Spending Christmas packed into a car with 3 other dudes all with varying definitions of good music, as well as differing frequencies of restroom use, for 11 hours then another 6 hours the next day doesn’t exactly sound like a happy holiday at first.
Then again, at Florida State we know a thing or two about having a good time, and our trip to the 2014 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship was all of the above and more. We stopped over in Houston and discovered a fresh outdoor beer garden of sorts called Moon Tower with fire pits, a ping-pong table, and gourmet hot dogs ranging from wild boar to buffalo and even pheasant. We washed our meals down with some craft brewed ales while playing some blitz chess on the outdoor picnic tables, not a bad Christmas after all.
I had been looking forward to returning to Texas for a second and final time. Our team is essentially just a group of students who get together to casually play every Friday at the student union, none of which who ever played in scholastic chess growing up. We had no delusions about where we stood as a team in the line-up. Seeded number 40 out 46 at the start of the event we pretty much maintained that spot throughout (finishing 36th). But for us it was just as much about the rounds as it was team bonding, making new friends, checking out the town, and above all else learning more about the game that brought us all there.
We checked in the day before the tournament started and threw on some swim trunks, did I mention that the tournament was on South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico? As south a beach in Texas as it gets, the water was actually pretty bone chilling so we ended up on the hotel deck playing bughouse. We quickly attracted the attention of some other players from the University of Illinois who joined in on the piece dropping madness. Those guys were pretty sick so we had to keep the teams mixed in order not to get blown out.
Although it was the slow season South Padre island had a lot of great spots which we checked out between and after rounds. You could find food and drink specials everywhere along with anything from to pool tables to karaoke, the best part being that a fixed $6 will get you a cab ride anywhere on the island. Laguna Bob’s and Kelley’s where a couple of my favorite spots.
I have already written about my upset in the first round.
I hoped to continue the success the next day. Things don’t always go as planned and I lost two games with the black pieces. My opponents played well and were deserved winners but I do think that I had changed my usual routine at the board, which didn’t help. Specifically, I made a point not to watch the action at the top boards during my game. I actually believe watching the top boards helps me pace myself and avoid tunnel vision. Watching better players make better moves can rub off. I went back to doing this religiously the next two days and wanted to share some of those instructional and notable games.
In the 4th round the positions over the boards were as interestingly unbalanced as the match-ups themselves. At table 1 Texas Tech B faced off against UTD’s A team, the favorite by rating. Dallas cruised to a smooth 3.5-0.5 victory punctuated by GM Kritz’s choice of the Stonewall Dutch in a game that appeared to allow his opponent to menacingly get around on both flanks.
This seemingly promising infiltration instead led to white giving up his queen for bishop and rook, after which white was not able to coordinate his pieces effectively nor build any kind of fort as his pawns began to drop allowing black to win quite quickly.
Table 2 saw the most excitement of the 4th round as UMBC and Webster B clashed in a collection of face slapping hot games as Baltimore arose victorious with a score of 2.5-1.5. This was thanks in large part to GM Kore’s sweet pseudo-sacrificial attack on board 3 ironically resulting in a winning opposite colored bishops endgame.
After dropping half a point in round 3 Webster A was temporarily relegated to (gasp) 6th place and playing on the outskirts of their usual stomping grounds at table 3 versus an outgunned Columbia who was promptly swept on all boards without mercy. In totally different fashions GM’s Le and Robson had particularly nice wins as Le kept steering Victor Shen’s position closer and closer to zugzwangesque until the moment was primed to trade off the pieces into a won endgame.
Meanwhile Ray’s game was a funky melee featured pieces enprise all over the board before the dust settled where black’s 2R+B went on to win over Q+N.
At table 1 UTD A takes it, making a 3-1 statement over UMBC. Boards 1 & 4 saw draws but Dallas took both middle boards. On the number 2 spot, GM Kritz had another really nice win that showed some very instructive and patient play toward the end in illustrating how to win a won game.
While Dallas was putting the finishing touches on Baltimore, Webster was also pulling a 3-1 score over their opponent UT Brownsville A with draws on boards 1 & 2 and wins on 3 & 4.
Robson’s win with the white pieces employing the advance variation against the Caro Kann was one of my favorite games of the entire tournament.
This was not due to any fireworks but because it seemed clear to me Ray had prepped the line extremely thoroughly and his whole temporary pawn sacrifice concept that resulted in a positional advantage was understated yet awesome. He was able to net two pawns as a result and the cleanest of clean wins. The final 15 moves really emphasize how well white’s pieces were coordinated. By move 31, if not sooner, I am sure black must’ve been thinking “ugh…can it really be that simply over?!”
The final round had the match-up everyone expected but with Webster having shown some vulnerability in round 3, the pressure was on them to beat the undefeated Dallas team for ultimate tournament victory. Cue Mortal Kombat theme song.
Robson was held to a draw for the first time. Le too drew on board one, but the new kid on the block of international fame, GM Nyzhnyk of the Ukraine aka Peter Pan, won a miniature on board 2. Seriously a head scratcher and I have no clue what happened there, but it just seems like black missed some stuff while giving up a pawn in the opening, then an exchange, and then a piece?? I guess Peter was a super good boy this year and Santa decided to drop him some extra late X-mas gifts.
Webster A also won on board 4 to seal the deal and win the 2014 Pan Ams for the repeat.
All in All
We finished having won only two rounds, a repeat of our performance last year, which was a bit of disappointment. Exhausted we got back in the car and started the long drive home, our spirits quickly recovering when we stopped at the pump to refuel on some $1.99 regular!
Also see Al Lawrence’s Pan-American wrap-up here.