We are coming up on 100 days to the 100th Irish Championship & this year we will be honouring our past winners with a look back at their triumphs day by day as well as previewing this year’s entrants. We will start all the way back in 1865 with what we regard as the first Irish Championship and move our way up through the years & decades to last year’s event. Along the way, we will profile the 49 champions, and some of the other roughly 520 players who have ever played in the Championship. The 1865 Irish may have been the first ever national chess championship anywhere (with apparently only events in the US in 1845 and 1857 as rival candidates) and we have now run 75 consecutive championships since the end of World War II.
We start our series by setting the scene for what we regard as the very first Irish Championship, which takes us all the way back to 1865. The Dublin Chess Congress of 1865, roughly nine lifetimes of our current champion Tom O'Gorman ago was a major international event organised in three sections. It was among the first international chess tournaments to show the standardization of international rules of play. It replicated London 1862 in having a time-limit and also a means of controlling the time. You can read more about the rules of that event here.
100 (days to go): The First Irish Champion
With 100 days to go to the 100th Irish Championship, we arrive at our first Irish Champion who came from 1865's Dublin Chess Congress group which was "Open to Amateurs, bona fide Resident in Ireland for the 12 Months prior to 1st September 1865". The 18 player all-play-all was won by 19-year-old James Alexander (later 'Porterfield') Rynd, 1846-1917, later a Dublin barrister, chess journalist and organiser, and blindfold simultaneous specialist, who also won again in 1892. Rynd was probably the strongest active player in Ireland of the latter part of the 19th century by some margin, with a peak 'Edo' historical chess rating of 2361 in 1887." He would return to the board for a defense of his title in 1913, a full 48 years after his first title. However, on this occasion, he would come up short. He would have many more contributions to Irish chess in his life including the mooting of the Irish Chess Association in 1884, the invention of a chess variant “Diamond Chess” and his participation in the first ever Armstrong Cup in 1888. We're very fortunate to have one of his winning games from his first Irish win.
The results of the first Irish Championship can be seen here.
99 (days to go): The Irish back after 21 years
R.W.Barnett was the winner of the second Irish Championship which took place 21 years after the first edition and did not feature first winner, Porterfield Rynd who we spoke about yesterday. Details of that event can be seen here.
This event was open to non-Irish players and Barnett was declared Irish Champion by finishing as the highest place Irish player with a score of 4.5/8.
David McAlister has done the work for me here in giving a bio of Barnett here with some of his chess exploits.
He would later serve as an MP for 13 years and if you'd like to read more about his life outside (and inside) of chess, he has a Wikipedia page all to himself here.
98 (days to go): The 3rd Champion
George Daniel Soffe, c1859-1898, was the third Irish champion. In early 1889, championship was held in Dublin, and in the absence of Porterfield Rynd, briefly retired, the championship was wide open. The format was a handicap, in which only the players playing off 'scratch' were eligible for the title - the first and only time this format has been used in an Irish championship. Of the 31 players who entered, 10 played off scratch. The results of the final can be seen here.
Soffe played on boards 2 and 3 for Ireland, behind Pollock and Rynd, in correspondence matches against Yorkshire and Sussex in the late 1880s, and also played on the winning Phoenix team in the inaugural 1888-89 season of the Armstrong Cup. Sadly, ill health cut his career short. An example of his play can be seen in his game against Porterfield Rynd on board 1 of the very first Armstrong Cup match, played on 20 October 1888.
97 (days to go): The most talented not to win an Irish (yet)?
As discussed, Porterfield Rynd was the first person to win the Irish title more than once and as we’ve previously discussed him in depth, I’ll move to a preview of entrants for this year’s event for the first time.
IM Mark Quinn (2370)
After 25 years in the top tier of Irish chess, Mark will be intending to break his duck in the Irish at the fifth attempt. He’ll be coming back to the Irish again after playing in 2019 where prior to this he had had 10 years away from the event. Mark had his best finish in that event 12 years ago; hitting the podium with a joint second placing. Despite drastically scaling down the amount of chess he plays (and becoming a family-man in the meantime), Mark has still been involved in some top level events such as our bi-annual norm events. In one of these norm events, he defeated the legendary GM Igor Glek. He also consistently scores well on board one of the Armstrong league.
Will the 100th Irish finally be the one where Mark taps into his natural gifts to the lift the Irish trophy for the first time?
96 (days to go): A star is born
Following the formation of the Irish Chess Union in 1912, the Irish came back after a 21 year absence in 1913 with a new format where there was a preliminary event to which each province was entitled to send a representative, with the winner challenging the reigning champion; in this case: Porterfield Rynd – the 1892 champion. The 1913 championship would see the emergence of a force in Irish chess: John J O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon would defeat C.J.Barry in the preliminary round before seeing off Porterfield in the final in what was seen as a passing of the torch.
O’Hanlon would go on to win the Irish title 9 times in total from his 29 appearances. The years of those wins were the following: (1913, 1915, 1925, 1926, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1936, 1940; no championships held 1914, 1916-21 and 1941-45 so champion for 21 years)
We are very fortunate again to have games from that match against Porterfield Rynd in 1913 which you can see here.
95 (days to go): So near and yet...
O'Hanlon would go on to defend his Irish title in 1915, becoming the first person to do so. We'll carry on with our previews:
FM Conor O'Donnell (2331)
Conor had an up and down year in the 2019-20 season with a dominant performance to win the City of Dublin, backed up by a share of the St Andrew’s title before things went a little awry. Still, it says something for a player like Conor when a year where you win two titles is considered a disappointing year.
However, that’s because in each of the previous 4 years, Conor had added another string to his bow in his progression to the top tier of Irish chess. 2015: claimed the FM title. 2016: made his first Olympiad appearance. 2017: crossed 2400 for the first time. 2018: two IM norms in Irish events and other near misses. In terms of his chances for this event? Conor has always been able to turn it on for the Irish and has been pipped to the title on a number of occasions. Last year, he suffered a couple of early defeats before storming back to win his final three games for a share of second. He came closest of anyone to defeating eventual champion, Conor Murphy, in 2019. In fact, Conor has finished in order: 3rd, -, 3rd, 2nd, 7th, 2nd over the past 6 years - where he was within a move of the final round of finishing first in the year he finished 7th.
Suffice it to say that the man has unfinished business in this event and will be determined to claim his first Irish at the seventh attempt. Conor can check two big boxes off his to-do list if he wins this Irish: his first Irish title and his third and final IM norm to become Ireland's latest IM, but can he do it?
94 (days to go): O'Hanlon dethroned (twice)
In 1922, Thomas George Cranston managed to dethrone O'Hanlon who had held the Irish title since 1913 and all of the games from that year's championship are available here.
An article appeared in the Belfast Newsletter about Cranston's win.
Cranston appeared in 6 Irish Championships in all, beating O'Hanlon twice in the final match 3-0; his second and last title coming in 1931.
O'Hanlon did get his revenge with an epic final in 1932 which went all the way and more. After 5 games, the match was evenly split on 2.5-2.5. In the sudden death play-off, played in 1933, O’Hanlon won the second game leaving the final score as Cranston 3.0-4.0 O’Hanlon.
93 (days to go): Baker's Reign
Philip Baker, 1879-1932, was the sixth Irish champion. He was born in Riga, then part of the Russian Empire, and seems to have fled the pogroms of the era as a young man. Around the turn of the century, he lived in Tralee, where he worked as a draper. After moving to Dublin in the early 1900's, he played in the Armstrong Cup for the Jewish C.C. and later for Sackville.
In 1924, he snuck by J. J. O'Hanlon in the match to decide the challenger. The decisive game appears to have been snatched from the latter with a one-move tactic from what was a very comfortable position (my computer indicating that the evaluation swung from +4.5 to -3.5 which was enough for O'Hanlon to immediately throw in the towel): https://www.icu.ie/games/13614. The final was another tight affair with the best of five match finishing ½-2½ before Baker won the first game of the sudden death playoff. He also won the inaugural Tailteann Games.
Baker would play in just six Irish Championships in all; winning four of them in 1924, 1927, 1928, and 1929. He remains the only player to have won three consecutive Irish championships.
92 (days to go): Sitting T.D. Finishes Joint First
William Edward Thrift finished joint first with O'Hanlon (who was awarded the title when Thrift couldn't play the playoff) in 1925. Thrift even defeated O'Hanlon during the event on his way to an undefeated score of 5.5/7. Thrift was Provost of T.C.D. and elected from that constituency and served up until around 1937. NB: it really was the Dail--the move of that constituency to the Seanad didn't come in until the new constitution in 1937.
Thrift also finished second in 1892. You can read more about him here.
91 (days to go): Ireland's Top Junior
O'Hanlon hit back to win his third Irish title in 1925 so we continue with our preview:
FM Tarun Kanyamarala (2369)
Tarun made his Irish Championship debut just two years ago as the 18th seed but exploded onto the Irish chess scene over the next year and started last year's event as 2nd seed after gaining 239 points in that 12 month period. 57 of those points came via the 2019 Irish itself where Tarun claimed the scalps of IMs David Fitzsimons and Mark Quinn and backing those wins up with a draw against top seed Sam Collins. Last year, he got hit by the one-two punch of Gonzaga duo Conor O'Donnell and Sam Collins but he did earn a draw against eventual champion, Tom O'Gorman, and his score was good enough for a fifth place finish.
Elsewhere, Tarun has had several notable results including claiming the Limerick Open title, sharing the Cork and St Andrew's titles, but arguably most remarkably, finishing tied first in the ultra-strong Gonzaga Classic with a final round win over 2600+ GM Georg Meier.
Whilst Tarun was a bit of an unknown quantity two years ago, the top players will have plenty of experience against him now and vice versa. Tarun is also one of the hardest studiers in Irish chess and who knows what his rating would be by now if OTB chess wasn’t put an ice in March 2020… Will this mean Tarun comes out swinging after a year plus of practice or will this mean his rating progress was stunted? Time will tell but Tarun is certainly one of the favourites this event.
90 (days to go): Ireland's latest IM
O'Hanlon added to his haul with a fourth Irish title in 1926 so we continue with our preview:
IM David Fitzsimons (2324)
David came into last year's event with his highest rating since early 2018 and whilst he didn't have things go his way, he still finished with a seventh place finish. This is David’s third appearance in a row at the Irish and this year he is one of several International Masters in the field which may take some of the pressure off.
Up until 2015, David was a long-time regular of the Irish Championship with his last 4 finishes in consecutive years being: 4th, 4th, 3rd, 3rd – the latter two being his best finishes to date.
David’s best performance prior to the pandemic arguably came in Bunratty where he was on the top boards throughout, eventually finishing in joint second place. As well as that, David also had an excellent Gonzaga Classic, scoring draws against GMs Tiviakov and Lalic.
89 (days to go): Ireland's first WIM
Baker would take advantage of O'Hanlon's absence in 1927 to claim his second Irish title and as we've discussed Baker previously, we will continue with our preview:
WIM Trisha Kanyamarala (2180)
Trisha will be making her third Irish appearance this August after an excellent debut in 2019; a performance which earned her her second WIM norm. Her best result was undoubtedly her win against IM Mark Quinn but she also beat her brother Tarun on the way to a 5/9 finish. She would match that score in 2020 but she may have hoped for more in a smaller field.
Trisha earned a third WIM norm (and thereby qualify for the WIM title) with a dominant display at the New Year Norm events 2020, winning the event and finishing on 6.5/9 – which was also enough for a WGM norm but just 0.5 shy of an IM norm.
Trisha became Ireland’s first WIM last year and will have her sights set on even bigger goals once we get back to regular OTB chess. In a year full of accolades, it could also be forgotten that Trisha also claimed the FM title this year – making her one of the youngest ever Irish players to do so.
Trisha has shown the ability to pick up steam during an event and put together a string of wins in a row which makes her a definite danger in this year’s Irish. But will she be able to take the next step up and claim her first Irish title?
88 (days to go): The Irish Regular
Baker would successfully defend his title in 1928 and claim his third Irish title so we will continue with our preview:
CM Shane Melaugh (2161)
Shane Melaugh, will be returning for his sixth Irish Championship; having played the last 5 years - one of only 3 to do so. In 2018, Shane had a top 10 finish but things didn’t go quite so well the last two years; finishing just outside the top ten last year.
Shane’s highlight of 2019 is likely his demolition job in the Elm Mount Club Championships where he finished on a remarkable 9.5/10 which gained him 84 FIDE rating points and 60 ICU points.
He backed that up with a terrific performance at the Irish New Year Norm events where he finished just 1 point shy of an IM norm, gaining 35 points in the process.
Shane was unfortunate that his FIDE K factor dropped at just the wrong moment as he looked to be pressing for the FM title before that drop stunted his progression but with 20 K we still expect him to be back hammering on that door very soon.
87 (days to go): The 50+ Champ
Baker would make it three-in-a-row in 1929 and earn his fourth Irish title defeating Creevey for the second year in a row in the final match so we will continue with our preview:
Jonathan O’Connor (2153)
The 2020 Irish 50+ Champion (his second 50+ title in 3 years) will be playing in his third Irish Championships in as many years.
Two years ago, he had a very nice win against Henry Li in round 2 which he backed up with a draw against GM Alexander Baburin in round 3. His score of 4/9 is not very reflective of his strong performance as he was playing higher rated opponents for much of the event.
Jonathan's Irish in 2020 was cut short by a snap lockdown where he'd be progressing nicely with a score of 3.5/7 including draws with Killian Delaney and Trisha Kanyamarala.
86 (days to go): The Late Bloomer
O'Hanlon finally unseated Baker in 1930 after his 3-year reign as Irish Champion. They played in the final match of 1930 with each aiming to become the first person to claim 5 Irish titles with O'Hanlon winning 3-1. Sadly, this would be Baker's last Irish and he would pass away in 1932. With those two champions discussed in depth, we move forward with our previews:
FM Killian Delaney (2300)
2019 was a breakthrough year for Killian Delaney – smashing through the 2300 barrier for the first time, securing the FM title in the process and almost claiming his first IM norm with some scintillating play, eventually coming just half a point short. Killian's meteoric rise can maybe only be matched by current Irish champion, Tom O'Gorman, and the Kanyamaralas as he's backed up his rating gains month after month on his rise to the top.
He is the current Irish number 14 and his top performance came in the ECC with a 21 point rating gain and some excellent results. However, the Irish has not be happy hunting ground for Killian in recent years and he’ll need to reverse that form if he wants to compete for the title.
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 use his excellent form to put 9-rounds together and really push for the title?
85 (days to go): The State of Play
O'Hanlon's third spell as champion did not last long as he was defeated by Cranston in 1931 in the final match which was Cranston's second title as we've previously referenced. We'll discuss Cranston's title defense in 1932 tomorrow but for now, we'll discuss the field for the 100th Irish as things stand:
The Field as of May 7th
Our field stands 34 strong, with 6 further applications for wildcards, which is already more than our 32 entries last year. Incredibly, 10 of our entrants are past Irish Champions. From a titles perspective, we have 1 Grandmaster, 4 International Masters, 1 Woman International Master, 8 FIDE Masters, 1 Woman FIDE Master and 3 Candidate Master so there will be IM, WGM and WIM norms possible at the event. Our current field is as follows with past winners in bold:
Collins, Sam E. IM 2456
Baburin, Alexander GM 2416
Murphy, Conor E FM 2394
Quinn, Mark IM 2370
Kanyamarala, Tarun FM 2369
Heidenfeld, Mark IM 2360
O`Donnell, Conor FM 2331
Fitzsimons, David IM 2324
Delaney, Killian FM 2300
Brady, Stephen FM 2292
Daly, Colm FM 2285
Ryan, Joseph FM 2271
Doyle, Anthony 2206
Delaney, John FM 2191
Kanyamarala, Trisha WIM 2180
Melaugh, Shane CM 2161
O'Connor, Jonathan 2153
McMahon, Daire FM 2115
Carroll, Peter CM 2059
Venkatesan, Kavin 2011
McMorrow, John 1997
MacElligott, Gerard CM 1966
Cafolla, Peter 1958
Peoples, Jonathon 1953
Keogh, Eamon 1944
Tirziman, Rudolf 1941
Mirza, Diana WFM 1933
Lyons, Brendan 1931
Quigley, Colm 1924
O'Gorman, Alice 1907
Aherne, John P. 1903
Collins, Adam 1887
Nolan, Conor 1884
O'Flaherty, Kevin 1884
84 (days to go): Our Sponsor
Defending champion and two-time title holder, Thomas George Cranston would lose his title to O'Hanlon in 1932 in an epic final which finished 2.5-2.5 after the best of 5 match. In the sudden death play-off, played in 1933, the first game was drawn before O'Hanlon won the second game and thereby claimed his sixth Irish title. Cranston would not play again until 1938 - where he would finish third in his final Irish appearance. 1932 marks the end of a period of dominance stretching back to 1913 for three players: O'Hanlon (6 titles), Baker (4 titles) and Cranston (2 titles). While Baker and Cranston's tallies of titles would end there, O'Hanlon was not quite finished yet. However, as we'll hear more about those titles in the coming days, we'll discuss one of our supporters for this year's event.
Blackthorne International Transport
Once again, Blackthorne International Transport will sponsor the marquee event on the Irish chess calendar; most recently sponsoring the 2017 and 2018 Irish events. Their support has enabled us to ensure norm possibilities for our top untitled players for the first time in IRL-only Irish Championships and also bring in commentary teams to cover the event. We can't thank them enough for their continued support and must single out ICU member Gary O'Grady for helping us in this regard. Its no surprise that the events they have supported have been among the most competitive and had the largest entries in the history of the Irish Championship.
83 (days to go): The Seventh Champion
James C. Creevey, 1873-1967, was the seventh Irish champion. At the time of his win, he was President of Cork C.C., and his win marked the first time the title had gone to a Munster nominee. He won again in 1934, before losing his title in a rematch against O'Hanlon in 1935.