Head of Delegation, Daniel Lynch, reports from the venue. Results and pairings can be seen here.
Gonzaga College SJ v Russia (actually the World)
Gonzaga have arrived in Sochi, Russia for the Belaya Ladya (White Rook Tournament) - the U14 World Chess Schools' Championship. This tournament has been the premier all-Russian schools' tournament since 1969. 4 years ago, it became an international tournament, with the national school champions of other countries receiving an invitation from the Russian Chess Federation and Russian Ministry of Sport.
Gonzaga have always had to decline their invitation as one of the rules stipulates that at least one girl must play on your team of 4 players. However, this year, Gonzaga were permitted to take a girl from an Irish school and have her play on the team.
With one giant leap, Gonzaga has progressed to at least the middle of the 20th century in having Lara Putar, of Scoil Mhuire Primary School, Co. Leixlip, as the first girl to represent the college in an official capacity. We're very lucky to have her and she's the reason we can enter the tournament. She is joined by 1st Years: Daniel Dwyer, Jack McIntyre and James Crowley.
Last night was the official opening ceremony. It had a pair of Eurovision style presenters speaking in Russian and English. We were treated to a performance from the Sochi Philharmonic Orchestra and an address sent from the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin. I'm not making this up. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/60649
You might be wondering what our expectations are for the tournament. Unfortunately the format couldn't really be worse for Gonzaga. It's an U14 tournament and therefore limited to 1st Years, who haven't been playing long in the school. It's also only a team of 4 players. Gonzaga's strength is often in its depth. Add to this that over 50,000 students took part in the qualifications alone and you might start to think that our odds are long. However, out of the 106 teams, Gonzaga are seeded a respectable 54th, a position we'll try to beat over the next 9 days of the competition. Yes, it's 9 days - 1 game per day. The Russians take this really seriously.
I'll update, day by day including the first match today, where we've been drawn against the top seeds, the U14 school champions of Mongolia!
I'll leave you with the main image of the team, meeting with GM Victor Bologan (Deputy President of FIDE) and GM Sergei Rublevsky.
So it begins! Ulanbattar School No. 33 v Gonzaga College SJ. Big under-dogs against the top seeds (Seed 1 v Seed 54) but let's see what happens.
You can follow the games live on the Follow Chess App. Click on the White Rook All-Russian tournament.
A better link to follow the games live is here. This is only available while we're playing the top seeds. We're unlikely to make it back to the live boards. https://live.followchess.com/#!white-rook-all-russian-2019
Quite a day. There were a lot of swings during the matches but in the end, the score was 2.5-1.5 to Ulanbataar. Daniel Dwyer lost to a FIDE Master with a rating of 2356. Jack McIntyre was leading for much of his game against an individual former Youth World Champion. Unfortunately, the position became very technical and one small error cost him a result. James Crowley also played well above his rating and was ahead for most of the middle game before making a blunder. Fortunately his opponent blundered back right at the end, giving James a well deserved draw. Lara Putar had a tough middle game position but capitalised when her opponent fell into a mate in 2.
I think it's a great result and shows that we can challenge the top U14 team in the world.
Tomorrow we play the best that the Republic of North Ossetia - Alania has to offer. They appear to have donkeyed their team by playing their worst player on Board 1 as a sacrificial lamb in the hope of picking up points lower down the order. It's allowed in the rules although you wouldn't see us doing it. They are 69th seeds so we're hopeful of picking up our first team point. Kick off is 8am Irish time but there won't be a live steam so you can all sleep in.
Good day for us today. We beat North Ossetia 3-1. Danny beat their weakest player on Board 1, winning a piece in 7 moves. Jack played another excellent game against their best player - a 1700 - and held out for 4 hours before going down in the ending. James beat his opponent comfortably enough and Lara beat a girl whose play was a lot better than her rating.
With that, we move to 4.5/8 (it's done on game points) and into 44th position. Tomorrow we play the Bryansk Region. They beat the German champions from Magdeburg in the first round despite being seeded 82nd and having low ratings. We'd be hopeful of a win but clearly they're much stronger than their seeding so it's a potential banana-skin. Match at 8am Irish time. I'll update tomorrow as per usual. Thanks for the support!
2-2 today against the Bryansk Region. I flagged this as a banana-skin given that they beat the highly rated German side. Danny went down as black in the Old Indian as he couldn't hang onto his isolated b-pawn. Jack struggled with a higher rated opponent. James played a Yugoslav attack in the Sicilian Dragon and did enough to convert after a nice combination. Lara maintained her 100% record - a petition to make the school co-ed is currently being drafted. She had been losing but a blunder from her opponent brought the game to a rook and 4 pawns each. Lara showed her superior technical ability in a theoretically drawn rook and pawn endgame to win and give Gonzaga the draw - one point better than Germany could manage. With that result we are now 48th out of 106 teams.
Next up, we face the Chechen Republic - scene of the terrible wars from the 1990's. Jack has the unenviable task of playing their strongest player on board 2 - a tactic that a lot of teams seem to utilise. Chechnya again look better than their ratings but we're hopeful we can move up the leader-board if we keep it together.
A good day for Gonzaga, beating the Chechen Republic 3-1. Danny beat his opponent quite quickly. Jack played their strongest player and showed good determination after an opening mistake. Unfortunately it wasn't enough. James continued his strong form on board 3 while Lara moved to 4/4, withstanding some highly aggressive play from her opponent. Ireland move to 27th in the rankings but will face tougher opposition as a result.
As with 2002, Ireland have a famous draw with Germany! But, unlike 2002, it was the Germans who scored the last-minute equalizer.
All the games used up almost the full 4 hours allotted. Lara was first to finish, again with a good win to bring her to 5/5. Jack was no doubt relieved to get off the mark against his 1500 opponent. It was a tough slog, converting a Rook and 2 pawns versus a Rook and 1 pawn. He's played really well all tournament but just losing out frequently can take its toll. Great to see him get the win. Danny went a pawn down out of the opening and did well to make such a long game of it. Unfortunately he went down to a stronger opponent. James was last to finish. He had been winning but missed a discovered attack that dropped an exchange. He was still in a drawn position but needed to play very precisely to get the half point. Unfortunately he swapped bishops and the position could no longer be saved. 2-2 seems like a fair result. The arbiter declared, "friendship was the winner" and it was hard to argue with that. I attach a picture of me and Klaus, the German manager pre-match. I got the better of him in a friendly blitz before the game, so let's agree to call it Ireland 3, Germany 2.
After all of that, Gonzaga move to 11.5/20 and drop slightly to 31st position. We have been rewarded with a horrible draw against the 5th seeds - the Mari El Republic. We'd fancy our chances against every team a few boards above us but tomorrow is certainly going to be tough. Danny out-rates his opponent by a small amount but the good news stops there. Jack faces a 1700. James is against a 1350 who is playing a good deal stronger. Lara faces a serious challenge to her 100% record in the form of the top female U14 in Russia - a 2150 Women's FIDE Master.
I guess we have to take heart from the damage we inflicted upon Mongolia (who have dismantled every team they've played since us and gone back to 1st place). Although playing the 5th seeds while in 31st place feels like a raw deal, facing the best in the world is why we're here. Fingers crossed for tomorrow - we'll need plenty of good fortune!
Sorry for the delay in updating. What little internet has been available has been used to answer emails about the Leaving Cert Maths paper which took place yesterday!
We've had a tough two days. First off we faced 5th seeds, the Mari El Republic. Danny could only muster a draw against the sole player we out-rated. Jack faced a 1724 and tried out the Caro-Kann for the first time to little success. James managed to beat his opponent while Lara tried to hang on against the top Russian U14 female but just lost out. Still, 1.5-2.5 is only a narrow loss and considering they're ranked 5th in the world, that's a strong result.
This morning, having dropped to 38th, we faced the Estonian champions. Danny outplayed his 1891 opponent for much of the game, going the exchange up. Unfortunately he fell into a checkmate under serious time-pressure. Jack played a move too quickly just after the opening and paid the price, dropping a pawn and leaving him in a bad position which he couldn't hold. James played a lovely game to give us a much needed win. He's now on 5.5/7 and was winning the only game he lost. Lara bounced back with another nice win that involved a beautiful combination at the end that allowed her queen be forked but left her a piece up in a pawn endgame. She later confided that she has not seen the outcome of the combination until she was in the middle of playing it but she still deserves the credit for finding it. She moves to a fantastic 6/7, with her only loss against a 2150.
We now find ourselves in 41st position. It's still ahead of our seedings but not really where we want to be. A single extra point would have had us in 28th - goes to show how tight things are and how can quickly rankings can change over 2 rounds. Tomorrow we face a strong team from the Tyumen Region. We've turned in for a very early night, hoping to be fresh and ready to finish with 2 match wins if we can.
This morning we faced 16th seeds, the Tyumen Region. Facing such a strong team when you're in 41st isn't ideal, especially in the penultimate round.
Danny played a very attacking closed Sicilian as white and when black put a step wrong, Danny pounced on the point. Jack decided to centralize his knight in exchange for giving up the c-file to his opponent's rooks. Unfortunately it didn't work out for him. James continued his ridiculous run, with another crushing display. I reckon he's going up over 300 ELO points in 9 games. That's typically a year or two's improvement. Lara gave up a pawn thematically but struggled to regain it. The endgame looked a little worse for her and unfortunately she missed a chance to gain the upper edge. The game drifted away until Lara couldn't save the position, despite putting up a great fight.
So 2-2 against the 16th seeds. Another strong result from us - the 54th seeds. And yet we find ourselves glued to 41st position. Tomorrow is the last round. We face the 31st seeds from the Yaroslavskaya Oblast. It's our last chance to make a jump up the rankings but again it's a tough match.
Only 2 games lost (the 1st and 5th seeds and both by the narrowest margin possible). Draws with the 16th, 27th and 29th seeds). It feels like we need a big win tomorrow to make good on what's actually be a really strong performance. You can be sure of one thing: we'll be fighting fiercely for every half-point.
Round 9 and the journey home
We've arrived back in Dublin after a long and tiring trip home.
The last round was, alas, a bridge too far. Danny played very well and won a pretty tight match. Jack missed a nice win - considered the move but didn't see just how good it would have been for him. James was winning but, despite playing fantastically all tournament, inexplicably missed a mate in one against him. Lara went a pawn up but ended up dropping a piece and wasn't able to stop a final round loss. A shame consider how well she has also played all tournament. A 3-1 loss, our worst of the tournament and a fall to 56th of 106 teams (having been seeded 54th).
It's a disappointing final finishing place, especially given some great results against top teams. Even in the last round, a decisive win (not out of the question on a different day) would would have brought us to 18th place. Fine margins!
In any case, it's been a fantastic experience. We've proved that, at our least developed level, we can mix it with the best schools in the world. The boys and Lara were fantastic and a pleasure to have on the team. They deserve a lot of praise for their efforts over the last fortnight.
Thanks for all the support and kind messages.