In Vino Veritas

by Alina l'Ami
2/28/2015 – The Bunratty Open in Ireland is a tournament chess globetrotter Alina l'Ami did not want to miss. It has the right ingredients for an entertaining and delightful chess tournament, the competition is strong, the players are cheerful, the games creative, and inspired, often by the free-flowing Guinness. But if you are not careful, Bunratty holds surprising dangers.

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Bunratty - a place for cheerful chess

As a woman chess player, I feel at times that playing chess is like baking a cake: you need to have all the right ingredients in the right proportion. Since, like many others, I am a big fan of the good-old-days-family-recipes, I would throw into my black&white masterpiece a spoonful of art, a dash of science and an ounce of sports – that would, hopefully, create the perfect karpovian mixture for success. As simple as that. But I am still facing a dilemma: how many swashbuckling attacks or brash piece sacrifices should I add? Would it be better to have a surgical approach and emphasize the technical mastery or the theoretical preparation? How many km should I run to keep my body fit for the, possibly, six hours of intense neurons' struggle on the board?

I need a scale, fast!

Adventures in Ireland - Alina l'Ami

As difficult it might be finding a right balance (if you did, let me know), it is not enough; timing is crucial, too, as are the fashion waves that changed the character of chess in its deepest core. If in the Romantic days, the artistic expression prevailed, when winning was not the point but winning in style (who doesn't know the Immortal Game?!), the modern times would give you less opportunities in reinventing the wheel, since the dot on the I has changed: competitiveness and scoring, proving yourself rather than expressing yourself. With all these computers flooding the chess scenes, I bet one would be reluctant, or at least hesitant, to employ certain lines or Gambits of the Golden bygone chess days. So correct me if I am wrong, but it feels like chess is now more of a mixture of science and sports, while its artistic side became more of an abstract nature, more pleasing to a trained eye. And there is nothing wrong with that, the earth keeps on spinning, everything evolves, changes, transfigures, including chess. But...

What if you are like me, an ambivalent nature, craving to play the moves that I like, instead of the objective ones, but fearing the elo rating chains will haunt me?

What if you are like me, equipped with a rather small space on the “hard drive” allotted to chess openings (although it has a huge area for non important details) and wishing that at least once in a while all the theory would be erased, so we could start our brilliancy as early as on move two?!

What if you are like me, looking back upon with great nostalgia, not only for the spectacular chess but for the Bohemian lifestyle that prevailed in those times? Just imagine smoking at the board or bringing your cat to the game, like Alekhine did... I assume that would be nowadays as forbidden as having a cell phone in your pockets.

Alexander Alekhine and his cat

What if... OK, we may not be able to resurrect the entire Romantic Age but is it still possible to relive the spirit of the era and its adrenaline-pumping high, without worrying too much about what is at stake or the consequences of too creative play?

Yes, it is! And that is precisely the reason why the Bunratty Chess festival is the largest in Ireland, the reason why more than 350 players come here every February to play in the various groups, according to their rating and aims (including a round-robin tournament offering the possibility of achieving GM and IM norms), all of them practicing their favourite game at a non-stop pace. This special tournament in Bunratty is so popular that the dates for 2016 and 2017 editions are already known, while for 2018, the organizers will announce them in only ten days from now!?! Not to mention that chess lovers came all the way from USA or Australia only for this single weekend, including Wesley So!

Wesley came all the way from USA only for a true Irish weekend! And he did enjoy it, he won
everything he could win and now he is ready for the US championship.

To the brains lost somewhere deep in the computer jungle, the Bunratty tournament offers the chance of reviving the artistic aspect of chess: the games are not rated (exception makes the closed tournament for norms, obviously), the atmosphere is very relaxed and, since intense brain activity tends to dehydrate, pints of Irish Stouts, Ales or Lagers can easily be spotted next to the chess boards, providing additional inspiration; and the more the chess players create, the higher their dehydration, as if the change of climate on the planet brought in Ireland a Saharian desert and an endless thirst...

After the announcement of the basic rules such as the time control, the first question was: "what time does the bar close?" This caused general hilarity and the tournament director's answer even more: “when the last customer leaves”. The players started the 1st round with smiling faces, free of inhibitions, which is precisely what the organizers are aiming for. The tournament looks more like a non-stop feast and if you wonder what they are actually celebrating - it is chess itself!

Some may argue that it is not the Romantic kind of air that lures the players in but rather the alcohol consumption. This superficial feeling of low seriousness seems, at a first glance, to be sustained by the tweets of some of the 2015 edition's favourites:

Gawain Jones: "Arrived at @BunrattyCastle hotel. Taking it seriously this year so arriving a day early to acclimatise. See you in the bar!" or:

Nigel Short: "At the famous drinking tournament of Bunratty, Ireland. What the hell is Wesley So doing here?"

But my personal perception is that these jokes emphasize the essential: the players feel very well here and they will always return. This tournament has the unique virtue of taking one back in time, when you could create, experiment, daring to play like Anderssen, Blackburne or Morphy, while enjoying your... Murphy's :) Obviously, Gambits were always in the pipeline, being it the Four Pint Gambit or a more modest Two Pint, if we are talking about the 9 am games. By the time the 3rd round of the day would take place, some players would reach the peak of their creativity, producing some really entertaining games!

Alexander Baburin (left) getting in shape for the first round of the day, starting as early as 09.30!
No, he is not going to take a stout, ale or lager but a coffee!

I wouldn't be surprised if the reader expected at least one incident to have taken place, given the circumstances. Very much to your “disappointment”...there was none! You know the saying: “What soberness conceals, drunkenness reveals” or, if you prefer the Latin version, “In Vino Veritas”. The Irish people and chess players alike proved to be nothing less than happy fellows!

And one last observation: I must admit, I didn't expect to see much preparation amongst these slaloms between play-eat-drink-play-drink-play-sleep-drink etc. But the players did have a look in the databases, they did briefly check their opponents, which stands once again as a proof that the entire Irish environment has been designed in such a way that chess would be celebrated. And how else would you revel if not with a pint of...Guinness?!

Ireland would not be Ireland without its unique... weather they call it, but after my recent experience I would rather say there is no proper word for what happens on this piece of land. I even wonder if meteorologists exist here and if they do, they probably work in research or something, because predicting the “weather” is like winning the lottery. But, I must say that “weather hazard” is indeed weather hazard, if the Irish say so. Coming from the Netherlands, where 1 cm of snow creates havoc, seeing this warning at the entrance of the famous touristic natural site, Cliffs of Moher, I thought “Yeah right, another silly super cautious advice. Nothing will stop me from bringing the CB readers a slice of Irish beauty, I will take my million dollar shot no matter what!” And oh boy what a price I paid for it!

Since I am very stubborn by nature, the twitter warning: “@CliffsofMoher1 25 mins Conditions at the Cliffs of Moher are very dangerous due to high winds. The visitor centre is closing -please do not visit today Mon 23 Feb” or the aforementioned red sign didn't stop me from my daring campaign.

Beautiful and dangerous: the cliffs of Moher

The winner of the tournament, Wesley So and Lotis joined me for a couple of meters but then wisely decided to return into the shelter. Yours truly did not... And there I was, weighing approx. 50 kg, together with my camera and lenses, but if you think that was enough to keep me on the ground, trust me, it was not! For 30 min I have been sequestered near the parapet, crouched in a squatting position, praying that the bloody winds will calm down at some point so I could take the shot and run away. I had several attempts to move on but every time it turned out to be a blunder: I fell, crawled, scrambled and even flew, literally flew (!!!) like in Star Trek, Star Wars, Mary Poppins or any SF movie, you name it!!

I am still under shock when I remember, although at that point my emotions were of a different nature; I was just amazed that I can fly! Looking back, it was dangerous, so don't follow my example, listen the warnings if they are Irish. I got a terrible cold in the process, almost lost my camera bag, which was constantly flying over my head (others did lose their belongings but I was constantly alert!), and got a hair style to remember...took half an hour to recompose my face :) When I finally managed to return, in one piece and with the camera, my only concern was...did I manage to get a decent shot or have I only destroyed it because of the constant water splashes which were kindly delivered by the... hum, should I call them strong winds?! Tornado is more appropriate.

The place of my daredevil Irish be honest, it was not so bad to fly and I learned
that back wind is usually giving you more speed:) Should I be then surprised that Harry Potter,
Dumbledore and the entire crew came to the Cliffs of Moher to shoot their scenes?!

But such a nice feeling I had when I told myself “mission accomplished”, although my dear friends became sick of worry... After my adventure we had a drive along the coast with a stopover at a typical Irish restaurant. We ordered the traditional fish (baked in Guinness of course!) and chips and oysters accompanied by the pints of Guinness... And yet, I do think of the many fascinating places I have heard of but didn't get the chance to visit so far, such as the castle in Limerick and the Newgrange, the latter being older than the Stonehenge and the pyramids...

But there may be enough time for that during the 2016, 2017, 2018 editions?

Final Table

Rank Name Score Rating TPR W-We 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 GM So, Wesley 5.0 2762 2723 -0.14 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½
2 GM Short, Nigel 4.5 2661 2535 -0.66 1 1 0 1 ½ 1
3 GM Pert, Nick 4.5 2562 2530 +0.02 1 ½ 1 0 1 1
4 GM Wells, Peter 4.5 2468 2620 +1.30 1 1 1 ½ ½ ½
5 GM Lalic, Bogdan 4.5 2450 2444 +0.18 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1
6 GM Jones, Gawain C. 4.0 2566 2481 -0.50 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½
7 GM Hebden, Mark 4.0 2547 2383 -0.97 1 1 0 0 1 1
8 GM Norwood, David 4.0 2502 2525 +0.35 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½
9 GM Baburin, Alexander 4.0 2427 2531 +0.97 1 1 1 ½ 0 ½
10 IM Rendle, Thomas 4.0 2378 2331 -0.17 1 0 1 ½ ½ 1
11 IM Bates, Richard 4.0 2349 2491 +1.16 1 0 1 1 ½ ½
12 IM Pein, Malcolm 4.0 2344 2196 -0.87 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1
13 IM L'Ami, Alina 3.5 2392 2394 +0.13 1 0 1 1 ½ 0
14 FM Smith, Andrew P. 3.5 2223 2266 +0.27 1 0 ½ 1 1 0
15 O'Donnell, Conor 3.5 2130 2145 +0.09 1 0 0 ½ 1 1
16 Moran, Stephen 3.5 1995 2236 +1.86 ½ 0 1 0 1 1
17 Bourached, Anthony 3.5 1963 2193 +1.39 + 0 ½ 1 0 1
18 IM Heidenfeld, Mark 3.0 2369 2250 -0.75 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 0
19 FM Fitzsimons, David 3.0 2321 2361 +0.27 1 ½ ½ 0 1 0
20 FM Short, Philip 3.0 2257 2165 -0.68 0 1 1 0 1 0
21 Allen, Keith 3.0 2220 2203 -0.24 ½ 1 0 1 0 ½
22 Larisch, Rolf 3.0 2155 2079 -0.67 1 0 ½ 0 1 ½
23 Quinn, Rory 3.0 2069 2262 +1.40 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½
24 Fox, Anthony 3.0 2024 2098 +0.42 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ +
25 Tunka, Philipp 3.0 2017 2278 +1.82 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0
26 Hayes, Peter J. 3.0 2000 2185 +1.40 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0
27 Benson, Oisin P. 3.0 1968 2158 +1.00 0 + 1 ½ 0 ½
28 Walton, Alan 2.5 2129 2217 +0.45 1 1 0 0 0 ½
29 Van Der Zwet, Bart 2.5 2118 2073 -0.53 0 ½ 1 0 1 0
30 O'Connor, Jonathan 2.5 2106 2042 -0.67 0 ½ ½ 0 1 ½
31 CM MacElligott, Gerard 2.5 2080 2084 -0.17 0 1 0 0 1 ½
32 Pahor, Milos 2.5 2068 2047 -0.30 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½
33 Murray, David B. 2.5 2041 2082 +0.23 0 ½ 0 1 0 1
34 Ackley, Peter 2.5 2030 2079 +0.29 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½
35 Doyle, Hugh 2.5 1981 2069 +0.64 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½
36 Moynihan, Kieran 2.0 2094 1956 -1.06 0 ½ ½ = ½ 0
37 Cafolla, Peter 2.0 2045 2055 -0.06 0 ½ 1 0 0 ½
38 Harding, Tim 2.0 2026 1970 -0.42 0 0 ½ = 0 1
39 Fehr, Jukka 2.0 2003 2086 +0.51 1 0 ½ 0 0 ½
40 WNM Chevannes, Sabrina 1.5 2171 1756 -1.58 = = ½ 0 0 -
41 Denger, Phillipp 1.5 2088 1966 -1.12 0 1 0 ½ 0 0
42 Rawlinson, Aidan 1.5 2084 1915 -1.43 0 0 ½ 0 0 1
43 Wolferink, Frans 1.0 2084 1836 -1.92 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0
44 Thee, Bernd 1.0 1994 1816 -1.24 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0




The excellent hotel; no wonder it has in its name the word "Castle"

"Bad weather always looks worse through a window" and if it is really impossible to get out:
"We may have bad weather in Ireland, but the sun shines in the hearts of the people
and that keeps us all warm."- Irish wisdom

Last day fiesta: wonderful time with our perfect Irish guide, Wesley So and
Lotis - don't try oysters in Ireland, you won't be able to stop ordering them...

Hey! That's my Guinness, Wesley! And by the way, what seems to be a rather simple fish
and chips dish, it was more than that - the fish was prepared in...Guinness, of course, what else?!

Good things come to those who wait...another Irish classic, but to be able to properly understand this saying,
you should know that around the famous Guinness is an entire philosophy, in fact it is a cult: how to pour it,
how long to wait until it settles, how to even drink it! (check my previous report from last year, I remember I was truly impressed:)

The main question a chess player has: who is my opponent?

With so many games in a short period of time...

... chess players could be seen...

... from early morning until late evening...

...everywhere around and in the hotel.

Playing at 09.15 on Sunday is not a picnic...

Peter Wells: joint 2nd / 5th with Nigel Short, Nick Pert & Bodgan Lalic

Wesley's biggest supporter, Lotis, who has a magic
wand, making everyone feel wonderful around her.

IM from Iceland, Bjorn Thorffinsson, who won the closed GM/IM group and got a GM norm as well

Justin Tan from Australia was the 2nd player to score a norm in the closed group: an IM one.

Number one of Ireland: IM Sam Collins

GM Luis Galego from Portugal

The playing hall for the closed GM event was very inspiring

French GM Sebastien Maze

GM Mark Hebden, a regular in Bunratty

Wesley So

Bogdan Lalic who shared second place, also a regular in the Irish scenes

GM Alexander Baburin

Nigel explaining how he is going to crush everybody in the World Senior Chess Championship from Dresden.

But first he had to pass the Alina l'Ami test...he almost failed:)) 

A very popular weekend among children as well

A big pen collection turns out to be necessary...what if the game will go on for hundreds of moves?

The warm and delicate Margit from Estonia, who is a regular arbiter in many major FIDE events.

Time for the "main" event in Bunratty: the Blitz!! There were several groups, from which one person
could qualify and then it continued with knock out system; in the final, the protagonists were: Wesley So and Gawain Jones

 It started like a friendly, smiles etc. I should also mention that Gawain had played
all his games with black and he got black again! (the colours were drawn for each and single game
and Gawain was...perhaps lucky to get the dark colour?!)

 Huge audience of course; the tables turned out to be very handy for the public:)

No more gloves nor mercy, time for the real fight! Since the first game ended in a draw,
a second one was required by the public....for the first time, Gawain got white but...not a good colour; Wesley won the blitz as well!

There is no better moment than getting the trophy

May the luck of the Irish be with you!

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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