1949 was the first year that the Irish championship was played with the Swiss system. Nearly every year since this has continued to be the format and virtually every Congress in Ireland is now played as a Swiss. Even Drogheda, the great stalwart of all-play-all sections, gave in last year.
Nowadays, most of the big Congresses have three or four Swiss sections, and this can bring issues with where the rating bands are set and, even more so, whether there should be any flexibility with people allowed to “play up” a section. Some players like to be ambitious and go looking for stronger opposition and want the flexibility to move up to a higher rating band, while the higher section players moan about the dilution of the rating standard of opponent. Organisers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
In 2014, Galway suffered a drop in numbers, which the organisers considered was in part a result of this tension around how to set rating bands. Chief organiser Pete Morris is now considering a radical solution and is looking for feedback from intending competitors – I reckon chessplayers are by and large a conservative bunch when it comes to changes in tournament organisation, so I don’t foresee the Galway organisers getting a great light for this propsed innovation.
If it doesn’t go ahead, at least Morris will be saved the extra burden this psychedelic Swiss format will impose. However, I’m curious to see how it might work out and hoping we’ll see it in action at least once.
We have posted a new page on the Galway Congress. It was first held in 2002 and enjoyed a successful start in an area where weekend tournaments were a rarity. Both that year and the next there were over 50 competitors in a single section format. However there was a step change in 2004 when the event moved from May to September and a four-section format produced a mammoth three-fold increase in numbers. In 2005 the Congress broke through the 200 barrier and Galway had positioned itself just behind the mega-weekenders of Bunratty and Kilkenny.
From then on the Congress settled down to a steady average of about 175 players each year, with a reduction to a more manageable three sections. However in 2012 a little cloud came on the horizon when numbers dropped to 124 although last year they rose again to just short of the 150-mark.
In the run-up to this year’s Congress there was discussion over at the Ennis CC blog about a potential reduction in numbers with two possible causes suggested. One was the increasingly significant issue of just how flexible the rating barriers should be in a multi-section Congress, with ambitious players wanting to play up (particularly to the top section) and the high-rated players preferring not to have the strength of their section diluted.
The other issue was the Galway Congress moved this year to only a week before the October Bank Holiday slot occupied by the long-standing Limerick Open. Unfortunately the organisers were on the horns of a dilemma here. Having two weekenders a week apart is asking for at least one of them to have reduced numbers. In Galway’s case this was likely to be particularly significant because North Munster is presumably a strong catchment area for it. The problem was that unfortunately the hosting hotel was on this occasion unable to offer an earlier weekend. The organisers had switched to this hotel only last year and were understandably reluctant to look for a different venue while building a relationship with their new partner.
So it was perhaps inevitable that in the end there was a significant drop in numbers this year (though a total that many tournaments would be delighted with). However all is not doom and gloom. A well-run event is a good location should continue to be popular. Here the Congress can be pleased with the knowledgeable Rory Quinn’s 5-star rating taken from his report on the 2014 Congress.
“I have to say I really enjoyed the Galway Congress last weekend. I hadn’t played a tournament in the Menlo Park Hotel before but in my opinion it was close to a perfect venue. Its in a good location and the room provided had lots of space, good lighting and there was a nice analysis area with sets adjacent to the bar.”
So, hopefully, this has been just a little stumble on the road to further success for this important Congress in the Irish chess calendar.