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Tom Clarke 1959-2007

An appreciation by UCU Vice-President David Houston

It is with great sadness that I write about the untimely death of Tom Clarke, my long time chess opponent and friend. I had the good fortune to play chess with Tom for over thirty years since the days of our schoolboy rivalries [Methody v Inst], through numerous tournaments home and abroad, and on many notable occasions on the same Ulster or club team.

Tom was one of Ulster’s strongest and most prolific chess players, rarely did any tournament throughout Ireland take place without him taking part. Often, when supposed to be on holiday, in some distant place his first action would to locate the nearest club and when it was open and could he get a game or even better play in a tournament. Even illness did little to diminish Tom’s desire to participate or soak up atmosphere of the chess-room.

Tom’s chess playing record speaks for itself winning over thirty tournaments, including the 1984, 2003 & 2005 Ulster Championships and the 1978 British u-21 Championship (which also included such notable players as Julian Hodgson and Danny King in a very strong field). He played for many years in the 4NCL & Leinster leagues, travelled as far a field as Helsinki to play for the Lautasaurri Chess Club in the Finnish Leagues, represented Ulster on many occasions and Ireland at three Olympiad and European Team championships.

Tom and I had many famous chess journeys together travelling to tournaments – most notably in North Belfast’s venture to the European Team championships being driven at breakneck speeds on narrow roads through the depths of the Polish countryside in a rickety old Lada; and Ulster’s victory in the 1988 Inter-provincials with Tom on top board we defeated a very strong Leinster side in the final to win the Championships.

I had the good fortune to witness many of Tom’s games, there was always a buzz around his board, and Tom’s games were always exciting to watch with Tom on the attack from the opening move. It will be hard to think of any chess event taking place without Tom’s presence. Ulster Chess has lost a true friend and Tom will be impossible to replace. I will fondly remember Tom, pint of Guinness in his hand, playing or talking about chess with all those around him.

My heart goes out to all Tom’s family, but especially to his wife Chris who looked after Tom throughout his battle against cancer and made the last years of his life all the sweeter.

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On the board Tom always played chess with an adventurous style, games against were always tense, combative struggles and never ever dull. He favoured attacking open games with pieces flying everywhere around the board. He was always prepared to have a go at his opponent no matter what their strength, which lead to some great and notable victories over very strong opponents, most famously over Hungarian Grandmaster Csom in 1988.

Tom Clarke v Istvan Csom (GM 2540)
Ireland v Hungary, Thessaloniki Olympiad, 1988


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 3.c4 d6 4.Nc3 Bg4 5.Qb3 b6 6.Nd5 Nd7 7.Be2 e6 8.Ne3 Bh5 9.d3 Ne7 10.g4 Bg6 11.Bd2 Nc6 12.Bc3 Rb8 13.a4 Nde5 14.h4 h5 15.g5 Be7 16.Nd2 Nd4 17.Qd1 Nec6 18.f4 Qd7 19.O-O f5 20.exf5 Bxf5 21.Ne4 d5 22.cxd5 exd5 23.Ng3 Bh3 24.Bxh5+ Kd8 25.Ng2 Kc7 26.a5 b5 27.Kh2 g6 28.Bxg6 Bxg2 29.Kxg2 Rxh4 30.f5 Rbh8 31.Rh1 Bxg5 32.Rxh4 Rxh4 33.Rc1 Bxc1 34.Qxc1 Rg4 35.Bxd4 Rxd4 36.Qxc5 Qe7 37.Qb6+ Kd6 38.f6 Qxf6 39.Nf5+ Ke5 40.Qc7+ 1-0

In this game where Tom comes close to defeating another GM.

Michal Krasenkow (GM 2655) v Tom Clarke
Gorzow v North Belfast, European Club Championships, Gorzow, Poland, 1998

1.d4 e6 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.0-0 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Qb6 7.Nb3 h5!? A typical pawn-thrust from Tom, muddying the waters and fighting for the initiative 8.e4 h4 9.Be3 Qc7 10.f4 hxg3 11.hxg3 g5 12.e5 gxf4 13.gxf4 Nd5 14.Bxd5 exd5 15.Nc3 Rg8+?! Instead 15.   Qd8! Transferring his queen to attack the exposed king poses white a lot of problems 16.Kf2 Qd8 17.Nxd5 Qh4+ 18.Ke2 Be7 19.Rg1 Rg3 20.Rxg3 Qxg3 21.Qg1 1-0

David Murray v Tom Clarke
Gonzaga Masters, Dublin, 2006
[Notes by Tom Clarke]


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6 9.b3 Qc5 I initially played this move back in 2002 whilst playing 3 minute blitz games on ICC. The aims of the move are to overpin the already pinned c4 pawn against the bishop on c1, to 1, play Qd4 threatening the Rook on a1; 2, after Qa5+ play Bb4/a3 as appropriate; 3; if forced, play Nb6 which can assist with a long term plan of preparing d5 with pressure on the a6-f1 diagonal; 4; undermine e5 with either d6,f6 and or f5, if necessary sacrificing a pawn to both open up the e file by Kf7/Re8 and open up the h8-a1 diagonal with Rg8/Bg7, note that e5 is also laterally attacked by the Queen on a5; 5; retain the option of castling either side, maybe play Kf7 and or play Rb8 trying to create pressure against White's queenside pawn structure. 10.Qe4 Other move 10 variants for White that I have faced are: 10. Qb2! Stephen Brady, Bray v Phibsboro "A", Armstrong Cup 2005; 10. a3 Stephen Scannell, Civil Service Summer Tournament, Belfast 2005; and a similar idea occurred against Fred MacDonald, Nemtzov Cup, Belfast 2004: 9.g3 Qc5 10.b3?? Qd4 11.Qb2 Bb4+ 12.Nd2 Bc3 13.Qc2 Nb4 0–1 10.Bb2 is a more challenging move. I would certainly play 10...Qa5+ and after presumably 11.Nd2 Ba3 (11...Bb4?! 12.a3 Bc3? (or 12...Bxd2+ 13.Qxd2 and White has a definite space advantage after Queens are exchanged) 13.b4) 12.Bxa3 (an amusing and abrupt finish would be 12.0–0–0?? Qc3+ 13.Kb1 Qxb2checkmate. Ah, if only games could be so straightforward.) 12...Qxa3 I would then try and follow up with 0–0 or 0–0–0 and f6 to open up the e file, obviously Black has to take into consideration Qe4 when appropriate and/or any other Queen move, presumably forcing the Knight to move. After 13.Qe4 (The e5 pawn could also be threatened after the exchange of bishops on a3 after 13.Ne4 Qa5+ 14.Qd2 Nb4) 13...Nb4 14.Be2 (14.Bd3 Qb2! 15.Rb1 Nxd3+ 16.Qxd3 Qxe5+) 14...Qb2! 15.Rb1 Qxa2 (not 15...Nc2+? 16.Kd1!) and White cannot castle as the knight on d2 is en prise. Maybe 13.Qe4 is bad?, If so, how does White prevent Qb2 and or the loss of the a pawn and or Nb4/Nc2+/Nd4/c5, can White castle Kingside at all? Qb2 also threatens the e5 pawn indirectly too. 10...f5! 11.exf6+ If 11.Qxf5?? then 11...Qd4! and the combined threat of Qxa1 and Bb4+ are overwhelming for Black.11...Kf7 12.Be2 Certainly seems best for White, preparing to castle and trying to stop nasty threats after Re8, though is it sufficient? 12...Re8 13.Qf3 Nxf6? The quiet safe move but is there better? 13...Qd4 14.fxg7+ Kxg7 15.Qg3+ Kf7 16.0–0 Rxe2 17.Qf3+ Nf6 18.Qxe2 Qxa1 19.Bb2 Qxa2 20.Qe5 Bg7 If this analysis is correct, then yes! Qd4! is far better than Nf6? 14.Bb2 Qh5 This move, stops White from castling and if followed up correctly, should leave Black with a slight but persistent advantage. 15.Qxh5+ 15.Nd2 Qxf3 16.Nxf3 Bb4+ 17.Kf1 Rhf8 and after Kg8, Black should be able to build up pressure against f2 15...Nxh5 16.g3 d5? Bc5 followed by Nf6, Rhf8 and Kg8 bearing pressure against f2, see previous note is better. White is safe now by playing Kf1,Bf3 and Rc1, if Black ever plays dxc4 and axb3 then White simply recaptures axb3 attacking the Bishop on a6 and subsequently wins the a7 pawn. In fact White may even stand better. 17.Kf1 Nf6 18.Bf3 dxc4 19.bxc4? Bxc4+ 20.Kg2 Bd6? I was so annoyed at playing 16 ...d5? that I trusted that after Bxc6, Re2 would eventually win the f2 pawn, however Bd4, protecting f2 and attacking a7 looks entirely adequate. 21.Rc1 Bd5 22.Nc3 Bxf3+ 23.Kxf3 Rb8 24.Rab1 Rb6 25.Na4 Ra6 26.Bxf6 Rxa4 27.Bg5 Rf8 28.Be3 Ke6+ 29.Kg2 Kd7 As David said after the game, Rxa2 is much better for Black i.e. a pawn up and has 2 passed pawns as well. 30.Rc2 c5 31.Rb3 Kc6 32.Rbc3 Ra5 32...Rf5 is much better with the idea of Rd5/a5/Kb5/Rb4/c4 or Rd5/Ra5/Be5 or Be7/Bf6 and eventually advance the King and/or round up the White a-pawn. Getting my rook on f8 into the game was a priority. 33.Rc4 Kd5 Still Rf5 is better. 34.Rh4 h6 35.Rg4 Rf7 36.h4 Bf8 37.a4! David is fighting hard and well, defending his position, I completely missed his idea and was very fortunate that he was in severe time trouble. 37...Rf6 38.Bd2 Raa6 39.Bc3 Rfc6 40.Rd2+ Ke6 41.Bxg7? Winning the pawn back but this leads to a won rook ending for Black. Far better is Re4+, forcing the Black King backwards and possibly wins an exchange. However is that enough to hold the game for White, let alone win? 41.Re4+ Kf7 42.Rd7+ Kg6 (42...Kg8 43.Re8 Rf6 44.Bxf6 Rxf6 45.Rxc7 and surely White now wins!) 43.Rg4+ Kh5 44.Kh3 This line looks extremely dire for Black and retreating the King to f7/g8 forces Black to give up an exchange on f6. 41...Bxg7 42.Rxg7 c4 43.Kf3 c3 44.Rc2 Kd5 45.Ke3 Kc4 46.Ke2 Kb3 47.Kd1 Rxa4 48.Rd7 Rd6+ 49.Rxd6 cxd6 50.f4 Ra1+ 51.Rc1 Ra2 52.f5 Rf2 0–1

Tom Clarke v Keith Arkell (GM 2450)
World Championship Zonal, Dublin, 1993


1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Bb4 8.e5 Nfd7 9.Qg4 Bf8 10.d4 c5 11.Be3 cxd4 12.Bxd4 Nc6 13.O-O-O Nxd4 14.Rxd4 Nb6 15.Rhd1 Qd7 16.Bf1 a6 17.Kb1 h5 18.Qg5 Qe7 19.Qe3 Qc7 20.Qg5 g6 21.Na4 Nd7 22.c4 Bh6 23.Qh4 Qxe5 24.cxd5 g5 25.Qe4 Qxe4+ 26.Rxe4 e5 27.g4 Bg7 28.d6 b5 29.Nc3 Nc5 30.Re3 hxg4 31.hxg4 Rd8 32.b4 Ne6 33.Bg2 Kd7 34.Bb7 Rb8 35.Bxa6 Nd4 36.Ne4 Rb6 37.Rc3 Nc6 38.Nc5+ Kd8 39.Ra3 Rb8 40.Bb7 Nd4 41.Ra7 Rh6 42.Be4 Bf8 43.Nd7 Bxd6 44.Nxb8 Bxb8 45.Rxf7 Bd6 46.a3 Ke8 47.Rb7 Rh2 48.Bf5 Be7 49.Rc1 Nxf5 50.gxf5 Rxf2 51.Rc8+ Bd8 52.Rbb8 Rd2 53.f6 g4 54.Rxd8+ 1-0

Tom Clarke v Elizabeth Paehtz (WGM 2417)
European Club Cup, Rethymnon, 2003


1. d4 d6 2. Bg5 Nd7 3. e4 Ngf6 4. Nc3 c6 5. f4 Qa5 6. Qd2 b5 7. Bd3 b4 8. Nd1 e6 9. Ne3 d5 10. e5 Ne4 11. Nc4 dxc4 12. Bxe4 Bb7 13. Ne2 Nb6 14. O-O g6 15. Bf6 Rg8 16. a3 c3 17. bxc3 bxa3 18. Qd3 Qa4 19. Rfb1 Rc8 20. Qh3 h6 21. Qf3 Ba6 22. Nc1 Bc4 23. Nd3 Bd5 24. Nb4 Nc4 25. Qe2 Bxe4 26. Qxc4 c5 27. Rxa3 Qd7 28. Na6 cxd4 29. Rb8 1-0

Tom’s favourite opening was the Trompovsky in which we had many memorable games, sorry Tom !

Tom Clarke v David Houston
RVH Falcons v North Belfast, UCU Leagues, 2003


1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 The Trompovsky, Tom's usual choice of opening since the early 1990s. Though it does not seem to figure in too many GM games, it was made popular on the "Weekend Circuit" with English GM Julian Hodgson being one of its main exponents. 2...c5 [The variation the GM's prefer to play as black is 2...Ne4 3.Bf4 (White can also play (which Tom also normally plays) 3.h4 c5 4.d5 Nxg5 5.hxg5 d6 6.Nd2 g6 When black does not seem to worry about the open h-file, often castling into an attack confident in adequate counterplay thanks to the 2 bishops.) 3...c5 (If 3...d5 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 With the idea of taking on e4 leaving black a weak pawn, seems to give white the edge.) 4.f3 (4.d5 Qb6 5.Bc1 g6 6.f3 Nd6 7.Nc3 Bg7 8.e4 f5 9.exf5 Nxf5 10.g4! Hodgson v Nunn (1-0).) 4...Qa5+ 5.c3 Nf6 6.Nd2 cxd4 7.Nb3 Qb6 8.Qxd4 Qxd4 9.cxd4 e6 10.Rc1 Nc6 11.e4 d5!? Lputian - Shipov, 1999 (1-0).(Better is 11...Bb4+ with an equal position.) ; I used to prefer to play 2...d5 e.g. 3.Bxf6 exf6 4.e3 Bd6 5.c4 dxc4 6.Bxc4 Nd7 7.Nc3 Nb6 8.Bb3 0-0 9.Nf3 c6 10.0-0 Bc7 11.Rc1 Bg4 with equal chances, Plaskett (GM) - Houston, British Championships, 1989 (1-0 in 111 moves).] 3.Bxf6 gxf6 4.d5 Qb6 5.Qc1 [White can opt to give up material for the initiative. e.g. 5.Nd2 Qxb2 6.e3 f5 To provide space for the black queen to retreat to. 7.Rb1 Qf6 (7...Qxa2!? Is risky, as the queen now has few squares.) 8.Bd3 d6 9.Ne2 Nd7 10.f4 Qg6 11.Ng3 Nf6 12.c4 e5 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.e4 Bh6 15.0-0 0-0 16.exf5 exf5 Krautsov - Poluljahov, Russian Championships 1999 (0-1).] 5...Bh6 6.e3 f5 It's important to create space for the black queen, otherwise white will be able to gain tempo with Nb1-d2-c4. 7.Nd2 Qf6 8.c3 [Tom & I have ventured here before, that time the game went as follows. 8.Ngf3 e5 9.Nc4 d6 10.b4? A little too loose, though I think black's already has better prospects. 10...e4 11.Ng1 Qc3+ 12.Kd1 0-0 13.b5 f4! 14.h3 fxe3 15.fxe3 Nd7 16.Rb1 Nb6 17.Qd2 Qxd2+ 18.Kxd2 Nxd5 19.g4 Nb6 20.Rd1 d5 21.Nd6 Rd8 22.Nxc8 Raxc8 23.Bg2 Nc4+ Clarke,T - Houston,D (0-1) RVH A v N Belfast - League Match, 2001] 8...e5?! Better is 8.  d6 to allow development of queenside pieces. 9.Qc2 0-0? Gives white the edge, as he has something to attack. [9...d6 Awaiting developments is much better, black can expand on the queenside with a6, b5 etc. & at some stage will be able to play f4 to rid himself of the double f-pawn.] 10.h3 [Interesting is 10.d6 Qxd6?! (10...Nc6! 11.Rd1 b6 12.Ne2 Bb7 13.Ng3³) 11.Qxf5 Qe6 12.Qxe6 fxe6 13.Ne4 b6 14.Nd6 When black is a little cramped and his d-pawn is potentially weak, and white has the initiative.] 10...Qg6 11.0-0-0 [White can try an immediate g4, trying to launch a quick attack on the Kingside and take advantage of the potential pin on the black queen and king e.g. 11.g4 d6 12.0-0-0 Kh8 It may look very dodgy for black, but I think there are enough resources for black to survive.] 11...d6 12.g4 fxg4 13.Bd3 f5 14.hxg4 e4 15.Bc4? This turns out to be a poor square, strangely blocking the back rank with Bf1 gives better long term chances. 15...fxg4 16.Qxe4 Bf5 17.Qg2 Nd7 18.f4?! [18.Ngf3 gxf3 19.Qxg6+ Bxg6 20.Rxh6 Ne5 21.Rh3 Rf6 With all to play for.; 18.Qh2 Rf6 19.Ngf3 gxf3 20.Rdg1 Bg4 21.Rxg4 Qxg4 22.Rg1 Qxg1+ 23.Qxg1+ Rg6 24.Qh1 Ne5÷ The material 2 Rooks v Queen is roughly even, but I like black's position due to the well placed knight on e5 and potentially active rooks.] 18...Nf6 19.e4 Nxe4 20.Rxh6 Qxh6 21.Nxe4 Bxe4?! [Better is 21...Qxf4+ e.g. 22.Nd2 Rae8 23.Nh3 Qe3 24.Nf2 h5 25.Rh1 Bg6 26.Nd1 Qg5 When black's bishop is still a potent attacking force.] 22.Qxe4 Rae8 23.Qd3 Qxf4+ Tom's resignation is probably a little premature, after 23. Kb1 Re3 24.Qd2 h5 white can play on, but black's active rooks and passed pawns, give him all the chances. 0-1

J.Rudd v T.Clarke
British Championships, Nottingham, 1996 - Rd 8
[Notes by Tom Clarke]


1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Bb4 5.Bd2 A Passive square for the bishop, but I did not think much of the other possibilities. [5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Qxf6] 5...0-0 6.e3 b6 7.Bd3 Bb7 8.Qc2 a5 9.0-0-0 Qe7 10.Rhg1 Either here or on the next move white should play a3, keeping the black knight out of b4, although black is still comfortably better. White is striving for an attack which never comes off. 10.   Nc6 11.Ng5 Bxc3 12. Bxc3 Better is 12.bxc3 it looks horrible but may allow white to survive. 12...Nb4 13.Bxb4 axb4 14.Kb1 Ra5 15.f3 Doubling rooks on the a-file, but also getting a potential 'hit' against the knight on g5. 15...Rfa8 16.b3 From now on white must consider what happens each move if black plays Rxa2, as this would radically alter the position. 16.   b5 17.e4 If 17. cxb5 Nd5! 17...bxc4 18.bxc4 fxe4 19.Nxe4 Bxe4 20.fxe4 Perhaps white should take with the bishop. This piece becomes a real target on d3. 20...e5 21.Rde1 c5 Really cementing in the white bishop. 22.d5 Ra3 23.g3 b3 24.Qd1 If 24.axb3 Ra1+ 25.Kb2 R8a2+ 24.   d6 25.Re2 Qa7 26.Rgg2 Qa4 white resigns Despite having lost nothing yet, white is compelled to resign, as can be seen black is threatening 27 ...bxa2+ winning the white queen.

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