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Three-way tie in Williamson

First played in 1912, the Williamson Shield is second only in prestige to the Ulster Championship among UCU events.

The 2009 renewal, boosted by a significant increase in prize-money, attracted a much stronger field than last year's event including the first three in last year's Ulster championship. However the overall entry was exactly the same as 12 months ago.

Even with an accelerated draw, all the Round 1 games went with the seedings, though this belied the many hard-fought games. Chief among these was the encounter between Mark Newman and second seed John Cairns. A hasty move from Newman in the opening meant the loss of a pawn. Even worse to save his h1-Rook he would have to exchange Queens. Deciding this was tantamount to a long, slow resignation, he decided to give up the Rook and bank everything on a quick attack. When Cairns misplaced his Queen, Newman was suddenly back in the game, capturing Cairns a8-Rook with his Knight. For many moves, play revolved around whether Newman could extricate his steed. Both players were short on time, when finally just as it looked as if Newman might gain an advantage, he went wrong with an unwise exchange of Rooks that allowed Cairns to force a won endgame.

Round 2 brought the first of the heavyweight battles. An important milestone on the road to the final standings was Cairns against Gareth Annesley. An unbalanced if roughly equal position provided opportunities for both players. Cairns relied on a direct attack on the King while Annesley pushed a passed central pawn. In time trouble both players missed chances, before Cairns seized his second hard-fought win. On board 3 a surprise was in the offing as two-time Ulster champion James McDonnell was in big trouble against John Masterson's Geller Gambit. Masterson traded off into a trivially won endgame, but then carelessly allowed McDonnell an outside passed pawn. Both players promoted pawns to Queens. Masterson now had an extra pawn, but McDonnell probably the better chances. With little time left for both players, McDonnell decided not to push his luck and forced a draw.

Leaders after Round 2:
1-5 Stephen Scannell 2
John Cairns 2
Stewart McConaghy 2
Martin Kelly 2
Kevin Agnew 2
6-8 James McDonnell 1.5
Sean Linton 1.5
John Masterson 1.5

Round 3 saw the end of the accelerated draw. Unfortunately this can produce a round with a lot of ratings mismatches, and so it proved on this occasion. The computer seemed keen to counter this with a rather curious pairing - surprisingly Cairns was chosen to take the down float from the odd-numbered top group and was paired with James McDonnell. McDonnell offered a draw about 15 moves into the game. Cairns then spent some time analysing whether an aggressive pawn move from f7 to f5 might lead to a win of a piece. However the move would loosen his position and could easily rebound on him so in the end discretion won the day and he accepted the draw offer.

Leaders after Round 3:
1-2 Stephen Scannell 3
Stewart McConaghy 3
3-4 John Cairns 2.5
John Masterson 2.5
5-13 James McDonnell 2
Charles McAleenan 2
Gareth Annesley 2
Martin Kelly 2
Nicholas Pilkiewicz 2
Ian Woodfield 2
Alan Delaney 2
Damien Cunningham 2
Kevin Agnew 2

Normally Round 4 would have seen the leaders Scannell and McConaghy paired. However, when entering the competition McConaghy had booked his usual Sunday-morning half-point bye, so instead Scannell faced Cairns. A quiet opening from the latter produced a position where neither player seemed keen to push hard for a victory and a quick draw was agreed. McDonnell again looked in trouble in the endgame, this time against Damien Cunningham, but the latter fell into a trap and allowed a piece to be pinned and immediately resigned, visibly shaken by the sudden turn of events.

Leaders after Round 4:
1-2 Stephen Scannell 3.5
Stewart McConaghy 3.5
3-8 John Cairns 3
John Masterson 3
James McDonnell 3
Charles McAleenan 3
Gareth Annesley 3
Alan Delaney 3
9-10 Nicholas Pilkiewicz 2.5
Sean Linton 2.5

Stewart McConaghy's absence from Round 4 turned out only to postpone his game against defending champion Stephen Scannell until Round 5. Despite a rating difference of 600 points McConaghy battled hard for a long time and it took all Scannell's renowned grinding skills to secure the full-point. Just as in Rounds 1 and 2 John Cairns showed his time-scramble skills, this time overcoming John Masterson from a level position. James McDonnell and Alan Delaney had a full-blooded encounter with McDonnell winning what he termed "a good game for the spectators."

Leaders after Round 5:
1 Stephen Scannell 4.5
2-4 John Cairns 4
James McDonnell 4
Gareth Annesley 4
5-6 Nicholas Pilkiewicz 3.5
Stewart McConaghy 3.5
7-12 John Masterson 3
Charles McAleenan 3
Ian Woodfield 3
Damien Cunningham 3
Alan Delaney 3
Alan Burns 3

With Cairns having already played Scannell, McDonnell and Annesley, the first six in the standings were all placed in the same paring group producing the following encounters on the top three boards:

Scannell   [4.5] - McDonnell [4.0]
Cairns [4.0] - McConaghy [3.5]
Pilkiewicz [3.5] - Annesley [4.0]

Charles McAleenan, a Scot with Ulster ancestors but resident in London, was the first to finish in Round 6. His win over Alan Burns gave him a total of 4.0 points and when all the games were over this gained him the under 1850 grading prize.

By contrast the under 1350 grading prize was shared by five players: Sean Linton (who also won the David & Goliath prize for his Round 4 win over Mark Newman). Kevin Agnew, Alex Beckett. Peter Ratcliffe and Cathal Murphy. Perhaps the most notable achievement here was by Ratcliffe, playing in his first weekend tournament, who secured his share of the prize by beating 2008 Tom Clarke Trophy winner, William Storey, in the final round.

Returning to the leading contenders: John Cairns made a pseudo-sacrifice of a Knight against Stewart McConaghy. Taking the Knight would lose McConaghy his Queen, so it looked as if Cairns had won a pawn, but McConaghy uncorked a counter-sacrifice of a Knight. For a moment it looked as if Cairns might be in trouble but he was able to stabilise the situation, but at the cost of a position where his victory chances were considerably reduced. However, later on a rash move from McConaghy lost a pawn and then Cairns wrapped the game up with a temporary sacrifice that won a piece.

This left Cairns finished on 5.0 points. Could Scannell surpass that by winning his game against McDonnell? This was a careful manoeuvring game with Scannell prepared to keep the draw in hand by initiating exchanges. If he hoped McDonnell might be tempted into a rash adventure in order to win the game and join Cairns at the top of the standings, he was to be disappointed. McDonnell accepted that there was no way for him to win and instead offered a draw which Scannell accepted.

So two players now were on 5.0 points - could Gareth Annesley join them? He had been pressing hard on the queenside against Nicholas Pilkiewicz, but when the pawns came off on that side, all that was left was his Rook and Bishop, g- and h-pawns against Rook and Knight and g- and h-pawns. Although Annesley had the better placed pieces, that hardly seemed enough for victory, but he had no option but to keep pressing. Then Pilkiewicz made an error and annoyed with himself immediately resigned. Perhaps he might still have saved the game, but the consensus appeared to be that with the better position and more time on the clock, Annesley would have won.

So, finally, three players shared victory. For Scannell this was his eighth win in the Williamson Shield, equalling the record held by the late Tom Clarke. For Cairns and Annesley, both former-Ulster Intermediate champions, this was undoubtedly their biggest success in UCU competitions.

Final standings:
Place Name Rtng Score
1-3 John Cairns 2018 5
Stephen Scannell 2125 5
Gareth Annesley 1904 5
4 James McDonnell 1981 4.5
5-6 John Masterson 1867 4
Charles McAleenan 1805 4
7-12 Nicholas Pilkiewicz 1905 3.5
Stewart McConaghy 1536 3.5
Alan Delaney 1806 3.5
Damien Cunningham 1594 3.5
Mark Newman 1802 3.5
John Phillips 1571 3.5
13-15 Ian Woodfield 1669 3
Alan Burns 1402 3
Karina Kruk 1600 3
16-22 Sean Linton 1308 2.5
Martin Kelly 1393 2.5
Kevin Agnew 1245 2.5
Alex Beckett 1328 2.5
Peter Ratcliffe 874 2.5
Cathal Murphy 1012 2.5
Ashley Peile 1544 2.5
23-25 William Storey 1325 2
Geoff Hindley 973 2
Pearse O'Brien 1094 2
26 David Seaby 1117 1.5
27-28 Peter Storey 742 1
Owen Wilson 948 1

Selected games at the Ulster Chess Chronicle:
http://www.rct26.dial.pipex.com.will09.htm/

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