University chess impresario, Chris Millar, put on another super show last Wednesday. He hosted a 5-round blitz (10 minutes each player) tournament in the Bunatee Bar, located in the bowels of the QUB Students' Union. Next door to the Bunatee Bar is the Mandela Hall, which over 30 years ago and then still named the McMordie Hall, I can recall as the venue for the Ulster Championship. Alcoholic refreshments, music playing in the background and atmospheric lighting made the October Blitz as different as night and day to those cerebral affairs from the 1970s.
The tournament saw a heavyweight cast of many of Belfast's best players taking part, but they were augmented by a large presence from the host club, many of whom were competing for the titles of QUB Freshers' Champion and QUB Womens' Champion. Ulster chess has always suffered from a scarcity of female players, so it was good to see so many of them competing in this event.
My own tournament started with a tough game against one of Ulster's best fast-time-limit players, Stephen Morgan. I managed to get some play going on the queenside, but all this did was to force Stephen to launch a kingside attack, which ended in him checkmating me. Still my concentration levels must have been good, because I wasn't aware of the music.
The rounds came thick and fast and it was hard to keep up-to-date with who was going best, but one thing was clear - with 36 players in the mix and even with an accelerated draw, dropping a point would be fatal to chances of overall victory. Come the last round, fittingly there were only two players on maximum points, so it was to be a shoot-out for the first prize between Morgan and Ulster champion, Steve Scannell, with the latter coming out on top to add one more to a long list of tournament victories.
My own last round game was against QUB fresher, Nina Harker, and in a reversal of my first round game, this time it was my opponent who had the queenside pressure which I countered by securing checkmate on the other side. Despite this loss Harker then went into an Armageddon tie-break, a Millar speciality, against Ciara Pugh to decide the QUB Women's title, while most of the other players watched on. No pressure then! Pugh emerged as the victor after a tense, hard-fought game. The QUB Freshers' title went to Scott Colhoun, whom I seem to remember playing a few years ago at Hillsborough Chess Club, before its move to Derriaghy.
Millar had already staged a blitz tourney in the Students' Union during the summer and after this second successful outing he promises more to come. Bring them on!