The return of the Munster Championship

In recent years the Munster Championship has led a rather sheltered life, often not seen out or disguised inside another tournament. However, earlier this year the Munster Chess Union announced the return of its Championship as a stand-alone event. On the weekend of 18-20 September 2015 it was duly held as a FIDE-rated, 5-round Swiss at the West County Hotel, Ennis, Co. Clare.

The provincial championships started their days as “closed” events, players requiring to be born (or resident) in the province to be eligible to enter. That tradition has been diluted over the years – the Leinster Championship had become an “open” event even before its incorporation in the Malahide tournament while this year the Ulster Championship was opened up to outsiders – Munster player Rory Quinn (although not eligible for the title) carrying off first-prize. After being incorporated in the Mulcahy Memorial for the past three years, the 2015 Munster Championship reverted to being a closed event, entry restricted to players originally from, or resident in Munster for at least one year – although some of the official pre-tournament publicity could have mislead you. Entry to the supporting Under 1500 Championship was open but the title and Joe Browne Cup could only be won by a Munster player.

It was no doubt gratifying for the MCU organisers that the 2015 entry list included the current joint Irish champion, Philip Short, plus the aforementioned Rory Quinn and Paul Walsh, both three-time winners. The Congress is well-served by post-event commentary – the MCU’s own website has a photo-report, runner-up Rory Quinn gives his personal take at the Ennis CC blog while Sean Coffey at IRLchess has a comprehensive round-up on the weekend’s proceedings. So, rather than attempt a pale imitation of that reportage, I will instead point readers in the direction of our Munster championship page which is not only updated with the 2015 final standings but also has significant additions and revisions about previous Championships.


Leave a comment

Filed under Munster

National Club Championship 2015

I’ll be posting the results of the event here in due course, but for the moment I recommend the report at the Limerick CC website. There’s also some round-by-round coverage at the Ennis CC website.

However, my main purpose of this post is to address the future direction of the National Club Championship.

The build-up to the 2015 NCC was, to put it mildly, shambolic. Amidst suggestions emanating from the ICU Executive that all sorts of rules were being broken, the 2015 event was initially going to be downgraded to a mere FIDE-rated team event, then postponed and finally re-instated.

Perhaps we should not be that surprised that the organisation of this year’s NCC has gone a bit awry. From virtually its very beginnning, the Championship has been plagued with poor organisation and a failure far too often by the Irish Chess Union to take a firm grip on the event.

After this year’s difficulties the ICU Executive is promising a review of the Rules to ensure that the problems that befell the 2015 NCC never arise in the future. However, merely tinkering with the Rules is not going to solve the underlying issues. A radical rethink is needed.

The NCC was instituted in the 1950s as a knock-out competition, starting off in the provinces before reaching a national stage. This was later whittled down to four qualifiers from the provincial leagues and in the mid-1970s the NCC became an all-play-all weekender. Not infrequently some of the provinces would not send a qualifer, weakening the rationale of the competition. When the Ulster Chess Union departed from the ICU in 2005, this exascerbated that situation and in 2009 the NCC was thrown open to any club in Ireland, subject to a rating strength proviso.

The 2009-onwards Rules initially produced an increase in clubs entering but that has now tailed off and it may well be unrealistic to expect large numbers for the NCC if it is held outside Dublin.

So we might conclude that the old rationale for the NCC has gone but the replacement format has not worked.

So here’s a suggestion for a revamp. Let’s look at turning the NCC into a proper National League, with the possibility of multiple divisions.

  • Played over 5 rounds in one weekend (Friday night to Sunday afternoon)
  • Six team all-play-all “Premier League”
  • Multiple Divisions
  • One-up, one-down promotion and relegation
  • Open only to clubs competing in a provincial League
  • Second (etc) teams allowed but not entitled to promotion to top Division

Most of the other rules would remain much as before. The player eligibility rules might need a bit of a tweak, but I wouldn’t suggest a radical overhaul. My guess is that most clubs don’t want the possibility of flying in a team of GMs and IMs and the current rules do a reasonably decent job of that. One change I might tentatively suggest is that each squad could only contain a maximum number of non-IRL registered players, eg 3 in a squad and only 2 in any single match.

The format of 6 players plus two reserves and FIDE rated, four hour sessions should remain. The sheer numbers of clubs playing league chess in Leinster means that for multiple Divisions to work and to retain continuity of entry year-on-year, the event should be held only in Dublin (ideally in a non-city centre hotel).

I would also find another spot in the calendar for the event; it’s present position just before a run of tournaments – Malahide, Ennis, Drogheda – is far from ideal and I would suggest slotting the new-NCC in the one-month plus gap between Bunratty and Cork.

So how would Year 1 of my proposal look? For the “Premier League” I would suggest qualification might be along these lines:

  • 2015 winner of NCC
  • First two in Armstrong Cup
  • Winner of Munster League
  • Winner of Connacht League
  • Winner of the new Scarry Cup

Perhaps in Year 1 it might be best to start with a Swiss format for League 2, with the possibility (if things go well) of introducing further all-play-all lower Divisions gradually. After the first edition of the new-look NCC, promotion and relegation would take-over in determining what clubs played in the various Divisions.

Addressing the organisational deficit, I would suggest the ICU set up a broadly-representative sub-committee to oversee the event – if for no other reason that to ensure compliance with those pesky Rules and dealing with any issues about qualification (eg if replacement teams need to be found).


Filed under National Club Championship

De Loughrey Memorial 1978

Desmond de Loughrey died on the 20th April 1977. He played on four Irish Olympiad teams between 1958 and 1968 and was also President of the Irish Chess Union for a number of years in the 1960s. The ICU decided to inaugurate a tournament in his honour. Its then President, Eugene O’Hare, who had competed with de Loughrey in the 1962 and 1964 Olympiads, had the novel idea of making the memorial tournament an all-Ireland knock-out handicap team championship. In late 1977 a prospectus was issued looking for teams to enter. The nature of the handicap was based on grading differential; for example, a team with an overall rating of 400 points less than its opponent received an extra point. Matches were to be 8 players a side. The closing date for entries was the 7th December. By early January 1978, there was concern about the number of teams putting themselves forward, with none at all from Munster, and the entry date was extended. The reminder seems to have done the trick – by mid-February the initial pairings had been announced and although the entry was a relatively modest 17, the participating teams came from all over Ireland. There was one preliminary match which produced something of a surprise when Dublin held Collegians over the board and went through on handicap. In the first round proper the operation of the handicap system made itself felt with two teams, St.James’s A and Malahide, going though to the next round despite losing on ordinary game points.

Preliminary Round
Dublin         4.0-4.0  Collegians

First Round
City of Derry  3.5-4-5  Kilbarrack
Dundrum          W-L    Dublin
St James's A   3.0-5.0  Galway
Yellow House   8-0-0.0  West Finglas
Phibsboro      6.5-1.5  Wicklow
Fisherwick     5.0-3.0  Ierne
Sandymount     6.0-2-0  Malahide
St. James's B    L-W    South Munster

In the quarter finals normality was restored with the four teams winning their matches over the board advancing to the semi-finals without handicap points interfering.

Quarter finals
Dundrum        4.5-3.5  Kilbarrack
Yellow House   7.0-1.0  St. James's A
Phibsboro      5.5-2.5  Fisherwick 
South Munster  7.0-1.0  Malahide

In the semi-finals South Munster had a crushing victory over Phibsboro while the other match was tied and “Yellow House won through on tie-break rules” according to the report in the Sunday Independent – making it a little unclear whether this was on the handicap or just some ordinary tie-break rule.

Yellow House   4.0-4.0  Dundrum
South Munster  7.5-0.5  Phibsboro    

The final was held at the Crofton Airpot Hotel, Dublin. The finalists were very different in character. South Munster was not a club in the conventional sense but a conglomerate representing the South Munster Chess Association. The Rathfarnham-based Yellow House was a “mere” Leinster Division 2 team – but do not let that fool the reader. Yellow House had won the Heidenfeld Trophy in 1978 to qualify to compete against the big battalions in the 1978-1979 Armstrong Cup (when it subsequently finished second) and had recently won the Leinster Chess Union’s (non-handicap) knock-out championship, the Branagan Cup. Looking at the names of the players involved, despite the strength of the South Munster squad, it seems remarkable that Yellow House enjoyed the advantage of four handicap points in the final. Despite a valiant effort by the South Munster players in winning the match over the board the handicap proved too much for them.

Yellow House 3.0 - 5.0 South Munster
(Yellow House won 7.0-5.0 on handicap)

Yellow House           South Munster
Colm Barry        =-=  Colm Quigley
Denis Healy       0-1  Maurice Kennefick
Hilary Healy      0-1  Anthony McCarthy
Eamon Martin      0-1  Orison Carlisle
Ciaran Scollard   0-1  Kevin James
Denis McLaughlin  =-=  Tom O'Shea
Kevin McCarthy    1-0  John Butler
Ray Grimason      1-0  Maurice Coveney 

Leave a comment

Filed under De Loughrey

Restricted tournaments

A player’s eligibility to play tournament chess can be restricted in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most common restriction, obvious every time someone enters a multi-section weekender, is rating strength. We have taken the, perhaps arbitrary, decision to focus normally only on the top sections of these events.

National and regional organisations are likely to have competitions where eligibility to play depends on nationality, place of birth and residence. You will find these type of events here in the Official and Provinces sections.

Our new Restricted section is itself limited to documenting tournaments two more of these eligibility factors – age and gender.

The Irish Junior Championships have themselves had a number of qualifying factors. When the tournament started in 1948 it was called the Irish (or All-Ireland) Schoolboys’ Championship. It was an officially recognised national championship, with a restriction to Irish players – which still applies today. Also it had an age restriction but expressed in the form of players still attending school. Finally it was restricted by gender.

As the years have gone by the more inclusive “junior” has replaced “schools”. Also female players are eligible to play – originally separate competitons for girls were introduced. Today, athough these have disappeared, separate girls titles may still be awarded within each age group.

Also, instead of just one age group as was the case back in 1948, various additional age categories have gradually been introduced – now extending down as far as Under 8. We have concentrated on the oldest age group, which is an Under 19 category.

Age-restricted tournaments are widely seen as helpful to the development of young talented chess players. On the other hand, arguments have been made against there being any gender-restricted tournaments. It is not our intention to enter a debate on the rights and wrongs of that issue. However as long as FIDE recognises and supports female-only tournaments, it seems sensible, or at least pragmatic, for national organisations such as the Irish Chess Union to follow suit.

While the Junior Championhips have continued every year since their inception, the Irish Womens’ Championship has had more of a chequered history. There have been three time periods of competition – the first was from 1953 to 1957, the second from 1968 to 1982 and the third, dating from 2010, is one we are currently in the midst of.

1 Comment

Filed under Irish Junior Championship, Irish Women's Championship


Bunratty is the “Big Daddy” of Irish weekenders but this year it managed to surpass itself, breaking the 350 mark – it usually “only” has about 300 competing. The 2015 Masters, played 20-22 February, was won by Wesley So, one of the coming men in elite-level chess and already in the top 10 FIDE-ranked players.

Bunratty, like most Irish weekenders, has too tight a schedule to be FIDE-rated but this year, as in 2013, the Congress organisers added the “Bunratty Classic” – a FIDE-rated title-norm tournament. I’m currently working on a revamp of the Landmark section, so the inclusion at Irish Chess History of these two “Classics” will have to wait a little longer. However over at IRLchess there is a comprehensive report on the 2015 edition.

However, I have now posted a Bunratty page with results of the Masters since 1994- my thanks to Gerry Graham, one of the organising team there, for allowing me access to his personal archives. As a result, the information presented is more comprehensive than it would otherwise have been. Only the inaugural year of 1994 has a scarcity of detail – any help with this edition would be gratefully received.

In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, there seemed to be a few rather staid souls who considered that people should only enjoy themselves at  a chess tournament by playing chess. Of course, one of the great attractions of Bunratty (and some of the other Irish weekenders) is the craic, as shown by the picture below.

The "brothers" Short

Craic at the 2011 Bunratty Congress

Leave a comment

Filed under Bunratty

Reinventing the wheel

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Galway

Williamson Shield 2015


Play underway in Round 2

The Williamson Shield celebrated the centenary of its first staging in 2012. This year it took place (earlier than usual) on the first weekend in January at its home since 2004, the Maynard Sinclair Pavilion on the Stormont estate in the outskirts of Belfast. Although numbers playing were down on the unexpectedly high turnout in 2014, the 38 who did battle this year was still well up on the average over the last 12 years. There were therefore ample numbers for the tournament to be split into two sections.

The Shield itself was won by Ulster champion Gabor Horvath on 5.5 out of 6, with defending champion Gareth Annesley second and Calum Leitch, recent winner of the Ulster Masters, in third. John Phillips was the winner of the subsidiary Challengers section, with five straight wins after a surprise first round loss. Second place went to John McKenna, the only unbeaten player in this section. There is an excellent report at the UCU website.

A new Williamson Shield page has been added with detailed results from the very beginning of this long-established event.

Leave a comment

Filed under Williamson Shield