Goldman Sachs Crowned 2019 Corporate Chess League Champions

Goldman Sachs is crowned as the new NYC Corporate Chess leader after a close final match during the elegant NYCCL closing ceremony held at Debevoise & Plimpton’s offices, featuring special GM guests and an exhibition tandem series. The second season of the NYCCL came to thrilling conclusion on November 21. For the past few months, six matches were played on a bi-weekly Thursday schedule at the law offices of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP between three-player teams hailing from eminent firms, banks, and corporations in New York City (see the halfway report by FM Alisa Melekhina): Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), Debevoise & Plimpton, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Google, JPMorgan Chase, RBC Capital Markets and Two Sigma. It was a full house at the anticipated final match and closing ceremony as NYCCL co-organizer and Debevoise team captain FM Alisa Melekhina delivered opening remarks, followed by the traditional cutting of the chess cake.

 Going into the finale, it was neck-and-neck between Goldman and defending champion Deutsche Bank. Goldman was the new season favorite thanks to the two International Masters on its top two boards: IM Zhe Quan and IM Bogdan Vioreanu. Deutsche Bank again fielded its champion combination of: FM Igor Shneider and former U.S. Women’s Champions IM Rusudan (“Rusa”) Goletiani and WIM Elina Cotler (née Groberman).

Cotler, Schneider and Goletiani

[pgn][Event "NYCCL 2019 Season 2"] [Site "NYC"] [Date "2019.10.24"] [White "Gramagin, Vlad"] [Black "Cotler, Elina"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "1900"] [BlackElo "2137"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1b1r1k1/ppp1bppp/2n5/5P2/6P1/2P1QN2/qP1BB2P/2KR3R b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] {Elina is a stalwart anchor for the Deutsche Bank team with crushing victories such as this.} 1... Bxf5 2. gxf5 Ba3 3. Qxe8+ Rxe8 4. bxa3 Rxe2 5. Rhe1 Na5 $1 6. Nd4 Nc4 {White resigns because Qb2# is inevitable.} 0-1[/pgn]
Google was also in the mix, capable of shaking up the superior tiebreaks of Goldman and Deutsche Bank, who were each paired with a lower-ranked team after blazing through the rest of the field in prior matches. After the double-game rounds of G/10 + 3’d (each board plays once with white and black), Goldman and Deutsche Bank tied for first with 5/6 match points. Goldman, however, inched its way ahead on tiebreaks by scoring 28.5 out of 36 possible game points against Deutsche Bank’s 25.5, cementing Goldman as the new NYCCL “leader.”

Goldman assumes its new place as the new NYCCL Leader. Pictured from left to right: IM Zhe Quan, Len Ioffe, IM Bogdan Vioreanu, and team captain and NYCCL co-organizer Alex Wiener. Expert Len was a strong board 3 anchor capable of upsetting the top players in key match-ups.
The first-place team gets the “Leader” cup, second is the “Trailblazer,” and third is the “Rising Star.” The top-placing teams also receive a Debevoise-branded chess set as used throughout the season.
Alisa’s win with black over FM Igor Shneider in match 5 tipped the game point lead in Goldman’s favor. Eagerly watching the outcome in real-time are Goldman players Len Ioffe and IM Bogdan Vioreanu. Also pictured is Debevoise’s regular board 2, tax associate attorney David Rock, a solid addition throughout the season.


[pgn] [Event "NYCCL 2019 Season 2"] [Site "NYC"] [Date "2019.11.07"] [White "Shneider, Igor FM"] [Black "Melekhina, Alisa FM"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2357"] [BlackElo "2300"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbqr1k1/1p3pbp/2p2pp1/p7/3P4/3BBN1P/PPPQ1PP1/R3K2R w KQ - 0 11"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Deutsche Bank"] [BlackTeam "Debevoise"] {In the previous season, Deutsche Bank beat the Debevoise home team 6-0 in the final match to clinch first. The first of our two matches already disrupted that winning streak. The first game was another Advanced French, in which I missed a clear win and we ended up drawing in a rook ending. Again in the second game, Igor chose to castle on opposite sides.} 11. O-O-O Na6 12. c3 b5 13. Rhe1 {A bit puzzling, given white's plan is seemingly to expand on the kingside.} b4 $2 {I got a bit carried away with my own notion of an attack, missing the impact of white's reply. The plan for black, among others, is to put pressure on a2 with Be6 and Qd5.} 14. c4 {It turns out that black no longer has any breaks on the Queenside. Now, I have to re-route. I came up with a way to play against the "hanging pawns."} Nc7 15. Kb1 Ba6 16. h4 { This would have been more powerful if the rook remained on h1. I was glad that white did not fit in g4 earlier, as this allowed me to open up my dark-squared bishop.} f5 17. h5 Ne6 18. hxg6 hxg6 19. Be2 Qf6 20. g3 Rad8 {I was pleased with my piece placement, which is as good as it could be after the 13...b4 inaccuracy. Now black is back in business.} 21. Qc2 $2 (21. Bf1 {As difficult as it is to simply stay put in the this position, white cannot allow the f4 break.}) 21... f4 22. gxf4 Nxf4 23. Ne5 {This knight is actually very loose since it is easy to undermine d4.} Nxe2 24. Rxe2 c5 25. f4 cxd4 26. Bc1 { Conceding the mistaken turn of events that led to the loss of the d4 pawn.} ( 26. Bxd4 Qxf4 (26... Bb7 {A strong computer move placing white in a pseudo-Zugzwang since everything is just barely protected; protecting f4 will lead to something falling. I most certainly would not have seen Bb7 in a G/10.} 27. Rf2 Qh4 $19) 27. Nc6 Qf3 28. Rxe8+ Rxe8 29. Bxg7 Kxg7 30. Nd4 $17) 26... Bc8 {I had been eyeing this maneuver to Bf5 for a while.} 27. Ka1 Bf5 28. Nd3 Qc6 29. Rde1 Rxe2 30. Rxe2 Qf3 31. Rd2 Re8 32. c5 {Just when it looks like white is dead, he springs back to life!} Re3 {Surely, white's final try in the position is more of a hope than a reality? Re3 still seemed to be winning given that the f5 bishop covers c8, just in case.} 33. c6 Rxd3 34. c7 Rxd2 ( 34... Rc3 {Also possible, but a bit messier.} 35. bxc3 Qb7 $19 (35... Bxc2 36. c8=Q+ $18)) 35. Qxf5 gxf5 36. c8=Q+ Bf8 {This sequence of events was to the great delight of the spectators.} 37. Bxd2 Qd1+ 38. Qc1 Qxc1+ 39. Bxc1 d3 40. Be3 $2 {giving me a free move to activate.} Bc5 41. Bd2 Kh7 {The dust has settled. Alas, white's audacious resistance and clever doubling of my extra pawn might have just succeeded if my king didn't end up having an unobstracted path in.} 42. Kb1 Kg6 43. Kc1 Kh5 44. Kd1 Kg4 45. Ke1 Kf3 46. a3 bxa3 47. bxa3 a4 48. Kf1 Be3 49. Bb4 Bxf4 50. Ke1 Kg2 51. Bc3 Be3 0-1[/pgn]
“I’m proud as both a team captain and NYCCL co-organizer. The Goldman Sachs team truly came together on and off the board against formidable competition. It’s a credit to the NYCCL that it encourages top players to come out of chess retirement to boast a strong field. We’ve accomplished exactly the type of community-building we were striving for,” comments team captain Alexandra Wiener, an Analyst at Goldman Sachs and NYCCL co-organizer. Google was not to be discounted. After a nail-biter match-up against tough opponent BAML, Google ended up splitting the match point after a key upset by Google board 2/3 Yury Volvovskiy (2053) over the NYCCL number-one ranked player IM Victor Shen. Google finished in clear third with 4.5/6 match points.

 Home team Debevoise tied for fourth, coming one game point shy behind RBC Capital Markets.

Debevoise board 3 alternate senior tax associate attorney Ben Lee Friedman (blue shirt) helped score key upsets during the season. Also pictured watching the games is board 3 alternate P. Sebastian Ruiz, senior corporate Finance associate attorney.

The Debevoise chess team line-up for the 2019 season included: FM Alisa Melekhina, David Rock, Aleksei (“Alex”) Romanovski, P. Sebastian Ruiz, Ben Lee Friedman, and Saul Dingfelder. Special thanks to Noemi DeOleo and Alex Romanovski for taking professional quality photos throughout the season. Alex R. graciously assisted with inputting the scores and tabulating the standings after each match, as well as with putting together the final standing graphics.     In addition to team prizes, the finale celebrated the league’s top individual performers. The format of the NYCCL—particularly the schedule in playing the matches as a series over approximately two months—introduces a unique factor as to what constitutes an MVP. As busy corporate professionals with demanding hours and numerous scheduling conflicts, the players have to make sure to clear their schedules to make each evening match. Thus, the best-performing players are also those whom the team can rely on to play each match, especially for teams that have a limited number of alternate players. The player rising up to this challenge with another smashing performance with 10.5/12, was none other than last year’s league MVP: IM Rusa Goletiani (Deutsche Bank). Rusa was again leading all the way, competing against her own record of 11/12 last season. Read the 2018 CLO article by Alisa on NYCCL here.  

Rusa is all smiles after earning the season MVP award for the second consecutive year. Alisa delivers the team and MVP awards after final standings are calculated during the tandem exhibition series.

 Rusa competed on board 2 throughout the season, as did another top performer. IM Bogdan Vioreanu of Goldman finished close behind with 10/12. Another honorable mention in the MVP category was Google’s Yury Volvovskiy, who finished with 8/12. Yury was board 3 on Google’s roster, but ended up playing several matches on board 2, and was bumped up to board 1 during the key finale match-up against IM Shen. The top performer on board 1 turned out to be yours truly. I was pleasantly surprised to finish with 8.5/12.

Alisa scored a resounding victory against Google in match 5 in her pet gambit line in the Advanced French.

[pgn] [Event "NYCCL 2019 Season 2"] [Site "NYC"] [Date "2019.10.24"] [White "Melekhina, Alisa"] [Black "Ewing, Gabriel"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2300"] [BlackElo "2250"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Debevoise"] [BlackTeam "Google"] {I had lost the first of our two games with Black, so winning was essential to keep our team chances alive.} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. Bd3 cxd4 7. cxd4 Bd7 8. O-O Nxd4 9. Nbd2 {My pet gambit line in the Advanced French, which I covered previously for Chess Life magazine (10/2015).} Nxf3+ 10. Nxf3 Ne7 (10... Bc5 {is a critical line.}) 11. Be3 {Showing the drawback of 10...Ne7. Be3 develops with a tempo, and White is not in the least worried about the b2 pawn. If black captures on b2, this allows White to gain quick control of the b-file with Rb1, followed by critical control of the seventh rank upon capturing on b7. The queen has to retreat, and there are drawbacks to placing it on the open c-file, as well as back on its original square, where development is impeded.} Qd8 12. Ng5 Nc6 13. f4 Be7 14. Nxh7 g6 { I remembered up to 12. Ng5 in this line, but was on my own after this turn of events since Black usually puts up more resistance to defend h7. Nevertheless, White has to be careful about how to disentangle.} 15. Ng5 Bxg5 16. fxg5 Nxe5 17. Qe2 {Given that Bd4 does not work immediately, this slow move renews the threat while completing development and continuing to aim at the black king.} ( 17. Bd4 Qxg5 18. Qe2 Rh5 $1 $15 (18... f6 $2 19. Rxf6 $1 Qxf6 (19... Nxd3 20. Rxe6+ Bxe6 21. Qxe6+ Qe7 22. Qxg6+ Kd7 23. Qxd3 Rh6 24. Qb5+ Kc7 25. Qxd5 Rd8 26. Be5+ $18) 20. Bxe5 $18)) 17... Nxd3 {The best option. I was not concerned about losing the light-squared bishop, which is typically a strong asset in the French. Here, my control of the dark squares are paramount.} (17... Nc6 18. Qf2) 18. Qxd3 Bc6 19. Bd4 (19. Rxf7 Kxf7 20. Rf1+ Ke7 21. Qxg6 Kd6 $1 {Black escapes with the rook advantage.} 22. Bf4+ Kd7) 19... Rh5 $2 (19... Rh7 { A bit passive, but it was important to counter the devastating blow of...}) 20. Rxf7 $1 Qxg5 21. Bf6 (21. Raf1 {The most precise continuation, but not the most practical.} O-O-O 22. Bf6 Qh6 23. Bxd8 Rxh2 {This would have required me to see ahead in the quick G/10 time control and be certain that Black's threats are neutralized, as it turns out they are.} 24. Be7 Rh1+ 25. Kf2 Rxf1+ 26. Kxf1 Qc1+ 27. Kf2 Qxb2+ 28. Qe2 {No more checks. This time White escapes with the rook advantage.}) 21... Qf5 (21... Qf4 22. g3 $1 (22. Re7+ Kf8 23. Qxg6 Qxh2+ 24. Kf2 Rf5+ 25. Ke3 Qf4+ 26. Kd3 Qe4+ 27. Kd2 Rf2+ 28. Kd1 Qe2+ 29. Kc1 Rf1#) 22... Kxf7 23. gxf4 Kxf6 {Amazingly, this is Black's best response, but it is difficult to willingly go down this path during a game when White is still ahead.}) 22. Qa3 $1 {And even when Black has a full move, there is no way he can stop the mate on e7. Usually my games were the last to finish during the season -- it was nice to have a miniature for once and be among the first to conclude.} 1-0[/pgn]
  I was delighted that the legacy of the league, as an initiative founded by female chess players, continued this season. The two top finishing teams had female captains, and two of the top individual finishers were women.

This season’s ladies of the league, from left to right: WIM Elina Cotler, GM Irina Krush, Alexandra Wiener, Anna Ginzburg, FM Alisa Melekhina, IM Rusa Goletiani, Ana Izoria

 The NYCCL closing ceremony wouldn’t be complete without a special side-event for the record-breaking turn-out of spectators. Although the matches are typically kept private to the competing teams and internal guests, we plan a few open events to encourage broader interest. Following on the GM blindfold simultaneous exhibition match and interactive presentations and beginner workshop earlier in the season, the finale featured even more chess stars. After the official match concluded, players and spectators were treated to a tandem match series, composed of teams of professional and amateur player pairs.  

How many familiar faces can you name? The tandem series included local guests GM Irina Krush, GM Mac Molner, GM Nico Checa, GM and attorney Michael Rohde, IM Hans Niemann and NM Alex Pelekhaty. NYCCL players participating included IM Rusa Goletiani, BAML co-captain Anna Ginzburg, Google captain Zack Goldberg, and Debevoise team members David Rock and Sebastian Ruiz.

Among the four teams of pairs, two of the pairs featured a strong combination of IMs and masters/experts. It was expected that one of these “balanced” teams would beat out the GM/amateur pairings, but these two teams (IM Rusa Goletiania/NM Alex Pelekhaty and IM Hans Neimann/Anna Ginzburg) ended up unable to make progress between themselves and tied. This paved the way for a play-off between the victorious pairs, leading to a face-off between GM Irina Krush and GM Mac Molner. Molner kindly returned for the closing ceremony after his stint as the featured GM for the opening ceremony where he faced two brave volunteers in a blindfold simultaneous exhibition match. This time, one of the former challengers Mac swiftly defeated in that blindfold simul, Debevoise’s own P. Sebastian Ruiz, got his revenge with the help of teammate GM Irina Krush.

GM Irina Krush and Sebastian Ruiz reign supreme as the NYCCL tandem team winners, boasting Debevoise S’well bottles for their efforts.
The Mac and Zack attack! GM Mac Molner and teammate Zack Goldberg (Google engineer and team captain) think of ways to make use of their swag from the tandem tournament. The top team name was a close call with “Rock and Rohde” at their heels.
The calm before the storm. A lot goes into each match, including catering and room set-up and post-match clean-up, and overseeing player & guest registrations, which are all expertly handled by Debevoise’s conference services, catering, and marketing departments.

About the New York City Corporate Chess League The NYCCL brings together chess players employed at various firms and corporations with offices in New York City.  The league is comprised of three-player teams; each player engages in a double match of G/10 + 3’ (once with white and black) during a single match. The season typically includes six total matches spanning two months.  Games are not rated, although players’ reported USCF and/or FIDE ratings are used for pairing purposes. All players participate in their personal capacity, and must all be employed by the same private entity to form a team. Teams are required to have at least five players (not necessarily) rated on their roster in order to ensure a full line-up each match. Membership and attendance is free, but is currently by invitation only. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP was the host of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. For more information, contact and *FM Alisa Melekhina is a World Team Championship gold medalist and long-time competitor in US open tournaments and women’s national and world team invitational events. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law school in May 2014 and is currently practicing as a corporate litigation attorney in NYC. She previously wrote a popular CLO article on Balancing Law School and Chess.