A UNIQUE tournament in the global chess world takes place in Bunratty next weekend.
The 22nd annual Bunratty International Chess festival kicks off at the Bunratty Castle Hotel takes place between next Friday, February 20 and Sunday, February 22.
Back in 1993, the tournament had just 62 participants.
But under the tutelage of the same dedicated committee, this has grown more than five-fold to well over 350 competitors this year.
This will include visitors to the region from Australia, the US, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain.
There will also be several grand-masters present, including the world number seven, Wesley So, 21, who represents the USA, but hails from the Philippines.
Gerry Graham, the tournament controller, who hails from Castletroy, says: “We are fairly unique in one sense, because on the world stage, the biggest national tournaments are FIDE-rated. FIDE is the world governing body of chess. But we don’t allow that. When the professionals come here, they are not risking their professional rating. They come here to have a jar, and enjoy themselves. They can let their hair down a bit.”
For young and less experienced players, there is also the attraction of seeing more experienced players up close, and taking risks, because the pressure is off somewhat, he added. And they could even end up playing a grandmaster, due to the nature of the open draw.
Former city councillor Diarmuid Scully, the PRO of the competition, said: “Literally, you could be sitting opposite a grand master, taking him on in a short game. For young people, it is great, as you can literally see your heroes up close, in the flesh. Some of the top chess players in the world enjoying themselves, and taking some risks.”
There are four separate competitions taking part at the two day festival, including challenge events, and tournaments tailored to major and minor players.
But all eyes will be on the Masters round for elite players.
For this is where a little bit of history could be made, when Irish chess number one Sam Collins, 33, could secure grandmaster status.
In doing so, the Dun Laoghaire-based player will become the first Irishman to hold this distinction.
For the organising committee, arranging the Bunratty International Chess Festival represents a labour of love.
Indeed, outline planning for the 23rd festival in February 2016 will start in earnest as soon as this year’s event is completed.
Mr Scully said in the evening, the festival takes on a more celebratory note.
He said: “Once the chess boards are put away, the guitars come out. It is a fantastic fun weekend. It has a very positive impression, and this is shown as people come back year after year”.
The tournament is also broadcast online to an audience of millions.
For more information, visit www.bunrattychess.com, or telephone 087-6820105.