Breaking news from 1906

Anticipation is building for the Irish Championship, to be held at the University of Limerick from July 6-14. It’s the centenary of the Irish championship as organised by the Irish Chess Union, and is shaping up to be an excellent event.

An impassioned debate has broken out in several places, such as the new Irish Chess Cogitations site, the newly-invigorated Chess pages, and Rory Quinn’s Ennis C.C. blog, over the restriction this year to IRL-registered players only, whereas all championships from 2007–2012 were open, with the highest-placed Irish players receiving the title of Irish champion.

This debate is not new, and indeed goes back to the era before the ICU. Here’s the discussion from the first issue of the magazine The Chess Amateur, which was based in Gloucestershire:

Chess Amateur 1906 vol. 1 no. 1, front page

Chess Amateur 1906 vol. 1 no. 1, p. 8

Chess Amateur 1906 vol. 1 no. 1, p. 9

If I understand correctly, the description of the 1885 event is not accurate: it’s doubtful whether this was an Irish championship and Pollock wasn’t a resident around then anyway. (David McAlister is an expert on this era and can correct me if I’m wrong here.) The description of the 1886 event is accurate: (later Sir) Richard Whieldon Barnett, 1863-1929, finished fourth in the 2nd Irish Chess Association Congress in Belfast, 1886, after Pollock, Blackburne, and Burn, and thereby became Irish champion. This was definitely an Irish championship and the rules were clear, but–as the discussion above shows–the topic of closed vs. open format was a hotly disputed matter even then.

(While The Chess Amateur also seems dismissive of the win on the basis that many of the strongest eligible Irish players didn’t compete, this is too harsh a standard: we’d have to dismiss most Irish championships if we took that as the standard.)

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11 Responses to Breaking news from 1906

  1. Martin Crichton says:

    whereas all championships from 2007–2012 were open….

    my understanding and all my references are “without prejudice” and only from a jaded memory and probably innacurate and I welcome corrections is the whole situation started as follows:

    Back then Micheal Crow was running the Irish championship and the ICU gave Micheal a free rein to run the event and a fixed fee. I have no idea about the circumstances of the introductions or where they met but Michael (presumably) got sponsorship from a company called “Island oil and gas” (since gone bust and now masquerading under the new name “San Leon Energy”) for a 3 year sponsorship deal. The link was Ryan Rees Griffiths , then an up and coming junior with a wealthy father , the chairman or CEO of “Island Oil and gas”. Stories (credible in my opinion) were circulating that it would be benificial for young Ryan to get more international experience against overseas players and Mr. Griffiths senior basically threw shedloads of money via his company in a sponsorship deal that would boost the prize fund and give amazing conditions to titled players as well as a central 5-star hotel venue for the tournament in Dublin city centre. He who have’th the money make’th the rules! The cash starved ICU exec (presumably) made it an open tournament with the highest placed Irish player getting the title of Irish Champion. The rest is history. I wasted a lot of time and energy attending AGM’s and putting forward motions in that period trying to rectify the situation and make our championships a national championships once again often to be defeated by the narrowest of margins at the vote. When the sponsorship dried up after 2010 the Irish remained an open tournament until this year due to the legacy of the deal with Island oil and gas.
    Hopefully we can build on this years centenary event and learn from history.

    • Sean Coffey says:

      Martin, see my reply over at Irish Chess Cogitations.

      I left out Wolfgang Heidenfeld, Irish champion in 1958 (among many others). He was South African champion in ’57 and ’59 and played for South Africa in the Munich Olympiad in ’58 so the distinctions we’re drawing today don’t seem to have applied then.

      We can debate the decisions to allow (or even require) an open championship in some years and to ban them in others but ultimately it’s up to the ICU menbership to decide at an AGM. For myself, the 2007-2012 championships were all quite good and were worthy of the name but I see no reason why this year’s championship won’t be as good or better.

  2. Colm Daly says:

    Whatever about having different perspectives and ideas about this issue I have to confess that I really can hardly believe how you could say

    “For myself, the 2007-2012 championships were all quite good and were worthy of the name”

    I simply could not go along with that at all. Or at least, when you say ”worthy of the name” Considering I played in each and every one of those events I would have to say you are way off here. In point of fact I won the Irish in 2009 – and it was a pretty good win too to be honest, but I was not without luck and had things gone just a little bit differently at certain moments I may well not have won
    Instead a real possibility was that the number one seed, who was a foreign player [never having played a single game in Ireland previously] who had been, in my view “tipped off to play” [first I or anyone else knew of this player playing was when we arrived for round one! ] And he was, again just in my view acting as a peculiar sort of proxy player for his good friend who the previous year had won the event jointly with a GM from Israel [yes we are still talking about an Irish Championship supposedly – can you just imagine the laughter if you reverse that and envisage the Israel championships being won jointly by an Irish player?] but declined to play in 2009.

    He [the parachuted player – nice guy and totally innocent of anything untoward or negative] totally affected the tournament and I just happened to be the one who got lucky with the distorting effect he had on the event, by beating him in our individual game. Point is that there is no getting away from the fact that his presence helped me win a championships which I may not otherwise have won. This championships was tainted and I regard this win along with all the winners in the period 2007, through to 2012 (of which again I was a joint winner) as being all tainted to some degree or other and diminished.

    Whereas in 2008 and 2009 the event was at least won by an Irish player [jointly with a GM from Israel in 2008] The 2007 winners of the title of Irish champion were not in the top three and their title win looks like junk, almost worthless to me [and many others] The 2010 winner being the least tainted and 2011 and 2012 also tainted and ultimately all diminished to some extent or other.
    The simple fact is that in terms of having an actual national championships, any open door policy is by its very nature. a mickey mouse scenario devoid of authenticity and integrity.

    It is self evidently a fact that if someone who has won the Irish title twice within this period is actually decrying the value of such a title win AS COMPARED WITH a normal restricted national championships, then something is far from ideal.
    More to the point also is the fact that there are reasons why so many countries all over the world [the vast majority] retain an authentic national championships.
    The Irish Championships is not run for the convenience or personal preferences of any individual it is run to produce an Irish Champion and serve to promote and celebrate the best of Irish chess.

    I would suggest having a look at

    It is a very quick and crude compilation of national championships I got from looking at twic over the course of the last six months. There is one exception which has the Catalan [they consider themselves a nation too] Championships and here too every player is listed as ESP.

    I was going to ask what would one might notice about the list of championships listed in that PDF file, but to save time I will tell you now, Every single player is listed under the federation, imagine that!
    Every one of those countries respects their own national championships enough to insure it is unique to that country.
    But in Ireland it seems people concern themselves more with personal, individual convenience?

  3. Colm Daly says:

    This year’s event will be very very competitive and tough to win but it will be a pure reflection of Irish Chess and have it’s own distinct Irish feel and identity. If people remain steadfast and give this a chance then the Irish can and will become an event that will get our very top players interested in participating in. Just need to re=establish it as a very special sort of event and it will become virtually irresistible [The event to play in] to our top players, or most of them anyway.

  4. martin crichton says:

    Hi Sean
    I can agree that as reasonable adults we can agree to disagree! Ultimately it is down to the membership to decide at motions at the AGM. For now at least we have a closed national championships again.
    One thing that clearly stands out from your research is that is is only a very small number of times that the Irish championships were open. The point I was trying to get across (obvious now that I did not do this very well) is that often the powers that be and many others see sponsorhip as one of the over-riding factors in deciding how to format our national championships.
    Gary O’ Grady of Blackthorne freight services (our main sponsor) was very much in favour of a closed championships this year and he brought the motion up at the last AGM and it was passed.
    It was great that Island oil and gas gave such generous sponsorship back then. Micheal Crow , whom I like imensely is a great embassador for Irish chess but Michael (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this) could sell snow to Eskimos!
    I have to take issue with your reply in the other blog ICC (I cannot access that during the day) when you said let’s not reignite this old argument (cannot remember the exact phrase you used)
    I was not trying to re-ignite any such debate. I clearly stated (in my opening paragraph in that blog, which differed to the posting here) that I was giving my recollection of what I understood of the recent history of how we suddenly went from a closed national championships to an “open tournament” for people who would be unfamiliar with the history. (such as was apparent from my brief reading of Rory Quinns Ennis blog)
    And I can agree this subject is tiresome now so I will post a more light hearted subject in my next thread over on the Irish chess cogitations blog (whenever I get free time next)

  5. Shane Lee says:

    It’s a pity that none of the top 8 rated IRL players on the ICU list appear to be playing. The money increase was supposed to have addressed that but clearly there are other motivators that we are missing. Should be a nice event for those taking part all the same.

  6. Colm Daly says:

    Agree its a pity Shane but then FEAR for SOME can be a great motivator .

    I know Alex Lopez was intending to play but had other plans, which clashed to be fair. Stephen Brady basically won’t play unless it is in Dublin and the rest may have their own reasons for not wanting to try win the title of Irish Champion, secure a place on the Olympiad team and get rewarded with a decent amount of money for their time and effort.

    I do not know each and every persons reasons to decline an invitation to play so I can not be sure when I say that I think SOME are just afraid that they may not win and take the view that they are some how above playing people so much lower rated than themselves, or and that they simply do not have much regard for the tournament or concept of a prestigious and authentic national championships which can serve to show case our best players in action against each other.

    For me too it is no great joy to be the number one seed and I would be more confident of doing well if as many or all of our top ten players, for example, were participating.The my own motivation increases for sure.

    But at the same time the prospect of fighting to win the title of Irish Champion against fellow Irish p;layers in the top end of Irish [ not the very top I admit] still excites me as a chess player and in particular for this one event and time in the year as an IRISH CHESS PLAYER supporting my national championships.

    As I have said, if we remain steadfast and continue to support the Irish as our special event then it will not be long before it becomes attractive for the top ten [in addition to all the other top players] to consider playing and it will be the event to play in.

    As for the prize money, well things did not go my way on that front and it is much less than I would have hoped for, even though it is very good this year anyway.

    My idea was that if your going to spend a lot more money then you might as well do so in a manner that grabs attention in a very big way, but regardless of that the big mistake was that there was not nearly enough notice and specific detail given regarding the actual prizes for the event until too late. Had a first prize for example of 3k been advertised as guaranteed six months ago, it would have indeed enticed some of our top ten to play, and have generated huge buzz and interest in the event. as would for example a grading prize of say 1k for under 2100 or 2200 players. People like your good self might well have been screaming from the rafters [as is your entitlement but it would have created a storm!] Which BTW I reckon would have in turn paid for itself in terms of publicity and increased interest and participation.

    Do not mean to be critical of the organizers in saying that as I know this is a huge project for them and the first time to do this type of event. So we have to be understanding and also grateful of the huge work being done behind the scenes to make it all come good.

    Anyway we will never know now and it still looks like being a very exciting and interesting Irish. Will David Fitzsimons make the break through he was so close to last year? You never know who might turn up to play in the end. Pity you could not make it yourself Shane but you are forgiven considering the geography involved.

  7. Rory Quinn says:

    Interesting to see that the same debate was going on over 100 years ago Sean, some things never change! Just one small point about Gawain Jones victory in 2004, he was living here at the time. He lived in Ireland for a number of years (his parents still live in Fermanagh) and in fact at that time was considering changing his FIDE affiliation to Ireland but then got the call from England and that was that.

  8. Pingback: Heidenfeld and the 1958 Irish Championship | IRLchess

  9. martin crichton says:

    numbers up to 20’ish now in the Irish championships…

    half decent but could be a lot better.

    might still get 26 or more for the final number…. Friday is the last day to enter

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