Chess is Big But Not Easy at the New Orleans Pan-Ams

DSC_0177 IM Irene Sukandar vs. GM Anton Kovalyov

The biggest crowd of college players in more than 30 years assembled at the Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel on Tuesday for the start of the 63rd Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship (live games here). Many fled winter chills for the perfect 75 degrees in the Big Easy, greeted by a four-piece Dixieland jazz band and sumptuous Cajun delicacies at the opening reception put on by organizer Cajun Chess, led by Jean Troendle. More than 250 players formed 60 four-board teams (some with alternates) from 33 universities and colleges—enrolling 60 champions with titles of Fide master and above, including 24 GMs, 19 IMs, one WGM, four WIMs, and three WFMs. Altogether, 35 national federations are represented in the six-round event that will finish Friday afternoon. All the competitors were prescreened by the College Chess Eligibility Subcommittee to confirm that they were students in good standing. Players with the ranking of GM or IM must pass even more stringent eligibility requirements. Schools can send as many teams as they can muster. Top-rated Webster University sent four squads. Texas-Rio Grande Valley (TRGV), coached by GM Bartek Macieja, and defending champs Texas Tech, coached by former US Champ GM Alex Onischuk, sent five apiece, flying in all their players. But Webster loaded more than 20 players and coaches—including program head GM Susan Polgar, former women’s world champ—on a bus and drove them from its home campus in a suburb of St. Louis to the event. “It saved a lot of money,” Coach Paul Truong said.

Saint Louis University is a brand-new scholarship team already loaded with top talent. SLU is also definitely a contender for top honors. Webster-A is top-ranked. Its first four would threaten top Olympiad teams: Vietnamese champion GM Le Quang Liem, on board one with a USCF rating of 2803, and GMs Illia Nyzhnyk, Ray Robson, and Alex Shimanov—all over 2700. TRGV number-two ranked “A” squad also sports four GMs, and so does University of Texas-Dallas (UTD) “A”. At the midpoint, of the top teams only UTD-A has dropped a half-point for a score of 2 ½ - ½ . But with three rounds to go and a strong B-team that maintains a perfect 3-0, Dallas has plenty of chances to finish at or near the top. And close-to-the-top is crucial. Because, besides winning the PanAms title, the well-funded, powerful teams are desperate to make the cut for the Final Four—the top group of USA schools that qualify for America’s collegiate championship to take place at New York City’s famed Marshall Club on March 24-26. It’s now Thursday morning, and round four sees the first critical head-to-head team collision of giants. Texas Tech-A, fielding a team averaging over 2600, takes on the Webster-A colossus on board 1. Of course, there are many teams playing for division championships—trophies that mean a lot to college programs, most organized by students themselves, often with help from student organization funding. A chess trophy in the showcase means prestige for the program and leverage for next-year’s funding.  

Texas Tech A’s GM Elshan Moradiabadi, playing against URRGV B’s IM Felix Aponte, makes a masterful decision to enter an imbalanced endgame, giving up his queen for a dominating position.

[pgn] [Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.28"] [White "MORADIABADI, ELSHAN."] [Black "YNOJOSA APONTE, FELIX."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E04"] [WhiteElo "2655"] [BlackElo "2505"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 dxc4 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. O-O Rb8 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e3 O-O 9. Qc1 b5 10. b3 cxb3 11. axb3 Bb7 12. Nbd2 a6 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Ne4 Be7 15. Nc5 Bxc5 16. Qxc5 Qd6 17. Rfc1 Rfc8 18. Qh5 f6 19. Nd2 Nb4 20. Bxb7 Rxb7 21. Ne4 Qe7 22. Qd1 Ra8 23. Ra5 Rb6 24. Qd2 Nc6 25. Ra2 Nb4 26. Ra5 Nc6 27. Raa1 a5 28. Rc5 Nb4 29. Qxb4 axb4 30. Rxa8+ Kf7 31. Ra7 Kg6 32. h4 Qf8 33. Rcxc7 h5 34. Nc5 Rd6 35. Re7 e5 36. d5 Kh6 37. e4 f5 38. Ne6 1-0 [/pgn]
Webster A’s GM Le Quang Liem must take on another “Webster”—Kyle Webster of University of Michigan-B. The 1900-player puts up a real college-try fight before finally slipping against his world-class opponent.
[pgn] [Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.27"] [White "LE, LIEM."] [Black "WEBSTER, KYLE D."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2803"] [BlackElo "1990"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+785"] [WhiteClock "0:22:51"] [BlackClock "0:01:14"] 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 g6 4. h3 Bg7 5. Nd2 O-O 6. Ngf3 Nbd7 7. Be2 Re8 8. O-O Nf8 (8... c5) 9. Rc1 c6 10. c4 h6 11. Bh2 Be6 12. Qb3 Qb6 13. Qa3 N8h7 14. cxd5 Bxd5 15. Nc4 Bxc4 16. Bxc4 e6 17. Ne5 Ng5 18. Qd3 Nge4 19. Qc2 Rad8 20. Rfd1 Nd6 21. Be2 Nf5 22. a3 Nd6 23. b4 a6 24. Rb1 Nd5 25. Nd3 Nb5 $14 26. Rb3 Bxd4 27. exd4 Nxd4 28. Qb2 Nxb3 29. Qxb3 a5 30. Qc4 axb4 $11 31. axb4 f6 (31... Qb5 $1) 32. Bf4 Kg7 33. Bd2 e5 34. Nc5 Rd6 35. Ra1 $18 f5 36. h4 h5 37. Qb3 Nf6 38. Be3 Kh7 $2 39. Qf7+ 1-0[/pgn]
Playing Black, UTRGV-A’s GM Anton Kovalyov makes a game-winning combination on move 24 and relentlessly brings home the point.
[pgn] [Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.27"] [Round "1.5"] [White "LINDE, DARCY J."] [Black "KOVALYOV, ANTON."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A47"] [WhiteElo "2116"] [BlackElo "2721"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 cxd4 5. exd4 b6 6. c3 Bb7 7. Nbd2 Be7 8. h3 O-O 9. Bd3 d6 10. O-O Nbd7 11. Re1 Re8 12. Qe2 Bf8 13. Ba6 Qc8 14. Bxb7 Qxb7 15. Rad1 b5 16. Bg5 Rac8 17. a3 a5 18. Nb3 Ra8 19. Nc1 Nd5 20. Nd3 N7b6 21. Nd2 h6 22. Bh4 Nc4 23. Rb1 Rac8 24. Bg3 Nxa3 25. bxa3 Nxc3 26. Qe3 Nxb1 27. Rxb1 Qd5 28. Nf4 Qf5 29. Qe4 Qxe4 30. Nxe4 f5 31. Nd2 g5 32. Nh5 Kf7 33. Bh2 Rc2 34. Nf1 Rb8 35. f4 Kg6 36. g4 b4 37. axb4 axb4 38. Re1 b3 39. Ne3 b2 0-1 [/pgn]
In round three, UTRGV-A’s GM Stukopin ignites some tactical fireworks against Senior Master Aaron Grabinsky.
[pgn] [Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.28"] [White "STUKOPIN, ANDREY."] [Black "GRABINSKY, AARON."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C10"] [WhiteElo "2701"] [BlackElo "2433"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+640"] [WhiteClock "0:57:09"] [BlackClock "1:05:59"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Nf3 Ngf6 6. Nxf6+ Nxf6 7. c3 c5 8. Ne5 Nd7 9. Bb5 Bd6 10. Qg4 Qf6 (10... Kf8) 11. Bg5 Qf5 12. Qxf5 exf5 13. O-O-O Bxe5 14. Rhe1 O-O 15. dxe5 h6 16. Be7 Re8 17. e6 $1 fxe6 18. Bxc5 Rd8 19. Rxe6 a6 20. Bc4 { If} Kh8 21. Bd4 Kh7 (21... Nf6 22. Rxf6) 22. Re7 1-0[/pgn]
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