Last weekend Sue and I made the trip over to Shannon airport to play in one of the big two Irish weekend tournaments (the other is Kilkenny). Thanks to Gary O’Grady’s very generous sponsorship this year’s tournament was the strongest weekender I’ve ever seen and must have been the strongest ever tournament in Ireland. Nigel Short returned and was joined by England’s number one Mickey Adams. All in all there were 10GMs and 10IMs in the 44 player Masters section.
The tournament was held in the Bunratty Castle Hotel and the organisers gave Sue and I a very pleasant suite – our most pleasant room so far I really enjoy the tournament but have to confess there isn’t much to do in Bunratty (with the hectic schedule of the tournament that doesn’t really matter). After checking in we went to the major meeting place of the village, Durty Nelly’s. This pub was founded in 1620 and is always the place to listen to music and meet chess players!
In the first round I was paired with my Ennis teammate, Rory Quinn. We played in the Galway tournament and there, due to road works, he arrived very late and flustered and didn’t last long. This time he decided to go into a mainline despite not knowing so much theory. He did well to come up with the most challenging moves but ran short on time and just after I came out of my theory he blundered a piece. Sue forgot her theory against Irish IM Mark Quinn and got a dodgy position out of the opening with Black. She fought long and hard but couldn’t quite salvage anything from the game.
A relatively quiet night and then an early start. Sue and I actually switched opponents for round two and managed 2/2. Mark sacrificed the exchange early but didn’t manage enough compensation. He threw in a queen sacrifice too but my queen and rook for three pieces was simply too much. Sue also got off the scoreboard with a win in the Bishop’s Opening.
With such a strong field the GMs could no longer be kept apart and round three gave me the very tough pairing of Black against top seed Mickey. He surprised me with 1.d4 and we played a Fianchetto KID. I basically equalised out of the opening but then Mickey started grinding and forced me to grovel in a rook and pawn endgame for the half point. Sue’s pointed out to me before that whenever she plays she’s invariably paired with the only other female in the tournament. So it turned out here too and she played the other WIM Natasha Regan. I haven’t actually seen the game yet but I believe Sue was in a bit of trouble out of a King’s Gambit but also held the draw.
There was yet another game on the Saturday before we could retire to the bar. I had White against Lawrence Trent – he of Full English Breakfast fame; if you haven’t listened to it before then you really should – http://thefeb.com/. I got an advantage out of the opening but then subsequently misplayed the position horribly. I reached a position with good knights vs bad bishops but he was active and I really should have sat for a draw. However, with time running short for both of us (time control was 90minutes + 15 seconds/move), I decided to complicate. I soon blundered a pawn and let his bishops in when I was completely lost but in the time scramble I tricked Loz and somehow won – definitely not our finest hour but into the tenth hour of play it was very tough. Sue had a tough pairing of White against IM Simon Ansell who played an offbeat Modern setup. I believe Sue was doing well early on but then, instead of sitting when it’s unclear if Simon had any more than a draw, Sue played an enterprising piece sacrifice that didn’t quite come off.
I stayed up reasonably late Saturday evening, first going to Durty Nelly’s with Mickey and his wife Tara, and then heading back to the hotel bar before sleeping around 2.30am. This may seem foolhardy but my opponent, the Romanian-French GM Andrei Istratescu, took this policy to extremes. I have it from reliable witnesses that he was still partaking of Bunratty’s social side at 5.30am in the morning. Unfortunately, when the game started at 9.15am he was nowhere to be seen. He eventually arrived at the board at 9.47am to be told that he had forfeited the game, as the default time was 30minutes. Harsh on him but the rules have to be upheld. This meant that I could go back to the room and sleep before the final round. Sue lost a long game where she was probably doing well with rook and many pawns for three pieces.
Up to this point Nigel had kept up a 100% score but he and Mickey shared the point on top board leaving Nigel and me in the lead on 4.5/5 with Mickey half a point back. The final round pairings were obvious. The last couple of times I’ve played Nigel he has chosen the English but this time he reverted to 1.e4. I responded with the Sicilian and he surprised me with 2.b3. I couldn’t really remember any theory on this other than a line recommended by Peter Heine-Nielsen in the Experts vs the Anti-Sicilians book. Therefore I chose 2…g6 and we had a crazy game! I was lost at various points but with little time Nigel failed to find the most convincing path and in the end I managed to grovel a draw in another rook and pawn endgame a pawn down.
[Site “Sheffield ENG”]
[White “Short, N.”]
[Black “Jones, G.”]
1. e4 c5 2. b3 g6 3. Bb2 Nf6 4. Qf3 Bg7 5. e5 Ng8 6. e6 Nf6 7. exf7+ Kxf7 8. g4
h6 9. Nc3 d5 10. h3 e6 11. O-O-O Nc6 12. Re1 Nd4 13. Qg2 Bd7 14. Nf3 Nxf3 15.
Qxf3 Bc6 16. Bd3 Qd6 17. h4 g5 18. Qe2 a6 19. f4 gxf4 20. g5 Ne4 21. g6+ Ke7
22. Nxd5+ Bxd5 23. Bxg7 Ng3 24. Qg4 Nxh1 25. Be5 Qd8 26. g7 Rg8 27. Qxf4 Kd7
28. c4 Bc6 29. Be4 Qe7 30. Bxc6+ Kxc6 31. Rg1 Qd7 32. Qe4+ Kb6 33. Qxh1 Rad8
34. Qh2 Qf7 35. h5 Rd7 36. Rg6 Qf5 37. Qe2 Ka7 38. Rxh6 Rdxg7 39. Bxg7 Rxg7 40.
Qe3 Rg5 41. Rxe6 Rxh5 42. Kb2 Rh1 43. Ka3 Rh3 44. Qe5 Qxe5 45. Rxe5 Rh2 46. Rd5
Kb6 47. b4 cxb4+ 48. Kxb4 Kc6 49. a4 b6 50. a5 b5 51. Rc5+ Kb7 52. Kc3 bxc4 53.
Rxc4 Rh5 54. Kb4 Rd5 55. d4 Kb8 56. Ka4 Kb7 57. Rb4+ Kc7 58. Rc4+ Kd7 1/2-1/2
Sue finished with a win against the French while Mickey seemed to win fairly easily against Luis Galego on board two and so the three of us tied for 1st on 5/6. According to the regulations there would be a tiebreak between the top two (decided by the sum of the scores of their respective opponents) and that shunted me out to watch on the sidelines.
After a controversial draw in the first game Mickey made no mistakes in the second to pick up the trophy and title. As the chief arbiter and organiser Gerry Graham observed at the prize giving, it was always going to be tough for me to hold on to my title but I felt I gave it a good shot and am happier about my play than I have been so far this year. The chess hadn’t ended yet and after a delicious dinner at Durty Nelly’s we rushed back to the Bunratty blitz.
This is just a fun event with no prizes and lots of alcohol. We were roughly divided into groups – not exactly all equal. Mine was 5 players with just one other from the Masters, some had four and Sue’s group had six with an average rating of well above 2200. She made 3.5/5 losing to IM Loz Cooper our International Director and drawing with GM Luis Galego but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to make the top to qualify for the knockout stages.
I managed to get revenge for Sue and then knocked out GM Keith Arkell but somehow failed to win a totally winning position against yet another English GM Mark Hebden and went out in the semis. Mickey Adams scooped, winning the final with ease.
A great weekend and highly enjoyable as always. A big thanks to Gary, Gerry, Paul, Ted and all the others who put so much effort into running the tournament smoothly. Gerry has also written an article on the tournament http://icu.ie/articles/display.php?id=343 with plenty of photos and games.