Some of Kieran’s Games

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

After 25…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.

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2 Responses to Some of Kieran’s Games

  1. John burns says:

    I can only find three games that I played against Kieran, and surprisingly all of them were victories. Actually, maybe that’s not surprising – I clearly threw away the score sheets when he beat me. As he surely did.

    But I won’t remember Kieran for the chess games he played. It will be more for the ambience that he brought to the club. The spirit of Rathmines chess club, at least in the 80s and 90s, has died with him. He was literally the heart and soul of the place. Particularly in his later years, why he came down was for the social element, to see familiar faces, to have a quick chat. He was a big fan of the newspaper I write for, and was always very generous in his comments about my work. They were genuine compliments, too, but then he was a very genuine man.

    And how am I going to repay him? By printing a game in which I beat him in less than 30 moves. But bear with me – there’s a sting in the tail.

    [Date 3/9/1992]

    [White J Burns]
    [Black K Cranny]

    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 Bb7 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. Nc3 c5 8. d5
    exd5 9. cxd5 d6 10. O-O Re8 11. e4 Nbd7 12. Re1 Ne5 13. Nd2 Nd3 14. Re3 Nxc1
    15. Rxc1 a6 16. a4 Bf8 17. Nc4 Qc7 18. f4 Nd7 19. Qe2 g6 20. e5 dxe5 21. fxe5
    Bg7 22. d6 Qb8 23. Nd5 Bxd5 24. Bxd5 Ra7 25. e6 fxe6 26. Bxe6+ Kh8 27. Bxd7 Rxd7??
    An uncharacteristic error by Kieran, particularly at this stage in his career. About five years ago he told me that he could no longer keep “blunders” out of his play, and found them so frustrating that he wouldn’t take on a serious game any more. He wasn’t sad about that, more philosophical. Which was only right – how many of us will still be playing to his standard at the age of 75?

    Anyway, he should have played 27… Rxe3 here and then he’s winning. I must reply 28. Nxe3 (28. Qxe3?? Bd4) and then 28… Rxd7 29. Nc4 Bd4+ 30. Kg2 b5
    31. axb5 axb5 32. Ne5 Qb7+ 33. Nf3 Rxd6 and Black should be able to convert.

    Instead, 28. Rxe8+ 1-0

    Never mind, Kieran. I’m sure some day you will have your revenge in the great chess club in the sky. In the meantime, may you rest in peace.

  2. Darren McCabe says:

    The very first night i went to Rathmines Chess Club i didnt know what to expect. I knew there were lots of strong players there and if im honest was a little afraid of them. I sat down and watched a few games. I was then tapped on the shoulder, i turned around and seen a big was Kieran. He asked me did i want to play and so we did. He beat me 3 times in a row. I think he could sense my nervousness because after the 3rd game he said “Don’t be afraid to attack me! It’s better to go down fighting rather than let someone walk over you! Don’t be afraid to lose!”. This bit of advice has had a huge effect on the way i play. Everytime i sit down at the board……this memory always flashes through my mind and it always inspires me to play my best. Theres no doubt in my mind that if i hadnt received this piece of advice, i would not be as strong a player today. I wasn’t the only player Kieran helped. There would be many a night when i’d arrive into the club to see him sitting down and helping his club mates. Always full of chat and always wearing a smile, he made everyone feel welcome in the club. I think we are all very lucky and privileged to have known such a nice man.Thank you so much Kieran. Rest in Peace.

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