A glance at the ratings database suggests that there are approx 390 junior players. Whether all these are active is questionable. I know for certain that there are many more juniors playing chess in Ireland. The problem is getting them to move on from school or community games type local events into ICU rated events.
A total of 117 players took part in the Irish Junior Championships, which was slightly up on 2007. The traditional weekend for the Irish Juniors is the last weekend of the Easter school holidays, however, this year this date clashed with the Cork Congress so the Irish Juniors moved into the school term. This probably had an effect on the older age groups where the number of entries was very low, exams looming may have been a factor. The traditional date is now penciled in for 2009 and the event will be held in Kilkenny so hopefully numbers participating might increase again.
The only rated events specifically for Juniors are:
- Irish Juniors
- Munster Juniors
- All-Ireland Colleges
- Irish Junior Inter-Provincials
Obviously there is an opening for a Leinster Junior Championship. Geographically, chess seems to be strong in Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Galway. Good work is being done by people such as John Alfred, who now have monthly rapid-play tournaments running in Cork, Limerick and Galway. The more of these type of events there are, then the more we will have trying out for ICU rated events and the more will join the ICU. Of course there are many strong junior chess players from Dublin. However, considering the population levels of the greater Dublin region I suspect there is more scope for junior chess here?
The International Scene
Four teams competed in Liverpool in the summer in the Glorney/Faber/U14/U12 tournaments. All the Irish teams preformed well coming second or joint second in all competitions. It was very close in the Glorney with England just pipping Ireland and Scotland by half a point point. Special thanks are due here to Steven Jessel and John Redmond for coaching the teams in Liverpool. A full report is on the ICU web-site courtesy of team manager Pat Fitzsimons.
Interest in European and World events is a bit on the low side. This summer only two players have competed, Karl McPhilips went to Turkey for the world U20 and Ronan Magee went to both the EU Junior championshps in Austria and is (at the time of writing) battling it out at the Europeans in Montenegro and doing very well with 5/7 in the U10 competition. I'm aware that in the past Ireland has sent teams of players to some of these events so the question is can we do this again?
The provision of coaching for talented Juniors is something that needs to be improved. While the financial limitations are apparent it is tough for Irish Juniors to compete against other countries that have a systematic coaching plan.
As regards specifically mentioning outstanding achievements by juniors, it's probably a dangerous thing to do as I'm bound to forget someone. However, I think it is right to mention Sam Osbourne's achievement in winning the British U16 Championship, also held in Liverpool.
Needless to say there are many more adult chess players, parents and teachers who are helping organise chess events for juniors around the country, too many to mention here but its important to say thanks to all of them.
I get strange looks from non-chess players when I try to explain that juniors play against the best adult players in chess tournaments. So on behalf of all the juniors I would like to thank all the adult players who are so supportive of this and for all the support, coaching and help that you give to your younger fellow chess players, even though occasionally it may lead to your downfall.