Excellent Swiss submarine performances from Seán and Cal plus a grading prize for Joe were the highlights from the 26-strong St Benildus contingent in Kilkenny 2015.
The club was only absent from the Masters – although Alex Byrne was asked to float up to make up the numbers, and promptly won his first match against Killian Delaney. Slightly concerning was the fact that of the six players who came joint second, four could be facing the Armstrong B on Thursday. Still, these are the games we got promoted for. Apparently… And Henry Li’s two successive games against GMs can hardly constitute good preparation for our raft of 1600s!
In the Majors, we were pretty much playing amongst ourselves a fair bit of the time – there were four derbies in all, with Mariusz, myself and Brendan completing a mini head-to-head, in which Brendan easily emerged victorious after ignoring common opening guidelines and pushing his g and h pawns early, with surprisingly chaotic results. Myself and Mariusz could at least take some satisfaction from watching Bernard Boyle play Brendan – Bernard ignored common opening guidelines and pushed his g and h pawns early on, with surprisingly chaotic results. In fact, Brendan only picked up results in derbies, although he did lose a won rook and pawn ending on time as well. The other match in the mini head-to-head ended in a tame “Saturday evening and on 0/3” draw, while I had contrasting fortunes in other games – hanging a piece in one and making a move I’d just decided against in another; thankfully, in the latter, my opponent offered a draw when on the king-hunt I had meant to avoid as he had a college assignment to finish!
The other derby in the top section saw Ciarán take on Dylan in the first round; Dylan went a bit wrong after 15 or so moves of theory, and though both sides had fairly vicious-looking attacks going, Ciarán was able to swap off into a winning endgame an exchange up, and then returning the exchange just as Dylan was threatening a pawn and bishop mate, and Dylan didn’t wait to see Ciarán promote straight after. Dylan had an overdue nightmare tournament after a year of spectacular gains, while Ciarán got a shot at the top seed, who, as top seeds can be wont to do, and went from level but with pressure to completely won fairly early on without Ciarán ever really working out why. John, meanwhile, was for a while our best shot at a prize, before falling victim to a zwischenzug against Rudolf Tirziman in round 5 and then getting a fortress draw against the second seed in the last round to end up half a point off second. His game against Rudolf was unusual in that at one stage he was close to 90 minutes up on the clock – impressive given that’s how much time the players started with!
In the James Mason, Odhrán almost matched last year’s 4½/6 and third place, but couldn’t convert a win despite going a pawn up in the last round; the resulting rook and pawn ending was drawn and he had to settle for 4/6. With William down near the bottom of the draw throughout – and in good company too, as his final round pairing against the second seed showed! – it was left to Finn and Seán to provide the good news. Like last year, Finn started off with two draws and a win, but another win in round 5 meant the end result was more like 2013 for Finn – a mid-table finish and a good 100+ points gain.
Seán, meanwhile – who’d only played two rated games this time last year – started with a defeat, but was almost unstoppable after that, picking up four wins in a row against 1400s before surviving a lost piece in the final round (which his opponent missed) to ultimately hang on for a draw in a Q v Q+1 ending to earn a share of third place. Curiously, his final round match provided his lowest-rated opponent – four players were tied on 4/5, with ratings of 1280, 1180, 1180 and 1170 (Seán). Seán, the third-lowest seed in the section, should now shoot up to 1400 or so.
The bulk of the players were in the Challengers, where Liam was openly going for a tournament win after going close in Cork earlier in the year. He started with three wins but stumbled after that in what is always the most competitive of sections. A final round win over Diarmaid – who had earlier drawn with one of the ultimate runners-up – wasn’t quite enough for Liam to slot into second place.
Cal had gone the other route, losing in round 2 to one of the under-rated players who make the section so difficult; she also drew with Liam and won a grading prize. However, Cal did win his other five games to end up joint second and earn his first spot on our Roll of Honour; both he and Liam should be the next players to make the jump up a section come Bunratty. Slotting in between the two in the final standings was Joe, whose 4½/6 was enough for a grading prize. Ben just missed out on a grading prize after a 4/6 in which his only two defeats came against the second and fourth seeds, with the latter after being hit by a counter-attack while a piece up.
Further down the standings, Tim had a strange draw, losing to three of the top ten seeds and beating three unrated players, while Seán Kelly beat the fourth seed and Richard claimed a win when – maybe not entirely in good sportsmanship! – he made a bit of a show of disappointment at “hanging” his bishop, only to deliver back-rank mate when it was taken.
We’ll have a few of the more interesting games later in the week – if anyone has any they want to annotate and share, get in touch! And in the meantime, the usual thanks to all the Kellys (Frank, Caroline and Declan), the McAllens, Cathal and of course Frank Scott for sorting lifts, accommodation and food!