Webster U. Ties Itself for First Place at the Pan-Ams

Webster University’s teams dominated the Pan-Ams: 1st, 2nd, and a tie for 3rdWebster University’s teams dominated the Pan-Ams: 1st, 2nd, and a tie for 3rd

It’s true that St. Louis U. is the new super-squad on the block in the Gateway City. But neighboring Webster University made it clear this week that GM Susan Polgar’s protégés are still the Big Dogs In Charge. (“Big Gorlocks” just doesn’t seem to pack the same punch.)  In fact, you could say the St. Louis suburban school made its superiority doubly clear. At the New Orleans Pan-Ams, a 10-hour bus ride down river for Webster, its “B” and “A” teams finished one-two, the only two squads to score 5½  in the six-round Swiss. Webster-C even added a mike-drop clincher, joining the 5-0 score group to tie for third! (Ultimately, they were fifth on tie-breaks.) Perhaps you’re asking yourself: If Webster is so dominant, who then nicked both their top teams for half a point? Think Superman against Spiderman. Webster-A and Webster-B didn’t lose that half point to another college. It took a fifth-round showdown between the two same-school lineups to do that. And Webster A v. Webster B was a genuine battle. (Pan-Am rules forbid “package deal” draws or any other pre-arranged results.) It took a creative win by GM Ray Robson in the last game going in the matchup to even the score for the A-squad.

Webster-B, with Head Coach GM Susan Polgar, earned the first-place PanAms trophyWebster-B, with Head Coach GM Susan Polgar, earned the 1st-place Pan-Ams trophy

“It is all about team work!” GM Polgar said. “We trained as a team, traveled as a team, dined as a team, fought as a team, and won as a team! … Because our students respect our formidable rivals such as UTRGV, UTD, TTU, SLU, and UMBC, etc., they trained extra hard this year. Hard work and discipline does pay off!”

Four US college championship playoff spots, lots of pressure

Webster-A (right) dashes UT-RGV’s playoff hopes in the final roundWebster-A (right) dashes UT-RGV’s playoff hopes in the final round

The Pan-Ams are open four-player teams with up to two alternates from colleges in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The top four placing US schools go on to the Final Four of College Chess, this year to be held at New York City’s historic Marshall Club on March 25-26. The Final Four determines the US college championship. Schools can qualify for only one spot but then can send a team to the playoff made up of any of their students.

It’s understandable that the powerhouse scholarship programs of chess want desperately to validate their universities’ very substantial investments in the sport of chess by bringing home the big brass cups. Winning the Pan-Ams deserves a bonfire homecoming. But frankly, making the Final Four lets a head coach—after his four-day stress test—exhale and break into a broad smile. In good old American sports-speak, it’s “making the playoffs.” It seems that every year the road to the playoffs gets steeper. At this year’s Pan-Ams, there were six powerhouse scholarship teams and many a dark horse. And dark horses, non-scholarship programs like Illinois, Columbia and NYU, have a history of taking a spot. The Pan-Ams, after all, are a Swiss, and a pairing can sometimes make a door a bit easier to open—or feel like a brick wall.

More six-round stress. Saint Louis University’s GM Dariousz Swiercz versus UTD-C’s IM Eylon Nakar. SLU won 3-1, but UTD-C still finished in a respectable ninth placeMore round 6 stress. Saint Louis University’s GM Dariousz Swiercz versus UTD-C’s IM Eylon Nakar. SLU won 3-1, but UTD-C still finished in a respectable 9th place

SLU alumnus Rex Sinquefield, deserves recognition for bringing together a first-year squad, led by GM Dariusz Swiercz (USCF 2738),  that finished third on tie-breaks and qualified for the Final Four. The Billikens (did St. Louis colleges come late for the assignment of understandable mascots?) lost only to Webster-B, in round four, and then by the narrowest margin, 1½ - 2½.

[pgn][Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.30"] [Round "6.9"] [White "Nakar, Eylon - University of Texas, Dallas-C "] [Black "Swiercz, Dariusz - St. Louis University"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2580"] [BlackElo "2738"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "118"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+1785"] [WhiteClock "0:01:08"] [BlackClock "0:02:13"]{SLU's top board GM Dariusz Swiercz rolls out a provocative Sicilian in the final round and ground out an endgame for the win against UTD-C's IM Eylon Nakar.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. f3 Be7 9. Qd2 O-O 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 12. g5 Nh5 13. Nd5 Bxd5 14. exd5 f6 15. h4 fxg5 16. hxg5 Rxf3 17. Rxh5 {Diagram [#]} Rxe3 18. Qxe3 g6 19. Nd4 exd4 20. Qe6+ Kg7 21. Rh3 Bxg5+ 22. Kb1 Ne5 23. Rxd4 Qf8 24. Rh1 Qf3 25. Qh3 Qxh3 26. Bxh3 Nc4 27. c3 Rf8 28. Rh2 h5 29. a4 Bf6 30. Re4 Be5 31. Rg2 Kh6 32. axb5 axb5 33. Bd7 Nb6 34. Be6 g5 35. Rb4 Nc4 36. Rxb5 g4 37. Rb4 Ne3 38. Rg1 Kg5 39. Kc1 Rf2 40. Re4 Bf4 41. Kb1 Nf1 42. Ka2 Nd2 43. Rb4 Nf3 44. Rh1 Bh2 45. Rb8 g3 {Diagram [#]} 46. Rg8+ Kh4 47. Ra1 g2 48. Kb3 Nd2+ 49. Kb4 Rf4+ 50. Kb5 Rg4 51. Bxg4 hxg4 52. Rd1 Nf1 53. Rh8+ Kg3 54. Rd4 g1=Q 55. Rxg4+ Kxg4 56. Rg8+ Kf5 57. Rxg1 Bxg1 58. c4 Ke5 59. b4 Ne3 0-1[/pgn]
Texas Tech-A finished fourth on tie-breaks. also with a 5-1 score, losing only a squeaker to Webster-A in round four. “We've had a well-balanced team,” Head Coach and former US Champ GM Alex Onischuk said. “Even though all our players did moderately well, and each of them lost one game—we qualified quite convincingly.”
[pgn][Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.29"] [Round "4.3"] [White "Gorovets, Andrey - Texas Tech-A"] [Black "Robson, Ray - Webster-A"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D80"] [WhiteElo "2580"] [BlackElo "2762"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+1915"] [WhiteClock "0:00:37"] [BlackClock "0:00:52"]{Not many can claim the scalp of Webster's GM Ray Robson. Texas Tech IM Andrey Gorovets has tried and failed. But this time, in round four, things went Andrey's way, as Ray never got the compensation he was looking for out of the Grunfeld Defense.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Bg7 5. Bxf6 Bxf6 6. cxd5 c5 7. dxc5 Nd7 8. e3 O-O 9. Bc4 Nxc5 10. Nge2 Qb6 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Nd4 Rac8 13. O-O Qb4 14. Be2 Na4 15. Rab1 Rfd8 16. Rfc1 Nxc3 17. bxc3 Qa5 18. Rxb7 Qxd5 19. Bf3 Qa5 20. Qb2 Be8 21. h3 Rd6 22. Rb8 Rxb8 23. Qxb8 Rd8 24. Qb2 Kg7 25. Bc6 Qc7 26. Bxe8 Rxe8 27. c4 Qc5 28. Qd2 e5 29. Nb3 Qc6 30. c5 Rd8 31. Qc3 e4 32. Nd4 Qd5 33. c6 Qxa2 34. c7 Rc8 35. Qc5 Qb2 36. g3 Be7 37. Qe5+ Bf6 38. Qc5 Be7 39. Qc6 Bd6 40. Rc2 Qb6 41. Qd7 {Diagram [#]} Rxc7 42. Ne6+ Kh6 43. Rxc7 Bxc7 44. Qxf7 1-0[/pgn]
[pgn][Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.29"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Nyzhnyk, Illia - Webster-A"] [Black "Moradiabadi, Elshan - Texas Tech-A"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2713"] [BlackElo "2655"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+1250"] [WhiteClock "0:04:20"] [BlackClock "0:05:05"]1. d4 {This match up on board two between Webster-A and Texas Tech-A helped Webster to a narrow victory in round four and put Tech's collective backs against the wall.} d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. a3 c5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. dxc5 Nxc5 11. Be5 Bf6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. Qd4 Qxd4 14. Nxd4 Bd7 15. Be2 Rac8 16. b4 Ne4 17. O-O Rc7 18. Rfc1 Rfc8 19. Rxc7 Rxc7 20. Kf1 Kf8 21. Ke1 Ke7 22. Bd1 Rc8 23. Bb3 Nf6 24. Rd1 a5 25. Ne2 Be6 26. Rd4 axb4 27. Rxb4 Rc7 28. f3 g5 29. Kd2 Bc8 30. Nc3 Rc5 31. Kd3 h6 32. Kd4 Rc7 33. Rb6 Be6 34. Nxd5+ Bxd5 35. Bxd5 Nxd5 36. Kxd5 f6 37. a4 Rd7+ 38. Kc5 Rc7+ 39. Kb5 h5 40. a5 g4 41. e4 Kf7 42. Kb4 gxf3 43. gxf3 h4 44. h3 Kg7 45. f4 Re7 46. e5 fxe5 47. fxe5 Kf7 48. e6+ Kf6 49. Kc5 Ke5 50. Rb1 Rc7+ 51. Kb6 Re7 52. Rb4 Rg7 53. Rxh4 Kxe6 54. Rd4 Rh7 55. h4 Ke5 56. Rg4 Kf6 57. Rc4 Ke6 58. Rc5 Kd6 59. h5 Rg7 60. h6 Rh7 61. Rh5 Ke6 62. Rh1 Kd6 63. Rc1 Rf7 64. Rd1+ Ke6 65. Rg1 Rh7 66. Rg7 Rxh6 67. Kxb7 1-0[/pgn]
University of Texas-Dallas-A are 10-time Pan-Ams champions. UT-D brought six GMs and six IMs in all. With a draw against Columbia-A in round three and a loss to Webster-A in round six for a final score of 4.5, UT-D secured the last spot in the 2017 Final Four. “When you are not one of the top four seeds at the Pan-Am,” UT-D Program Director James Stallings said, “it means you have your work cut out for you. The UT-Dallas win in Round 5 over the number-2 seed UT-Rio Grande Valley was crucial to our qualifying for the Final Four.”
[pgn][Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.29"] [Round "5.8"] [White "Arribas Lopez, Angel - University of Texas, Dallas-A"] [Black "Hevia Alejano, Carlos - University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley-A"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C01"] [WhiteElo "2567"] [BlackElo "2559"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+1105"] [WhiteClock "0:36:47"] [BlackClock "0:10:16"]1. e4 {We've all heard the adage that the Exchange French leads to a draw. But UTD-A's Arribas Lopez played it (after 3. ... Bb4) for an impressive short win in round four.} e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. exd5 exd5 5. Bd3 Nc6 6. a3 Be7 7. Nce2 Bg4 8. c3 Qd7 9. Qc2 Bd6 10. Qb3 Nge7 11. Qxb7 Rb8 12. Qa6 O-O 13. h3 Bf5 14. Nf3 Rb3 15. Bxf5 Qxf5 16. Qa4 {Diagram [#]} Qc2 (16... Rfb8 $11) 17. Nd2 Rfb8 18. Nxb3 Rxb3 19. Ra2 Kf8 20. O-O Na5 21. Qxa5 Qb1 22. Bf4 1-0[/pgn]
The University of Toronto, the first school ever to win three straight Pan-Ams championships (1980-1982) took international honors with the only other 4½ -1½ score.

Great teams just missing the cut

Two of the traditional superstars didn’t make the cut. GM Bartek Macieja’s University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, a continuation of UT-Brownsville’s championship program, came in eighth with their best squad. University of Maryland-Baltimore County-A finished in 10th place in the 4-2 score group, along with some strong non-scholarship programs: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Columbia universities. A very strong University of Michigan-A team, with an average rating of over 2400 and led by IM Atulya Shetty, were paired against three top teams to put them at 17th, at the top of the 3½  score group.

Board beasts and individual bests

Earning the best score for your board position at a 60-team Pan-Ams is a lifetime achievement. GM Tanguy Ringoir of UMBC-A won Board One honors. GM Andrey Stukopin of UT-RGV earned the Board Two plaque. IM Rao Prasanna Raghuram of UTD-C was the star on Board 3. Being on the winning team while earning the best board performance means you were a monster. Manuel Leon Hoyos, of first-place Webster-B, is one of the friendliest GMs on the planet. But he was a beast at the board. He took both Best on Board Four and Top Individual standing with a 5½ score.

[pgn][Event "2016 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess "] [Site "Kenner Louisiana USA"] [Date "2016.12.30"] [Round "6.4"] [White "Arribas Lopez, Angel - University of Texas, Dallas-A"] [Black "Hoyos, Manuel Leon -  Webster-B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "2567"] [BlackElo "2539"] [Annotator "Lawrence,Al"] [PlyCount "38"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [TimeControl "6000+1385"] [WhiteClock "0:20:12"] [BlackClock "1:15:21"]{In this final-round game, UTD-A's aptly-named Arribas Lopez (he won the open blitz event ahead of GM Var Akobian, who was in New Orleans assisting UTD) tries a less common approach to GM Hoyos' Sicilian. In a few moves, Lopez had to regret his choice.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nf6 5. Bb5 a6 6. Qa4 b6 7. e5 Bb7 8. Bf1 Nd5 9. Nxd5 Bxd5 10. Be3 Nc6 11. O-O-O b5 12. Qf4 Bxa2 13. b3 Qa5 14. e6 dxe6 {White resigned in a hopeless position. For example:} 15. Nf3 Bxb3 16. cxb3 Qc3+ 17. Kb1 Qxb3+ 18. Kc1 Rc8 19. Kd2 Rd8+ 0-1[/pgn]
We must certainly also recognize University of Central Florida’s Gabriel Pita for the biggest individual upset, defeating an opponent rated 1241 points higher.

Division and other winners

Oberlin College accepts the Best Small College trophy for the fourth year in a row.Oberlin College accepts the Best Small College trophy for the fourth year in a row

The Pan-Ams offer a lot of division and special prizes. It’s important to bring home the brass! University of Illinois took Division II (200-2199).  Princeton won the Division III (1800-1000) trophy. University of Michigan-B earned Division IV (1600-1799) honors. Miami Dade College, which no longer qualifies for the Community College award since offering a baccalaureate degree, saw its “B” team take home the Division V (U1600) trophy. The team also pulled off the biggest team-upset prize, defeating a squad rated 348 points higher.

Some of the women players with USCF Women’s Committee Chair Maureen Grimaud (far right)Some of the women players with USCF Women’s Committee Chair Maureen Grimaud (far right)

Texas Tech B-team, led by WIM Iryna Andrenko, was best Women’s Team. (Next year, the event will also offer a Mixed Doubles team award.) Lone Star College, a last-minute entry, distinguished itself as top Community College. Oberlin-A was best small college for the fourth year in a row.  Tulane, the hosting college, was Best Louisiana Team.

Chief Organizer Jean Troendle prepares to award gorgeous trophies to the top five teams. Cajun Chess gave away a lot more hardware to other winners as well.Chief Organizer Jean Troendle prepares to award gorgeous trophies to the top five teams. Cajun Chess gave away a lot more hardware to other winners as well.

Not enough can be said about Chief Organizer Jean Troendle of Cajun Chess and her crew, who handled a last-minute registration surge and a 30-year turnout high with expertise and aplomb. Their 63rd version of the Pan-Ams was superb, from the Dixeland-band and Cajun-food reception to the well-organized and dignified awards ceremony before a packed room. Our thanks to Chief Arbiter Korey Kormick, Assistant Chief Arbiter Allen Priest, Assistant Arbiter Thomas Priest, New Orleans Open Chief TD Bob Ballard, Assistant TDs Doug Southon, Ken Ferguson, and staffers Rex Williams and Dan Johnson. Look for news on the Final Four during the March 25-26. And if you’re in college, plan on getting a team together for the 2017 Pan-Ams in Columbus, December 27-30, hosted by Ohio State University.  Join this year’s teams in being part of collegiate history. For more information, check out earlier reports by Al Lawrence and the official standings: