Edited 17 June 2013
If you are playing in a tournament and someone you’ve never come across before sits down at the board opposite you, there’s a fair chance he’ll ask what you rating is (unless you get that question in first). Believe it or not, there was a time when there would not have been an answer.
Tournament chess in Ireland is more than 150 years old but it is less than a third of that time since the Irish Chess Union instituted a national rating system. The October 1966 ICU Newsletter announced under the heading “Ranking List”:
For some years Ireland has suffered the want of a ranking list and a provisional one has been compiled based upon the results in the major Irish tournaments since Easter. Some players are only represented by one tournament which is undoubtedly unsatisfactory, but the ICU feel that a start must be made sometime. The attached list will, it is hoped, form the basis for a more comprehensive ranking system in the future.
From little acorns, great oaks grow. The list referred to appears below.
A provisional list, and with ratings ranging from 350 to 380 which do not equate to the three main rating systems then used – USCF/Elo, BCF or Ingo – it is difficult to know what rating system was used.
Moving forward nearly two years, the Limerick Leader for 17th August 1968 referred to “the first rating list published by the ICU” which was “published early this year.” According to this list the top twelve rated players and the competitions in which players could qualify for it were:
Early 1968 Rating List 1. Heidenfeld 2. O'Leary 3. Moles 4. Keogh 5. Littleton 6. Tomson 7. Graham 8. Henry 9. R. Cassidy 10. Gilroy 11. P. Cassidy 12. Reilly Qualifying tournaments Irish Championship Ulster Championship Leinster Championship Williamson Shield Ulster Team League City of Dublin Tournament UCC New Year Tournament
No actual ratings were given to go with the ranking order and we cannot therefore tell what rating system was being used. It is also unclear whether the ICU had issued any rating list in the interim since the October 1966 provisional list. Indeed the phrase “first rating list published by the ICU” begs the question whether the author was aware of the October 1966 list or whether this was the first “official” list.
The Limerick Leader does however point out that the list has not been officially revised since its publication in early 1968. As it happens, there was soon to be a development on that front. In the UCU Archive (in one of UCU Secretary Albert Long notebooks) there is a rating list for August 1968 . As you can see from the list below, the Elo rating system is now being used. The numbers of players listed has been reduced from the original October 1966 list and as the accompanying commentary makes clear there has been at least one intervening list. However, it is not the list referred to in the Limerick Leader. Therefore, we might speculate that there have been two lists promulgated in this time-frame, one taking in events in the 1966-1967 season up to the Farrington Memorial at Easter 1967, and then a subsequent list bringing things up to the very beginning of 1968, with the final event being the UCC New Year Open Tournament (29 December 1967-Monday 1 January 1968).
The Irish Times for 14th September 1968 announced that
The initial Irish national grading list for Irish chess players has been issued by the Irish Chess Union. Twenty-four players have qualified for inclusion…
The article went on to list the top seven players and these are identical as those given in Long’s handwritten list above. It is reasonably safe to assume this is the same list as his August 1968 one. Again the use of the phrase “initial Irish national grading list” raises the issue as to the precise point in time these grading lists became official.
The next list emanating from the ICU was dated 31st December 1968 but it was only some time later that it entered the public domain with it appearing in the J.J. Walsh chess column in Irish Times on the 27th February 1969 and a few days later in the Limerick Leader on the 8th March 1969. The Leader very helpfully provided the full commentary to the list:
1. An analysis of the Lugano Olympiad results showed that Irish ratings required an increase of 120 points to bring them into line with international standards. This has been done. (An international master rating is 2.300 minimum, a grandmaster 2.500).
2. The committee feels that feels that it cannot take the results of tournaments abroad into account unless there is complete and reliable information available on the ratings (whether U.S.C.F., Ingo, B.C.F.) of a majority of the players. Thus Lugano was taken into account, but not the Students’ Olympiad. This is manifestly harsh on McGrillen, but the standard he has attained will in due course bring him very much higher.
3. X denotes a player who has not played in Ireland since Farrington 1967. This situation is being considered.
4. Requirements for rating are:
(a) 20 games minimum in rated tournamnts in 12 months;
(b) 8 games minimum against rated players:
(c) minimum of 1900 for publication on list. P. O’Kane is almost qualified – the Cork tournament has not yet been reckoned.
5. Provincial and team championships – and in fact all tournament results – should be sent to I.C.U. as soon as possible.
31st December 1968 Rating List 1. W. Heidenfeld 2223 2. M.F. Littleton 2153 3. J.L. Moles 2132 4. P. Henry 2129 5. P. Cassidy 2100 6=7. E. Keogh 2091 6=7. M. O'Leary 2091 8. J.B. Tomson 2084 9. L. Graham 2076 x 10. R. Cassidy 2058 x 11. G. McCurdy 2049 12. S. Gilroy 2046 13. A. Coldrick 2033 x 14. H. McGrillen 2032 x 15. B. Kerr 2022 x 16. B. Reilly 2020 17. K. O'Riordan 2010 18. A. Dennehy 2007 19. A. Pinkerton 1991 20. M. Roberts 1983 21. P.J. Murphy 1979 22. J.F. Gibson 1952 23. E. Whiteside 1944 24. D. Wilson 1930
One point to note in the list is that after the tragic death in an aeroplane crash of Noel Mulcahy in the spring of 1968 there were no Munster names in the list, with 12 coming from Ulster, 11 from Leinster and the English-resident Reilly. Perhaps if the cut-off point had been a little later (as it had been the year before) to take in the Mulcahy Memorial in Cork, some Munster players would have found their way into the list.
The next national grading list came out after the 1969 Irish Championship, held in July. The top ten only were given in the Irish Times for 12th August 1969:
August 1969 Rating List 1. J.L. Moles Ulster 2199 2. W. Heidenfeld Leinster 2165 3. E.A. Keogh Leinster 2154 4. P. Henry Ulster 2138 5. M.F. Littleton Leinster 2118 6. R. Byrne Leinster 2084 7. A. Dennehy Leinster 2069 8. H. McGrillen Ulster 2060 9. L. Graham Ulster 2054 10. B. Reilly England 2038
One interesting point noted in the Irish Times is that the new Irish champion, N.J. Patterson had not played a sufficient number of games against graded players to obtain a rating.
The end of 1969 was the cut-off point for the succeeding list, though it is dated March 1970 and this time the Mulcahy Memorial was included in the calculations:
Patterson is now included in the list at number two. As can be seen from the commentary at the end of Albert Long’s handwritten list, some new conditions have been attached to be eligible for list. Comparing this list with the previous one(s) it might also be speculated whether there has been a further general increase in the ratings. Assuming this is a complete list, the cut-off point for inclusion seems to have been raised to 1950 (and if my speculation is correct maybe that general boost to the ratings was 50 points.)
The amount of time it took to inform the Irish chess playing public (not to mention the fourth estate) of the most recent grading list is illustrated by the fact that this list calculated to the beginning of 1970 only appeared as the “latest Irish chess union rankings” in the Irish Times on 21st May 1970. The information gap between an insider like Long and the masses is further illustrated by only the 14 names over 2100 being given.
It may therefore have come as a surprise to the general chess public when only just over a month later, on the 25th June to be precise, the Irish Times published the top 14 from the ICU’s “mid-summer grading list.” Albert Long’s notebook can again eliminate the information deficit by providing us with the full list of 50 names and ratings.
The next ICU grading list had the autumn label affixed to it but it made its appearance in the Irish Press as early as the 3rd September 1970. More than fifty players were now said to be on the national list, with the top 15 listed in the newspaper.
Autumn 1970 Rating List 1. M.F. Littleton 2255 2. N. Patterson 2237 3. J.L. Moles 2226 4. P. Henry 2224 5=6. W. Heidenfeld 2221 5=6. E.A. Keogh 2221 7. H. McGrillen 2216 8. M. O'Leary 2179 9. J.J. Walsh 2177 10. F. Coll 2131 11. L. Graham 2116 12. P. Cassidy 2115 13. R. Cassidy 2111 14. R. Byrne 2104 15. B.Canton 2100
Most of these listed immediately above had not played in the interim, with Littleton inheriting the number 1 spot due to Moles’s poor performance in the 1970 Irish Championship. Almost four years after the first provisional ICU gradings were produced, the rating lists now seemed to be coming thicker and faster, perhaps a portent of things to come when nowadays the ratings juggernaut seems to consume all our attention.