McShane bags Bunratty Masters 2019

by Gerry Graham
2/26/2019 – GM Luke McShane took top honours in the Masters group at the 26th Bunratty Chess Festival — the annual fun-filled tournament in Ireland held this year from February 22nd to 24th. Organiser GERRY GRAHAM gives a round-by-round account of the festivities. | Photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

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Bunratty Chess Festival 2019

The 26th Bunratty International Chess Festival kicked off on Friday evening, February 22nd, with 346 players spread across four sections, our second largest field ever.

The venue for this event is the beautiful Bunratty Castle Hotel, which has been the tournaments home since 2010. Not many of the players had time to enjoy its pool, spa and beauty treatments as the hectic schedule for the Bunratty includes one game Friday evening, three games on Saturday and two games on Sunday.

The beautiful venue for the Bunratty Chess Festival, the Bunratty Castle Hotel

The beautiful venue for the Bunratty Chess Festival, the Bunratty Castle Hotel

The Bunratty Chess Festival has to thank not only the lovely hotel which hosts the event, but also the main sponsor of the event, Blackthorne Transport's Gary O'Grady. Gary is not only our sponsor, he's also quite a strong chess player himself — his latest ECF rating had him as the second seed in the Challengers!

The top seeds in the Masters all seem to hail from the UK this year and, at 2689, this year's number one player was GM David Howell. As I noted in my opening speech, the last time David played Bunratty he was only half the height he is today (2003 I think, but I'm sure someone will correct me). We've long been asking David to return but the timing just never worked out...until this year. We were delighted to have such a high rated player top the seeds at this year's Masters.

David Howell

A much taller David was back in Bunratty | Photo: Gerry Graham

Our second seed this year was our returning Bunratty Blitz Champion, Luke McShane (2663) who played a simultaneous chess display in Belfast the night before the event. This went very well, playing 30 or so opponents, losing one, drawing one and winning the rest. Luke McShane famously won the Bunratty Masters in 1998 in a Blitz playoff with John Nunn. As a 14-year-old at the time, he then had to catch a Sunday evening flight back to England to be in school for Monday morning!

Third seed and with a few Bunratty titles already to his credit was former World Chess Championship candidate, Nigel Short (2648) who's now a FIDE vice president and the only player to win a Bunratty Masters title on 6/6. Nigel played his first Bunratty in 2011 and has returned almost every year since. Nigel, in his "Short Stories" column in New in Chess kindly described the Bunratty Chess Festival as "The Rolls Royce of Chess Weekenders". We'll take that!

David Fitzsimons IM

Irish IM David Fitzsimons | Photo: Gerry Graham

There were certainly a few other titled players to challenge for the top honours, as the other grandmasters included Matthew Turner (winner of the recent strong Gonzaga International Masters) the famous "Ginger GM" Simon Williams, Alex Baburin, Mark Hebden, Bogdan Lalic and Peter Wells. There were also a few IMs to have their say, and these included Irish IMs Sam Collins, Alex Lopez, Mark Heidenfeld and Ireland's most recent IM, David Fitzsimons, English IMs Richard Bates, Adam Hunt and Malcolm Pein were also joining the hunt for the title of Bunratty Masters Champion.

Round 1 began at 8:00pm and, as usual, the top half of the 52 players in the Masters were pitted against the bottom half. And, as usual, there were a few "upsets", of which more anon.

On board 1, David Howell beat Guil Machin (France, 2161) in the following nice squeeze of a game:


Nigel Short also won a nice game against Stephen Moran (nicely avoiding a "Short" pun) while the Ginger GM got off to a winning start against Shane Melaugh:


Click or tap the second game to switch!

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While most games went according to seeding, three did not. Kieran Moynihan beat IM Alex Lopez, Peter Carroll beat IM Malcolm Pein while FM Gabriel Voiteanu from Romania beat GM Alex Baburin. In fairness, Gabriel played a very nice game at a level above his rating of 2121 might suggest:


Round 2 began at 9:30am on Saturday morning. Fitzsimons (pictured above) had White against our top seed, David Howell, and despite the more than 370 pints [SIC — presumably he meant points but beer is very much in abundance in Bunratty! -Ed.] in the difference between their ratings, things did not go as you might have expected.

Luke McShane was in a real tussle against Blair Connell on board 2, Blair had told me the night before that he was really looking forward to this game and he certainly gave it a good go, despite having a broken arm! You can see this game in the viewer below as well.


Click or tap the second game to switch!

Henry Li was facing Nigel Short on board 3 and Nigel was in no mood to let any fraction of a point slip:


Henry Li

Henry Li | Photo: Gerry Graham

However, on board 5, the Ginger GM himself had a bit of a setback, I'm afraid. In an exciting wild game, having Black against the young Irish FM, Tom O'Gorman he sacrificed material for attacking chances but Tom weathered the storm. This fascinating game actually features two under-promotions, you don't get that value for money every day!

On board 6, our unofficial PRO, Fiona Steil Antoni had white against Bogdan Lalic and managed to share the point. [Replay both below.]


Round 3 began on Saturday afternoon and there were a few bye requests to watch the Rugby, but not near the business end of the events. Our first all-GM clash happened on board 1 when Peter Wells was paired against McShane. And what an exciting game it was. You've got to feel for Peter in this game, he had Luke within his grasp, Luke admitted after the game that he was probably lost at some point, but it's not enough to get a winning position against these top guys, you also have to beat them! This was the game that got away for Mr. Wells.

David Howell got back to his winning ways in a fine game against Marijus Vicas (2324) while Nigel Short had a really nice win over Richard Bates.


Click or tap a game in the list to switch

This left the top boards draw for the fourth round in the Masters looking like this:

1 Luke McShane 2663 3 Nigel Short 2648 3
2 Matthew Turner 2519 3 David Howell 2689 2.5
3 Mark Hebden 2417 2.5 Mark Heidenfeld 2358 2.5

Simon Williams against Malcolm Pein were both fighting for a possible live board clash in the morning — a crack at the top seeds. Remember, the fourth round is the third round played in one day and before this round, a tired Nigel Short told me that there is a "special place in hell for the man that came up with the idea of three rounds in one day"! 


Nigel Short: Tired or remembering his prep? | Photo: Gerry Graham

GM Hebden came out on top in the clash of the 'Marks' on board 3 while Luke and Nigel drew on the top board but Matthew Turner vs David Howell on board 2 was a real clash of the Titans. Matthew was probably under a bit of pressure and David decided to "push" maybe a bit too hard for the full point.

The Ginger GM did beat Malcolm in this round while Blair Connell, who was having a great tournament up until this round, missed his chance to "finish off" IM Alex Lopez:


Click or tap a game from the list to switch

Mark Hebden

Mark Hebden, tournament warrior | Photo: Gerry Graham

Luke McShane

Luke McShane ready for round 4 | Photo: Gerry Graham

This left the 5th round pairings for the top boards looking like this:

1 Luke McShane 2663 3.5 Matthew Turner 2519 4
2 Nigel Short 2648 3.5 Mark Hebden 2417 3.5
3 Alex Lopez 2427 3 Adam Hunt 2397 3.5

McShane enjoyed his second White in a row on top board 1 and it really didn't go too well for him during the game. However, the ending was played by him using mostly the 15-second increment only and, as he admitted after the game, he was very lucky to survive it and even luckier to win this fascinating game.

It seemed to my untrained eye that Nigel was winning somewhere in his game against Hebden, but Mark managed to hold the ending to share the point.

Lopez and Adam Hunt also drew their encounter on board 3 while Howell proved far too strong for Ireland's newest FM, Henry Li.


This left McShane in front on his own on 4½ from 5 with 4 players tied on 4/5 in the chasing pack. The title of the Bunratty Masters Champion cannot be shared and if there is a tie for first place, we arrange a blitz playoff, (the same as with all the sections) and, of course, this was a possibility as long as Luke didn't win board 1 in the final round draw. You can see this final round top 3 boards pairing below:

1 Adam Hunt 2397 4 Luke McShane 2663 4.5
2 Matthew Turner 2519 4 Nigel Short 2648 4
3 Mark Hebden 2417 4 Simon Williams 2471 3.5

Matthew Turner's "reward" for his bad luck in the previous round was a meeting with Nigel Short and a relatively quick draw.

Matthew Turner

In the background, Adam Hunt and Luke McShane are set to decide the trophy | Photo: Gerry Graham

In the meantime, on board 3, a resurgent Mark Hebden managed to beat Simon Williams in a nice game with a pleasing finish:


39.Qxe8+! Ouch!

Fitzsimons beat Lopez in the final round, and Lalic also managed to overcome the resistance of Richard Bates.

Our top seed, David Howell beat Sam Collins on board 4, while on board 1, Adam and Luke fought to bare kings in an epic encounter:


All round 6 games

There was left a blitz playoff required to decide the destination of the trophy in both the Masters and the Minor. The Minor play-off was contested by Theo Wallace and Sean Horan and Theo won a closely fought game. The Masters playoff required three games as the first two were drawn. McShane beat Hebden and our 1998 champion won his second Bunratty trophy 21 years after his first!

Blitz playoff

Bunratty Blitz playoff, Bunratty style, with a nice pint by the player's side!

All Masters games


Prize Winners


  1. Luke McShane (with a blitz playoff victory)
  2. Mark Hebden
  3. Nigel Short
  4. Matthew Turner
  5. David Howell
  6. Adam Hunt
  7. Bogdan Lalic

Grading prizes were won by David Fitzsimons, Jonathan Pein and John McMorrow (Chairman of the Irish Chess Union).


  1. Ciaran Quinn
  2. Jonathan Peoples
  3. Luke Scott
  4. Stephen McQuillan

Grading prizes were won by Sean Murphy, Swenja Wagner and Ljubisa Cirkovic


  1. Muhd Khairil Asyr Khairil
  2. Erik Grindbakken
  3. Andrejs Kozlovz
  4. Tominslav Marosevic

Grading prizes were won by John Phelan, Patryk Brozynski, Eamon Casey and Jason Harris.


  1. Theo Wallace (in a blitz playoff)
  2. Sean Horan
  3. Ben Sheehan (also won grading section 1)
  4. Hayk Arshakyan (also won grading section 2)
  5. Eoin Harrington

Grading prizes were won by Iza Bujak, David Racz, Tadhg Holland, Adrain Gilmore and Andy Wagner.

Rogues Gallery

You'll find additional photos in the gallery at the top of the article!

Theo Wallace

Theo Wallace is the new Bunratty Minor Champion this year | Photo: Gerry Graham

Muhd Khairil

Muhd Khairil Asyr Khairil is the new Major Champion this year | Photo: Gerry Graham

  group photo

This is the last photo and my personal favourite, this rowdy bunch were the last in the bar on Sunday evening, do you recognise all the faces?

Dates for Bunratty 2020 are set for February 21st, 22nd and 23rd so mark your calendar now!

Source: icu.ue (republished with permission)


Gerry Graham is an International Arbiter and organizer.


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