My Life in Chess

April Cronin

I think I learned to play some form of chess at around the age of eight, figuring out at least some of the rules from the instructions inside the box I got for Christmas. At thirteen I read a book about the Fischer-Spassky match and was fascinated by the impenetrable chess notation as much as by the antics surrounding the world championship itself. Finally, at fourteen, during a typically rain-soaked holiday in Connemara, I met a real chess-player, a Frenchman locked into the same hotel by the weather. After playing me in a few games, he recommended to my parents that I join a club. Luckily a friend of my mother’s was the wife of Michael Schuster, a Czech émigré and former Irish champion. He introduced me into Collegians chess club in Donnybrook, and I spent many happy evenings there, gradually (very, very gradually, over several years) improving from novice level to a “good club player” standard.

As one of the few girls playing chess at the time, I was selected to play for the Irish Schoolgirls team in 1975, and the thrill of representing Ireland really got me hooked into chess and encouraged me to study a bit more. At sixteen I started to get some coaching from Paul Delaney and his brother John, both very strong Irish players at the time, and they really raised the bar. When I met them I thought 1500 would be a wonderful rating to have, but to them, 2000 was a baseline that anyone could achieve, and then you went up from there if you had any talent at all! I’m not sure they were right about that, but I benefited from aiming at their stratospheric targets, even if I didn’t quite get there. They also really encouraged a sharp attacking style, and to this day I am a “kill or be killed” chess-player.

Players nowadays with all the internet resources available with a click cannot imagine how excited we were to receive the British Chess Magazine and the exotic Shakhmatny Bulletin by post each month. The thrill of attending weekender tournaments all over the country was also addictive. Opportunities to play abroad were far more limited, but I continued to represent Ireland first at junior level (captaining the winning Faber Cup team in 1978) and then on the Irish Ladies’ Olympiad team. I competed in three Olympiads, Malta in 1980, Thessaloniki in 1984 and Dubai in 1986. Malta, where I scored 8/12 on Board 1, is probably my single best chess achievement. I married chess-player Michael O’Brien in 1988 and soon had two young daughters. Parenthood, plus the demands of my career (I became principal of a national school in 1993) brought my competitive chess career largely to a close, although I have occasionally participated in tournaments since – finally winning an Irish Ladies Championship in 2008.

I’ve devoted a lot of time to coaching since I was a college student and have become more and more interested in this. As a teacher, I saw at first hand the huge enjoyment children get from chess and the benefits it can bring. Before Covid 19 restrictions came in, I was running chess clubs in four schools, coaching an Irish Chess Union Development Squad, and helping to get the Moves for Life initiative going. During lock-down I’ve been giving courses in chess teaching to other teachers, hopefully encouraging them to get chess started in their schools. I’ve also been playing a bit online and am proud of my Lichess 1915 rating in blitz chess!

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Created 2020-11-23 ◦ Last updated 2020-11-23 ◦ Editor DB

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