Saint Louis University Wins 2022 Pan-Ams

The 2022 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Championships returned to in-person play after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. This year’s event was held from Jan 6-9, 2022 at the Washington Dulles International Airport, in Dulles, Virginia. 250 players participated in the tournament, representing 57 teams and 35 schools.

Fielding a lineup with an average rating of 2701, the Webster University A team entered as the top seed in the tournament, followed closely by Saint Louis University A, who clocked in with an average rating of 2675. As it turned out, those 26 rating points weren’t an impediment to success in the least.

After six rounds of play, Saint Louis University A emerged victorious, sweeping the field 6-0 and beating their competitors — Texas Tech University A, University of Texas at Dallas A, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley A, and Webster University B — by a margin of 2½-1½ in each match. In doing so, they qualified for the Final Four, to be held at a time and place to be determined. Three of the other traditional chess powerhouses qualified as well, with Texas Tech University A, University of Texas at Dallas A, and Webster University A all advancing to the Final Four.

Here is the decisive game in the final round matchup between Saint Louis University A and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley A, played between GM Ulvi Bajarani (UTRGV) and GM Nikolas Theodorou (SLU), that decided the tournament in SLU’s favor:


Bajarani versus Theodorou, 2022 Pan-Ams
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Bajarani vs. Theodorou (courtesy Angie Le)

[pgn][Event "Pan-American Intercollegiate"] [Site "?"] [Date "2022.01.09"] [Round "6"] [White "Bajarani, Ulvi"] [Black "Theodorou, Nikolas"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E94"] [WhiteElo "2416"] [BlackElo "2577"] [Annotator "prave"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [SourceVersionDate "2022.01.11"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Nf3 Na6 7. O-O e5 8. Bg5 $5 {White provokes ...h6 before returning the bishop to e3, arguing that it is a weakening move for Black.} (8. Be3 {is the most popular move, after which the main line goes} Ng4 9. Bg5 Qe8 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. h3 h6 12. Bd2 Nf6 13. Be3 Qe7 14. Nd5 Qd8 15. Qc2 {when White has a slight edge due to his more active pieces.}) 8... h6 9. Be3 Qe7 10. dxe5 (10. d5 {is a better try for White, aiming to get a typical King's Indian structure. Play may continue} Ng4 11. Bd2 f5 12. h3 Nf6 13. Nh4 Qf7 14. exf5 gxf5 15. f4 $1 $16 {when White's pieces are better positioned for the opening of the center. Polyak - Monus 1999.}) 10... dxe5 11. Nd5 Qd8 12. Nxf6+ Qxf6 13. h3 $146 (13. c5 {was played in Meduna - Kovalev 2006, with the idea of preventing Black's plan of b6-c5. One idea for Black here is to maneuver his knight to the stronger c6-square.} Nb8 14. h3 Nc6 $11) 13... b6 {Black wants to play ...c5 and cement his knight on the d4-square via c7 and e6.} 14. Qd2 Kh7 15. b4 Rd8 16. Qc3 c5 $1 {Perfect timing for this move, as otherwise White would be able to play c5 himself next move and achieve a huge space advantage on the queenside.} 17. a3 (17. bxc5 Nxc5 ( 17... bxc5 $2 18. Rab1 {would give White a lot of activity.}) 18. Bxc5 bxc5 { Black is still slightly better here, but at least White manages to trade off the knight before it lands on d4.}) 17... Bb7 18. Nd2 Qd6 19. b5 Nc7 20. Qc2 Ne6 21. Rfd1 Qe7 {Black doesn't have to rush with putting the knight on d4 yet. He can first improve all his other pieces.} 22. a4 a5 23. Rac1 h5 $1 {Black identifies that his dark-squared bishop is not ideally placed locked behind the e5-pawn, so he prepares to trade it off with ...Bh6 next.} 24. Bd3 Bh6 25. Nf3 Qf6 26. Bf1 Nd4 {Black finally decides it's time to move the knight, forcing White to trade it off and give Black a connected passed pawn on d4.} 27. Nxd4 Bxe3 28. fxe3 exd4 29. Qf2 $1 {This move offers great resistance, sacrificing a pawn to swap the queens off. Otherwise Black's superior pieces and structure would be unstoppable.} Qxf2+ 30. Kxf2 Bxe4 (30... dxe3+ $1 31. Kxe3 Kg7 {is best for Black. Although White keeps his extra pawn, he still has the bad bishop and the e4-pawn is a big weakness in the center.}) 31. exd4 Rxd4 32. Rxd4 cxd4 33. c5 $1 {White strikes on the queenside, creating his own connected passed pawn on b5.} bxc5 34. Rxc5 Rd8 35. Ke1 h4 36. Kd2 $2 (36. Rc7 Kg7 37. Re7 $1 $11 {is the important move to find, forcing the bishop to make a decision. If it stays on the b1-f5 diagonal, White can play Bc4 without worrying about the g2-pawn hanging. If it stays on the h1-a8 diagonal, White can play Ra7 and go after the a5-pawn after provoking the bishop to an inferior square.}) 36... f5 $1 37. Rc6 $2 {This is the final nail in the coffin. White tries getting counterplay by sacrificing his exchange to get an advanced pawn on c6, but with the following sequence of moves, Black easily diffuses it.} Bxc6 38. bxc6 d3 $1 {White resigns, in anticipation of 39.Bxd3 Rd6 40.c7 Rc6, when Black wins the pawn and is up an exchange and a pawn. This game was key to SLU's critical 2.5-1.5 final round victory over UTRGV and gave them a perfect 6-0 score in the tournament.} 0-1 [/pgn]

I was on board two of the University of Chicago A team, and although we ended up missing out on the Final Four with our sixth-place finish, our team was in the running until the very end. Here is a particularly inspiring game that our first board, GM Awonder Liang, played against FM Jason Morefield of University of Virginia A.


GM Awonder Liang, 2022 Pan-Ams
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GM Awonder Liang (courtesy Angie Le)

[pgn][Event "Pan-American Intercollegiate"] [Site "?"] [Date "2021.01.07"] [Round "2"] [White "Morefield, Jason"] [Black "Liang, Awonder"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E15"] [WhiteElo "2235"] [BlackElo "2597"] [Annotator "prave"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [SourceVersionDate "2022.01.11"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Bg2 d5 8. cxd5 exd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Nc3 Bb7 11. Qc2 Re8 12. Rfd1 Nbd7 13. a3 a6 $146 {This is a great Queen's Indian for Black. His plan from now is straightforward: Bd6, Qe7, and Ne4 followed by creating an attack on the kingside.} (13... c5 { is a different approach as taken in the game, immediately striking in the center.} 14. Bf4 Rc8 15. Qb2 Nf8 16. Be5 Ng6 $11 {was played in Gledura - Neiksans 2016.}) 14. b4 Bd6 15. Qb3 (15. Bf4 $5 {I like this idea, trading off the bishops before the attack gets too dangerous.} Bxf4 16. gxf4 {White may have doubled f-pawns, but the c7-pawn is now much more vulnerable and there are Ne5 ideas in the air.}) 15... Qe7 16. Ne1 Ne4 17. e3 $6 {This move is a bit slow, and it cuts off the d2-bishop from the f4-square.} (17. Nd3 {is best, intending Bf4 next move.} Ndf6 18. Bf4 Bxf4 19. Nxf4 $11) 17... Ndf6 18. Nd3 h5 $1 {Now that Black's pieces are all on their ideal attacking squares, it's time to march the h-pawn forward!} 19. Rac1 h4 20. Be1 hxg3 21. hxg3 Ng4 22. Nxe4 $2 {After this, Black's attack becomes unstoppable.} (22. Ne5 $1 {is a brilliant resource, sacrificing a pawn to create counterplay.} Bxe5 23. dxe5 Qxe5 24. Nxe4 (24. Nxd5 $2 Qh5 {is too strong for Black.}) 24... dxe4 25. Rd7 $1 {and White has just enough play to remain within the bounds of equality.}) 22... dxe4 23. Nc5 bxc5 24. bxc5 Bxg3 $1 {Tearing open White's kingside and creating additional weaknesses for him.} 25. fxg3 Qg5 26. c6 (26. Qxb7 { is not a free piece as} Qxe3+ 27. Kh1 (27. Kf1 Nh2#) 27... Qh6+ 28. Kg1 Qh2+ 29. Kf1 Ne3+ {is crushing for Black.}) 26... Bc8 27. d5 Qh6 {White has no defence against ...Qh2+} 28. Rd2 Qh2+ 29. Kf1 a5 $1 {A wonderful final touch, threatening ...Ba6+! Unable to handle all the threats, White resigns.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Overall, I think the tournament was organized quite well. All the necessary COVID precautions were taken, with required masks and thermometer checks for every round, and the top seven team matchups were broadcast live on the internet.

The tournament staff, headed by Organizer Anand Dommalapati, did an amazing job starting rounds on time and monitoring the event, and I would also like to give a shout out to the sponsors SIG and US Chess Trust for their generosity. Many thanks to as well for their support with live streaming commentary in partnership with ChessDojoLive (IM Kostya Kavutskiy & IM David Pruess) and MasterChess (NM Matan Prilleltensky & NM Alex King).

The Opening and Awards ceremony were attended by local dignitaries, including Virginia Delegate Suhas Subramanyam, Virginia State Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Loudoun County’s Commonwealth Attorney Buta Biberaj. Senator Boysko and Commonwealth Attorney Biberaj presented the awards to the teams and individual participants.

Quick links:

Final Team Standings
Final Individual Standings

Final crosstable on MSA

Alternative page at Chess Results