Entries are now closed for The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018 which means we can have a look at all the runners and riders. Unfortunately, we had a few drop-outs in the last 3 days before entries closed but even still we are left with a field of 36 which is excellent and includes 11 of Ireland's top 15 active players. The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018 pairings can be seen here. The first round is at 3pm on Saturday. Entries remain open for the supporting events with a full list of those here:
We start our preview with the top ranked IRL-player in the FIDE database, GM Alexander Baburin, and continue down in rating order based on the August 2018 rating list.
Ireland's only GM and current top seed will be returning to play in The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018; his third appearance in the Irish in 10 years. Reports from the Irish Chess Championships 2008, which Alexander won with a spectacular 8/9 against very strong opposition, can be seen on the ICU site and Sean Coffey's IRLchess.. This would be his one and only win but he is back for more this year.
Since that win, Alexander has many titles to his name including last year's Kilkenny Chess Congress, he drew with super GM (2800+ at the time) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at the Baku Olympiad, he has taught countless juniors and is currently ICU Vice-Chairperson. He has also been known to do the odd blindfold simul.
But will he be able to claim his second Irish title? Time will tell.
Our second seed for The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018 is Sam Collins who will remember this year as one where he took a big step toward his ultimate goal of becoming Ireland's first home-grown Grandmaster. Sam scored an undefeated 7/9 in the ICU's GM norm event at New Years which you can read about in The Philip Hogarty 10 Year Memorial 2018: Round by Round Report. At the time, Sam was within 33 points of the title but has slipped back slightly since and now requires 55 points which is of course still within his endless abilities.
Last time out at an Irish, Sam claimed the title with a massive score of 8/9 in one of the stronger Irish Championships in 2014 but he will face an even tougher task this year with the average rating of the entire field over 2100.
Can Sam claim his third Irish title and move even closer to his GM dream?
IM Alex Lopez (2410)
Last year, we spoke of Alex's hiatus from chess but how he carried very good form into The Irish Championship 2017 sponsored by Clare County Council. What has he done since? Well, he started the last 12 months by sharing the Irish title with Philip Short with a very impressive 7/9. He would stay active within the chess community by playing at home and abroad, picking up yet another Mulcahy trophy along the way and coaching online. His year was without doubt highlighted by his first GM norm which he made at The ICU Easter Festival by scoring 7/9 against a very strong field. Alex's rating reached a peak after that event of 2461 live and he then went in search of his next norm but ran out of steam on foreign ground with results not going his way. Nevertheless, he will come to this year's Irish as one of the favourites with the highest ICU rating in the field and 3rd highest FIDE. Alex is two-time Irish winner who has won on his last two appearances; you can read a report on his 2010 win here.
We have no doubt that Alex will soon return to the form which saw him pick up his first GM norm just 4 months ago but will that form return in time for him to defend his title?
FM Stephen Jessel (2346)
It was an up and down year for the 2016 Champion, Stephen Jessel who made his 5th (!!) IM norm in the Philip Hogarty Memorial Event while at the same time putting himself within 25 points of the 2400 and the IM title. However, a difficult Gibraltar saw Stephen slip back somewhat before he took a planned break from the board to do some traveling. A rejuvenated Jessel could be a very dangerous beast, even in an event of this quality. His score over his last 3 Irish Championships from 2014-16 is... 22/27 with one win and twice finishing 0.5 off the winners.
If that Stephen turns up, then the rest of the field is in for a rough ride. Another big score and he'll be knocking on the door of 2400 and the IM title once more with the Olympiad on the horizon too.
IM Gavin Wall (2341)
Gavin is another searching for his maiden Irish title having made his return to the Irish Chess scene in the Tralee Classic and The Irish Championship 2017 sponsored by Clare County Council. He finished 7th in last year's event, but arrives with his peak rating over the past 14 months and will hope to improve upon that finish this year.
Its been 11 years since Gavin last won any title in Ireland, can he stop the rot this year?
FM Conor O'Donnell (2336)
Someone else who will remember the The ICU Easter Festival fondly was FM Conor O'Donnell who made his first IM norm at that event. Conor has also failed to reach those heights since but has a very good record against many of the players in this field - despite how strong it is. He more than held his own last year, missing out on the title and a norm by 0.5 points and will come to this event with renewed confidence following his performance last year and his recent norm.
Conor may still be young but he is certainly one of the favourites for this event, is also one of the favourites to be Ireland's next IM and is gearing up for his second Olympiad this September - all by the age of 19.
Is it too soon for Conor or is now the time?
FM Stephen Brady (2336)
The 9-time Irish champion returns to the event after a 3-year hiatus but he hasn't been completely dormant with regular appearances in the LCU leagues for Benildus and tournament outings in the St. Andrew's Masters 2017 and the New Year Norm events. He is also currently involved in the IM Norm League with one draw against IM Alvaro Valdes Escobar to this point.
Stephen's wins came in '91, '92, '01, '03, '06,'07, '11, '12, and (on his last appearance) '15.
Will he be able to add '18 to that long list?
FM Conor Murphy (2336)
Conor is one of 8 debutantes in this year's event and is somewhat of an unknown quantity when it comes to analysing how the tournament will pan out. Some may be unfamiliar with Conor who recently transferred from England to Ireland but he has been active on the Irish chess seen with appearances at The Irish Rapid and Blitz Championships 2017 and the Tralee Classic. We'll soon find out how he figures into the shake-up at this year's event.
FM Philip Short (2333)
Philip blew away the field in the first 7 rounds of last year's event; scoring 6/7 with 5 wins and 2 draws against many of his rivals before coasting to first place with two quick draws in rounds 8 and 9. He also notched his first
It was a quiet year for Philip - after his spectacular Irish performance, he took a break from the game before returning for The Bunratty Chess Festival. That turned out to be his only ICU rated games of the year so he comes into this year's event very fresh - in much the same way he went into last year's event.
Remarkably, the defending champion, despite gaining 50 FIDE points at the 2017 Irish, comes into this as the 9th seed and he will have an uphill challenege to retain his trophy but whose doubting him after last year!
FM Colm Daly (2329)
The 6-time champion was one of the first to commit to playing and will surely fancy his chances of adding to his haul in this year's event. He will be carrying some excellent form into the event too, having tied for first in Malahide for the fourth year in row and also won The 29th Drogheda Congress 2018 for the third time since 2015. Late last year, he also shared titles in the St. Andrew's Charity Classic & The Limerick Open 2017.
Colm was again one of the most active players in Irish chess over the past 12 months, has possibly won more Irish events than any two other players and is showing good form in the IM Norm League which started last week. He undoubtedly comes in as one of the favourites yet again but will Colm do it?
Tom O'Gorman (2258)
This is Tom's second Irish Championships having last competed as a wildcard in 2015 - since then he has gained over 400 rating points and moved into the world's top 150 players under 16. Tom started the season at a peak rating of 2295 before going through the first lean period of his still very young chess career. That didn't last long as he rocketed back up from 2145 to 2280. In that time, he came very close to an IM norm in The ICU Easter Festival where he had an all-or-nothing final round game against Conor O'Donnell where a win was required. Unfortunately, Conor was in the zone in that event and Tom came up just short but he still finished with a terrific 6/9 including a win over IM Sodoma and draws against GM Neuman and IM Valdes.
The current Irish U16 Champion is the 11th seed and will be up against it when it comes to winning the event but it is only a matter of time before Ireland's top junior makes his next leap forward. Will that leap come here?
Henry Li (2232)
This is Henry's third Irish Championships having competed as a wildcard in 2015 and as a 2200+ in 2017. It was an excellent season for Henry as he picked up Armstrong, NCC, and Millfield winners medals yet again. He also had a draw with Super-GM, former World Championship Challenger and current FIDE Presidential Candidate, Nigel Short in The Bunratty Chess Festival. Other notable achievements over the season include a first win over GM Alexander Baburin in the St. Andrew's Masters 2017, a 6th place finish in last year's Irish Championship and a second place finish in the Mulcahy Memorial 2018
Henry is currently the 12th seed and will be up against it when it comes to winning the event but he can look back to those season highlights for some belief! Will that give him the confidence to go out and upset the odds in The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018?
Killian Delaney (2206)
Killian has consolidated his place at the top-table of Irish chess over the past year having made a rating surge up to that point - just five years ago he started the year as a 2012 (ICU) rated player but he now sits among the top Irish players with an ICU & FIDE rating of 2206. He's been driven by 5 Armstrong titles in 7 years, 3 NCC titles, several trips to the European Club Cup and by the goal of emulating fellow Delaneys, John and Paul, by becoming Irish champion and an FM. Like Henry, he also has the notable highlight from this season of claiming a draw against GM Nigel Short in The Bunratty Chess Festival.
Killian came close in the 2016 Irish - eventually finishing third - and he will fear no one having secured results against many of the players currently entered. But will Killian be able to put 9-rounds together and really push for the title?
Gordon Freeman (2205)
Gordon started the season with a rating of 2102 and played just 34 FIDE rated games in that time. How did he do? 28W 3D 3L.. He clearly carries form into The Blackthorne Irish Championship 2018 having picked up yet another Armstrong board prize and winners medals in the Armstrong, NCC and 4NCL. As 14th seed, he will be in the top half of the draw for round 1 and fancy himself against one of the lower ranked contenders should he win his first game.
Will Gordon be able to make any waves in this year's event?
Paul Wallace (2202)
Paul was fairly active on the domestic chess seen this year with 5 appearances at weekenders and as usual, he was one of the first names on the team-sheet for Kilkenny CC in the LCU leagues. This will be his first appearance at an Irish since 2014.
Stephen Moran (2155)
Stephen formed part of the "Gonzaga" team which claimed promotion and the division 3 4NCL title this year while he was also active on the domestic front, competing in 5 weekender events and trotting out for Trinity College on a weekly basis. He has flirted with going over 2200 for the first time for quite some time now and perhaps this will be the week he makes the leap if he can string results together.
David Murray (2149)
A topsy-turvy year for Dave who recently slipped under 2100 live before storming back to his usual rating range with a very impressive performance in the Czech Open. He is one of the most active players on this list over the past 12 months having played 8 events and been part of two successful league teams in the 4NCL and Armstrong (captaining the former). Can he carry his form from the Czech Open last week into this event?
Gerry O'Connell (2148)
It was an active and successful year for Gerry who took part in the inaugural Irish 50+/65+ Championship, finishing second, and representing his club in the European Club Cup in Antalya, Turkey. He was also instrumental in almost guiding his team back to next year's ECC and scored 7.5/11 in the Armstrong.
Shane Melaugh (2086)
19th seed Shane Melaugh, will be returning for his third Irish Championships; having played the last 2 years. In 2016, Shane had a tough tournament but came out of it with wins over Rudolf Tirziman and CM Gerry McElligott and a draw with Kevin Butler - who finished the event in 4th place.
Shane rocketed up the Irish rankings this year with many impressive performances including at Bunratty, Kilkenny, and Gonzaga but the most pivotal events for his progress were the European Youth Chess Championships 2017 and Glorney Cup where he gained over 200 points in all. He'll be a tricky opponent for Alex Baburin in round 1.
John Kennedy (2077)
John, pictured with a fan of his Sicilian repertoire, was as usual an important part of the very impressive Dublin CC squad this year. They were again a top 4 side in the LCU leagues and were unlucky not to do one better in the NCC given the strength of their team but second place will guarantee them a place at the 2018 ECC. This is John's first foray back into the Irish since 2015 and he will face the unappealing task of overcoming Sam Collins in round 1.
Kevin Butler (2064)
It was a quiet season by Kevin's standards, playing in the Kilkenny Congress and just the odd league game for Phibsboro. However, many will remember his excellent performance last time out in the Irish, finishing 4th in 2016.
Anthony Fox (2046)
Tony has been very active this season both individually and at club level - playing in 5 weekenders as well as the ECC and the Armstrong league. He had a very creditable performance in the ECC finishing with 3.5/7 and was generally in good form throughout the season, finishing above his seeding in Bunratty, Kilkenny and Gonzaga.
Gavin Melaugh (2029)
Gavin was our only debutante at last year's Irish Championships and although he has already been on the Irish chess scene for 10 years, he is still just 14 years old and therefore (still!) this year's youngest participant. Like his brother, Gavin raced up the Irish rankings this year in part thanks to a terrific display at the Easter IM norm event where he took down both Delaneys on his way to a 2.5/9 performance.
Anthony Bourached (2026)
In many ways, Anthony is the form player in the lower half of the draw having taken several scalps in Bunratty recently and several other events. In the first three rounds of Bunratty, he defeated FM Philip Short and IM John-Paul Wallace, before drawing with IM Thomas Rendle. He'll start his campaign against the 9-time champ, Stephen Brady.
Stephen Rush (2025)
The 2016 Ulster Champion was another who had an impressive display at Bunratty, picking up a couple of scalps and over 100 rating points as his ICU rating chased up his FIDE of 2025. Stephen also put in a spirited effort in defending his Ulster title but eventually had to settle for second. He is our second debutante and we'll hope to see him on the ICU scene more in future.
Mihailo Manojlovic (1988)
Mihailo's year started with an impressive display at the European Club Cup in Turkey where he scored 3/6 and he backed that up with good tournaments in Gonzaga (where he smashed some lowly politician in 16 moves) and Bunratty. In the latter, he had draws against Mark Heidenfeld and Fiona Steil-Antoni as well as a win against 2234 rated, Blair Connell. Mihailo will be making his first appearance in an Irish this week but we're sure he'll be around for years to come.
Paul O'Neill (1985)
This will be Paul's third Irish Championship having competed in 2015 and 2016 with a seventh place finish in the latter. His best performance this year came in the 1800+ all-play-all at Easter where he scored 6.5/9 and finished in third place - narrowly missing out on winning the event in the last round.
Eamon Keogh (1960)
The two time winner, pictured below being congratulated by Garry Kasparov on pouring a near perfect pint of Guinness, returns to the event after a one-year absense. Eamon stayed somewhat active this year playing in most rounds of the LCU leagues for Kilkenny CC as well as his usual stop off at Bunratty and also the inaugural Irish 50+/65+ Championships.
Peter Cafolla (1955)
Peter was hugely active this season playing in no less than 9 events! Like with Paul O'Neill, his most successful stretch was in the Easter 1800+ event where he was also in the running until the last round, eventually finishing on 6/9.
Rudolf Tirziman (1943)
It was a quiet year for Rudolf by his standards, playing in just 4 events. However, he was a linchpin of the Blanchardstown team which secured promotion back to the top tier of Leinster chess after a one year spell in the Heidenfeld division.
Conor Nolan (1935)
Conor had a remarkably similar campaign to Rudolf, playing in 4 events - mostly hovering around the same rating apart from a terrific 3rd place finish in Malahide - and steering his club team into the Armstrong for the first time. B teams don't do well traditionally in the Armstrong but Conor will be hoping he can help keep his team up and more. This will be Conor's first Irish and he lines out at 31st seed.
Alice O'Gorman (1896)
Alice is probably the most internationally experienced of all the players making their first appearance in this year's Irish Championship. She has competed in an Olympiad, played for Ireland countless times on junior teams and regularly takes her talents abroad for Open events. She'll be the 32nd seed here and faces Gordon Freeman in round 1. Having been as high as 1950 during the season, Alice will be looking to push back up to that level with a strong performance here.
Zalan Nemeth (1876)
Our first wildcard for the event, Zalan comes into the event as Connaught Senior Champion having tied for first with 2 other players. He was also Irish U16 Junior champion last year and came close to defending his title this year, but eventually settled for second.
Luke Scott (1873)
This is Luke's third Irish Championship in a row and an event which must be one of his favourites given how he performs at them. Having been as high as 2018 and as low as 1682 in the last 2 years, Luke's consistenancy has been his main issue - one which he seems to have somewhat put behind him in recent times as he has climbed quickly back to 1873. He is always likely to cause a few shocks so players will not fancy being paired with him. Stephen Moran awaits in round 1.
Dermot Nolan (1841)
Dermot left it late to qualify for the event - earning a huge rating gain (to put him over 1900 ICU) in the Glorney where he finished with a very impressive 4.5/5. This will be his first Irish.
Peter Carroll (1794)
Another who would benefit from some consistency is Peter Carroll but one can't argue with a 200 point rating gain from his season. He is also the new Irish U19 champion and his agressive play will cause problems for other players.