Cormac and I had some great chess scraps over the years. We were always roughly the same strength, and perhaps this added the extra competitive edge to our games. We were also similarly unpredictable, both capable of playing well above and below par. Yet our own encounters had an even intensity and the outcome was usually in doubt until near the end. Thus there was the kind of unspoken bond typical enough among chess players, who tend to have favourite rivals, opponents who they know will make special demands on them and who become valued for that reason. After I joined Crumlin chess club in 1995, Cormac became valued as an off-the-board friend as well as a strong team colleague and sometime rival.
We were on the Crumlin team that won 2 Brannigans and 2 Armstrong Cups between 1995 and 1999. That period constitutes a second personal “Camelot” in terms of chess camaraderie – the first was with the Printers’ Chess club in the 70s and early 80s. I was especially pleased with the 97-98 Armstrong Cup win, a first for me after twenty-odd years of league chess. Cormac was a large part of the buzz of those years. After he left Crumlin to join Bray in 1999 we met as opponents again in three successive seasons (99, 00, 01). The rivalry was as intense as ever, especially as Bray were the other main challengers for the Armstrong Cup. Between 1999 and 2001, Cormac added 2 Armstrongs with Bray to his previous 2 with Crumlin, making it 4 in a row.
Thankfully, my contact with Cormac was not restricted to the world of chess. As I got to know him I came to appreciate other qualities. His generosity and empathy with those on the fringes of society was remarked on by his sister Emer in her funeral tribute. It emerged to some extent out of what she called (accurately) his “unconventional lifestyle”. Although he gave the odd “grind” he never bothered to utilise more productively his degree in applied maths, preferring a succession of odd jobs which included teaching chess on the school FAS scheme. Yet he managed to combine this lifestyle with a strong sense of responsibility, especially where his family were concerned, and he put in long hours in his final job as a taxi driver.
On a personal note, I must record Cormac’s generosity in 1998 when I was going through a lean financial spell and he put much needed work my way. It was security work on building sites, which I loved and still miss – all that free time to read and write and study. For a memorable period I covered a site with Cormac’s brother Peadar, an equally “unconventional” character with his own peculiar charms.
Others, no doubt, will have similar stories to tell, including the many who visited or stayed in his place in North Great George’s Street. It is hardly a state secret that this was a “squat”. It was also the site of typical Cormac hospitality over the years, and even a kind of asylum for some. (I recall one shy black female immigrant who took refuge there for a time). Cormac had occupied several rooms on the ground floor of this semi-derelict house. In recent years he had redecorated these rooms and made of the place a real home which he was usually happy to open to others. I attended many impromptu drinking parties and chess gatherings there, as well as his forty-fifth birthday party when he prepared a lavish culinary feast. For others who I met there briefly, or who passed through largely unknown to his friends, it must have seemed like a kind of oasis, the heart – and hearth – of a heartless world.
In the beginning, however, was chess; and to chess I now return. Below are our first and last games, framing a period of nearly twenty years. As it happens, he won both. The last game had a rather strange, though to me now symbolic conclusion, of which more anon.
Leinster Intermediate: 1983.
White: Cormac Brady. Black: Hugh Cummins
Ruy Lopez, Schliemann.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. d3 fe 5. de Nf6 6. O-O Bc5 7. Bg5 d6 8. Nc3 a6
9. Ba4 b5 10 .Bb3 Bg4 11. Bd5 Nd4!? 12 Bxa8 Qxa8 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14 Nd5 Qd8?
14...Kf7! is a more consistent follow-up to black’s enterprising eleventh. 14 Nxc7? would be met with 14...Qxe4
15. c3 Nxf3+ 16. gxf3 Bh3 17. Kh1 Bxf1 18. Qxf1 Rg8?
18...Necessary was 18...c6 to dislodge the knight
19. Qh3 Rg7 20. Rg1! Rxg1 21 Kxg1 c6 22. Qh5+ Kf8 23. Qh6+ Kg8 24. Nxf6+ Kf7 25. Qxh7+ Ke6 26. Qf5+ Ke7 27. Ng4 Qg8 28. h4 Qf7? 29. Qxf7 Kxf7 30. Kg2 Ke6 31. f4 ef 32. Kf3 b4 33. c4 Bd5 34. b3 d5 35. cd+ cd36. ed+ Kxd5 37. Kxf4 Bg7 38 Ne3+ and 1-0.
Armstrong Cup: 2001:
White: Cormac Brady Black: Hugh Cummins
1 e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 d6 6. b4 Bb6 7. O-O Bg4 8.
Nbd2 a6 9. Re1 O-O 10. Nf1 d5!?
Hoping to profit from a slight lead in development and white’s somewhat loose pawn structure.
11. ed5 Nxd5 12. Bxd5!? Qxd5 13. c4 Qd8 14. c5 Ba7
White has succeeded in burying the bishop on a7 but at the cost of weakening d4
15. a3 Nd4 16. Bb2 Bxf3 17. gxf3
Oddly echoing our game 18 years previously (above) in which white survived a similar break-up of his K-side
17...Re8 18. f4 Qd5 19. Re4
If 19 Ne3 Nf3+ 20 Kf1 Qc6
19...f5 20. Ne3 Qc6
20...Qb3 is another possibility
21. Rxd4! exd4 22. Bxd4
White undoubtedly has compensation for the exchange
22...Qe6 23. Be5 c6 24. Nc4 Bb8 25. Nd6 Bxd6 26. Bxd6 Qd5 27. Be5 Rad8 28. d4 Re6 29. f3 Rg6+ 30. Kf2 Ra8 31. Qc2 a5? 32. ba Rxa5 33. Qxf5 Ra8 34. Qb1 Qc4 35. f5
The last ten moves or so were played in mutual time trouble. 35…Rh6?? Is of course a blunder which loses immediately to 36Qxb7. ( 35…Rf6! Is in fact the only viable move for black). Cormac, however, decided to seal, and fell into a “brown study”. I use the term advisedly , for when the time control was reached he had disappeared to partake of a certain brown substance mixed with tobacco. When he returned to the table he sat there for what seemed an eternity, looking at God knows what. In the meantime I was aghast at how I had managed to screw up and longed only to be put out of my misery.
Matters took a further surreal turn when an irate caretaker told us it was time to vacate the premises. Board, pieces, clock, envelope etc were transported to the Four Roads pub, where the position was set up at a table and Cormac resumed his meditation, this time with the aid of a pint of lager. I continued to squirm over my own pint while I watched him. Finally he sealed and handed me the envelope. He left soon afterwards and speculation was rife whether he’d sealed 36Qxb7.
Two days later I still couldn’t believe that he had failed to see this move. But in that case why hadn’t he simply declared it, knowing it would force resignation? What was most likely, I reasoned, was that he had sealed the move without realising that it threatened mate on g7 as well as the rook. Anxious to achieve closure on this irksome affair, I decided to phone him and resign. Having made the decision I then opened the sealed envelope, to encounter yet a further twist in a bizarre sequence.
The move Cormac had sealed was 36Kg3. I felt like a suicide informed in mid-air that the company is solvent after all. Yet I managed to resist the Devil who whispered in my ear telling me to reseal the envelope. Instead , disingenuously of course, I phoned Cormac and offered a draw. He refused the offer, saying that although he had missed 36Qxb7 due to exaggerated fears for his King’s safety, he still felt he had winning chances. When I then confessed to opening the sealed envelope he was understandably aggrieved. Because I now had an unfair advantage he had no choice but to claim the game.
The position after 36 Kg3 is at least unclear. If the Queens came off (eg 36…Qf7.37 Qa2) white would certainly have the initiative, with the black rook stranded on h6 and the b pawn a target. I recall Cormac “winning the analysis” some time later in North Great George’s Street. But I was not entirely convinced. One possibility is 36…Qe2. 37 h4 Re8! With a complicated game. ( if 38 Qxb7 Rxe5).
Diagram after 36 Kg3 (sealed)
A position, then, with everything still to play for. That it should remain frozen in time in such an unresolved state is for me now oddly emblematic of Cormac’s own interrupted life, and of our interrupted friendship. Vale.