Kieran Cranny was an extraordinary man with many interests and a broad set of hobbies. But we knew him as a chess player. I’d like to present just two games as a small tribute to Kieran the chess player.
One game is recent, one from a while back. They both represent very well his style – very positional, closed openings, but with a very sharp tactical awareness too. Kieran was very fond of his rules – “always look for checks”, “watch out for the back rank” – and so on, which gave his play a solidity and strength. I know that I learnt a great deal from his chess wisdom, particularly in the period 1987-1991, when I was just starting out in the game. Above all else, he brought a calmness to his play – he never played too quickly or rushed his decisions. In the hard contests of chess tournaments this is a style worth duplicating.
The first game is one Kieran played at the height of his powers and features some neat tactics against fellow Rathmines regular, Joe Flood.
Kieran Cranny vs. Joe Flood
Ennis Shield, March 1981.
Queen’s Gambit Declined
You can replay the game here in a new window…
1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Bd3 Nbd7 7. O-O dxc4 8. Bxc4 c5 9. Nc3 cxd4 10. exd4 Nb6 11. Bd3 Nbd5
White takes on an isolated pawn, while black relies on blockading the square in front of it. This is a very natural result of the Queen’s Gambit Declined opening.
12. Rc1 b6 13. Nxd5 Nxd5 14. Bxe7 Qxe7 15. Re1 Bb7 16. Be4 Rac8 17. Qb3 Rc7 18. Rxc7 Qxc7 19. Qd3 h6 20. Nd2 Rc8 21. Qf3 Qd6 22. a3 Rc7 23. Nb1 f5 24. Bxd5 Bxd5 25. Qe2 Qf4
Right up to this point, both sides have played well. It is absolutely even now. But black is tempted by the d4 pawn – naturally weak because it is isolated – and fails to spot a simple knight fork.
26. Nc3 Qxd4? 27. Nb5 Bc4?
Just compounding the mistake by going a full piece down, rather than just losing the exchange.
The rest of the game is an efficient mopping-up operation. Kieran’s endgame skills were high and he rarely missed a chance to finish a won game off.
28. Nxd4 Bxe2 29. Nxe2 Rf7 30. b3 e5 31. Kf1 g5 32. Rc1 Rd7 33. Ke1 Rd3 34. Rc3 Rd5 35. g3 g4 36. f4 gxf3 37. Rxf3 e4 38. Re3 Kf7 39. Rc3 Kf6 40. h4 Ke5 41. Kf2 Rd2 42. Ke3 Rd5 43. Nf4 Rd6 44. Rc7 a6 45. Rc8 1-0
(I’d like to thank Joe for unearthing this game from 1981 – and all in the most perfect writing imaginable!)
The second game is one he played more recently, in 2004. It was played during his winning of the Rathmines Intermediate Championships of that year, a considerable achievement. I was just coming back into chess after a long layoff, but was still the favourite to win the game, based on my rating, which was around 1570 or so.
Kieran Cranny vs. Tony Scannell.
Rathmines Intermediate Championships, 2004.
Replay the game here in a separate window.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. e3 cxd4 5. exd4 Bb4 6. Bd2 O-O 7. a3 Be7 8. Nf3 a6
A slow opening, typical of Kieran’s steady, positional style. I have always found it difficult to play against Kieran’s style and this is no exception.
9. h3 b6 10. Be2 Bb7 11. O-O d5 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 Bxd5 14. Be3 Nd7 15. Rc1 f5 16. Bf4 Rc8
Black decides to let the a pawn go for dubious compensation.
17. Bxa6 Rxc1 18. Qxc1 Bxf3 19. gxf3 Qa8 20. Be2 Rc8 21. Qe3 Qd5
Black has active pieces for the pawn. White has a broken kingside and it is this black is hoping to exploit.
22. Qd3 Bf6 23. Be3 Nb8 24. Qb5 Qd6 25. Qa4 f4 26. Rc1
This is a lovely intermediate move from Kieran that challenges the c-file – much better than just withdrawing the bishop. This is a good example of Kieran’s calm style.
26…Rd8 27. Bd2 Bxd4
Material is even. Black has shattered the white kingside and has pressure on the d-file. But he has a badly placed knight, while white has two bishops and active major pieces. Chances are about even at this point.
28. Bc3 28. e5 29. Qd1 Nc6 30. Qf1 Bxc3 31. Rxc3 Nd4
Black has put his knight on a great central square and has much the better chances now.. But white has counterplay, as he shows quite well. Black needed to concentrate his attentions on the kingside, probing for weaknesses. He instead goes hunting for pawns on the queenside…which backfires.
32. Rc1 Qg6+ 33. Kh2 Qf6 34. Rc3 g6 35. Ba6 Kg7 36. Bb7 Kh6 37. Be4 Rd6 38. Rd3 b5 39. Qe1 Rb6 40. Kg2 Ne6 41. Kh2 Ng5 42. Qg1 b4 43. a4 b3 44. Qg4 Ra6
Black has drifted into a planless middle game, trying to chase shadows on the queenside and moving his king around to h6 (it baffles me now to look at what I was doing…) while white has focused on counterattacking the black king. Kieran shows lots of patience and no little skill in punishing black’s play. Right now, white is totally winning.
45. Qh4+ Kg7 46. Rd7+ Kf8 47. Qh6+ Ke8 48. Rb7 Rd6 49. Rxb3 Rd2 50. Kg2 Qd6?
Black has set a little trap – but it was actually a huge blunder. Better was Nxe4, when black disposes of the bishop and then sets up the winning trap on the next move with Qd8… Now, white should just play Qxg5! when he should win comfortably (the queen is well-placed to defend the king, as well as just winning a clear piece.) The move played looks strong, but only draws to the sneaky trap, which now happens.
51. Qg7? Rxf2+
Sneaky! Pulls the king out for a perpetual. At this stage, black has got desparate. It is a pity for Kieran, otherwise he would have won in fine style.
52. Kxf2 Qd2+ 53. Kf1 Qd1+ 54. Kg2 Qe2+ 55. Kh1 (not Kg1?? when Nxh3+ suddenly mates in a few moves!) Qf1+ Agreed drawn by perpetual
Kieran won the Intermediates that year. He would have won it even more comfortably if I hadn’t found that drawing trap in this well-played game of his. At age almost 80, he showed that he still had tremendous chess ability and a will to win.
On a purely chess note, I (and I know many others too) owe so much to Kieran. My style when I first met him (I was rated only about 1000 at the time) was erratic and clumsy. In many patient, informal lessons, Kieran showed me how to count the pieces attacking my own pieces, how to look out for back rank mates, or spot a knight fork before it happened. I learnt so much from Kieran – and it was freely given. He was generous to a fault in giving of his time and energy to new members in the club. May he rest in peace.