2020 U.S. Amateur Team Championship Goes to the South

This year's U.S. Amateur Team Championship finals felt right at home on the Internet Chess Club. Global pandemic aside, the annual event's final four teams -- that is, representatives from the North, South, East, and West -- typically meet online to decide a national champion in any normal year, and the 2020 edition was no exception. This marks the 13th consecutive year that the ICC has hosted this national championship playoff.

The 2020 USAT Championship was won by its representative from the South, its team named "E4." The southern squad, consisting of Tianqi Wang, Alex Chen, Neo Zhu, and Benjamin Yan, defeated the eastern team "SIG Calls" in the finals, by a score of 2.5 - 1.5. Here is a critical match in the finals between Zhu, with the white pieces, and SIG Calls' Eric Most.

[pgn][Event "USAT20"] [Site "Internet Chess Club"] [Date "2020.09.26"] [Round "1"] [White "GDTBATH"] [Black "spacecadet"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "1958"] [BlackElo "2108"] [TimeControl "5400+5"] [UTCDate "2020.10.06"] [UTCTime "19:09:46"] [Variant "Standard"] [ECO "B22"] [Opening "Sicilian Defense: Alapin Variation"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/kathiyitis"] 1. e4 { This critical encounter between Neo Zhu and Eric Most tilted the balance in the finals towards Team South ("E4") over Team East ("SIG Calls") in the finals. } 1... c5 2. c3 g6 { Black intends to play with a Bishop on g7 against the Alapin. An interesting setup that has its pluses but also its difficulties. } 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. e5 (5. exd5 Nf6 { Leads to a more open game. }) 5... Nc6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. Bb5 Nh6 8. h3 (8. Nge2 { Is another setup at white's disposal. In any event, white does not wish to allow the Bg4 pin. }) 8... O-O 9. Nf3 f6 { One of the main moves. } (9... Bf5 { Is a weird looking move (denying the knight f5) that I prefer. Black "threatens" Rc8, when he is allowed to recapture on c6 with a piece instead of pawn, while also developing a piece. }) 10. O-O fxe5 11. dxe5 a6 { Many times black can skip this move, as white intends to take on c6, anyway. } (11... e6) 12. Ba4 e6 13. Re1 Nf5 14. Bg5 Qb6 15. Bxc6 bxc6 { We have reached the main crux of the issues black faces in this system: the queenside pawns - c6 and a6, but especially c6 - are crippled and easy targets. White stands better. } 16. Na4 Qc7 17. Rc1 { White wastes no time in pinpointing his target. } 17... Rb8 18. b3 { Unable to mount enough pressure on e5 or play ...c5 himself, black struggles to find counter-chances. } 18... h6 19. Be3 (19. Bd2 { I would prefer preserving the bishop with Bd2, however white's move does not waste any advantage, either. }) 19... Nxe3 20. Rxe3 Bd7 { In this line, the queen's bishop often falls victim to the a6/c6/e6 enclosure. } 21. Nc5 Rb6 22. Qd3 { White calmly picks apart the multiple vulnerabilities in the black camp. } 22... g5 23. Qg6 Qc8 24. Nd4 Rf7 25. Rcc3 (25. Ncxe6 { White does very well not to rush into things. } 25... Bxe6 26. Qxe6 (26. Nxe6 c5 { Would be a catastrophe }) 26... Qxe6 27. Nxe6 Re7 { Black gets the pawn back and has relieved a good chunk of the pressure on his position. }) 25... Re7 26. Qh5 (26. h4 { Was a breakthrough I like for white. After the h6/g5 construction collapses, it will be difficult to defend against white's myriad of threats. } 26... gxh4 27. Rh3) 26... Rb4 27. Qd1 Rb6 28. a3 { Admirable patience from white. Black is very passive. } 28... Rf7 29. Rf3 Qe8 30. Qe2 Bf8 31. Qc2 Bxc5 32. Qg6+ Rg7 33. Qxe8+ Bxe8 34. Rxc5 { Black is saddled with the bad bishop and passive rooks. } 34... Bd7 35. Rf6 { Everything on the 6th rank is falling. White has broken through. } 35... Kh7 36. Nxe6 Bxe6 37. Rxe6 Rxb3 38. Rcxc6 Rxa3 39. Rxh6+ Kg8 40. Rc8+ Kf7 41. Rf6+ Ke7 42. Rc7+ { Black resigns } 1-0[/pgn]

In the semifinals, E4 defeated the "J'adoobie Brothers" from the North, while SIG Calls took down the "Best Chess School," representing the West, both matches by the same 2.5 - 1.5 score. Here is another critical game from the semis between SIG Calls' Luo, with the white pieces, and Ryan Taghizadeh from the BCS.

[pgn][Event "USAT20"] [Site "Internet Chess Club"] [Date "2020.09.26"] [Round "1"] [White "GiantFist"] [Black "angrywookie"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "1479"] [BlackElo "1313"] [TimeControl "5400+5"] [UTCDate "2020.10.06"] [UTCTime "19:09:46"] [Variant "Standard"] [ECO "D00"] [Opening "Queen's Pawn Game: Mason Variation"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/kathiyitis"] { West meets East. This critical semi-final encounter between Ryan Taghizadeh and Brian Luo featured a topical line of the London System, which has become quite popular lately. } 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 e6 4. Nd2 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Bg3 { A not-so-common move. Many times, the bishop ends up here, anyway. But white retreats before it is challenged with ...Bd6. The game transposes back immediately, but this commentator wonders if the move order has any hidden independent value. } 6... Bd6 (6... Be7 { Is one of three other moves that have been tried. }) (6... Bd7) (6... cxd4) (6... h5 { Looks overly ambitious, but in the age of rushing rook pawns, thrusting Harry up the board might be worth subsequent investigation. }) 7. Ngf3 O-O 8. Bb5 Ne7 9. Bd3 b6 (9... Qb6 10. Qb3 (10. Rb1)) 10. e4 Bxg3 11. hxg3 Ng6 { This move has been played before without any success by black. Optically, I am not a fan. This allows white to keep the center closed and drive away a black defender with e5, giving him a free hand on the kingside (the fruits of which bear themselves out quickly in the game...). } (11... dxe4 12. Nxe4 Ng6 (12... Ned5) 13. dxc5 Bb7 14. Nxf6+ Qxf6 { Is an interesting pawn sacrifice deployed in Carlsen - Korobov, World Rapid 2016, where black shouldn't stand much worse, though there is work to be done to claim equality. }) 12. e5 Nd7 13. Nh4 Re8 (13... f5 { played before, twice, losing twice for black. }) 14. Qh5 { The "free hand" mentioned above. Where is black's counterplay? } 14... Ndf8 15. Ndf3 Nxh4 16. Bxh7+ { A nice zwischenzug decides matters. } 16... Nxh7 17. Rxh4 f5 18. exf6 Qxf6 19. Qxh7+ { Black resigns } 1-0[/pgn]

The chief TD for the playoff was NTD Joseph Yun. The ICC tournament administrator was William “billscotty” Scott.  


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