McKennis lands Humphrey Gayle Memorial Chess title

Saturday, March 02, 2019

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THIRTEEN-year-old Campion College student Darren McKennis created history as he successfully captured the 2019 Humphrey Gayle Memorial Invitational (HGM) title with a magnificent final-round victory against Brandon Lobban at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica's auditorium.

After starting out as the lowest-ranked player, McKennis shocked the tournament as he managed to finish on a record eight points from nine games. This included seven consecutive wins which was only halted by veteran player Michael Diedrick in the eighth round. Despite this loss, McKennis won the tournament with a round to spare due to his distant lead.

The astonishing performance will see the young virtuoso ranking in the top 30 players in Jamaica when the FIDE international rating list is published for March.

McKennis' final-round encounter was far from easy as both players fought to secure the win. With both players having less than five minutes, Lobban blundered in a complex position, which left McKennis with an opportunity to deliver four consecutive checks and an inevitable checkmate. This left Lobban on 2.5 points and tied for ninth place.

In the top-of-the-table clash, National Master (NM) Ryan Blackwood won his encounter against Adrian Palmer. The two coaches played a spirited King's Indian position, which saw NM Blackwood gain an early advantage. As both players neared the 40-move point, Palmer ran out of time in a slightly worse position. NM Blackwood finished in second place on seven points while Palmer finished in fourth place on five points.

This victory propelled NM Blackwood closer to the 2000 Elo mark, which is needed for him to achieve his FIDE Candidate Master (FCM) title.

Jamaica College student Christopher Lyn ended his campaign with an excellent win against Dr Valence Jordan. After starting in a simple closed opening, Lyn calculated an intriguing endgame which saw Dr Jordan resign at move 49. Lyn's third-place finish on 6.5 points has left the junior closer to attaining both the FCM and NM titles in the near future.

The remaining matches saw Andre Soares draw a winning position against Michael Diedrick and Markland Douglas securing a victory against Nathan Belinfante. Diedrick and Soares finished in fourth and fifth place on four and 3.5 points, respectively, while Dr Jordan and Belinfante tied for seventh place on three points each.

The HGM was a closed, 10-player round robin tournament open to players without a title and who have a Jamaica Chess Federation rating between 2001 and 2099. This tournament, which was previously called the Council Candidates tournament, was renamed in honour of the Jamaican Olympian, legend and “Stonewall” proponent Humphrey “Omega Man” Howard Gayle who passed away in 2016. Gayle's achievements for chess in Jamaica were numerous.

He represented Jamaica at the Olympiad in Greece in 1998. He was a vice-president of the Kingston and St Andrew Chess Association, and he served in helping the Jamaica Ambassadors Chess Academy get more of Jamaica's players internationally rated and to become National Masters. He was also awarded several JCF Awards, including most active player in 2001, and during this year also captured what was known as the Easter Open.

The sponsors of the tournament included Sports Development Foundation, Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, Jamaica Olympic Association, and Magnificent Chess Foundation.

— David Rose

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