After 12 months with virtually no over the board chess played in Ireland, the Irish Chess Union is planning to take whatever opportunities may arise this summer to hold tournaments. A preliminary announcement was posted on their website recently.
The I.C.U. have already announced dates and venue for the 100th Irish Championship which, government health restrictions permitting, will be played in south Dublin at Colaiste Eanna, Rathfarnham, between 31 July and 8 August 2021. Entries are already being accepted on their website, although it may be difficult for anyone resident outside the island of Ireland to play.
Meanwhile, the Galway Chess Congress was played online on the lichess.org platform, from 19-21 March, with 88 competitors in a 7-round Swiss. The winner was English FM Robin Moss with 6.5 points, after drawing with Tim Harding in round 4.
Three players tied second on 5.5: Jason Liu, Adam McCoy and Atharva Paibir. Many Irish juniors and also some other senior players competed. For detailed results the Galway club's website. There were no cash prizes because they could encourage cheating.
Tim, who had to take a half-point bye in round 3 because of a prior commitment, headed a group on 5 points. He played three of the prize-winners, beating Paibir and also drawing with Liu.
The rate of play was 45 minutes per player with a 15 second increment per move.
I.CU. plans for summer 2021 are likely to include several small over the board tournaments in rating bands. These will possibly organised on a round-robin basis because Swiss system tournaments involving large gatherings of players may be inadvisable or simply illegal.
So tournaments are likely to be played on various dates, especially in July and August, rather than alongside the main championship.
We hope to see the Women's Championship (which was not held last year) and the revival of the Irish Senior Championship which was last played in January 2020.
With vaccination of everyone in Ireland over 70 years of age likely to be complete by the end of May, a small tournament for players in that age group might be held as early as June, but the "young Seniors" (50-69) may have to wait for a separate tournament later in the summer or perhaps September. Government regulations about the size of indoor gatherings will be paramount.
In retrospect it was clear that opportunities were missed during the summer of 2020 when Covid-19 infections were at a very low level in Ireland for a few weeks, but one great success of the I.C.U. last year was the national championship, whereas many countries had to cancel theirs.
Following careful safety planning, the Irish Chess Union successfully conducted the 99th national championship in Dublin between 1 and 9 August 2020. 17-year-old FIDE Master Tom O'Gorman emerged as sole winner with 7/9. However we believe he is currently resident in England so might not be able to defend the title, depending on travel restrictions at the time.
There are many outstanding questions that can only be answered later, depending on the pandemic situation. Many players are liable to play well below or well above their currfent FIDE ratings, depending on age and how much online practice and study they have done in the past year or so.
Another issue is what can be done about the unfinished 2019/2020 leagues and the promotions and relegations that would normally follow. It may be that several clubs may not re-form after Covid and league chess might be impossible until the 2022/2023 season.
Irish chess arbiters
At present Ireland has very few active and resident arbiters (the chess equivalent of referees) with the Fide Arbiter or higher International Arbiter titles. We need more qualified active arbiters to run tournaments.
Fortunately one of the I.C.U.'s achievements last year was to host (just in time pre-Covid!) a training seminar for chess arbiters. This was attended by 16 people from six federations and run by Alex McFarlane of Scotland, who is on FIDE's Arbiters Commission. At the end of this intensive event, nine participants passed the exam, earning one of the norms required to become a licensed FIDE Arbiter.
Subsequently the FIDE Council meeting in June approved the award to Tim Harding of the title FIDE Arbiter.
The other Irish-based arbiters who passed the seminar exam were (in the order listed by FIDE): Simon Lawrence, Mark R. Watkins, Gerard MacElligott, James Forde, Vjekoslav Novak (Croatia), and Andrew O'Brien. The others on this list require tournament norms to become licensed NAs but the Covid-19 pandemic means the have not had much chance to earn them. Hopefully it will be possible for at least some of these arbiters to earn NA and FA norms at tournaments this year.
The current (March 2021) list of active licensed arbiters for Ireland is as follows, ordered first by title and then alphabetically. (Arbiters described by FIDE as inactive are not included.)
International Arbiters: Gerry Graham, Ted Jennings.
FIDE Arbiters: Ivan Baburin, Tim D. Harding, Rory Delaney, Pete Morriss, Colm O Muireagain, Ruth Redmond, Brian Scully.
National Arbiters: Vincent Bissett, Adrian Dornford-Smith, Pat Fitzsimons, Richard Gould, Ross Harris, Brendan Jamison, Andrew Kildea, Neal Kirby, Paul McKeown, John McMorrow, Gabriel Mirza, Mark Newman, Kevin O'Flaherty, Pat Scanlan, Herbert Scarry, Peter Scott, Stephen Short, and Pat Twomey.
For more information on Irish chess, please see the Irish Chess Union website.