Galway Chess Congress 2019: Report

127 people played in the 2019 Galway Congress, which was well up on the numbers the last time the event was held two years ago.  It was also one of the most international we have had, as players came from Latvia, Germany (several), Sweden, and England, as well as from the North.  We again demonstrated that chess appeals to all ages: the oldest player was a few months under 80 and the youngest just two months over 7.  We also seem to be good at introducing people to organized chess, as thirty entrants were playing their first-ever rated games (nearly a quarter of the total).  Most of those thirty joined the ICU because of the Galway congress, so the ICU got a lot of new members thanks to us.  The one disappointment was the relatively small field in the top section: 14, plus a visitor – the ICU Ratings Officer, as it happened – who kindly stepped in as a filler for one game.  We have tried a number of inducements to attract stronger players – such as offering free entry and inviting foreign GMs and IMs – but, like many Irish tournaments in recent years, we have only managed to attract a small fraction of the sixty or so Irish-based players rated over 2000. If we knew what we could do to attract more, we would certainly do it.

Despite the relatively small field, the Masters section saw probably the outstanding performance of the weekend, by the convincing winner, sixteen-year-old Henry Li, who had already won the tournament with a round to spare after five straight wins (including one against International Master Vladimir Sveshnikov); he eased up in the last round and conceded a draw to Grand Master Alex Baburin, to finish on 5½ points.  Henry thereby becomes the youngest-ever winner of the Galway trophy, beating by over three years the previous record which was held by Gawain Jones.  Since Gawain is now firmly established in the top hundred in the world, Henry has the prospect of an outstanding chess future ahead of him if he can continue to better Gawain’s achievements.

Second equal, a long way behind on 4 points, were top seed Vladimir Sveshnikov from Latvia and Galway’s Denis Ruchko, whose result in any other year would have been the most noteworthy: Denis, at not yet sixteen, is even younger than Henry and was rated second to last in this section; he played all the top players in the event, drawing with both IM Sveshnikov and GM Baburin, whilst his only loss was against Henry Li after a rather wild game.

There were two rating prizes for which those rated under 2000 were eligible.  Denis Ruchko was the clear winner here, but under the rule that one can only win one prize (the one of higher value) he had to be content with ‘only’ getting the shard second prize.  Therefore the first rating prize went to Brendan Ruane from England, who scored 3½ points, and the second to Darragh Moran on 3.

The Major section (1200-1800) also had a clear winner: Khai Asyraf (as he is known in Galway, or Muhammad Khairil Asyraf Khairil Annuar, as he is more formally known to the ICU) had assured himself of at least first equal with a round to go after five straight wins, and secured first place by agreeing a fairly quick draw in the last round.  It has been a very good couple of months for Khai: he won the Bunratty Major (1200-1600) section last month with a faultless six wins from six, and has also ensured that he will be the new Galway Winter League champion, again with a round to spare after winning his first six games in that tournament.  So that is a cumulative record this year of seventeen wins, one draw, and not one loss.

There was a four-way tie for second place between thirteen-year-old Leon Putar, Jason Harris, Leo Phelan, and Dara Murphy, all on 4½ points.  In this section there were five rating prizes in two bands.  In Band A (1400-1599), in which there were two prizes, three players tied on 4 points so this had to be resolved by tie-break: Galway’s Jarek Wieczorek came out first, and Joe O’Hanlon second, whilst Lara Putar unfortunately narrowly missed out on a prize – but as she is only twelve, we are sure that her time will come, and probably very soon.  Band B (1200-1399) was won by Jason Harris who (unlike Denis in the Masters) received the rating prize as the more valuable; second prize in Band B went to by Phillip Foenander, who just pushed Ruairi McKenna-Carroll into the third prize on tie-break, both scoring 3½ points.

The Minors section (under-1200) was the most closely fought of all three, and resulted in a tie for first place between eleven-year-old Atharva Paibir and thirteen-year-old James Crowley, on 5½ points.  The Hugh Finan Memorial Trophy went to Atharva on tie-break; he was also the youngest tournament winner this year, and probably the youngest ever, although unfortunately we do not seem to have kept a complete record of the ages of past winners.  Third prize was shared between three Galway players on 5 points: Joshua Sawantawadi, Zoran Dragic (who were both also eligible for a rating prize, and so received that) and eleven-year-old Andrew Finnerty, who, at ten days younger than Atharva, was the youngest prize-winner this year (and maybe youngest ever).  Andrew, like Henry Li and Khai Asyraf, was leading the tournament outright after round 5, with five wins; but unlike the others he couldn’t secure the draw he needed in the last round, being beaten by the eventual winner Atharva Paibir.

In this section there were seven rating prizes, to reflect the large number of entries.  The rating prize in Band A (800-999) went to thirteen-year-old Ritvik Trehan, who edged out the oldest player in the tournament, Maurice Coveney, on tie break, after they had both scored 4½ points.  (It would have been symbolic if we had had the youngest-ever and oldest-ever prize-winners in the same section this year, but alas it didn’t quite work out like that.)  Band B (700-799) was won by Zoran Dragic, who as mentioned above also came third equal.  In Band C (rated under 700) there was a tie on 3½ points between three very young players, which had to be resolved by the tie-break: Charles Ridgway (who is not yet 13) came out ahead of fourteen-year-old John Carton and Diana Bueckert (even younger at not yet 11).  In Band D (unrated, and playing in their first tournament) there were three prizes to reflect the large number in that category, and, perhaps surprisingly in view of what has just been reported, juniors did not win any of them: first prize went to Joshua Sawantawadi, who came third equal on 5 points, which is an excellent result in his first tournament; second prize went to Pranav Verma who scored 4 points (both Joshua and Pranav are students at NUI, Galway and have been lured into playing in chess tournaments by the NUIG Chess Club); and third prize went to Daniel Van Tonder with 3½ points, who very narrowly edged out Mohamed Ameer (another NUIG student) on the second category of tie-break.

So overall this tournament will probably be remembered as a very good one for Ireland’s juniors in general, and Henry Li in particular.

Full results – standings and cross-tables – for all three sections can be found here.  The tournament has already been rated by the ICU, and the gains and losses of rating points can be found on their website: Masters, Major, Minors.  We will put up photos of the prize-winners, and some games from the top section, shortly.

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