I easily won my first open tournament, the 1949 Leinster schoolboy championship without a single loss, despite having to contend with a clock for the first time. In 1950 I decided to play in the reserves at the 1950 Irish Championships in Belfast so that I could observe the leading players in action and possibly qualify for the next year's championship section. In those days the championship comprised four or five players from each of the four provinces plus a university representative, a player from the Civil Service Club, the holder and a qualifier from the previous year's reserve group. A couple of days before the championship in Belfast, one of the Leinster players dropped out and, rather than have an odd number of players and a bye each round, I was promoted to the championship group.
At the age of 18 I was the youngest ever player to compete in the championship at that time but, as I had not played a single game against senior standard players, I was considered unlikely to score anything. This was hardly a morale booster for a nervous novice, however, in the event I won my first three games, including a victory over Paddy Duignan, the then Leinster Champion and the 1947 Irish Champion. Duignan was essentially a tactical player but, playing the White pieces, I frustrated him with the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. Not wishing to concede a draw to a nonentity, he took unreasonable risks and drifted into a lost ending. So, after three rounds, I shared the lead with my great friend Vincent Maher. He defeated me in round four and went on to win the title with 7½/8 while I ended up with five points and a share of third place.
I began to think that success at chess was easily achieved and when I entered the Hastings Christmas Congress later that year I arrogantly requested to be placed in a high section of the premier reserves. There I made a good start, as I had inwardly expected, but was rudely awakened when I could only manage a single draw in the last seven rounds and finished in last place.
Altogether I played at Hastings on 13 occasions between 1950 and 1966 with generally favourable results. The best one was first equal in 1956 with three wins and six draws. The most frustrating was 1964. After winning my first five games, including a win with Black over Basman, I fell ill with an upset stomach, could only manage two draws from my final four games and was eventually pipped at the post by Basman.
The City of Dublin
I qualified to represent Ireland in the first World Junior Championship in Birmingham, 1951. The event was won by GM Boris Ivkov and I scored a modest 3½/ll. In 1954 I won the Leinster Championship after drawing my first three games and winning the next five. I won the Leinster again in 1961 and was runner up in the initial City of Dublin Championship of 1955. This event was then run as an all-play-all involving the eight leading players in Dublin and was actually not far short of the Irish itself in strength. I won the City of Dublin title five times on the trot from 1957 to 1961 and was runner-up in 1962. This was probably my peak as player. On one occasion in this event I scored 7/7 and, as the sole first round winner (all the other three games were drawn), I was a clear leader from first to last, surely some kind of record.
I only played in four Irish Championships and my best showing was shared second place in 1960.
I played for Ireland in three Olymplids - Amsterdam 1954, Moscow 1956 and Munich 1958 - with fairly unremarkable results. In Munich I started with a win but then got crunched by Larsen, Botvinnik and Euwe in successive rounds.
I began contributing a weekly column to the Irish Times in April l955 which continued until 1972 when the format was changed to a daily diagramed position. This is still going today, nearly 8000 diagrams later.
I have amassed a large library of approximately 1000 chess books and several scrap books filled with cuttings. My favourite books are a modest Chernev work, The Russians Play Chess, a collection of games played between 1920 and 1946, and Soviet Chess Studies which I picked up in Prague in 1957.
My favourite player is the late Paul Keres, arguably the strongest player never to win the world title (I also have a great regard for the underrated tactician Kurt Richter). Consider the achievements of Keres: equal first with Fine in the 1938 AVRO tournament (ahead of Alekhine, Botvinnik, Reshevsky, Capablanca, Euwe and Flohr), three times winner of the Soviet Championship and runner-up in no less than four World Championship Candidates Tournaments. He defeated nine World Champions in tournament play (Alekhine, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Euwe, Fischer, Petrosian, Smyslov, Spassky and Tal). He drew his two meetings with Karpov and never played Lasker or Kasparov. He is the only player to have a plus score in more than one meeting with the great Cuban, Capablanca.
Keres was a truly all-round player. He had a broad opening repertoire, was equally at home in tactical or positional middlegames and was very skilful in the ending. He had an enviable knack of winning vital games, such as his encounter against Gligoric at Hastings 1965 when he had to win (as Black) to stay in contention. I had the pleasure of spectating at this game and marvelled at his determination and skill. He was also good at grinding down weaker opposition: note his convincing 13½/14 on board 4 for the USSR at the 1954 Olympiad.
I first learned the moves in January 1946 when stricken with a tedious illness which confined me to bed for 2½ years. I was immediately enchanted by the game and eagerly sought to extend my knowledge of all chess matters. I methodically played through every game in the games collections of Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe and Keres without understanding the finer points of the play and was frustrated when their opponents would resign rather than play on to checkmate. Du Mont's 200 Miniature Games of Chess and The Basis of Combination in Chess were more to my liking at that time.
My personal favourite game is (surprise, surprise!) another Paul Keres win with the Black pieces, this time against Smyslov in 1951. After a solid opening the middlegame contains a pleasant blend of strategy and tactics and some silky endgame skills earned our hero the point.
Two of my own games which I greatly enjoyed were played at an early stage in my career more than 40 years ago. The win against Ken O'Riordan, which was fully annotated in the March 1952 BCM, is possibly unique in that White's winning move is made with the king although two pieces down. The mating combination against Murphy was pleasing and compensated for some dodgy opening play.