The Ulster Championships of 1895, 1897 and 1899

This Time Traveller article is a slightly amended version of the original one published by David McAlister in January 2002.

The first two Ulster Championships had been held in the autumn of 1892 and 1893. They had been organised by the committee responsible for organising the 1892 North of Ireland Chess Congress, which had included the Masters Quadrangular tournament won by Blackburne and Mason.


The autumn of 1894 came and went without an Ulster Championship being competed for. There was correspondence in the Belfast News-Letter critical of the lack of a competition for the Ulster title. The editor of the chess column, W. A. Campbell suggested this showed the need for an Ulster Chess Union to be formed - it only took another 37 years before this actually happened! However the chess column of the News-Letter for the 17th January 1895 did announce that:

The committee, which had charge of the Chess Championship of Ulster as their last act before dissolving, handed over the future arrangements to the secretaries of the local chess clubs.

The News-Letter column went on to say that play in the Championship would be on Wednesday and Saturday evenings starting on the 30th January. Clocks were to be used and the time limit was to be the fairly rapid 25 moves per hour. The Championship was open to all natives of or residents in Ulster, with the entrance fee being five shillings (that's 25 pence in today's money). The champion from the previous year had to meet all entrants - unlike 1893 when there was a preliminary tournament before the holder became involved. In fact E. A. Robinson, the champion in both 1892 and 1893 did not take part.

The Championship had 4 entrants: William McCrum (Armagh CC), who had played in the two previous contests; R. A. Williams (Holywood CC), who had played in 1893; Ernest Harvey (Belfast CC) who had played in the inaugural event; and a newcomer to the competition J. Cuming (Belfast CC). These four players were to play each other twice.

                     H   W   M   C   Total
1-2  E. L. HARVEY    xx  0=  11  11   4.5
1-2  R. A. WILLIAMS  =1  xx  01  11   4.5
3    W. McCRUM       00  10  xx  11   3.0
4    J. CUMING       00  00  00  xx   0.0

As can be seen in the crosstable above, Harvey and Williams tied for first place. A play-off match was arranged with the winner to be the first player to win two games, draws not counting. The weekly chess column in the News-Letter reported on the tie-match on the 28th March, 4th and 11th April. The first and third games in the match were drawn, with Harvey winning the second. After this the further progress of the match went unreported until this appeared on the 9th May 1895:

Ulster Chess Championship
It may be remembered that in the competition for this coveted title a tie ensued between Messrs. E. L. Harvey and R. A. Williams. This tie has been at length decided in favour of Mr. Harvey, who thus becomes Ulster champion. The last game was played on Friday [3rd May]. M. Harvey adopted the King's Bishop opening, and Mr. Williams having unfortunately exceeded the time limit on the 60th move resigned.

E. L. HARVEY   +2 -1 =6   R. A. WILLIAMS


There was no competition for the Championship in the 1895-1896 season but the Belfast News-Letter reported on the 14th January 1897 that, at a meeting of secretaries to make arrangements for the annual Ulster Inter-Club Trophy, it was also decided to hold a competition for the Ulster Chess Championship "at an early date." The following week the newspaper carried the additional information that the tournament would probably commence about the middle of February at Belfast Chess Club on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It also carried this rather unencouraging statement that the organising committee "reserves the right of refusing any entry, and may not hold the tourney if sufficient entries are not received.

About a month later it was announced that the Championship would commence on Saturday 27th February, with the entrance fee unchanged at 5 shillings. If there were less than 7 competitors, it would be a double-round contest. As it happened exactly seven players entered the lists, only one of whom - A. W. Hutton - had previously contested the Championship. In fact play did not get underway until Wednesday 3rd March and the final crosstable appeared in the News-Letter on the 15th April 1897. The convincing winner was William Steen, who incidentally had been the chess editor of the newspaper for a short time in the 1880s.

                        S  G  C  H  M  G  M  Total
1    W. STEEN           x  1  1  1  1  1  =   5.5
2    J. GARRATT         0  x  1  0  1  1  1   4.0
3-5  W. Y. CHAMBERLAIN  0  0  x  1  1  d  1   3.0
3-5  A. W. HUTTON       0  1  0  x  0  1  1   3.0
3-5  D. McLEOD CRAIK    0  0  0  1  x  1  1   3.0
6    R. S. GAMBLE       0  0  d  0  0  x  1   1.0
7    S. J. MAGOWAN      =  0  0  0  0  0  x   0.5
d = double default/game not played


There was no competition for the Championship in the following season, and although the Championship was held again in the 1898-1899 season the progress of the competition was scarcely noted in the Belfast newspapers. The only report came after the conclusion of the tournament on the 15th June 1899 in the Belfast News-Letter.

Ulster Chess Championship
This competition has just concluded. The arrangements this year were somewhat modified from previous years: as only the champions of clubs were entitled to take part [a suggestion of the 1897 winner Steen], whereas in former years anyone might enter. There were five entries, viz. Messrs. R. D. Hill, Belfast; J. McErvel, Holywood; J. J. O'Hanlon, Portadown; J. Bell, Strandtown; and C. E. Smith, Victoria. Play was in rounds [i. e. a knock-out format]....In the final round Mr. Smith defeated Mr. Bell, winning both games and the championship. We heartily congratulate Mr. Smith on his new honour. We may add that Mr. Smith holds the draughts championship of Ireland - a unique and highly creditable award.

ROUND 1             SEMI-FINAL     FINAL           WINNER

(C. E. SMITH bye   (C. E SMITH   (C. E. SMITH   C. E. SMITH
(             (      
(R. D. HILL       (R. D. HILL   (        
(J. J. O'HANLON                 (    
(J. BELL          J. BELL bye   (J. BELL    
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