“You Don’t Have to be a GM to Win at USATE”- Carnegie Mellon

The Carnegie Mellon squad: Ryan Christianson, Board 4 Beilin Li Board 3, captain David Itkin Board 2 and Grant Xu on Board 1 

Everyone is used to seeing grandmasters headlining as the winners of chess tournaments around the world. Many teams at previous years of the U.S. Amateur Team East showed this trend, with a grandmaster on Board 1. Some examples include former World Champion GM Anatoly Karpov, whose team won in 1998, or GM Zvaid Izoria, whose team won in 2008. These are typically the players who also tend to score 6-0 individually throughout the tournament.

This year’s U.S. Amateur Team East truly highlighted some underdogs, showing the “family friendly” and fun experience of the tournament. The tournament prizes reflect that, with no prize money involved- plaques, clocks, and glory rewarded- and a large range special category prizes such as class prizes, prizes rewarding the top company team, family team, and much more.

The big winner of this year’s tournament, Carnegie Mellon University’s chess team, proves that you don’t have to be a grandmaster to win USATE! Amateur Team East is the biggest team tournament in the world, recently being so popular that it reaches maximum capacity. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to win- this year’s team did so with a 6-0 sweep for clear first.

Winner, winner! Photo Vanessa Sun

The winning team featured NM Grant Xu, NM David Itkin, NM Beilin Li, and Ryan Christianson. With a team average of 2199, the team aimed for a good balance on all boards.

NM Beilin Li, “We knew Grant and David would have a tough time, so we were looking for Ryan to win big on Board 4 and for me to carry the team on a lesser extent. We figured Grant was good enough to do reasonably and David was underrated.”

Their plan worked with great success, as Boards 2-4 scored 5.5/6 and Board 1 scored 4/6. Even with a lower score than his teammates, Board 1’s Grant Xu had over a performance 2500.

Grant Xu, Photo Vanessa Sun 

The team also had a little bit of luck because they did not have to play any teams with a grandmaster on Board 1. However, the team mentality, according to NM Li, was that the teams with a strong grandmaster on Board 1 is not that important because “they have to put much lower rated players on lower boards. Lower boards are pretty important. ”

GM Oliver Barbosa, Photo Jim Doyle

Although the team did not expect to win because there were so many great teams among the 300 registered, they knew for sure they were a contender. Other tough teams included ChessNYC’s NY City 1 team with GM Oliver Barbosa, the only team to score 5.5/6 and Summer Chess Academy for Talented Youth which won the last two years in a row and included 2 FMs and a NM. 16 teams achieved a 5/6 score, but only one Carnegie Mellon scored a perfect 6-0!

The winning team celebrated the tournament by promptly driving the 5.5 hours home after an exhausting weekend, arriving at almost 3 AM. If this tournament did not show they were troopers enough, how they ended the night certainly did!

Sneak preview into Jim Doyle’s Army vs. Navy cover shoot. Photo Jim Doyle

Another great rivalry was the West Point vs. Naval Academy teams. As mentioned previously, they had a photoshoot together, with many jokes. It got serious over the board in the second round as US Military 1 team from West Point played the Naval Academy. West Point prevailed and in the end, they also won the Top Military College prize. The tournament did not just have a military college category, though, and included a Top Military team prize. CMEDBD Pawns, M R Mine! won that award. The team was geographical diverse: two players were from Virginia, one was from Ohio, and another from New Jersey.

Other players celebrated extraordinary levels of personal achievement, not just team success. SA Bed-Stuy MS 1’s Board 1 player, NM Tyrell Harriott, went 6-0, showing that you don’t have to be a grandmaster to win all your games at USATE! All other top Board 1 players were grandmasters: GMs Alexander Fishbein, Michael Rohde, and Tamaz Gelashvili.

GM Tamaz Gelashvili played on the team Georgian Walls, which won the top Family category and included GM Gelashvili’s son, Giorgi, Photo Vanessa Sun 

Giorgi, Tamaz’s son

However, Tyrell Harriott was quite a shining star, as he beat two masters and an expert. Even though he was having his moment of glory, he expressed truly enjoyed playing with his students on his team. He believes that it helped them to feel more confident.

The players who were able to obtain insane upsets were also players that shone quite brightly. You don’t have to be a grandmaster to win a big upset at USATE! The highest upset occurred in Round 3, where Lee Usiskin, rated 751, beat Joseph Salvatore, rated 1706. That was a 955 point upset. Others who achieved great upsets were Andrew Mulderrig (275 beat 1177), Jaden Chan (1043 beat 1700), Jacob Lawren Dice (552 beat 1448), Stephen Eckelmann (897 beat 1775), and Ricardo Ayuda (1176 beat 2100).

Lastly, you don’t have to be a grandmaster to have fun at USATE!  

There are fun outfits:

Costume party fun at the USATE, Photo Jim Doyle

Guard your king! Photo Jim Doyle

There are great prizes:

There are guest from all facets of US Chess, including our new Executive Director

Chess tournaments are inherently competitive, but the fun aspects of it are highlighted at the US Amateur Team. At all times there seemed to be someone analyzing games or playing blitz after exhausting five hour games. There were even 36 entries at the bughouse side tournament on Sunday night, which ended at 12:30 AM. Congrats to all the winners! 

Browse full results from the US Amateur Team East here. See our story on the US Amateur Team North here and look for coverage of the West coming soon. The South will take place next weekend, and you can follow the games live here. 

Vanessa Sun is a chess journalist, tournament director and artist. You can follow her on twitter and instagram. 



    • I agree. It was not fair to the teams that played them because of the unfair rating. Also, they were seeded number 325, which allowed the strongest teams to play them even though they were too high for the tournament. I do not think how this tournament allowed a 2200+ team play when its rules clearly go against it. This team had an impact on all of the tournament and changed the way this tournament should be played. It is definitely unfair to all. Sadly, this tournament does not retain its amazing legacy because of this big mistake.

      • It looks like they were actually seeded 47 out of 326 and didn’t play a higher seed until round 3. They tied in round 5 (needed a win from their fourth board to do so) and won the other five.

        If there was no 1000-point rule in effect then they were a legal team.

        • Jeff apparently you weren’t there, They were listed as team #325 with a rating of 0 throughout the event. So yes this effected a lot of the pairings, Anon is right. No matter how you cut it the team is illegal. The 1000 point rule between boards 3 and 4 was made in 2008 when a team of 3 GMs decided to team up with some very very low rated player. This is the amateur team east, nothing is amateur about a team with a 2400 on board 3. This needs to be fixed ASAP many people are upset and will not be returning.

    • The 2219 average referred to would depend on there being a 1000-point rule used, in which case the 897-rated 4th board playing behind the 2406-rated 3rd board would end up getting averaged in as a 1406 instead of as an 897 (which gave a 2092 average for the 2647 / 2417 / 2406 / 897 line-up). The web-site below (which I think is the official NJ site) does not seem to mention a 1000-point rule and neither did the TLA link, so maybe the rule was not applicable this year. If somebody thought the rule existed even though it didn’t then I can see that person thinking the non-existent rule was violated.


      • this still made the pairings messed up because even if they were 2092, they were rated 0 and seeded 325. it changed the whole tournament. END OF STORY

        • Accidentally seeding the top team as the bottom doesn’t generally mess up the pairings. In both cases the round one pairings would have the team play the same team in the middle (that team would either be correctly listed as the top team in the bottom half, or incorrectly listed as the bottom team in the top half). I’ll grant that there are potential issues when a score group has an odd number of teams because the drop down would be handled differently, but with an even number of teams the pairings actually come out the same if the top team is erroneously listed as the bottom team.

          A team near the top, but not at the top, that is listed as the bottom team would have some effect on the pairings, but not a particularly drastic effect in the first round and that first round effect would generally be relatively minor “noise” by the end of the tournament. The latter rounds had its score high enough that the rating used was pretty much irrelevant.

          I often hear people that went 4-2 say that “if I had just won in round 1 I would have finished 5-1 and in the money”. That totally ignores that a round 1 win would have resulted in more difficult pairing the rest of the tournament until the virtually inevitable loss occurs that gets the score back on track for a 4-2 finish. That is a major part of the reason that correcting a round one or two erroneously reported result that is pointed out at the end of the tournament might only be done for rating purposes while the original and erroneous result will still be used for prize purposes (rule 15.I).

          However, even if the team was listed as the 325 seed it may not have actually been treated as the 325 seed. It did not receive the round one bye (I heard they only had room for 324 teams to play at a time).

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press