Roycroft-Walsh, Tormey Cup 1952

The renowned endgame study composer A. J. Roycroft was born in London in 1929. He’s probably best known for his founding and long-time editing of EG, a long-running journal devoted to endgame studies; he also wrote the book Test tube chess: a comprehensive introduction to the endgame study (1972), among others.

It’s not as widely known as it might be that he has a strong Irish connection. He was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin from 1949 to 1953 (French and German Languages and Literature), and throughout those years he was an active player in the local chess scene. Only one game of his is given in the ICU games archive, though to make up for the sparsity it’s a spectacular win against three-time Irish champion Dónal J. O’Sullivan, from the Armstrong Cup 1952-53.

Roycroft-Walsh, Tormey Cup 1952Here’s one more game, versus J. J. Walsh in the Tormey Cup 1952 (source: J. J. Walsh scorebook). This time it’s a loss: from the diagrammed position play continued 16… Be7, and then Roycroft snatched a pawn with 17. Qb8+ Qd8 18. Qxb7 but quickly ran into trouble.

[Click to replay the full game.]

A. J. (“John”) Roycroft also has one other strong link to Ireland I wasn’t aware of before I read his on-line bio: his father Benjamin Francis Roycroft, was born in Killarney in 1896.

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Irish championship 1999

A report for the Irish championship 1999 has been added to the collection here: see the Irish championships and Tournaments pages.

The tournament was held in Drogheda for the first, and so far only, time ever. The turnout was excellent for a non-Dublin venue at 18 players, including 5 former champions, and was hard-fought with the result in doubt until the end. The late Tom Clarke had a clear lead with two rounds to play, but lost the critical round 8 game against Colm Daly, who won again in the last round to record his second consecutive championship, with Clarke in clear second.

There were many interesting games, but one that particularly caught my eye was the penultimate round game between John Nicholson and Peter Cafolla. After some eventful play, the following position was reached, with White to play. How should the game continue with best play?

Nicholson-Cafolla, Irish championship 1999
Nicholson – Cafolla, Irish championship 1999
27. ?

I confess I did not find this too easy, and I was taken by surprise by engine analysis, which seems to me to be not too obvious. I think it’s a good exercise and readers are encouraged to give it some serious thought.

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Armstrong Cup 1948-49: Sackville

Congratulations to Gonzaga, who have clinched the Armstrong Cup for the third time in a row, with a round to spare.

Details of another past season have been added to the Armstrong Cup page. In 1948-49 the event had eight teams: Dublin (holders), Colmcille, Dublin University A & B, Eoghan Ruadh, Sackville, Setanta, and U.C.D.. Matches were over six boards, each team played each other once, and the competition was decided by match points.

(It’s striking how the scale has changed over the years. The Armstrong has essentially doubled in size—12 8-board teams instead of 8 6-board teams—and in 1948-49 there was just one lower division, the Ennis Shield. The season was also compressed, running from mid-November to the beginning of February.)

The event was well covered in the papers, and we have partial scores of all but three matches, though results of adjourned games were not reported and no final table appears to be available. Dublin lost to Sackville and later to Dublin University A. Colmcille were strongly in the running, and were joint leaders with Sackville after three rounds. They drew against Sackville, and either drew or lost against Dublin. In the end Sackville won, for the 15th time, with an undefeated record, though they drew at least one match, possibly two.

The Sackville team was Charles J. Barry (7-time Leinster champion, starting in 1912), D. G. Jackson, Matt Ryan (later Leinster champion (1958)), Paddy Duignan (Irish champion 1947), Tom Tormey, M. Sheehan, and Barney O’Sullivan (Irish champion 1939 and 1946). O’Sullivan played two games, and apart from those exceptions Sackville fielded the same team in every match.

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National Club Championship 2017

Congratulations to Gonzaga, convincing winners of this year’s National Club Championship, retaining the title they won for the first time last year.

The event has greatly improved over the past couple of years; this must be due in significant part to the rule changes brought in that make teams more representative of the clubs throughout the year. This year the event was almost too successful, since with only 4 rounds it was not possible to distinguish well between the teams that finished in 2nd-5th places.

One of the best aspects of the entire event was the live commentary by Alex Lopez and Stephen Jessel. I only caught the last half an hour or so, but is was very well done and entertaining. Here’s hoping we will see more such coverage for future events.

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Tournament reports have been added for the Bunratty Masters 1999 and 2006 editions. As always, there was much interesting chess in both.

But there were also some puzzling games. Now it must be emphasized that even when a game is available, it isn’t always the full game, and even when all the moves are present, the reason for the game’s end may be missing. For example, sometimes one player loses on time. Or the game continues but both players are short of time, stop recording moves, and one player blunders. Although it’s possible to record all this information, for various reasons it’s often lost in databases.

Van Voorthuijsen - Kane, Bunratty Masters 2006 In the Bunratty Masters 2006 there was one very striking example. In the first round the English player Robert Kane, as Black against the Dutch FM Peewee Van Voorthuijsen, reached the diagrammed position after 31… Qh3, when the game breaks off. White is utterly lost, e.g. 32. Qb5 Qxh2 33. Qf1 Bg2.

(Put it this way: Komodo 9.3 evaluates it at -28.45 after 31… Qh3.)

But the result was 1-0!

The version in the ICU games collection ends with “…”, indicating that some moves have been omitted. It would be interesting to see how White could have recovered. Does anyone have information on what exactly happened?

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Heidenfeld-Reilly, Irish championship 1964

No sooner had the last post been published, with its statement that only one game was available from the 1964 Irish championship, than David McAlister emailed to say that he had a second in his collection, and a significant one too: it’s the crucial Heidenfeld-Reilly clash in round 4 that effectively decided the championship.

We’re still not sure what the original source is, but this game matches the contemporary descriptions given in newspaper reports. One puzzle from the reports was that one claimed that Reilly had the advantage at the adjournment, but that Heidenfeld won a pawn a move after the resumption and the game a few moves later. Even in those days, without the aid of computers, it seemed surprising that a player of Reilly’s strength and experience could go wrong so soon after an adjournment.

The game score makes it clear that Reilly’s advantage at the break was solely in material terms: he was dead lost, and indeed the only slight surprise is that he bothered resuming.

Heidenfeld-Reilly, Irish championship 1964The critical point came a little earlier, in the diagrammed position, with Black to play.

White had been pressing earlier but Black would now hold some advantage after 36… Qd5. Instead Reilly played the tempting but dangerous 36… Rd1+?, and after 37. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 38. Kh2 followed with the decisive error 38… Ra1? (instead of 38… Rd8, say, when it seems White holds a slight advantage in complications). There followed 39. Qd4! Ra4 40. Qd8+ Qc8 41. Qd6+ Ka8 42. Qc7, where the game was adjourned, with the weakness of the back rank spelling doom for Black.

While Black had some chances, all in all the impression given is of a deserved and reasonably convincing win by Heidenfeld, and in turn this means a deserved and reasonably convincing championship

[Click to replay the full game.]

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Irish championship 1964

The recent posts on the game Oliff-Keogh prompted me to look up the details of the main event with which it was associated, the 1964 Irish championship.

That year’s event suffered several problems that turned it into one of the least memorable championships. It was planned as a 10-player all-play-all, a format that has been used many times for the event. But in this case one of the drawbacks manifested itself: several late withdrawals threatened the viability of the entire event, and it was only by drafting the London player R. W. O’Brien from the Open that it was possible to hold an 8-player all-play-all. Furthermore there were really only two main competitors, the defending champion Wolfgang Heidenfeld and the even-more-veteran Brian Reilly. In the event Heidenfeld won their individual game and cantered home to his third title. At the time the consensus was that the championship was ‘sub-standard’.

Heidenfeld-O'Brien, Irish championship 1964
Heidenfeld – O’Brien, Irish championship 1964
31… ?

Only one game seems to survive from the event (but see next post), the second round encounter between Heidenfeld and O’Brien. The critical point is shown in the diagram. Let’s leave this as an exercise: how would you evaluate this position with best play? Answer in a few days.

A full tournament report has also been uploaded.

[Update, February 9, 2016:] See comment for answer to the question posed above.

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Missed opportunity

The very welcome news that the ICU is offering two norm events in Tralee in April brought back memories of other recent norm events and opportunities. One such event was the City of Dublin IM Norm Tournament 2011. No norms were achieved; Stephen Brady finished on 6/9, ½ point short of recording his first IM norm.

Stephen had one missed opportunity, late in the event, that I have never seen pointed out. In his game in the penultimate round, as Black against the Scottish IM Stephen Burns-Mannion, the following position was reached after White’s 81. Bc6-b5.

Burns-Mannion - Brady, City of Dublin IM Norm Tournament 2011
Burns-Mannion – Brady
City of Dublin IM Norm 2011

Stephen now played 81… Kc3?, after which the Lomonosov tablebases show that there is no win; the game dragged on to move 112 before the draw was agreed.

But in the diagrammed position, there was a momentary opportunity for a knockout blow. After 81… Nd5! (and if 82. Ba6 Nc7 etc.), Black wins a second pawn or liquidates into an easily won pawn ending. White’s best appears to be 82. Kf1, but after 82… Ne3+! it’s hopeless, e.g., 83. Ke2 Nxc4 84. Be8 g2! 85. Kf2 Ne3 and White can resign.

[Click to replay the full game.]

[Update, January 27, 2017: It later occurred to me that the ‘etc.’ above was too casual: Black is indeed winning but it’s not a simple matter of being two pawns up, since the g-pawn will soon drop. After 81… Nd5! 82. Ba6 Nc7, if we placed the white king on g1 it would be a draw, whereas on e1 White is lost. The difference? On e1 White will be one tempo short of being able to stop the b-pawn. So: 83. Bc8 Kxc4 84. Kf1 (84. Bd7 Nd5) 84… b5 85. Kg2 b4 86. Kxg3 b3 87. Kf3 Kd3! (the only move to win; 87… b3? 88. Ke2 b2 89. Bf5 Kc3 90. Kd1; 87… Kc3? 88. Ke2 Kc2 89. Bf5+ Kc1 90. Kd3 b2 91. Kc3) 88. Bf5+ Kd2 89. Ke4 Nb5 90. Kd5 Na3 91. Kc5 b2 92. Kb4 Nc2+. In the game, once the white king got to g1 it was never going to be possible to set up the same opportunity.]

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Opportunity and chance, contd.

From the position in the last post, after 1…. Qg3+!! 2. Kh1, Black could have won by 2… e3!!.

The immediate threat, which is enough to account for White’s tries 3. Be2 and 3. Ra3, is 3… Qh3+ 4. Kg1 Rxf2 5. Rxf2 exf2 mate. On the other hand 3. f3 is met by 3… Qh3+ 4. Kg1 Rxg4+! 5. fxg4 Rxf1 mate.

The toughest defence is 3. Ra7 (threatening mate), when Black wins via 3… Qh3+ 4. Kg1 exf2+ 5. Rxf2 Qg3+! 6. Rg2 (6. Kh1 Qh4+) 6… Rf1 mate.

[Click to replay.]

For the chess history questions, the event was the Irish Open Tournament 1964. This was held in conjunction with the Irish championship, at Newman House, St. Stephen’s Green, from July 11-18 (or -19), 1964. Despite the name, therefore, it seems much closer to a modern Irish championship weekender than to other Irish Opens.

The event resulted in a resounding victory for R. H. W. Polly (Lincolnshire) on 7½/8. Equal second, on 6/8, were the contestants in this game, Eamon Keogh and Keith M. Oliff (Essex), BCF Under 18 champion in 1959.

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Opportunity and chance

From Chess Combination as a Fine Art (Pitman, 1976) by Golz and Keres, which we’ve mentioned here before, another Irish game and a puzzle:

Oliff-Keogh, Dublin 1964
Oliff-Keogh, Dublin 1964

We’ll take up the story as Golz and Keres present it:

“Black, who had for some time been playing a losing game with one piece down was suddenly presented by “chance” with a trump card 1… Qg3+!! which naturally shattered White’s dreams of victory; however he saw that 2. fxg3? leads to mate by 2… Rxf1+ 3. Kg2 R8f2+ 4. Kh3 Rh1 mate. (Here his piece superiority was a nuisance as it hindered the collaboration of his rooks!) The only move left to him was 2. Kh1 and as he faced his difficulties White offered up a prayer to heaven that his opponent would be content with the small mercy of perpetual check (2… Qh3+ 3. Kg1 Qg3+! etc.). His prayer was heard and the game ended in a draw, Black being very glad to get off so easily.

From the psychological point of view this was understandable but in fact Black could have won (after 1… Qg3+ 2. Kg1)!


To this purely chess puzzle, let’s add a chess history one: who was White in this game, and what was the event?

Answers in a few days.

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