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Ulster become All-Ireland Under 19 Champions 2006

The Ulster Under 19 team narrowly defeated their Leinster counterparts to become All-Ireland Interprovincial champions for the first time in more than ten years.

The Ulster team consisted of six players from as many different colleges: David Gryzmek (Sullivan Upper), Eamonn Walls (St. Mary's), Calum Leitch (Campbell College), Utkarsh Joshi (Friends), Chris Millar (Queen's), and Ryan Murray (Royal Belfast Academical Institution). They defeated the home side on board count in Gonzaga College, Dublin, during the first weekend of March. Each Ulster player finished on at least one point from three games, while Calum Leitch hit top form to complete the tournament as the top performer from either side, with two wins and a draw.

With both the provinces of Munster and Connaught unable to field a team, the Ulster side found themselves faced with a head-to-head battle against perennial favourites Leinster over three rounds of matches. The tournament victory over this strong Leinster side - which included two members of the Irish Glorney Cup team - provides suitable recognition to the strong renaissance in Ulster schools' chess over the last five years. The significance of the achievement is perhaps best understood when considered in the context of the Ulster teams' record in the competition in recent years.

With just two teams present, the tournament took a format whereby each sides' top three boards played each other once over three rounds, as did either teams' three lower boards.

Ulster produced a tremendous first round performance, dominating their Leinster opponents to earn a 5-1 lead after four wins and two draws. The first win of the match came from the tournament's youngest player, Ulster's Utkarsh Joshi. Unphased by his first experience of Irish schools team chess, he confidently outplayed the Leinster sixth board. Chris Millar's game against Leinster fourth board, Philip Hogarty, then finished as a draw, before the Ulster team reeled off another three consecutive wins from Ryan Murray, Eamonn Walls, and David Gryzmek. The final game of the round to finish was that of Calum Leitch against Leinster top board John McMorrow. At one stage in the game it appeared that Calum would have a near impossible task on his hands to get a result against his higher rated opponent. Calum had only fifteen minutes remaining on his clock compared to his opponent's forty minutes in an unclear middlegame. Nevertheless, a battling performance eventually produced a draw for Ulster and concluded a very pleasing first round.

However, it is in the latter rounds that home advantage traditionally shows in such competitions, and so it proved here as a determined Leinster team began reducing the Ulster lead in the second round the following morning.

The visitors certainly weren't in any mood to throw away their advantage though, a fact perhaps best highlighted by Eamonn Walls impressively comfortable victory over the Leinster top board and a first win for Calum Leitch after a superb knight sacrifice. These two wins combined with another draw for Chris Millar left the second round finely balanced at 2.5-2.5 with one game remaining. This saw David Gryzmek, fresh from a win on the previous evening, hold an edge over the Leinster third board but with just two minutes on his clock compared to his opponents three. An  offer of a draw at this point from David's Leinster counterpart served only to break the Ulster first board's concentration, as he rejected the draw offer before immediately playing a losing blunder.

Nevertheless, Ulster still held a three point lead going into the final round, where each player was to meet the same board of the opposing team.

The third set of matches didn't start well for Ulster, with Leinster gaining most of the points from the first games to finish. David Gryzmek was first beaten by the Leinster top board, before Eamonn Wall's 100% record came to an end with a loss against his Leinster counterpart. However, the Leinster momentum was first slowed by an Utkarsh Joshi draw before Calum Leitch delivered the crucial last point to secure a total of nine points from three rounds and a board count victory.

This team tournament win - undoubtedly one of the finest moments for Ulster schools' chess in over a decade - is a task which Ulster Under 19 teams in coming years will aim to repeat. Five of the current team are eligible to play again next year and a crop of promising young players look capable of adding much to the panel in the near future.   
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