Last year I was unable to play Bunratty as it clashed with my time in Iceland but with the dates moved to earlier in February this year Sue and I were able to return to Ireland's premier weekend tournament. I had been over at my parents' and took the long, slow bus down the west coast on the Thursday to Ennis where I stayed with my friend Rory and his partner who were very kind to put me up.
A much quicker bus on the Friday morning and I arrived back in Bunratty. Sue was at work in the morning but joined me in the late afternoon. It turned out she was lucky as Mark Hebden's flight got rerouted to Dublin and so he missed the first round.
A few years ago the Bunratty Castle Hotel started hosting and sponsoring the event. It's a very pleasant hotel with good facilities and has definitely made the event even better.
Unfortunately, due to the close proximity with the Gibraltar Chess Festival, Mickey Adams and Nigel Short were unable to play but it was still very strong with 7 GMs, 7 IMs, a WGM and 2 WIMs. I was down as fifth seed as they were using Irish ratings but on FIDE I would have been top by a few points. Sue was paired with Tom Rendle in the first round, not only an IM but also a very old friend of mine. Sue played well and they drew after a long battle. The rest of the top boards went to seeding, I defeated David Murray who, coincidentally, I played in the first round of Kilkenny too!
Bunratty is a very social tournament and it's easy to be up very late in the bar which makes the 9.30am start and 3 games on the Saturday even tougher. Sue very sensibly decided to take a half point bye for the first of these and instead made use of the luxury spa at the hotel. I was Black against FIDE Master Philip Short, the strongest of the brothers, and prevailed in the end but the game was rather topsy-turvy!
The top seed Oleg Korneev was rather fortunate to draw and so by round three I had made it to one of the 3 live boards. This was another pairing with Irish IM Sam Collins. We've played a lot over the years and always have interesting games. I tried an interesting sideline of the English and we reached a complex middlegame. Sam must have been fine but was rather unlucky that a logical sequence of moves suddenly left him in a lost endgame.
Sue played another good game with Black against Ireland's first IM Mark Orr. She equalised easily and was pressing when she accepted to split the point so she could return to the spa for another appointment. Draws on the other top boards meant that at the half way stage I was the only one on 3/3.
The final game of the day I had Black against the Israeli GM Alon Greenfeld. He played the Torre against my Kings Indian and I followed a line I'd played before where I grab the bishop pair but in turn lag behind in development. Alon spent a lot of time on his early moves and I achieved a decent time advantage in a dynamically equal position. The computer points out he missed a chance to grab a pawn that neither of us thought was possible and then with his odd 24.Qa2 and 25.Bg1 I took over the initiative. His position should probably be defensible but short on time it was tough and he fell for a tactic.
Sue was again one of many draws and so with two rounds to go I had a full point lead. 9.15am on Sunday morning we were back again and this time I had White against Czech GM Jiri Stocek. I couldn't remember much of my theory in the Rubinstein Nimzo and with accurate defence Jiri reached a drawn endgame pretty quickly. Something seemed to go wrong quite early for Sue with Black against another IM, Gavin Wall, and despite defending tenaciously went down in a long game. Oleg Korneev defeated the fast rising Valentine Kalinins on board two and Sam beat WGM Alina L'Ami meaning they both reduced my lead to half a point going into the last round.
As I had already played Sam, Black against top seed Oleg Korneev was a forced pairing. I managed to do a little bit of preparation and then Sue and me headed off to the local cafe for lunch. I think the best way of describing the game is simply to look through my annotated game below.
Sam and Mark Hebden ended up drawing on board two and so Sam tied for second together with Alon Greenfeld who had defeated Alina and Bogdan Lalic who looked to be winning straight out of the opening against Tom. Unfortunately Sue overpressed and lost another long game, a disappointing finish but she can still hold her head up high with 2 draws against IMs.
Sue had work Monday morning and so had to travel to the airport during the prize giving but the rest of us went to dinner at the old pub Durty Nelly's. A delicious meal but I felt rather overfull! Bunratty traditionally ends with an informal blitz tournament and the organisers waited for us to return before starting it. Whether it was too much food, the celebratory beers or simply too much chess, I found myself unable to calculate anything at all and was extremely fortunate to beat Tom in the quarterfinals, a match that was more entertaining than good chess! I got a fantastic position in the semifinals against Bogdan Lalic with 1.d4 Nf6 2.g4?!! which I used to defeat him in the Kilkenny blitz. Unfortunately I then blundered a pawn and piece on successive moves and that was that. Mark Hebden ended up as blitz champion winning the final.
If that wasn't enough chess we then played some Braccia-mente (hand-brain) which is a form of pairs chess where one player names the piece to move (pawn, knight, bishop etc.) and the other has to figure out which one and where. An early morning flight meant I got around four hours sleep but at the time of writing have more or less recovered :)
I'd like to thank Gerry Graham who was not only arbiter but also organiser, constantly busy but who very kindly gave me a lift to the airport in the morning. His report on the event can be found here, a list of prize winners and the final standings. Gary O'Grady also deserves a lot of gratitude who provides generous sponsorship and ensures the tournament carries on being not only a great social weekend but also a very strong chess tournament. I hope to be back again next year!