It was a difficult final round pairing for Gonzaga - facing a Serbian youth side with an average rating of 2400. However, we went in optimistic and were hoping to get something out of the match against the odds, although we probably would have settled for a draw on board 2 where Henry Li needed only that to secure an IM norm. That would have made him the youngest Irish person every to receive an IM norm. Alas, it wasn't to be. Henry's 2480 opponent played a great game and snuffed out Henry's opportunity. He was of course upset but comforted by his most impressive tournament to date. He had never before beaten a titled player (FM and above) and came away from Novi Sad with wins against an FM, IM and a GM - with his only losses to very strong 2450+ opponents. The future is bright for Henry and he takes 100 FIDE and ICU points home.
Carl Jackson made a blunder early in his game and lost soon after while we were simply outplayed on boards 1 and 5. Killian had liked his position but came undone at a crucial moment. I had prepped a few lines for my opponent who had an interesting opening repertoire including the Ponziani and Scotch but this time he went for an Evans' gambit. I'm unsure if he'd seen the line I played before which is rarely played but produces good results for black. He took his time over the opening but played very precisely and after my 10-12 moves of prep, he began to take control as his position was quite easy to play. He would eventually win a queen for a rook, knight and a pawn which proved more than enough as my pieces were tied in knots. 4-0 - leaving only Ray Byrne on 6 and Gordon Freeman on 3 still playing. Both had promising positions but Ray's went awry after a miscalculation which was a shame as he was certainly in the ascendancy at the time. Having secured a crucial win in a rook and pawn ending the previous day, Gordon found himself in a similar position in the last round but had to content himself with a draw this time meaning the final score was 5.5-0.5.
Having crept into the main hall for the final round, we weren't able to see Trinity's games in round 7 where they secured their second win of the event, this time beating a team from Wales. Stephen Moran got an impressive draw against a 2323 FM, while the lower order of the team (boards 4-6: Rudolf, Luke and Oisin) picked up wins. Colin Menzies added to the tally with a draw on board 2 meaning the score finished 4-2.
And that's how the event finished for the Irish teams with 3 and 2 wins respectively. Gonzaga finished in tied 36th on 6 match points which was 20 places above their seeding while Trinity finished in tied 53rd - 6 places above their seeding. The top performers for the Irish teams were Henry Li (4.5/7 -tied for 9th best board 3) and Oisin Benson (4/6 - tied for 14th best board 6).
Alkaloid - the second seeds from Skopje, FYROM - won the event and were one of three undefeated teams. Their team featured no less than 6 2700s headed by Ding Liren (2764), Andreikin Dmitry (2736) and Eljanov Pavel (2757). 5 teams finished one match point behind including defending champions and top seeds, Syberia.
The event moves to Turkey next year and hopefully Ireland will send our allotted three teams as it is a truly great event and experience. Qualifying spots for that event will be awarded to the top 3 teams in the The National Club Championship 2017 sponsored by AwardsAndGifts - hope to see you all there!
Henry Li sealed victory for Gonzaga College today (3.5-2.5) by securing a draw in a R+B vs R+P endgame. He finds himself in good company on the Board 3 points table - ahead of Pavel Eljanov, Boris Gelfand, David Navara and Peter Leko on a list that includes 16 GMs and 3 IMs.
Gonzaga will now play on board 16 (one off the live-boards) against Jelica PEP - Goracici - a strong home-grown Serbian team - who boast an average rating of 2413. We think Henry requires a draw to secure an IM norm - he will be playing a 2400+ player.
Trinity faced another tough team today and unfortunately lost 5-1 with Oisín Benson picking up a win. They play Cardigan tomorrow who have an average rating of 2006.
Henry Li became the second youngest Irish player to defeat a GM when he beat Igor Efimov today. That helped Gonzaga complete a match win over strong opposition to move to 4 match points. Trinity fell to a very strong team but Rory Delaney recorded a very good draw again an IM. More to follow.
Trinity took on Butrinti in round 4 - an Albanian team seeded 2 places below Trinity. Anthony sat out this round moving Rudolf up to board 3 where he faced an 1989 - which is roughly the rating average for the Albanian team. There was good news as Stephen Moran got off the mark against Albanian board one with a draw - here's hoping he can kick on from here for the rest of the tournament. Rory Delaney and Colin Menzies continued their good form with wins and Oisin ensured Trinity would come away with at least a draw with his draw on board 6. Unfortunately, Rudolf lost but Luke Scott was able to draw which meant that Trinity picked up their first match win - 3.5-2.5.
Gonzaga faced Skakklubben Nordkalotten in round 4 who have an average rating of 2250-2300. Killian Delaney was first to finish with a draw against a 2376 FM as black. This was followed by an another excellent win from Henry Li who is now on 3/4. At this stage, Gonzaga were starting to fancy their chances as David Murray had a large advantage on board one and still seemed to be in his opening prep. Meanwhile, Carl, Gordon and I seemed to have relatively equal positions although are opponents did hold the initiative. Alas, despite Dave eventually converting on board 1 - boards 4-6 went the way of the Danes and they picked up the match win 3.5-2.5.
Gonzaga slip down the boards in round 5 to play Cercle d'Echecs Monte-Carlo (who defeated Trinity in round 2) while Trinity have a tough match against 36th seeds, Club d'Echecs de Geneve. Both teams will be hoping that wins push them into the main hall. Colin and I are sitting out.
Game of the round probably belonged to Svidler who defeated Mamedyarov with the black pieces while top seeds, Syberia, were held to a 3-3 draw by Odlar Yurdu and will now face an uphill struggle to retain their title.
Having won in round 3, Gonzaga had a glamour tie on the live boards against a strong Romanian team with an average rating of 2497. Outrated by 400 points per board, there was nothing to lose and Gonzaga set out their stall with solid openings. Carl Jackson went for the all or nothing 1. d4 Nf6 2. g4 line which has proven popular in the Gonzaga ranks over the past 2-3 years - especially in situations which don't lend themselves to preparation or in a position like this where white is heavily outrated. The opening was actually picked up by Simon Williams in the following round. In Carl's game, his GM opponent spent 30-45 minutes playing through moves 3-6, carefully avoiding many of the openings pitfalls. Carl went on to lose the game but admitted later that he had missed some preferable lines.
Next to go was Ray Byrne who played a very good game and had an edge before an inaccurate move gave his opponent the initiative which he never relinquished - quickly winning after the time control. On board 5, I had grind out an advantage with black and seemed to play pretty accurately until move 19 and which point I blundered the exchange. The position was still playable but I'd already run into time trouble and wasn't able to hold a lost N+B+3 vs B+5 endgame. David Murray also succumbed to his opponent shortly after the time control leaving the score at 0-4 with only in-form Killian Delaney and 2/2 Henry Li left playing. Henry's opponent had maintained a lead through the opening and middle game and was able to squeeze Henry until the position was unplayable.
Our best hope was Killian Delaney who had at this stage had sacrificed a piece for a nice attack. However, in calculating the complicated line, Killian ran into time trouble and misplaced the winning plan. And so the result was 6-0 but Gonzaga would remain in the main hall for round 4 and take heart that they had put up a good fight.
It was another tough round for Trinity who were outrated on all boards with FMs on board 1-3 of the opposition team. Those 3 FMs made it 3-0 for DLF Steinitz Roma with Anthony and Stephen slipping to 0/3 - however, they are far better players than that score suggests and will undoubtedly bounce back before the end of the event. Rudolf Tirziman got Trinity's only win of the round while Rory and Oisin bagged impressive draws on boards 5 and 6.
As the draws are based on match points followed by game points - we have yet to see any of the true top seeds (although there are super-GMs playing for many teams) play each other but that doesn't mean there haven't been some titanic clashes already with Vladimir Kramnik finally playing his first game today, having been rest on Sunday and Monday. He defeated Inarkiev on board 1 of match 2. On board 1 of match 1 - MVL was taken down by Mamedyarov and in the same match on board 2, Rapport defeated Aronian.
Round 2 by Rory Delaney
On paper Gonzaga were strong favourites against the bottom seeds Hatay Metropolitan of Turkey. However, they provided much tougher opposition than the final score suggests, with many of the games being quite uncertain throughout. David Murray ground out a win in a N+R v N+R endgame and Henry Li came out on top in a complex game to continue his 100% record. Gordon Freeman seemed to be doing ok but ran into trouble and was mated by his WCM opponent.
Carl Jackson had the upper hand in his game before his opponent escaped to a B+3 vs N+3 ending which proved too difficult to win after 5 hours of play. Ray Byrne gained an edge and converted that into a win at the time control but it could have gone either way. While John McMorrow had an interesting game on board 5 - winning a pawn after the opening but giving his opponent attacking chances at the same time. The game was again decided by a time scramble at the time control. There were back and forth tactics with his opponent sacking the exchange before McMorrow sacked a piece leading to a winning ending which he quickly converted once the players reached the 40 move mark.
Trinity had another tough game in the shape of Cercle d'Echecs Monte-Carlo. Stephen Moran was hoping to take revenge on his opponent after losing to him in Bunratty this year. Unfortunately Monte-Carlo got a quick 2-0 lead with GM Igor Efimov beating Anthony Bourached on board 3 while Stephen Moran blundered to his opponent on board 1. Things got even worse when Luke Scott’s game ended with Colin, Rudolf & Oisin all needing to win to salvage a draw in the match. Oisin Benson defeated his opponent Jean-Michel Rapaire in a very comfortable game. Colin then followed this up with a very nice win against the Alekhine. The final game saw Rudolf in a relatively equal game but struggling to make the time control which led to his opponent winning a piece for a pawn and the game shortly after.
Luke Scott & Gordon Freeman are sitting out the next round with Gonzaga on the live boards against AEM Luxten Timisoara of Romania and Trinity playing against Italian side DLF Steinitz Roma.
Hours of prep went out the window early on for most of the Irish players as their stronger opponents dropped their usual openings in favour of experimenting with openings they hadn't previously played. Both Irish teams found themselves in trouble from early on and the scoreline was soon 0-3 against the Irish teams. Thankfully for the older members of the teams (everyone 16+ years old), the Irish results were overshadowed by a terrific result on board 3 of the Gonzaga match where Henry Li defeated IM Patrick Zelbel (who was recently enough 2550 and has 2 GM norms). A few of the other games looked like they could go the way of the Irish for some time but eventually the strength of the opposition saw them home and they took comfortable 5-1 and 6-0 wins. Kieran O'Driscoll had a great draw against IM Ralph Buss.
With the draw being based on match points followed by game points, Gonzaga now float up to the top half of the teams on 0 match points (as 26 of the 31 lower rated teams scored 1 point or less in round 1) and face bottom seeds - Hatay Metropolitan who are a young Turkish team. Trinity will again play stronger rated opposition in the form of 51st seeded, Cercle d'Echecs Monte-Carlo who boast a GM, 2 2250+ players, 2 2150s and a 1700.
Both Delaneys will sit out today hoping their teams can do the business without them.
Arrival in Novi Sad, Serbia
The Trinity and Gonzaga teams arrived together in Novi Sad having shared the same flights and transports over from Dublin. Trinity CC are represented by a collection of current Trinity players (Stephen Moran and Rory Delaney), past TCD captains (Oisin Benson, Colin Menzies and Anthony Bourached) and two of Blanchardstown CC's internationals (Rudolf Tirziman and Luke Scott). Gonzaga CC have brought a similar group to the one that traveled to Skopje, Macedonia in 2015 swapping just their juniors with Henry Li traveling instead of FM Conor O'Donnell.
We arrived at around 2pm having flown bright and early from Dublin at 5.30am on Saturday, November 11th. This year's event is being held in the 5-star Hotel Park and the new ECC trophies were on show in the hotel's lobby prior to the opening ceremony.
From a playing perspective, Gonzaga start as 56th seeds and Trinity as 59th seeds out of 62 teams - but both will be hoping that they can beat those expectations with young and ambitious teams. Round 1 traditionally sees very few shocks as the top teams (generally made up of GMs and IMs) take on the minnows. A quick calculation on arrival meant we could more or less guess who we would be playing so preparation began after a quick nap to recover from our early morning flights. The top seeds and reigning champions, Syberia, are favourites this year with a 2745 average rating over 8 boards. Their team includes GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Anish Giri, GM Alexander Grischuk, GM Evgeny Tomashevsky, GM Li Chao, GM Anton Korobov, GM Sergei Rublevsky, and GM Dmitry Bocharov. However, their is no sign of long time top seeds SOCAR which means that there will be no Caruana, Adams or Topalov this year.
Games start at 3pm Serbian time (2pm Irish time) daily and Gonzaga and Trinity will have their work cut out for them against two strong teams on Sunday. Gonzaga play KSK47 Eynatten who have 5 2400+s, a 2250 and a 2100. Trinity play a more top heavy team with 3 2550+ GMs but will fancy their chances on the bottom boards where they will face a 2300 and 2 2100s. There is one other IRL player playing in the event. Kieran O'Driscoll is a longtime member of the White Rose team from England - they are seeded 51st and so will also face tough opposition tomorrow.
Oisin Benson and Carl Jackson will sit out round 1.