States Chess Cup: Regular Season

The States Chess Cup is a new online, team chess league, organized this past fall for players to represent their state and play against others from around the country. Since September, the league had 29 states participating in head-to-head matches to determine the first-ever States Chess Cup champion. 

League Format 

The league schedule was split between a 7-week regular season and a 4-week playoff bracket. In the regular season, each of the 29 states were geographically grouped into four divisions and played through a round robin. The top-two teams from each division then advanced to a single-elimination playoff bracket to determine the winner of the States Cup. 

 

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States Chess Cup U.S. Map Divisions
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The first States Chess Cup featured 29 U.S. states battling through a regular season and bracket playoffs.

●    East Division: Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania 

●    South Division: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia 

●    Central Division: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma 

●    West Division: Arizona, California-North, California-South, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington 

The South Division initially had three additional teams, which later dropped from the league. In response, the South schedule was modified and two wildcard spots were added to the playoffs to keep the league balanced. 

Match Format 

The match format was based off the PRO Chess League, with each team presenting a lineup of four players. Each player played one rapid game (G/15+2) against each opposing player, for a total of 4 games per player, and 16 games per match. Crucially, the lineup for each team had a rating cap of 2200 USCF, which allowed more states to field competitive rosters each week. The league was played on lichess.org, with games rated for the US Chess online rapid category. Each match was also streamed live on Twitch, with fans following their favorite states game by game. 

 

East Results 

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States Cup East Standings

 

Michigan won the East division with an undefeated score of 6/7, with two drawn matches against New Jersey and Maine. 

New Jersey finished a close second with 5.5/7, scoring five wins and a draw against Michigan. 

New York was very close to qualifying, but missed after being upset by Maryland 9.5-6.5 in the final round despite a rating difference of nearly 400 combined points.  

 

South Results 

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States Cup South Standings

 

In the South, Virginia won the division cleanly, scoring 5/6 with only one loss to North Carolina. 

Georgia took second place in the division with a score of 4/6, with two losses to Virginia and wins against every other state. 

 

Central Results   

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States Cup Central Standings

 

The Central Division was very competitive, with four states - Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri – all still holding a chance to qualify for the playoffs in the final week of the regular season. In the end, three teams made the cut, with Missouri being the odd state out. Iowa clinched first place with a strong 11-5 victory over Minnesota, and Illinois clinched second with a 9-7 victory over Missouri. Despite the loss, Minnesota earned a wild-card spot with its regular season score of 5/7. 

[pgn][Event "2020 SCC"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.11.23"] [Round "7"] [White "NM Titus, Andrew (MN)"] [Black "NM Wan, Joseph (IA)"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C06"] [WhiteElo "2332"] [BlackElo "2257"] [Annotator "Wan, Joseph"] [PlyCount "52"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.11.23"] {A key matchup in the final match of the regular season. NM Andrew Titus (2332), who I had tied with for first place in the 2011 K-3 Nationals, is always a dangerous opponent. The final match was a key match for both Iowa and Minnesota as the loser would likely be eliminated from playoffs (as it turned out, MN ended up qualifying on wildcard basis anyway).} 1. e4 e6 {Back to the French!} 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Be7 {I decided to stray from the super main lines of 3... Nf6 or 3... c5, thinking that Andrew might not be as prepared vs. this line. I don't play it often, but it's always nice to throw in something that your opponent might not have seen as much of.} 4. Ngf3 Nf6 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bd3 c5 7. c3 Nc6 8. Qe2 $5 {Now I'd never seen this move before, but after I saw the White queen on "e2", I saw an opportunity to grab the bishop pair.} (8. O-O { mainline.} g5 9. dxc5 g4 10. Nd4 Ndxe5 11. N2b3 $13 {with play for both sides.} ) 8... cxd4 9. cxd4 Nb4 $1 {My goal was to capture White's good bishop, and prevent any real chances of a future kingside attack. But there was also something sneaky planned into this, as I had expected White to retreat his bishop.} 10. Bb1 $6 {The start of White's troubles. I assume that Andrew had missed my followup, which punishes White for not castling and being passive.} b6 $1 {Now White cannot castle due to the 11... Ba6 skewer, and now must settle down to defend a difficult position.} 11. a3 $2 {But this makes matters worse.} (11. Qd1 Ba6 12. Nb3 Rc8 13. a3 Nc6 $15 {is still okay for White, albeit not the most pleasant position to play as Black has gotten a lot of tempi to develop his pieces.}) 11... Ba6 12. Qe3 $2 $19 {And now White is close to lost.} (12. Qd1 $1 {The best chance.} Nd3+ 13. Bxd3 Bxd3 14. Nf1 Ba6 15. Ng3 Qc7 16. Ne2 Qc4 17. Bd2 Qb5 $17 {Black has a massive advantage, but the position for White is much better than what happened in the game.}) 12... Rc8 {White cannot castle, and now faces the threat of 13... Rxc1 mate, so he has no time to collect Black's knight and must let it into "c2".} 13. Nb3 Nc2+ 14. Bxc2 Rxc2 15. Bd2 O-O {Taking time to calmly develop the remaining piece the shift the king away from the center. White is paralyzed.} 16. Rb1 {However, Andrew fights on. This opens up 17. Na1 as an option to kick the annoying Black rook away from the seventh rank and prepare to block the "c" file with 18. Bc3. Black must not give White any time to breathe.} Qc7 17. Na1 Rc6 18. Ng1 $2 {It is understandable that White wants to play 19. Ne2 and 20. 0-0, but in reality this speeds up his loss, as it's way too passive. It's hard to find a good move anyways, but the computer proposes 18. h4, perhaps to find an alternative way of developing the rook.} (18. h4 h6 19. Rh3 f6 20. b4 fxe5 $1 21. b5 Bxb5 $1 22. Rxb5 e4 $1 $19 {Black is close to crushing anyways. The pieces are too active.}) 18... f6 $1 {In some ways the final blow, as once the king rook, knight, and dark squared bishop are freed, it's all over.} 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. h3 {The "g4" square may be blocked, but the knight has another square! } Ne4 21. Nf3 {You know it's a really sad state when White just moved his knight back to "g1" a couple of moves ago and is being forced to redevelop it against his will.} e5 $3 {A cute way of blowing up the center. White has so little pieces developed that Black can afford to throw away some pawns. Besides, White can't even take the pawn, and skewers from the dark squared bishop will prove decisive.} 22. b4 {A last desperation at counterplay, but too little too late.} exd4 23. Qxd4 Nxd2 24. Kxd2 Rxf3 $1 {And a well calculated blow to finish things off. The rook is untouchable, and Black wins the house.} 25. Qxd5+ ({Here's what would've happened if White took the rook.} 25. gxf3 Bg5+ 26. Ke1 Rc1+ 27. Rxc1 Qxc1+ 28. Qd1 Bd2#) 25... Rf7 26. Rhc1 Qf4+ {White resigned here. This was a classic game and an unusual one, in which the typical bad French bishop was a monster, the original piece to wreak havoc over the White position by preventing castling. I then built up the pressure and brought all my pieces into the game for the knockout blow. This was a brilliant match for Iowa, as the 11-5 win with strong performances from all boards cemented our spot in the playoffs.} 0-1 [/pgn]
 

West Results 

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States Cup West Standings

 

The West was arguably the strongest division in the league, with many teams sending four-player squads averaging 2190+ nearly every week of the regular season. Five West teams -- Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and two California teams – still held a chance to make playoffs in the final round of the regular season.   

In the end, California-North won on tiebreaks with Washington, as the top-two qualifying spots in the division. The additional wildcard spot went to California-South, which edged out Arizona on tiebreaks. 

Click through to part two of this article on the States Chess Cup playoffs.

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