The annual Kilkenny Chess Congress must surely be one of the longest continuously running Chess events in Ireland, this year's tournament is the 42nd in the history of the event! That's remarkable in itself, but when you also consider that each and every one of those events was run by the same extraordinary man, Jack Lowry, octogenarian and now "Lord Lowry", it's really incredible. I'll tell you more later in this article about the newly minted Lord Lowry, suffice to say for now that Jack was enjoying the new title this weekend!
A beautiful image of the famous Kilkenny Castle, right in the heart of the town. The Masters was actually played in this castle one year, I think it was 2005 but I'm open to correction on that !
As is now becoming customary for Kilkenny, it "suffered" the usual French Attack, with over 15 players coming from France to enjoy the Irish hospitality. Four of the six Grandmasters playing were from that lovely land, Matthieu Cornette, Sebastien Maze, Jean Noel Riff and Fabien Libiszewski while the only two non-French GMs were our own Alex Baburin and Bogdan Lalic.
There were five International Masters playing too, Sophie Milliet ( who also holds the title of WGM ) Ireland's Mark Heidenfeld, Mark Quinn and David Fitzsimons and our visiting IM from Slovakia, Dusan Schwarz. There were also a couple of FMs and WFMs there too, the total number in this year's Kilkenny Masters was 26.
Round 1 got underway after a brief address by Jack Lowry in which he remembered a great loss to Irish Chess a few months ago when Philip Short died suddenly. He was one of Ireland's leading Chess players for over 4 decades and also a great friend to the Kilkenny Chess event.
Interestingly enough, a repeat of a pairing from last year occurred on board 1, Matthieu Cornette vs David Murray. I reminded Matthieu about this and he sportingly admitted that he was actually lost in that game. I don't usually give games from the previous year, but for this one, I'll make an exception. Here is the 2017 version of Cornette v Murray
Of course there was always the 2018 version of the same encounter, and it can be seen here. I seriously wonder why David Murray is not a titled player?
In the meantime, most of the other round 1 games went to seeding too, but definitely not all, as on board 6, Anthony Fox held Bogdan Lalic to a draw ( not a hugh surprise there! ) while on board 8, Peter Carroll went one better against Irish IM Mark Heidenfeld, claiming a full point for a well deserved "scalp".
On board 10, our regular Dutch visitor, Bram Van Dijk held our Kilkenny "Newbie", Slovakian IM Dusan Schwarz to a draw and so at 9:30am the following morning, with most players at the board on time ( ? ) round 2 began.
Pictured left is the all French, round 2, board 1 encounter between Sophie Milliet and Matthieu Cornette, a really interesting, fighting game in which Spohie certainly showed no fear whatsoever. Indeed, Matthieu got his queen-side pieces caught up in each others way and Sophie took full advantage in an entertaining game that can be seen here.
Meanwhile, on board 2, Sebastien Maze was facing our own Mark Quinn, who has a positional style of Chess that is just a bit beyond my understanding, and he shows a bit of that style in this game.
Our giant killing performance of Peter Carroll's from round 1 wasn't repeated as Bogdan Lalic toook the full point in their board 6 game while on board 4, another all French encounter was fought out in the game Fabien Libiszewski vs Cecile Haussernot, with the GM winning that encounter. It was nice to see the French having a go at each other ( over the board ) rather than some quick draws, let's hope this is a feature of the rest of the event!
Round 3 began at 2:30 and now we were beginning to get our first all GM encounters, board 1 featured Alex Baburin against Sebastien Maze, a repeat of a game from Kilkenny 2016. In that game, Maze was the victor, if you want to see what happened in this encounter, you'll have to click here but I warn you, it wasn't as exciting an encounter as two years ago.
Sophie's splendid win against Matthieu in round 2 proved the old adage that "no good deed goes unpunished" as her reward was to get the black pieces against another French GM, Fabien Libiszewski. Again, her uncompromising style can be seen in this game, however, Fabien uncorks a quite remarkable 14th move, one that certainly caught me by surprise and probably also surprised Sophie too. It made for a very entertaining game and can be seen here. So far, Sophie ( pictured right ) is certainly providing value for money!
Jean Noel Riff ( 2488 ) was moving up the leader board in round 3 with a smooth victory over Dusan Schwarz while Matthieu Cornette was fighting his way back into contention with a victory over Ioana Miller. Ionan can consider herself as having a really hard draw, she's now played both top seeds and this was only round 3!
One more game should probably be mentioned from round 3, the Irish Chess Union's Chairman, John McMorrow ( 1998 ) was playing on board 13 against Michal Vrba ( 2008 ) and this was the last game of the round to finish, and by some margin. Their 112 move marathon gave John his first win!
Round 4 began just as half time came in the Ireland vs New Zealand rugby International ( Ireland were leading 9 - 6 ) and quite a few players had pre-booked a "rugby bye" for this round. There was another all French encounter on board 1, Sebastien Maze vs Fabien Libiszewski and rather predictability, based on last year's performance, a quick draw was recorded. I suspect they wanted to watch the rugby too!
Board two was a different affair though, with Alex Baburin pushing for the full point against Jean Noel Riff, both on 2.5 from 3. Alex got a small edge and kept it as he swapped into a slightly advantageous ending. He then had to use all his endgame skill to try to convert this small advantage. Pictured left, Jean Noel is looking rather stern as this game began, could this be because his mates on board 1 got to see the rest of the rugby game without him? In any case, you can see the full score of this game here.
Mark Quinn was facing Matthieu Cornette on board 3 and Mark was surprised early in the opening in the following game while on board 4 a very interesting clash was developing between Cecile Haussernot ( 2196 ) and Bogdan Lalic ( 2420 ). Cecile was surely better for most of the game, and probably winning in the ending but left herself too short of time and Bogdan managed to hold a draw. I don't have this game but I'm working on getting it for you, it was a god game.
After the exertions of the earlier rounds, Sophie Milliet had the black pieces against our newly minted IM, David Fitzsimons and what a game this was. I don't want to spoil it for you so please have a look at this game here.
While play was still going on in round 4, the rugby match ended with a famous victory for the Irish team over the All Blacks ( 16 - 9 ) which left lots of Chess players plenty of reason to celebrate late into the early hours of Sunday morning in Kilkenny. In fairness, they probably would have been doing pretty much the same thing had we lost to New Zealand but it wouldn't have been half as much fun. I could go into a few details of what happened in the bar of the Club House Hotel on Saturday night / Sunday morning but, I'll leave some of those stories for another time.
Round 5 began, as usual at Kilkenny, at 9:15am with everyone bright eyed and bushy tailed ( not ) and ready for battle, the draw for the top boards looked like this;
|1||Fabien Libiszewski 2480||3.5||Alex Baburin 2422||3|
|2||Matthieu Cornette 2597||3||David Fitzsimons 2273||3|
|3||Jean Noel Riff 2488||3||Sebastian Maze 2591||3|
No prizes for guessing what happened on board 3, yes, you're right, it was a very quick draw which allowed the players on the top to boards to try to pull away. On board 2, David Fitzsimons gained material in the early middlegame and follow the game here if you want to see if he converted this to a win.
Spoiler alert - David ( pictured right ) did actually win the game to put himself on 4/5 and in case you're wondering, the rating of 2273 given to David is his Irish national rating, his current FIDE rating is 2301 but on the January 2015 FIDE list, he reached his peak rating of 2416!
On the top board, the tournament sole leader going into round 5, Fabien, was facing a determined Alex and just as Fabien was running short of time in an ending, Alex won a pawn and played very instructively to win. The players agreed after the game that somewhere in the ending, white missed a draw but I didn't catch where!
The final round top pairings looked like this;
|1||David Fitzsimons 2273||4||Alex Baburin 2422||4|
|2||Jean Noel Riff 2488||3.5||Fabien Libiszewski 2480||3.5|
|3||Sebastien Maze 2591||3.5||Matthieu Cornette 2597||3|
The final round began at 1:45pm and during this game, the 7th game of the World Chess Championship between Carslen and Caruana was going on. This would be Carlsen's 2nd White in a row but the way the match has been going, that's probably not an advantage! Anyway, back to the matter at hand, the Kilkenny Masters final round.
The top board was a quick draw, pictured left is Alex Baburin who finished joint 1st with 4.5/6 for a tournament performance rating of 2559, his best result on home soil for some time, it's great to see him on form.
Of course, David Fitzsimon's performance was also fantastic, he also scored 4.5/6 for an even more impressive TPR of 2576, well done David.
I was surely not the only person in the room to be more than a little surprised that the game on board 3 was actually a game, not a quick French GM draw. But then I realised that with a win, Sebastien could catch Alex and David after their 7 move draw on board 1. The same could be said of either player on board 2 so we now had 4 French GMs who had to fight for the money! If boards 2 and 3 were drawn, Alex and David would get € 750 each, but a win on board 2 or a Maze win on board 3 would alter the prize money significantly.
First of these two boards to finish was board 3, a victory for Maze in a game that can be seen here which meant that Alex and David's share of the prize money had now dropped from € 750 each to € 583.33 each, and if there was a win on board 2, more of this would evaporate!
Board 2 was a tough battle with White enterprisingly sacrificing a piece on move 23, a sac which according to my silicon Monster, with best play, should lead to no more than equality. However, at this time control especially, it's very hard to guarantee best play and I think Black's mistake came on move 33, see what you think here
This left a 4 way tie for first place, the full prize list can be seen below with links to the crosstables of each section.
1st Place = Alexander Baburin, David Fitzsimons, Sebastien Maze and Jean Noel Riff, all 4.5 / 6
1st Place D.J. O'Donoghue, 5/6 2nd = Ismael Molano Lafuente, Mercedes Plaza Renio, Jonathan Peoples, Gerard MacElligott and Jack Short, all 4.5/6
1st Grading Prize - Calum Leitch
2nd Grading Prize - Arunas Alkevicius
1st Place Adrian Collins 5.5/6 - 2nd = Jana Solomatina, Paul Hehir, Barry Foran and Ollie Sinnot, all 4.5/6
1st Grading Prize - Sam Murray
2nd Grading Prize - Wiliam Hackett
3rd Grading Prize - Emmet McGlade
1st Place John Lucey 5.5/6 - 2nd = Eric Wang and Karen Avetisyan
1st Grading Prize - Daniel Fitzpatrick
2nd Grading Prize - David Racz
3rd Grading Prize - Michael Brookes
IM Dusan Schwarz from Slovakia, enjoying his first visit to the Kilkenny Masters and hopefully, not his last.
GM Bogdan Lalic, not only a regular visitor to Kilkenny but also a former Kilkenny Masters Champion, anyone know what year?
One of our regular Dutch visitors, Kees De Kruif, he's been to more Kilkenny Masters than most Irish players!
Kees opponent in the 5th round, Michial Vrba from Slovakia, pictured on his first visit to the Kilkenny Masters.
No, the other Riff, this is Sebastien Riff (2243) from France enjoying his first visit to the Kilkenny Masters too.
Sebastien Maze GM, pictured at the beginning of his 5th round game - note he didn't take off his coat, I think he knew he wasn't going to be around long enough!
French GM, Fabien Libiszewski has been to Kilkenny a few times before, seen here pictured at the start of his tough round 5 game against Alex Baburin.
A regular at almost all the top Irish events for a long time now, Anthony Fox, I wonder how many Kilkenny Masters are under his belt?
Another Irish regular at Kilkenny, Kevin Butler, he's got a few Kilkenny Masters under his belt too, although I suspect not as many as Anthony Fox.
IM Mark Heidenfeld, not only a regular at the Kilkenny Masters but also a long time member of the Kilkenny Chess Club, pictured here before his 5th round game against Paul Wallace.
Speaking of Paul Wallace, here's the man himself, a regular on the scene of most top Irish events over the last few years since he retired.
Always nice to finish with a bit of glamour, the WGM Cecile Haussernot from France, not her first Irish Weekender, she's played Bunratty before but I think this was her first Kilkenny Masters and hopefully, not her last!
Kilkenny is a unique event in many ways but one in particular stands out, the annual award of the Kilkenny jumpers. No one knows exactly what the criteria for getting one but every year for over two decades now, two or three jumpers are awarded. This year, three were awarded, one to long time stalwart of the event, Denis Dempsey, another went to the hardest working ICU Chairman of all time, the current incumbent, John McMorrow. The other jumper went to the lovely Sophie Milliet from France.
There were quite a few KK jumpers owners at the Blitz so a photo was arranged, lets see how many of the holders you can name in the photo below.