 35. Ra5 Ke5 36. Bc4 Rd8 37. RxP+ RxR 38. BxR KxB 39. Kf2 Kd4 40. Ke2 Ke5 41. Ke3 1-0
It was all downhill for me after that, with a solitary draw to show for the last five games, which included a first Greek Gift defeat in seven years. Not a memorable tournament!
In the Major, Steven Dixon entered “on a whim”, and maybe wished he hadn’t! After managing to lose from a position of queen for rook up (see the earlier comment about Steven’s comparisons to Nigel Short! Steven is the club’s original King’s Gambit player), he almost repeated the trick in the last round when, queen for piece up, he managed to give away a whole rook before eventually winning the game. Michael Kearney played up for the first time and, although his only win came when his opponent – a piece up – amazingly moved his rook where it could be taken by a pawn, he’ll have picked up a fair bit to go with the 20 rating points gained.
It was in the bottom section where we were best represented. We started off well, with Andrew Kyne-Delaney – runner-up last year – hammering the top seed in round 2 to go to 2/2; one of 5 Benildus players on a 100% score after 2 rounds (Finn McDonnell, Dan O’Brien, Luke Hayden, Conor Devilly being the others). It did go downhill from there, though with the benefit that at least those players were playing stronger opponents by virtue of their strong starts. Andrew and Conor ended up on 3½/6, top-scoring along with Jamie Kearns and Dan Boland. The Bunratty website gives a full final standings table, including rating performances for all players (though only taking into account games against those players with ratings). Conor Devilly’s rating performance of 1043 was the most impressive. Jamie and Colm Hehir were the only players to play 6 rated players, gaining performances of 840 each. There were plenty of other decent results which should see a slew of players off the 700 mark come the May ratings list, while touch wood the first years will have gotten the taste for the weekenders after their first Bunratty experience!
As always, a mention has to go to those who organised the trip down for those from the school – Joe O’Brien, Mark Kennedy, Naomi and, of course, the ever-enthusiastic Frank Scott. We wouldn’t have had the contingent we did without them, so a big thanks all round!