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Ulster’s Remarkable Under 19-s Retain Inteprovincials

One year on from Ulster’s astonishing tiebreak win over Leinster, the Interprovincials both Under 19 and Under 16 were to be held in Galway at its main university over the 17th and 18th February 2007.

After Ulster’s surprise win in Dublin last year (branded a fluke by most of Ireland) the team were still hopeful of success with three of the team’s highest rated players still eligible to play. Calum Leitch, Eamonn Walls and David Grzymek were the survivors from last year’s victorious team, while the team had three new additions including Frank Wu – a Methody schoolboy who had a notable performance in the Under 16 event last year.Boards 5 + 6 comprised of Richard Montgomery and Robin Brown from Sullivan Upper who have been inactive in the world of Ulster Chess, team Captain Calum Leitch showed faith in the men from Sullivan, although admittedly he was slightly worried about their lack of match practice.

Ulster’s preparations preceding the event consisted of regular team meetings and practices organised by Leitch in an attempt to improve Montgomery’s and Brown’s match sharpness. Going into the event, Leitch was confident of success and pondered whether he should bring the trophy to Galway, when it belonged in Belfast. Retaining the title seemed an uphill task with both Leinster and Munster boasting strong teams.

Leinster had included Karl McPhillips who possesses a 2289 rating in place of last year’s board 1 John McMorrow, the only other change in their line-up was on board 6 with the good-natured Emmet Hadfield replacing Peter Cloonan.

Munster had a very solid line-up with their lowest rated player being 1577. The only notable exclusion from their team was Liam Normoyle. The hosts Connaught only entered a team into the Under 16 event.

The Under 16 event was a closely fought event with Munster prevailing as winners, just ahead of Leinster. Connaught finished ahead of Ulster for 3rd despite the 3-3 draw between the two teams. The Ulster Under 16 team possessed many inexperienced players who always fought valiantly, with impressive performances coming from the top boards and in particular, RBAI schoolboy David Haddock. The team could have even challenged for the title had Utkarsh Joshi not pulled out.

With just the three teams in the Under 19 event to complete three rounds, the normal format consists of each player playing their corresponding board from the remaining teams and one other board either below you or above you depending on the draw. Ulster’s first blow arrived when Leitch discovered that two of his team would be playing the feared Leinster board 1 Karl McPhillips. Ulster’s plan was to play Leitch on board 1, as he was quoted as the star performer of last year’s team. Perhaps, he was just being used as a sacrifice and he saw through his team’s attempts to flatter him! Another reason behind playing Leitch on board 1 was because he remains the only player to score a win against Munster’s 1972 rated board 1 Jan Mueller.

Round 1 proved to be a very good one for both Ulster and Munster who scored 4 points each, with the favourites Leinster scoring just 1 point. Ulster’s board 6 Robin Brown got Ulster’s first point with a nice knight sacrifice against Leinster board 6 Emmet Hadfield. Brown showed no rustiness in this demolition of the Leinster debutant. Board 2 Eamonn Walls played a very well thought -out combination to dismiss the efforts of Leinster board 2 Philip Hogarty, who has recently enjoyed a very welcome jump up the rating list.  With Ulster defeating Leinster 2-0 thus far, things were looking very promising, the remaining Ulster –Leinster round 1 tie resulted in honours even between both team’s boards 3 David Grzymek and Rory Delaney respectively. One draw followed another as board 5 Richard Montgomery agreed a draw in a slightly better position against Munster board 6 Paul O’Flaherty.  The 2 remaining games in the hall involved Ulster players Calum Leitch and Frank Wu, with Leitch in what can only be described as a winning king and pawn endgame against the Munster board 2 Colin Menzies blundered badly in the time scramble and was forced to resign. A defeat which in actuality aggravated Leitch as this was undoubtedly his easiest game on paper and a victory should have been taken. Ulster board 4 Frank Wu, on the other hand was in a lost position against Munster board 3 Kevin O’Flaherty but used his “swindling technique” to score a win. Wu has a growing reputation of swindling his opponents, yet this was greatly received by Leitch and perhaps made up for his loss.

Round 1

Karl McPhillips (Leinster 1 2289)	0-1	Jan Mueller (Munster 1 1972)
Colin Menzies (Munster 2 1775) 1-0 Calum Leitch (Ulster 1 1748)
Eamonn Walls (Ulster 2 1836) 1-0 Philip Hogarty (Leinster 2 1754)
Rory Delaney (Leinster 3 1752) 0.5-0.5 David Grzymek (Ulster 3 1800)
Frank Wu (Ulster 4 1492) 1-0 Kevin O’Flaherty (Munster 3 1668)
James Vaughan (Munster 4 1588) 0.5-0.5 Thomas Lane (Leinster 4 1608)
Gerard Reilly (Leinster 5 1576) 0-1     John O’Connor (Munster 5 1581)
Paul O’Flaherty (Munster 6 1577) 0.5-0.5 Richard Montgomery (Ulster 5 1505)
Robin Brown (Ulster 6 1352) 1-0 Emmet Hadfield (Leinster 6 1059)
Ulster   4                                  Leinster    1                              Munster    4

After being excluded from having a celebratory cookie due to his loss, Leitch was determined to make amends against Munster board 1 Jan Mueller. Mueller had scored a hugely impressive victory against McPhillips and clearly demonstrated his deadliness in an open position. The only previous meeting between Mueller and Leitch resulted in a victory for Leitch after a neat rook sacrifice which incidentally secured the Irish Under 16 title for Leitch nearly 2 years ago. Going into the crunch game Leitch was wary of his opponent and his new high rating and was chary that his opponent had improved a lot since their last meeting. Leitch’s preparations were thrown out the window when Mueller played the Trompowsky Attack, a weapon feared in Ulster for it’s’ user is Tom Clarke. Mueller incidentally played the same line Clarke plays and Leitch bluffed his way into 10 moves of theory. Yet it was Leitch’s deadly combination which gave him a big advantage, with his King retreating safely to f8 he was able to launch a deadly Queenside attack and force a resignation when an exchange and a couple of pawns up. Leitch’s return to form and mind-blowing display was crucial to Ulster and an unexpected win was notched up. Mueller was left cursing that his favourite weapon had been taken apart viciously for the first time and his mere victory in the analysis counted for nothing.

Leitch’s victory in hindsight is considered to be fundamental as Ulster romped to five wins in round 2. Robin Brown carefully dispatched Gerard Reilly with the Wing Gambit, another victory which wasn’t foreshadowed as Reilly was a thorn in Ulster’s side last year, which made it even more greatly received. Frank Wu’s swindling ways proved to be effective yet again, as he claimed a win on time in a drawn endgame. A great victory for Wu over the steady yet time-troubled James Vaughan, but concerns over Wu’s endgame play were remarked upon by the majority of Ulster’s team.

However, Ulster’s run of wins came to a halt after a professional win for Karl McPhillips over Eamonn Walls. Walls commented that he “played very poorly” and it was just the right antidote for McPhillips going into tomorrow’s game with Leitch.

David Grzymek’s game with Thomas Lane looked drawish, but with Lane in deep time trouble he blundered into a mate, ensuing in a victory for Grzymek. Another crucial win for Ulster, as a win was never guaranteed for Grzymek as it was Lane who swindled Grzymek this time last year.

Richard Montgomery displayed a performance of true nerve to fight back from a losing position to win comfortably against his tricky opponent John O’Connor, who was rising high after his impressive first round win. Montgomery made hard work of the ending but the result was never in doubt. In Conclusion of Round 2, Ulster took 5 out of 6 possibly points, which is a fantastic achievement giving the match-ups and it would take something special from Munster to stop them winning it now.

Round 2

Jan Mueller (Munster 1 1972)		0-1	Calum Leitch (Ulster 1 1748)
Eamonn Walls (Ulster 2 1836) 0-1 Karl McPhillips (Leinster 1 2289)
Philip Hogarty (Leinster 2 1754) 0-1 Colin Menzies (Munster 2 1775)
Kevin O’Flaherty (Munster 3 1668) 0.5-0.5 Rory Delaney (Leinster 3 1752)
Thomas Lane (Leinster 4 1608) 0-1 David Grzymek (Ulster 3 1800)
Frank Wu (Ulster 4 1492) 1-0 James Vaughan (Munster 4 1588)
John O’Connor (Munster 5 1581) 0-1 Richard Montgomery (Ulster 5 1505)
Robin Brown (Ulster 6 1352) 1-0 Gerard Reilly (Leinster 5 1576)
Emmet Hadfield (Leinster 6 1059) 0.5-0.5 Paul O’Flaherty (Munster 6 1577)
Ulster    5                                  Leinster    2                               Munster    2
Running total:  
Ulster 9.0                     
Leinster 3.0             
Munster 6.0

Heading into the Sunday morning, Ulster had a commanding lead but precautions were taken as Ulster were in a similar position last year and only won the title on tie-break. A good night’s sleep was in order and Leitch and Brown were congratulated by the team on reluctantly refusing to go out clubbing with the Leinster boys. Leitch thankfully remembering his duties as a captain and that the task in hand isn’t completed.

Round 3 didn’t go as smoothly as Ulster intended yet they still ran out comfortable winners. Richard Montgomery agreed a premature draw with Gerard Reilly thus ending Leinster’s chances of winning the coveted trophy, Reilly - who seemed glad to avoid a “duck” and instead catch up on some rest which was neglected the previous night.

David Grzymek chalked up Ulster’s first win in an interesting encounter against fellow board 3 from Munster Kevin O’Flaherty. Grzymek was highly fancied by Ulster to defeat O’Flaherty and was one of the reasons why he was placed on board 3. It was a proverbial “2pointer” as the win came against a Munster player. Robin Brown’s 100% record was flattened as he blundered in a good position against Paul O’Flaherty who salvaged some hope for Munster.

Elsewhere in the Leinster – Munster encounters saw Delaney comfortably beat Vaughan in favour of Leinster, but O’Connor and Mueller scored wins against Hadfield and Hogarty respectively to increase Munster’s faltering hopes. Munster had to rely on Wu and Leitch to lose to Lane and McPhillips respectively and hope that their own in –form board 2 Colin Menzies was able to defeat Eamonn Walls to win the trophy. Their hopes were dashed when Wu once again recovered from a very bad position to a winning one against Thomas Lane. Despite Lane’s lack of time and bad position, Wu demonstrated a meagre endgame technique and allowed Lane to stalemate with just 1 minute on his clock. However, this draw was enough for Ulster to retain the Interprovincials!

With this knowledge, Menzies and Walls agreed a draw in a locked position which never looked like opening up without one player suffering the consequences.

The only remaining game was Leitch – McPhillips which was producing one major story, Leitch had played tremendously thus far in the game and was a piece and 2 pawns up in an endgame. Leitch managed to use his advantage to force checkmate, however before Leitch could deliver the checkmate his opponent found a check but fortunately Leitch’s King remained safe. With everyone gathering around in anticipation, no more than Connaught Under 16 board 1 Dara Murphy who tripped over his board and knocked his pieces flying causing an array of laughter from all players in proximity. Perhaps it was this distraction which miraculously made Leitch forget he had a forced mate in 2! Yes, folks Leitch was one move away from creating the biggest upset of his life and forget he had it! When Leitch played an alternate move, the crowd gasped and McPhillips gave a wry laugh while Leitch -realising what he had done, felt numb and sat stunned. The game however was still in Leitch’s favour, even when McPhillips promoted his pawn to a Knight to force check and gain material advantage, thus blocking the blatant mate. Leitch, clearly perturbed by what he had just done played a nightmare game from then on and McPhillips found checkmate with one sec on his clock to rub salt into the wounds. What seemed like an Underdog Story had turned into a heartbreaking series of events. Yes, Ulster had won and he had successfully captained his team to victory, Leitch was stunned on the journey home and could not believe what he had done. But to overshadow this event with the misfortunes of Leitch would be unfair to the Ulster team. They were outrated but not outgunned, a terrific performance from every member of the team. Credit must go to both Munster and Leinster for the grace and sportsmanship in which they showed throughout. Ulster has proved that their 2006 victory was no fluke and is officially the strongest youth province in Ireland. With all of the team members available next year, the pressure will really be on Ulster to provide, but on this showing Ulster will be a force again next year.

Round 3

Calum Leitch (Ulster 1 1748)		1..0-1	Karl McPhillips (Leinster 1 2289)
Philip Hogarty (Leinster 2 1752) 0-1 Jan Mueller (Munster 1 1972)
Colin Menzies (Munster 2 1775) 0.5-0.5 Eamonn Walls (Ulster 2 1836)
David Grzymek (Ulster 3 1800) 1-0 Kevin O’Flaherty (Munster 3 1668)
James Vaughan (Munster 4 1588) 0-1 Rory Delaney (Leinster 3 1752)
Thomas Lane (Leinster 4 1608) 0.5-0.5 Frank Wu (Ulster 4 1492)
Richard Montgomery (Ulster 5 1505) 0.5-0.5 Gerard Reilly (Leinster 5 1576)
Emmet Hadfield (Leinster 6 1059) 0-1 John O’Connor (Munster 5 1581)
Paul O’Flaherty (Munster 6 1577) 1-0 Robin Brown (Ulster 6 1352)
Ulster 2.5                               Leinster 3                               Munster 3.5
TOTAL  Under 19                                                                Under 16
1/Ulster 11.5                                                                       Munster
2/Munster 9.5                                                                       Leinster
3/Leinster 6.0                                                                           Connaught
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