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The Braille Chess Association of Ireland was established in 1985 to promote Chess among the blind and partially sighted. The BCAI is affiliated to the International Braille Chess Association, the Irish Chess Union and Irish BlindSports.

The BCAI organises teams and individuals to represent Ireland at international level. At home we hold our own Irish Championship and this is used as a basis for team selection. In addition to the Championship, there is a very successful international Tournament with players coming from many parts of the world to participate.

As well as the major events there are junior and quick-play competitions and sometimes friendly matches are arranged against some of the Chess Clubs, usually outside Dublin. We also produce a bi-monthly magazine on cassette consisting of extracts from the Irish Chess Journal together with news of domestic and international events from the world of Braille Chess.

Many Irish players are also members of the British Braille Chess Association which organises a variety of tournaments, both Over-the-Board and by Correspondence and these events are suitable for all standards. The BCA has a Braille library of Chess books as well as a more extensive cassette library, containing information on all aspects of the game. In addition to their quarterly Gazette which appears in several formats, the BCA produces several other periodicals on cassette.

The International Braille Chess Association organises the team Olympiad and World Cup and the World Individual Championship and these are held at four-yearly intervals. In addition, there are European, under 21, Women's and correspondence Championships.

Ernie Mcelroy with Medal

The blind player uses an adapted board, with the white squares slightly lower than the black. Each piece has a peg at the bottom, which is inserted into a hole in the centre of the square on which it stands, so that it remains steady while the position is being examined manually. Also one set of pieces have small dots on the top, so that they can be distinguished from the other set. Opponents use separate boards and call the moves to each other. At international level, where there is no common language, the German Algebraic notation is used, and this involves learning about twenty German words. In addition, a club player may use a Braille Chess clock and a small tape recorder or Braille device for noting moves. For those living in Ireland, Chess sets, clocks etc. can be purchased from:

the National Council for the Blind,
45 Whitworth Road,
Dublin 9.
tel: 01.8307033.
Chess literature is available in Braille, and to a greater extent on cassette, although the choice is not as great as one would like. Many Chess computers and Chess programmes for PCs can be used successfully by blind players with the aid of a synthetic voice. Currently, e-mail is being adopted as a new and exciting medium for playing Correspondence Chess. Partially sighted players require good lighting plus a large easy-to-see Chess set. Low vision aids are also useful when it comes to reading small print in Chess books.

Chess is said to be one of the few sports where blind people can compete independently and on equal terms with their sighted counterparts and while this assertion may be largely true certain disadvantages should not be overlooked.

Despite these obstacles, blind players often reach very high levels in Chess, with some even attaining Master standard.

Author: Philip Doyle

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