Our Armstrong Cup campaigns over recent years have tended to struggle to avoid relegation and we normally finish in the lower half of the table. Could this year be different? Our team was similar to the previous year with one addition: Utkarsh Gupta who is one of the strongest Irish juniors. This gain was counterbalanced by our number 1 player Tom O’Gorman studying abroad which meant that he could only play in one match in the season.
A Good Start
The season got off to a good start with a 6-2 win over Dublin University. We were helped somewhat by our opponents only turning up with 4 players, but still an excellent start. However, we then lost in round 2 and 3 to strong Elm Mount and Kilkenny teams. Narrow, but nevertheless important, wins against St. Benildus B and Bray followed in rounds 4 & 5 and meant that we were in a healthy looking 6th place mid-table position at the Christmas break as shown in the table below.
|2||St Benildus A||5||0||26 ½|
|3||Elm Mount||5||0||26 ½|
|6||Dun Laoghaire||5||0||19 ½|
|7||Dublin University||5||0||19 ½|
|9||Bray / Greystones||5||0||16 ½|
|12||St Benildus B||5||1||11|
New year blues
Our 1st 3 matches in the new year were against 3 of the stronger teams. We lost heavily against Dublin and Gonzaga. Noteworthy were the 2 impressive draws by Utkarsh against highly rated Carl Jackson of Gonzaga and Shane Melaugh of Elm Mount. The 3rd of the matches resulted in a narrow defeat by 3.5 – 4.5 to St. Benildus A, with Peter Jackson and Sergey Beryozkin scoring nice wins against much higher rated opponents.
The final run in
Our final 3 matches were against teams in the lower half of the table. The 1st of these against Balbriggan resulted in a slightly disappointing 5.2 – 2.5 defeat. This meant that we needed to finish with 2 good results against Rathmines and Curragh. At the back of our minds was the possibility of Curragh bringing in their 3 Spaniards if they were within touching distance of us going into the last round.
The Rathmines match was thus a tense affair. The 1st 5 games to finish left the score at 2.5 each. The remaining games looked somewhat worse for us. However John Gibson closed out his game impressively – he always had an advantage but it got quite complicated and double-edged towards the end. Then Paul Cassidy used his vast experience and endgame knowledge to force a draw in a difficult Q + B ending. Finally, Seamus Duffy completed an amazing turn around in a game where he was always worse right from the opening but got on top late on in a rook and pawn ending to give us another point.
The 5-3 win left us far enough ahead of Curragh going into the last round (7 points) to feel reasonably comfortable, even if they were to play their foreign contingent. Curragh needed a 7.5 – 0.5 win to overtake us, or a 7-1 win to force a relegation play-off (due to the 4 walkovers we received in round 1).
As it was Curragh fielded their normal team and we won the match well by 6-2. This took us up to 40 points and in fact, our highest Armstong finish for some years in 6th place.
It was a great team effort with all players contributing important points and half points during the season. The highest scorers were John Gibson, an Armstrong stalwart for many years and Utkarsh in his 1st Armstrong season. Both played impressively throughout the season. Another important contribution came from the substitutes from our Heidenfeld team.
We can look forward with confidence to next year’s Armstrong Cup campaign.
Armstrong Cup Captain,
Dun Laoghaire Chess Club.