Sunday, March 11, 2007

Irish University Team Championship

Stephen Stokes, Secretary of the Irish University Chess Association invited me to present the prizes at their Team Championship, hosted this year by Queen's University Chess Club.

I decided to come early to see some of the action and just after I arrived at the venue in the Students' Union was greeted by Chris Millar, President of the QUB Club, with the news that Queen's had just qualified for the final.

Defending champions Trinity College Dublin (or Dublin University if you prefer) awaited them in the final. This was going to be a very tough task. Because there had been an odd number of teams, Trinity had received a bye in the final qualifying round, giving them a nice long rest. Meanwhile Queen's had to battle past Trinity's B team, no slouches in their own right, and now had only 10 minutes to prepare for the final. Also the toss of a coin had given Trinity 2 games with the White pieces in the 3-board match. Not to mention the fact that the Trinity players were much higher rated.

Still QUB were determined to reverse the result of the 2006 final when it looked like they were going to beat Trinity 2-1 before time trouble turned the match into a 3-0 loss.

Claudio Mendicute faced the Leinster Senior Champion Karl McPhillips on Board 1. The Spaniard's Dutch Defence brought about a position in which he had equalised comfortably and was perhaps even a bit better, but it was a good practical decision to agree a draw against such a formidable opponent.
However as the other 2 games continued, Queen's looked in trouble. John Masterson's attack against Fanny Gaudron ran out of steam and he had to enter an endgame that looked bad for him. If Masterson lost, even if Millar won on Board 3, Queens would lose the final on board count. However, Millar himself was in a very passive position. An earlier time advantage was gone and he had to be very careful to avoid defeat.

Down to the last three or four minutes of the playing session now and all the players had to play quickly. Despite this Mark McGovern, the Trinity Board 3 kept getting up and looking round at the Board 2 game, more than once twisting round to play a move instantaneously in his own game.
Masterson was 3 pawns down now in a Rook ending but had set a clever trap - the most natural move by his opponent allowed an instant checkmate. Her hand hovered over a pawn, moving it a square forward was the decisive mistake. But no, she saw the danger at the last moment and instead moved her King out of danger. It looked like Queen's last chance had gone. But there was yet to be a reprieve for Masterson, because both players' flags fell without a claim for a win on time against the player whose flag fell first, and so Board 2 was declared a draw. No sooner had this happened than McGovern, pressing for the win, walked into a checkmate in mid-board.

So victory for Queen's and sweet revenge for last year and it was particularly fitting that Millar, who has done so much to revive QUB chess, should score the winning point.

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