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Baburin wins title but farce mars weekender

The 102nd Irish Championships ended last Sunday, 13 August, at the Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin. Grandmaster Alex Baburin regained the title after surprising collapses by two of his principal rivals in the last round. He previously won the title in 2008

Going into the last round, Baburin and FM Conor O'Donnell (who had drawn earlier in the tournament) shared the lead on 6.5/8 and both had White against lower-rated opponents. On board 3, Kavin Venkatesan and Jonathan O'Connor, who were half a point behind the leaders, were playing each other.

While Baburin played carefully to keep the draw in hand against Adam Collins, there was drama in the games on boards 2 and 3. We are told that O'Donnell's opponent, James Crowley, arrived 53 minutes late (with just 7 minutes to spare before he would have been defaulted) so not surprisingly he was very short of time later.

It has been stated on a bulletin board that the arbiter at some stage telephoned Crowley to remind him of the earlier start to the last round but we do not know when this happened. There has been a long history of last-round defaults in the championship.

The games of the tournament are available for download from the latest edition of Mark Crowther's website The Week In Chess (TWIC 101).

O'Donnell sacrificed two pawns in the opening and already had close to a won position after 14 moves but he failed to follow up in the most dynamic way (15 e6, a third pawn offer, or 15 Ng5 followed by e6). Instead his 15 Re1 allowed Black to close the central file by 15...Ne6, reducing White's advantage.

Play then contoinued 16 Bxe6 fxe6 17 Ng5 0-0-0. Now 18 Nxe6 would have regained one of the sacrificed pawns, prevented castling and kept winning chances. Instead O'Donnell chose to win the exchange by 18 Nf7 (forking Black's rooks) and immediately the advantage swung sharply to the other side. Black 'had the bishop pair, extra pawns and was strongly centralised. Somehow Crowley reached the move 40 time control with his large advantage intact, or indeed increased.

Soon Baburin forced a draw in his game while on board 3, O'Connor, who had earlier had a clearly winning position, lost on time at move 40 when his position was still favourable. This meant that Baburin and Venkatesan finished on 7 points, a score that O'Donnell could reach if he could save his now lost position. There was to be one more twist.

Though he was now a bishop down, O'Donnell had the safer king and managed to create some confusion in his opponent's mind - but also in his own. The position on the board after White's 52nd move occurred again two moves later and then at move 57 O'Donnell could have claimed a draw but failed to realise it. A draw would have given him the title because in the three-way tie that would have resulted, his win against Venkatesan from round 6 would have meant no play-off was required. Instead O'Donnell played 57 Ra1 on the board, his opponent varied his play and the last chance was gone.

Because Baburin and Venkatesan had drawn their game, the title was decided by a rapid play-off. Baburin won the first game (on time, appropriately) and drew the second to become Irish Champion for only the second time; his previous win was in 2008.

Nevertheless 15-year-old Venkatesan can be pleased with an excellent result while Crowley (who finished with 6/9 after losing his first two games) probably cannot believe his luck but he also played some good chess and will certainly have improved his rating.

Previously, on top board in Saturday's eighth round O'Donnell and Jonathan O'Connor had played out a bloodless draw which was over in under an hour.

Prophetically we said in our previous report: "Maybe one or both of them are regretting that now because GM Alexander Baburin may snatch the title from under their noses."

In an epic 100-move game on Saturday, Baburin used all his patience, technique and tenacity to take his level-seeming symmetrical position, Black against CM Jacob Flynn, deep into a minor piece endgame. As was predictable (because experience usually tells in such situations), White finally and oh-so-gradually let matters slip.

Flynn, having lost a pawn, still could have forced a draw had he found 50. Nc4+ Nxc4 51. Kxc4 Nf6, as reader Sean Coffey has pointed out. By 52. Be3! Nxe4  53. Kd5 Nxg3  54. Kxe5, it turns out that White draws easily.

gambled everything on trying to defend the difficult Troitzky endgame (so named because of the Russian analyst who first studied it). In this ending the stronger side has two knights (but no pawns) and the defender has one pawn which he would like to get rid of because two knights cannot win against bare king.

Baburin had to keep the White pawn (on h4) blockaded by one knight while his king and second knight tried to manoeuvre the White King into a corner, Then at the last minute the blockading knight rushes off to deliver checkmate before the freed pawn can be queened.

The catch is that only 50 moves are allowed before a draw can be claimed and at the start Baburin would have required 81 moves to win had Flynn played perfectly, meaning a draw could be claimed long before the position became critical.

In practice it is very hard to defend, especially when short of time, and the online tablebase shows that Flynn made a major mistake at move 79 which shortened the winning process by 28 moves. (Flynn needed to reach move 109 without being mated or having to advance his pawn.) A further error at move 81 and a final mistake at move 88 enabled Baburin to win; the grandmaster played the final phase from move 80 almost perfectly.

The whole tournament was affected by withdrawals and discretionary byes for some players who received half a point for the rounds in question, and which in two cases resulted in an odd number of players so that a full-point bye had to be granted to the player with the lowest score. In our opinion the tournament regulations need to be changed so that discretionary byes are disallowed because they devalue the status of the tournament.

The earlier start to the last round is unpopular with many players and every year it causes problems; this too needs to be abolished. While withdrawals due to sudden illness can always happen in a tournament, it is noteworthy that of the 32 entrants only 25 played the whole event and one of these actually only had six games because he "enjoyed" a bye, a discretionary bye and a last round walkover. Carroll started with two discretionary byes (for which he scored one half point) but then played to the end. If you cannot start you should not play.

The final scores of all the players in finishing order were as follows, also showing by an asterisk whether they benefited from a bye or discretionary bye. Baburin and Venkatesan 7; O'Donnell 6.5; O'Connor, O'Cuilleanain and Crowley 6; Collins 5.5; Flynn, Carroll *, Kennedy, Keenan and Murphy 5; Liu, Nemeth, Leon Putar and Lara Putar, Conor Nolan and Renji 4.5; Daly, Melaugh *, O'Connell and Brozynski 4, Sheehan *, Ivanov and Healy 3.5, Haque, Lyons and Duffy 3*, Fox, MacElligott and Keogh * 2.5, Dermot Nolan 1.

Live games were made available at Lichess. The pairings and results page shows the full pairings and results. There were no title norm possibilities this year.

Supporting tournaments

As usual, there were several other tournaments taking place over the 10-day period.

The final event, an 11-round FIDE-rated blitz on the final Sunday evening, was won by Jacob Flynn with 8.5 points on tiebreak from Adam Collins, Killian Delaney and Ivan Maravic (of Croatia) who had the same score. There were 96 competitors.

There have been a lot of complaints about the Open Weekender (11-13 August) which had over 100 entries, far too many for a 5-round tournament. The decision to accelerate the pairings up to round 4 was disastrous because while strong players took points and half points off each other, four players rated under 1200 (one of them under 1000) reached 4/4 and so of course had to play each other in the last round.

One of those games was decisive; the other was drawn, so first prize and two shares of second went to players who normally would have been competing for the rating-restricted prizes.

This situation was grossly unfair to the entrants rated 1900+ who should have had an opportunity to win the tournament. The regulations must be changed, probably by a motion to the next ICU agm, to prevent any recurrence.

The ultimate beneficiary of this farce was young Yuvan Sree Kandru who scored 5/5; he beat one opponent rated 1542 and the other four were rated below 1000. Five players shared second on 4.5 points, three of whom (rated over 1900) met appropriate opposition until the last round.

The rating-restricted weekenders were played on the first weekend (4-6 August) and we do not have those results to hand as they are not on the same chess-results page.

The 5-round Weekday Open, with 45 competitors, ended on Friday in a tie on 4.5/5 between Ivan Maravic who was born in 2004 and veteran Irish international Paul Cassidy, born in 1942. Paul was on the Irish team at the 1960 Leipzig olympiad!

There was an Open rapid tournament on the first Sunday evening, but it was hardly satisfactory having only six rounds. Three players went into the final round on 5/5 and while Ivan Maravic and Jacob Flynn drew their game, 1998-rated Sam Walker (England) beat Tarun Kanyamarala (who had been half a point behind) with Black to take first prize.

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