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2005 Kilkenny Congress
Kilkenny, famous for its hospitality, its beer, its castle and its annual chess tournament. Once a year, in late November, over 200 players gather to battle for the four titles at stake. The Premier event is the Nexala Masters and this year it attracted players from far and wide. Top seed, from Serbia, was Branko Damljanovic (see picture below), a grandmaster with a rating of 2610. This was his first visit to Ireland and he was here to win.
Second seed, Stuart Conquest, from England but now resident in Spain, is no stranger to Kilkenny. He's been here many times and indeed he even played his first round game sporting a Kilkenny chess club sweatshirt. I'm not sure what the criteria for getting one of these coveted pieces of attire is but no less a player than Boris Spassky himself has one.
Third seed was Mark Hebden, who has played here on numerous occasions and is rumoured to also have one of those elusive sweatshirts, but I'm not convinced. I didn't see him wearing it over the weekend. If he does have one, he'll be lucky if tournament controller, Jack Lowry doesn't demand the Kilkenny sweatshirt back after he turned up for round five wearing a Cork City chess club jumper! Fourth seed was Alex Baburin, a grandmaster originally from Russia but living here in Ireland since 1993. Tony Kosten was the last of the grandmaster line up; Tony is originally from England but has been living in the south of France for a long time and this was his first visit to Ireland.
Irish International masters, Mark Orr and Mark Quinn completed the line up of fully titled players but before play begun, all eyes were on the local young man, Karl McPhillips who is rapidly making a name for himself as one of Ireland's best young players.
The total entry for the Masters was a bit disappointing, with only 22 players competing for the title but the standard of play was really high. As is usual for these events, the first round pitted the top players against the lesser lights and most games went with seeding. Not all of them though, as Alex Baburin had to be content with sharing the point with Eamon Keogh. Alex pushed hard to find a win but Eamon, who probably had slightly the better of the final position, knew that a draw was his in the end. Gerard O'Connell held Mark Quinn to a draw as well while on board 9, one of our Dutch visitors, Thomas Hauptmann (2036) actually beat the 9th seed, Matt O'Leary (2200). For those of you with long memories, Matt was one of the strongest players in the country in the 70s but has spend much of the time since living in Sweden. It's great to see him back.
Round two saw the first all grandmaster clash when Tony Kosten (picture below) took on Branko Damljanovic on board one. After a tough struggle, the point was shared.
Meanwhile on board two, Karl McPhillips was having a real battle against Stuart Conquest and they also agreed a draw with hardly a minute between them left on the clock. This left Karl on 1½/2, along with 9 other players, nobody was on 2. Mention should also be made of Eamon Keogh's fine win in this round over Mark Quinn. Sportingly, Mark was very impressed with Eamon, as even immediately afterwards, he was unsure as to where he went wrong.
There ware only two draws from 11 games in round 3 as each player tried to make their mark on the event, Damljanovic beat Philip Short on board 1, Paul Wallace was out-played by Stuart Conquest on board 2, while on board 3, Karl was busy trying to win Rook and d-pawn vs Rook against Mark Hebden. Expert opinion varied, depending on which expert was giving it but Karl managed to win in the end. This left him as one of five players on 2½/3 and facing Mark Orr on Saturday evening. Karl proved more than up to the task as he forced Mark's king to surrender while the game of the event was progressing on board 1, Baburin vs Damljanovic. I am not qualified to annotate this game but please don't let the fact that there are no notes stop you from going through this very fine game, it's a cracker. (The game below is annotated by Alex in his daily news column Chess Today and republished here with his kind permission.)
Baburin, A. (2513) - Damljanovic, B. (2610)
Great to see Alex (pictured above) back in top form. Notice Mark Hebden in the background, that's a Cork City Chess Club jumper he's wearing.
On Sunday morning, Karl had white against Alex, both were on 3½/4, both playing well. While Alex had a 300 point rating advantage, Karl had the white pieces, home advantage and a fan club of locals watching the game from the gallery on the big display screen. It wasn't enough to overcome that Elo difference and Alex, after having won the exchange in the middle game, converted his advantage to claim the full point. Other Sunday morning clashes included Damljanovic vs Conquest which ended up in a furious time scramble; both players found it difficult to get used to the time control (1hr 45min per player for all moves) which is not used much outside Ireland and the scramble ended in a draw, times left - Branko 18 sec., Stuart 47sec! Mark Hebden beat the out of form Mark Quinn while Eamon Keogh continued his resurgence by drawing with Mark Orr a pawn down in a rook and knight ending.
The current Limerick Open Champion, Rory Quinn from Ennis drew with Paul Wallace to reach 2½/5, and earn a game against Mark Orr in round 6. I'll give the full round 6 pairings below.
1 Alexander Baburin [4.5] : Tony Kosten  2 Stuart Conquest [3.5] : Mark Hebden [3.5] 3 Branko Damljanovic  : Karl McPhillips [3.5] 4 Rory Quinn [2.5] : Mark Orr [2.5] 5 Philip Short [2.5] : Anthony Fox [2.5] 6 Eamon Keogh [2.5] : Paul Wallace [2.5] 7 Derek Smith [2.5] : Peter Cafolla [2.5] 8 Mark Quinn  : Thomas Hauptmann [2.5] 9 Kees de Kruif  : Gerard O'Connell  10 Colin Costello [1.5] : Matt O'Leary  11 Killian Delaney [.5] : Brian Galligan [1.5]
Killian Delaney beat Brian Galligan to leave both players on 1½/6. Colin Costello (England) drew with Matt O'Leary while on board 9, Gerard O' Connell was performing minor miracles to survive with a draw against Kees de Kruiff. Mark Quinn got the better of Thomas Hauptmann and converted the full point nicely while Peter Cafolla extracted the full point in a complex struggle. Eamon Keogh beat Paul Wallace but not without a few scary moments, Paul missed a complex line that looked especially dangerous for Eamon but once the chance had passed, Eamon played well to ensure the victory; Philip Short has a very publishable game against Anthony Fox; it's just a pity I didn't get my hands on it to show it here, the finish was admired by a lot of the spectators; Mark Orr ground down Rory Quinn while on board 2, Stuart Conquest and Mark Hebden both tried hard to win, but neither could. The quickest game of the event was board 1, a 4 move draw which ensured Alex of the title but, why didn't Tony have a go? After all, he'd have had the draw in hand for most of the game, why not go for it? He probably thought a draw was the most likely result on board 2 while Karl was unlikely to beat Branko. All going well, a draw would probably give him clear second place.
Speaking of board 2, Karl gave a good account of himself but in the end, Branko was too strong for him. Final standings:
1 Baburin, Alexander 2513 5 2 Kosten, Tony 2507 4.5 3-5 Damljanovic, Branko 2610 4 Conquest, Stuart 2514 4 Hebden, Mark 2514 4 6-10 McPhillips, Karl 2213 3.5 Keogh, Eamon 2108 3.5 Short, Philip 2229 3.5 Orr, Mark 2261 3.5 Cafolla, Peter 2084 3.5
The Major competition is for the cream of the Chess clubs' players, but those who are not quiet ready for the Masters. Some of these players are very strong players in their own right and the standard was particularly high this year. The final standings looked like this:
1 Butler, Kevin 1921 5 2-5 Stuart, Robert 1969 4.5 Normoyle, Liam 1684 4.5 O'Donoghue, D.J. 1900 4.5 Morriss, Peter R 1852 4.5 Grading Sections 1 Tony Lee 2 Bernard Boyle 3 Gerard Buckley 4 Nick Larter
The James Mason competition (for the majority of club players) is called after a colourful figure from the latter half of the 19th century, a near world championship class player who, over 130 years ago, assumed that name. He was originally from Kilkenny and local chess player and historian, Jim Hayes could tell you a lot more than most about the man. The competition itself was fierce and the final standings looked like this:
1 Lane, Thomas 1544 5.5 2-3 Rowe, Stephen 1570 5 Fitzpatrick, Tom 1561 5 Grading Sections 1 Shane Brennan 2 Paul Ward 3 Aravind Menon 4 Richard Murphy 5 Brian Izzard
The Challengers event is aimed at players from the lower ranks of chess club membership, a tough competition in which every promising junior in the country whose rating has not yet caught up with his level of play, is out to take his rating above the 1200 barrier; and they don't take any prisoners in the process. Here are the prize winners in this section.
1 Bailey, Gregory 1028 5.5 2-4 Ruane, Ciaran 1131 5 Bradley, Michael 1072 5 Mulvey, Diarmaid 1090 5 Grading Sections 1 Danny Cashin 2 Michael Tierney 4.5 3 Richard Flynn 4 Hugh Doyle 5 Dave Finnan
It's interesting to note that in last year's Challengers, Michael Tierney (Kilkenny) was placed last, it was his first rated competition; what progress that young man has made.
The Kilkenny is expertly managed each year by the same team, Jack Lowry, Maurice Buckley and Alan Dooley, ably assisted by Maurice's son Killian. They do a great job in hosting what is widely recognised to be the best craic of all the Irish weekenders.