Ulster Championship 2006

This year's Ulster Championship battle was on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. Saturday morning in Belfast Boatclub and the brave sixteen sat down to do battle for the title of Ulster Champion. Three days later - with a few upsets along the way - it was decided. Damien Lavery reports on the 2006 Ulster Senior Championship.

The second instalment of the Summer Ulster Championship was again held in the peaceful surroundings of Belfast Boat Club. Three days entertainment, or blood sweat and tears, lay in wait for the competitors. For the first time in recent memory, and probably prompted by last year's appalling turn-out, the championship was declared open to all. Concerns were murmured about lack of quality and easy pairings. Only time would tell if this would be an issue.

The usual faces were to be seen lurking around the top of the entry list. The three outstanding favourites for the title, Messrs Clarke, Scannell and Waters, were no doubt eyeing each other's repertoires for their likely rounds 3,4 and 5 meetings, which surely would prove critical in the outcome of the final standings. Others seemed just happy to put in a good showing, which in the case of your author, with a disastrous 0/6 showing last year, was at the forefront of his thoughts.

Round 1

1 Christopher Kelly   [0]      0:1    Tom Clarke        [0]  
2 Stephen P. Scannell [0]      1:0    Damien Cunningham [0]  
3 John Lynch          [0]      0:1    Michael Waters    [0]  
4 John Nicholson      [0]      1:0    Dennis Wilkinson  [0]  
5 Alexander Beckett   [0]      1:0    Mark Newman       [0]  
6 David O'Donnell     [0]     .5:.5   William Storey    [0]  
7 Geoff Hindley       [0]      0:1    Calum Leitch      [0]  
8 Damien Lavery       [0]      1:0    John Monaghan     [0]

Round one began punctually on Saturday morning. The schedule of two rounds per day for three days would provide ample time for both playing the games and relaxing in between, a rare luxury for those of us used to cramming three games per day in the usual weekender. There were no shocks in the early stages. The top boards, with their mismatched ratings, produced the expected results, if not in straightforward manner. Chris Kelly achieved a good, equal position against Tom Clarke on board one before going astray. Damien Cunningham, perhaps accepting his fate from move one, decided on a novel two pieces for four pawns sacrifice as black against Steve Scannell. If it had worked we would have been talking about it for years. Since we aren't talking about it, you will know the result.

Approaching the time control, suddenly the wisdom of allowing lower rated players into the competition was plain to see. Geoff Hindley, giving away nearly 500 rating points against Calum Leitch, was a full Rook up against his younger opponent. However, as nerves began to make their effect, Geoff first gave away his Rook, then any sort of advantage, and lastly the game. Next door on board five, David O'Donnell was making a small edge with White work as best he could against William Storey, however Black held a passed pawn in restraint remarkably well, and a draw was agreed. On board four, an unrecognisable Mark Newman went down badly with Black against Alex Beckett, winning the exchange but then proceeding to allow White the sort of attack we usually only dream about.

Round 2

1 Tom Clarke        [1]      1:0    John Nicholson      [1]  
2 Calum Leitch      [1]     .5:.5   Stephen P. Scannell [1]  
3 Michael Waters    [1]      0:1    Damien Lavery       [1]  
4 William Storey    [.5]     0:1    Alexander Beckett   [1]  
5 Mark Newman       [0]      1:0    David O'Donnell     [.5] 
6 Dennis Wilkinson  [0]      0:1    Christopher Kelly   [0]  
7 Damien Cunningham [0]      1:0    Geoff Hindley       [0]  
8 John Monaghan     [0]      0:1    John Lynch          [0]

Round two threatened to produce upsets, and it most certainly did. Tom Clarke once against won from an even/worse position as White against John Nicholson. Everyone needs to ride their luck, and Clarke was making the most of his two fortuitous wins. Steve Scannell found himself an exchange down against Calum Leitch as Black, but with a passed pawn and well-centralised King managed to steer the game to a draw.

Scannell -v- Leitch from Round 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waters-Lavery was the upset of the round. It was a tense but very well contested game right up until the time control. A misjudged tactic from White allowed Black to make significant material gains and shortly after, finish the game off. At this early stage, any dropped points made an overall win unlikely. Mark Newman bounced back from round one disappointment, dispatching David O'Donnell efficiently. Other major news was that Alex Beckett could expect a top board calling after crushing William Storey to move on to a maximum two from two.

Round 3

1 Alexander Beckett   [2]      0:1    Tom Clarke        [2]  
2 Damien Lavery       [2]     .5:.5   Calum Leitch      [1.5]
3 Stephen P. Scannell [1.5]    0:1    Michael Waters    [1]  
4 John Nicholson      [1]      1:0    Damien Cunningham [1] 
5 Christopher Kelly   [1]     .5:.5   Mark Newman       [1]  
6 John Lynch          [1]      1:0    William Storey    [.5] 
7 Geoff Hindley       [0]     .5:.5   Dennis Wilkinson  [0]  
8 John Monaghan       [0]      1:0    BYE                   
9 David O'Donnell     [.5]    .5:.5   BYE

A quick draw at the beginning of round three was the first sign of jostling for position. Lavery and Leitch didn't trouble the ink in their pens too much, shaking hands after ten moves.

In a battle of the heavyweights, Waters made his Black count against Scannell. A Budapest Gambit was the chosen battleground, and after trading down to a won double Rook and pawn endgame, Waters reasserted himself in the overall standings. It was going to be a tough road back for four-time winner Scannell. Tom Clarke reminded Alex Beckett of his proper standing in the tournament pecking order in crushing style, while John Nicholson moved quietly back into contention with a smooth victory over Damien Cunningham, including a cute promotion tactic worth looking at.

Peace broke out during Newman-Kelly and Wilkinson-Hindley also ended in a draw to ensure that, for this year at least, no one is left propping up the cross table on zero.

Round 4

1 Tom Clarke        [3]     .5:.5   Damien Lavery       [2.5]
2 Michael Waters    [2]      1:0    Alexander Beckett   [2]  
3 Calum Leitch      [2]      1:0    John Lynch          [2]  
4 Christopher Kelly [1.5]    0:1    John Nicholson      [2]  
5 Mark Newman       [1.5]    0:1    Stephen P. Scannell [1.5]
6 David O'Donnell   [1]      1:0    John Monaghan       [1] 
7 Damien Cunningham [1]      1:0    Dennis Wilkinson    [.5] 
8 William Storey    [.5]     1:0    Geoff Hindley       [.5]

Clarke dropped his perfect score as White against Lavery in a tactic-fest, and was probably lucky that his peaceful-minded opponent didn't ask him to prove the worth of his speculative attack. Lavery afterwards confessed to copying an unusual opening idea that Mark Heidenfeld used to good effect against Clarke way back in 1999 at Kilkenny. Waters-Beckett was a Falkbeer Counter in a King's Gambit that went to an endgame with an facile win for White. Scannell kept himself in the hunt with a clinical win against Newman's trademark KIA, and Nicholson quietly moved into contention with a win over Chris Kelly. Elsewhere, O'Donnell made very heavy work of pushing over Monaghan from a very advantageous position.

Round 5

 1 Michael Waters    [3]     .5:.5   Tom Clarke          [3.5]
 2 John Nicholson    [3]      1:0    Calum Leitch        [3]  
 3 Damien Lavery     [3]      0:1    Stephen P. Scannell [2.5]
 4 John Lynch        [2]      0:1    David O'Donnell     [2]  
 5 Alexander Beckett [2]      0:1    Damien Cunningham   [2]  
 6 William Storey    [1.5]    0:1    Mark Newman         [1.5]
 7 Geoff Hindley     [.5]     0:1    Christopher Kelly   [1.5]
 8 Dennis Wilkinson  [.5]     0:1    John Monaghan       [1]

Round five was critical is setting up who was to battle it out for the Championship. Clarke defended his lead against Waters, the game ending in a draw. For a long time it seemed that White held a significant advantage, but any pull soon evaporated and the correct result ensued.

Lavery-Scannell could have had any of the three results at any one point. With Black desperate for the win to haul himself back into contention, he took considerable risks to unbalance a sterile position. First a draw, then a White win seemed likely. Then a horrible blunder handed Scannell the full point and a chance of an amazing comeback. John Nicholson won again, rather easily against Calum Leitch to move into the joint lead. With one round to go, he was a win away from adding to an impressive four championships gained in the 1970s. The rest of the field were working hard to achieve a good finish and final position, with some early casualties, notably O'Donnell and Newman, making a strong showing in the latter stages.

Round 6

1 Stephen P. Scannell [3.5]    1:0    Tom Clarke        [4]  
2 John Nicholson      [4]      0:1    Michael Waters    [3.5]
3 David O'Donnell     [3]      1:0    Damien Lavery     [3]  
4 Calum Leitch        [3]      1:0    Damien Cunningham [3]  
5 Mark Newman         [2.5]    1:0    John Lynch        [2]  
6 John Monaghan       [2]      0:1    Christopher Kelly [2.5]
7 Geoff Hindley       [.5]     0:1    Alexander Beckett [2]  
8 Dennis Wilkinson    [.5]    .5:.5   William Storey    [1.5]

In the final round, Nicholson-Waters turned out to be rather one sided. After a speculative attack, White was soon beaten back, and penetration by Black's Queen and Rooks spelt early trouble. Resignation soon followed.

With Waters in the box seat with 4.5, it was a nervous wait to see if the only game which mattered for the title ended in a result which allowed Waters to tie for first, or see him denied his debut Championship. For a long while, it seemed that Scannell-Clarke would be a slow crush by White. Chancy play by Clarke, who always plays for the win, had allowed Scannell to build up an impressive Kingside. Only a passed c-pawn merited any plus points in Black's position. As time ticked by, more on White's side than on Black's it has to be said, the game gradually wore down to a won, but by no means easy, Queen and pawn endgame for White.

However, time was a factor, and as they got closer to the end, it was soon Clarke's six minutes against Scannell's 1 minute 40. With the scoresheets tucked away, checks flashed across the board. When it seemed that a draw was most likely, an amazing double blunder had everyone holding their breath. Firstly, a skewer of White's King and Queen forced White to give way. However, instead of moving the King to protect the Queen, White went to protect his precious passed pawn. With the White Queen suddenly unprotected and hanging, a collective, and very audible gasp was emoted. But that was nothing compared to the reaction to Clarke's chess blindness when he refused the free Queen, and with it the outright Championship. Instead, another check followed, White lived to fight another day, and indeed a few moves later forced queens from the board and won the game. Waters and Scannell were tied for first with 4.5.

In other news, strong finishes from O'Donnell and Leitch allowed a good showing on the final standings, although the average rating of opponents meant that O'Donnell lost rating points. Contrary to this, Lavery, who finished a full point below on 3, after losing to O'Donnell in the final round, gained a considerable number of rating points, thanks to strong showings against the higher rated players; such is the way of open tournaments.

Final standings

Place Player               Rtng  Club           Total
1-2   Michael Waters       2013  Fisherwick     4.5  
      Stephen P. Scannell  2155  Bangor         4.5  
3-6   Tom Clarke           2197  Clifton House  4    
      John Nicholson       1862  Civil Service  4   
      Calum Leitch         1698  Bombardier     4    
      David O'Donnell      1813  unattached     4   
7-8   Mark Newman          1846  Bangor         3.5 
      Christopher Kelly    1644  Civil Service  3.5  
9-11  Damien Lavery        1690  Bangor         3    
      Alexander Beckett    1340  Fisherwick     3   
      Damien Cunningham    1624  Clifton House  3    
12-14 John Lynch           1543  City of Derry  2    
      William Storey       1296  unattached     2    
      John Monaghan         980  RVH            2    
15    Dennis Wilkinson     1487  Fisherwick     1    
16    Geoff Hindley        1031  Civil Service  0.5

It can be agreed that the tournament, from the neutral's point of view, was a great success. The allowing in of lower rated players did not diminish the competition in any way. Not only did they produce fighting chess throughout, but in one or two spectacular cases, the results matched the fighting qualities and not the rating predictions.

As for the winners, they showed two facets of life in general; those that attack and go for the win usually get rewarded with their just desserts, and luck generally favours the brave.

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