We are just a few days away from what promises to be one of the stranger and more intriguing Irish Championships ever. We have a decent entry of 32 players but somewhat surprisingly, that includes only three former champions. We have possibly our youngest ever entrant to the Irish Championship. We have an absolutely even split of players under and over 21 years of age with 16 of each. And we have Covid-19 protocols - in the hope of keeping everyone as safe as possible and potentially offering a blueprint to bringing other events and competitions back in the Covid-19 era. But for now, lets focus on the big one: this event, the 2020 Irish Championship - and discuss who are the favourites for the 99th Irish title.
We start our preview with the top ranked IRL-player in the FIDE database, IM Sam Collins, and continue down in rating order based on the July 2020 rating list.
For the second year in a row, our top seed for the Irish Championship is Sam Collins. While his rating of 2448 last year may not seem too different from his starting rating for this event, Sam clearly made some inroads toward 2500 over the past 12 months. However, those 12 months didn't start quite as he would have wanted.
A very solid start of 5.5/7 in last year's Irish left Sam well in contention and he looked a likely winner until he ran into FM Conor Murphy in round 8. Conor put in one of his best games of the whole event to see off the Irish number one, for the second Irish in a row no less.
In 2014, Sam claimed the title with a massive score of 8/9 in one of the stronger Irish Championships but eventually finished joint second last year. He will face an almost equally tough task this year with the average rating of the entire field over 2100 again. Form is very hard to judge this year but if there was a person you would be counting on to be doing his homework during lockdown, its Sam.
Can Sam claim his third Irish title and move even closer to his GM dream?
FM Tarun Kanyamarala (2381)
Tarun made his Irish Championship debut last August as the 18th seed but has exploded onto the Irish chess scene since and now starts this 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.
Elsewhere, Tarun 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 last year, 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 for 3-4 months… Will this mean Tarun comes out swinging after months of practise or will this mean his rating progress was stunted? Time will tell but Tarun is certainly one of the favourites this event.
FM Tom O'Gorman (2345)
This is Tom's fourth Irish Championships having competed the last two years and as a wildcard in 2015 - since the latter he has gained over 500 rating points and became one of Ireland’s youngest FMs ever. For the last two years I’ve written that Tom has had “topsy-turvy” years where last year I mentioned that Tom dipped to 2150 before rebounding to 2250 and the year before where he had some big rating losses followed by big rating gains..
But this year, Tom put it all together and jumped to a new high rating of 2347 before dipping very slightly to 2345. This was thanks to a stunning January where across two tournaments and just 11 games he gained 102 points. This run included several notable wins including one over top seed here, Sam Collins and a draw again GM Oleg Korneev.
Tom has the talent to break-out and make another leap forward in his progression; but will it come at The 99th Irish Championship 2020?
IM David Fitzsimons (2334)
David comes into this event with his highest rating since early 2018. This is David’s second appearance in a row at the Irish but this year he is one of only two International Masters in the field.
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 this year 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.
In the last few years, David has wins against several of the top seeds but can he convert this form into his first Irish title?
FM Killian Delaney (2314)
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. Maybe only Tarun can boast a more consistent rating gain this year with progress in every month he played in since September.
Our fifth seed’s 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?
FM Conor O'Donnell (2304)
Conor had an up and down year 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 narrowly close on a number of occasions and came closest of anyone to defeating eventual champion, Conor Murphy, last year.
He was also close in the two years prior to that; finishing half a point behind Short and Lopez in 2017 and finishing second in 2018 (and half a point off an IM norm each time). Suffice is to say that the man has unfinished business in this event and will be determined to claim his first Irish.
There are no norms on the line this year unfortunately but could that work to take some of the pressure off Conor and keep his eyes on the prize?
FM Stephen Brady (2290)
The 9-time Irish champion is back for more having played in the last two championships after a few years away from the Irish. Stephen was highly active on the Irish chess scene this year with solid performances in the St Andrew’s Championships, Bunratty and the New Year Norm events, and one tricky outing in the City of Dublin. In those 4 events, Stephen played 6 GMs, only losing one of those games.
In the Irish Championship last year, Stephen had his best outing of the year scoring an undefeated 6/9 with a notable win over David Fitzsimons and draws against most of the other top seeds. Those results gained him over 20 rating points and moved him back over 2300.
Stephen's Irish wins came in '91, '92, '01, '03, '06,'07, '11, '12, and '15.
Will he be able to add '20 to that long list?
FM Colm Daly (2248)
Colm was typically active on the Irish chess scene this year with appearances at the City of Dublin, St Andrews, the Irish New Year events, Limerick Open, the Mulcahy Memorial, and Gonzaga Classsic.
However, Colm’s best performance (by rating at least) came at last year’s Irish where he had a barnstorming 4/5 finish against very tricky opposition to finish in a tie for fourth on 6/9. That finish included wins against Mark Quinn, Trisha Kanyamarala, Dave Murray and Stephen Moran which shows that Colm can still put a run together when needed which is often required to win an Irish title.
The 6-time champion was one of the first to commit to playing and will again fancy his chances of adding to his haul in this year's event with only 2 other former champions in the field. He also has previous wins and strong records against many in the field.
Colm was again one of the most active players in Irish chess over the past 12 months and has possibly won more Irish events than any two other players. He has the pedigree in this event but will Colm do it?
WIM Trisha Kanyamarala (2193)
Trisha will be making her second 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.
Trisha would later earn a third WIM norm (and thereby qualify for the WIM title) with a dominant display at the New Year Norm events with a dominant display, 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 a few months ago 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?
Paul Wallace (2168)
Paul played in both the traditional big weekenders this year, Kilkenny and Bunratty and as usual, he was one of the first names on the team-sheet for Kilkenny CC in the LCU leagues.
Bunratty was a particularly happy hunting ground with draws against two grandmasters backed up by a draw with Mark Heidenfeld.
He also represented Ireland at the European Senior Team Championship with a strong performance on board one for the over 50s.
Paul is back for more having played in the last two Irish Championships.
CM Shane Melaugh (2161)
11th seed Shane Melaugh, will be returning for his fifth Irish Championship; having played the last 4 years. In 2018, Shane had a top 10 finish but last year things didn’t go quite so well.
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 back 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.
Jonathan O’Connor (2159)
The 2020 Irish 50+ Champion (his second 50+ title in 3 years) will be playing in his second Irish Championships in as many years.
Last year, 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 rather opponents for much of the event.
Jonathan hasn’t been particularly active on the chess playing scene since that his Irish appearance but did make it to Bunratty as usual and was a regular for Dublin CC in the Armstrong and NCC.