The Six Nations Tournament took place over the Easter weekend 3 – 7 April at the Complexe DOJO/Echecs in Gonfreville l’Orcher, near Le Havre in northern France. The Six Nations is a biennial friendship event hosted in turn by the participating countries. The nations usually taking part are Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Due to the withdrawal of Switzerland, Ireland was asked to provide a team to take their place. Having had the great pleasure of participating on three previous occasions, we had no hesitation in answering the call. The team selected was, in Board Order: Philip Doyle, Michael Delaney, Ernie McElroy and Eamonn Casey. As guides we had Margaret O’Shea, Noreen Cleary and Fionnuala Ní Bhrádaigh. Fionnuala and Michael’s almost 2-year old daughter Laoise completed the party.
We arranged our arrival for a day early because of the high cost of Air tickets available for Good Friday. On the afternoon of Thursday, April 2, we all met up at Dublin Airport to take our flight to Paris. From there we proceeded to Saint Lazare railway station to continue our journey to Le Havre. Despite nearly missing the connection, everything went to plan which was in no small measure due to Fionnuala’s decisive actions and fluent French. We reached our destination by 9.15 where we were met by the Organiser Cyrille Vaugeois and a colleague who drove us to the Hotel Campanile. Here we were served a very welcome 3-course meal with steak and chips which revived us no end.
On Friday evening, there was a reception in the sports complex with Champaign and canapés hosted by the Mayor of Gonfreville who welcomed the teams and presented each player with a gift of a bag containing local specialities. This was followed by a meeting of team Captains to discuss the tournament. The scoring system would be match points rather than board points. The arbiter would be International arbiter Benjamin Marret, dubbed “The Sheriff” on account of his badge.
In the first of two matches on the Saturday, our opponents were France, the defending Champions, and here we lost heavily. I was outplayed by Adrien Hervais. Michael got into time trouble and lost to Olivier Deville. Ernie lost to Bertrand Catherine, But Eamonn spared our blushes with a draw on Board 4 against Bernard Sojka. This result placed us in joint last with Belgium behind the Netherlands. Round 1 results: Ireland-France, 0.5-3.5; Netherlands-United Kingdom, 1.5-2.5; Belgium-Germany, 0.5-3.5.
In the afternoon we came up against the Netherlands. After my opponent, Sergio Harnandan, gifted me a Pawn in the opening, I greedily grabbed another which got me into all sorts of trouble and in no time I was lost. Michael and Ernie steadied the ship with creditable draws while Eamonn went down to Jan Boer. Round 2 results: France-Germany, 2-2; Ireland-Netherlands, 1-3; United Kingdom-Belgium, 1-3.
Just one round was played on the Sunday and our opponents were Belgium. I had another bad start, this time against Didier Dalschaert but soon gained the upper hand and when I
doubled my Rooks on the seventh rank, it was inevitable that something would give and soon after I won a Pawn and eventually the game. Michael and Ernie had draws against Herman Yennen and Ava Vandekerchove the only woman in the Tournament. Eamonn lost but overall the result was a good one, earning us our first match point. At this stage France and Germany were neck and neck ahead on five match points. Round 3: Netherlands-France, 1-3; Ireland-Belgium, 2-2; Germany-United Kingdom, 2.5-1.5.
In the afternoon, there was a trip to a Norman distillery where we learned the secrets of distilling cider and the famous calvados apple brandy. We also sampled drinks including one flavoured with whiskey.
Next day was Monday when we played the last two rounds. First we came up against the powerful Germans and suffered a disastrous 4-0 whitewash. By contrast, France could only draw with the UK, thus slipping a match point behind Germany. Round 4: France-United Kingdom, 2-2; Ireland-Germany, 0-4; Netherlands-Belgium, 3-1.
In the final round Ireland played the UK. Eamonn got us off to a great start with a win against phil Gordon. Then Ernie lost to Mark Kirkham who was having a great Tournament. Steve Hilton had me all bottled up but after he exchanged his Bishop for my Knight the game opened up and soon after I won a Pawn and the endgame. Michael’s opponent, Les Whittle, blundered a Knight and went on to lose giving us a satisfying victory. Our defeat of the UK made up for all that had gone before and our party was elated with the result. Meanwhile, France was dropping another match point to Belgium, while the Germans were forging ahead with another whitewash this time against the Netherlands. Congratulations to Germany on their impressive win. Round 5 results: Belgium-France, 2-2; Germany-Netherlands, 4-0; Ireland-United Kingdom, 3-1.
Germany 9 match points.
United Kingdom 3.
The closing ceremony and prize giving took place in the main hall of the sports complex where we had played. This was followed by drinks and delicious finger food. The tournament was very enjoyable and playing conditions were perfect, plenty of room, nice temperature, very quiet. Food was really good and staff were very friendly. Noreen proposed giving them a tip which they were delighted with and came around and gave us all a kiss. Erny suggested we give them another tip!!!!!
After breakfast next morning, we set out on our journey home. Once again everything went to plan thanks to one of the French team, Bernard Sojka, who guided us from Saint Lazare train station to our rail connection to the Airport. We arrived back in Dublin at about 6pm.