Smooth Moons at the Amateur Team South

L-R: Benjamin Moon (who I nicknamed “Smooth”), Carter Peatman, Jonathan Hrach, and Vishal Balyan

This year when US Chess contacted me about writing an article for the Amateur Team South in Orlando, Florida my exact reply was “(I) will be happy to cover the event.” That was it. In my head I was actually thinking “WTF angle am I going to go with this year?!” I quickly ruled out relying too much on my own personal experience, mainly because I had already done it before and my own team was likely not to be in contention with me on board 1. So armed with whatever time I had during my opponent’s moves I walked around and paid close attention to the top few matches every round. I was on the hunt for games and moves that made me wish I was playing them.

Round 1

We join the action at the start of the 2-day section where, as to be expected, we find pre-tournament favorite team “Hanging by the Thread” paired against “Make Pawns Great Again.” Since hearing the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare as children, everyone loves a great underdog story.

Except in this case the turtle was greased in mutagen ooze and driving a Tesla Roadster paid for by Bitcoin in December of 2017 (before the drop). This game existed for the very briefest of flashes on board 2 between a Class A player with the black pieces against a Master. By move 10 white had moved his queen 3 times and by move 15 he was getting mated. I was thoughtful enough to lose my own first round game versus a Fide Master quickly enough to catch this for you. You’re welcome!

Alas, this was the only win scored by Sam Sokhanvari’s team in round 1. They also drew on board 3 but team chess is about winning the war, not the battle. Sam’s opponent Mike Zaloznyy recovered after this tough start-scoring 3.5/4 in the remaining games.

Match result: Make Pawns Great Again (1.5) – Hanging by the Thread (2.5)

Round 2

When the 2-day and 3-day schedules collided in round 2, spectators were treated to an archetypal King’s Indian Defense on board 2 of “Czech First Mate Follows” versus “Yu Kant Be Hy”. Pick a side, White’s queenside or Black’s kingside. Like Bill Murray in the classic movie Groundhog Day, would our anti-hero live to see another day or was he doomed to repeat the same fate of many a practitioner in such an all or nothing system? Truman Hoang playing with the black pieces got his pawn storm rolling but White, championed by Doug Hyatt, fought back with a bishop sac forcing a queen trade. This extinguished any potential immediate mating attack, allowing Doug to turn his attention back to the queenside.

The game went on a bit further with black in zugzwang and losing additional pawns. This was the sole win in that very close match, making it all the more sweet.

Match Result: Czech First Mate Follows (1.5) – Yu Kant Be Hy (2.5)

Round 3

For me the highlight of round 3 was Vishal Baylan’s blistering black knights bombardment on board 4 for the “Moon’s Baboons”. William Bowman of the cleverly named team “Reti Set Alpha Go” made an aggressive decision on move 26 with Bxc7 instead of retreating his bishop back to e1. This allowed black’s knights to infiltrate and grab the f2 pawn . Bowman’s concept was based on using his own two knights and rook to capture black’s base c-pawn and create a passed pawn. Black’s attack came first and fast as Vishal’s scallywag knights wreaked complete havoc. For the analysts out there, Black did misstep on move 31. … Qe7 allowing White to escape with a draw (32. Kxh2 Qg5 33. Qf3 Rb2+) but instead White was too tempted by 32. Naxc6 forking the rook and queen.

Winning in style is great, but winning in style when your team needs you to makes you a freaking chess hero.

Match Result: Moon’s Baboons (2.5) – Reti Set Alhpa Go (1.5)

Round 4

Going into round 4 the “Moon’s Baboons” were the only unscathed team on 3/3. With two teams chasing on 2.5, the penultimate round was critical. If the Baboons were to be slowed down it needed to happen now.

Last year Vlad Yanovsky’s team took 1st place at the expense of him taking some hard defeats on board 1 as the rating underdog round after round. This year big Vlad tried a different approach moving to board 3 on his new team “Hanging by the Thread.” Would it pay off? For Vlad it certainly did. He scored 4/5 points with no losses on board 3 winning this cute game along the way.

A neat lesson in converting a queenless Sicilian. My favorite moves were 11. e5 and 18. Bc5, essentially giving up a pawn early on and winning two later for a net gain of a 1 pawn up winning endgame. The tactical shot on move 26. Rxd4 is about as hard to spot as an elephant in a petting zoo, but that doesn’t take away from how cool an elephant in a petting zoo still is.

With this win and another on board 2 by Mike Zaloznyy, the Threads drew the Baboons. This kept their own winning chances alive.

Match Result: Hanging by the Thread (2) – Moon’s Baboons (2)

Round 5

Still in the sole lead with 3.5 points after 4 rounds, the Baboons had their work cut out for them in the 5th and final round. No less than 5 teams were on 3 points. This was no time for monkey business and their formidable final opponents “Yu Kant Be Hy” were anything but.

Benjamin “Smooth” Moon had been figure skating his way through his opposition on board 1.   I was slow to take note of his fluid style for the first couple rounds because it is so easy to overlook transitions into winning endgames in search of mating attacks. To continue along with my analogy, the quadruple axel has 4.5 revolutions. Never has a quad axel jump ever been landed in a competition, until round 5. Benjy Smooth played this harmonious game to to finish with a phenomenal final individual score of 4.5/5, clinching the gold for the Baboons.

Throw in two scorching hot wins by board 2’s Jonathan Hrach and Vishal on board 4 and “Moon’s Baboons” had secured the full point and thus won the Amateur Team South outright.

Match Result: Yu Kant Be Hy (1) – Moon’s Baboons (3)

The “Moon’s Baboons” were the worthy and deserved champions and there was always excitement to be found in their games. Observing them really made a strong impression of how team chess should be played. “Hanging by the Thread” and “Magnus Chess” rounded out 2nd and 3rd place in the Open section, with teams “OCG Returns”, “Knights of the Chess Table” and the “FAU Chess Team” finishing in places 1-3 respectively in the Under 1500 section.

On an important note of solidarity, many players at the event wore pins in honor of the 17 lives lost in Parkland, Florida. #MSDStrong

Find full final standings from the US Amateur Team South on the official site.  

Pins given out and worn in memory of the students of Majorey Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.


  1. It has been pointed out to me that I meant “moved his QUEEN 3 times…” and not king. Pardon the silly mistake (although the king did move a few times himself in this game;)!

  2. A fantastic article as always. A special thanks to William Bowman for the beautiful idea of providing pins and countless hours of silence at the chessboard dedicated to the fallen loved ones, their families and friends.

    Having attended MSD myself, this hit home.

  3. Thank you Ben! Looking forward to next year. Just a note on my game. I played Bxc7 prior to Ng4. Bxf1 Bxc7 Qxc7 Kxf1 then Ng4. Thanks!

  4. I’ve been playing Chess for over 50 years, played on my High School Chess Team and really enjoy playing whenever I can !!

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