HAVANA OLYMPIAD 1966

by Paul Cassidy

The Havana Chess Olympiad 1966 was, by common consent, the most memorable of all the Olympiads. I was fortunate to be a member of the Irish team at the Olympiad.

Irish Team-Selection Method

The Irish Chess Union decided on the following method to select the Irish team:

(a) three automatic places were to be filled by ICU selection;

(b) the remaining three places were to be determined on the basis of the result of an eight player candidates tournament to be held over the Easter weekend 1966;

(c) seven automatic places in the candidates tournament were to be selected by the ICU. The eighth and final place in the tournament was to be filled in the following way: (i) a preliminary mini tournament between three selected Leinster players; (ii) the winner of that tournament to play a two-game match against a selected Munster player; (iii) the winner of the match to qualify for the candidates tournament. I was one of the Leinster players selected for this cycle.

In the event, one of the players selected (I think it was Michael Littleton) to fill the automatic places on the Irish team was unable to play. The other two automatic choices were Wolfgang Heidenfeld, many times Irish Champion, and Brian Reilly, who had played on a number of Irish Olympiad teams and who had beaten grandmaster Reuben Fine at the 1935 Warsaw Olympiad.

Preliminary Tournament and Match

The other players in the preliminary Leinster tournament were Barney 0’Sullivan and Brian Canton. I won that tournament by beating Barney O’Sullivan and drawing with Brian Canton after a 74-move struggle where I was clearly inferior for much of the game and perhaps lost at one stage.

I then beat Liam Spillane of Munster 1.5 to 0.5 in the match to obtain the final place in the candidates tournament.

 

Candidates Tournament

The other seven players in the candidates tournament, who had been selected automatically by the ICU, were Ray Cassidy, Eamonn Keogh, PJ Murphy and Donal Deiseach of Leinster and John Moles, Eugene O’Hare and Brian Kerr of Ulster.

The candidates tournament took place over the Easter weekend, 8 to 11 April inclusive. In the first round, I was fortunate enough to draw with Black against Eugene O’Hare but I then played what I consider to be one of the best games of my career against John Moles, who won the Irish Championship later that year, in the second round. This game is given below.

 

A generous resignation but Black was lost.

Before I played 45 Qc5 I had to work out that the complications and exchanges after 45….. Rac8 would favour White. Not too easy in a situation of high tension and where the game was resumed on move 41 after a very short luncheon adjournment.

After I beat Moles I had three draws against Ray Cassidy, PJ Murphy, and Brian Kerr. The games against Cassidy and Kerr were short draws but I gained a significant opening advantage as Black in a Sicilian Najdorf against Murphy and should have played on. I later won relatively easily as Black from the exact same position in an Armstrong Cup game.

This left me on 3 points from 5 rounds with Donal Deiseach to play next. In my pre-tournament planning, I had counted on a win against Donal, especially as I was White. I was his bogey opponent. He had never beaten me and had often messed up very good and sometimes winning positions against me.

I duly beat Deiseach and now, as one of the joint leaders, I had to face my own bogey opponent Eamonn Keogh in the final round. Even at that time, I had never done well against him (the situation has got worse since then and I have only beaten him once in nearly sixty years!).

So, I approached the last round with a good deal of trepidation. I was Black and I needed something from the game to stay in contention for the Irish team. In the event, things turned out very well. I held my own in the opening against the Vienna game and then found a not too obvious Queen sacrifice for Rook and Bishop which gave me an advantage and at worst a forced repetition of moves. I opted for the latter as I did not wish to take any risks. Wolfgang Heidenfeld, who was watching the game, thought the sacrifice was quite original. Here is the game:

The final standings in the tournament were Ray Cassidy, Eamonn Keogh, Brian Kerr and I on 4.5 points; John Moles 3.5 points; P J Murphy 3 points; Donal Deiseach 2 points; and Eugene O’Hare 1.5 points.

I remember sitting in the pub with Ray Cassidy and Eamonn Keogh on the Easter Monday evening after the final round of the tournament had finished. We knew each other well from team tournaments and various chess events in Dublin and, indeed, from the poker school in which we were all members! At that stage we were not sure how the ICU would respond to the withdrawal of one of their automatic choices, ie, whether they would make another automatic selection (in which case they would have to pick three of the four joint winners of the candidates tournament and leave one out) or select the whole four. We did not really care that night. We were all simply relieved to have successfully got through such an arduous tournament. I was particularly delighted to have also come through a tough qualification process to finish equal first in the tournament.

In the event, the ICU selected the four joint winners of the candidates tournament for the Irish team. So, I was going to represent my country in the Cuban Olympiad at the age of 24! It was a really proud moment for me.

The Irish Team

The Irish team in board order was

Wolfgang Heidenfeld, Ray Cassidy, Eamonn Keogh, Brian Reilly, Brian Kerr and I. The team made page 9 of the Irish Times!