Webster University Wins Seventh Title at 65th PanAms

Webster University chess team, Photo David Llada

A big roster of stars is a blessing in any sports team. The Pan American Intercollegiate Championships are no different, where chess programs with deep pockets bring a deep bench—multiple teams with strong GMs.

Webster-A, who began with a 100-plus edge over rivals UT-Dallas and Texas Tech, brought a B-team with an average US Chess rating of 2665, third-best. As Texas Tech learned, if you get by one Webster, there’s another staring back at you in the next round.

In the end, Webster, with 5 ½ out of 6 match points, took its seventh PanAms title in a row, and its fifth in clear first. (Trivia: In 2016, Webster-A and Webster-B tied for first, outdistancing all others.) Webster’s mascot, the Gorlok, may be imaginary, but its chess prowess is not. Webster has won a claim to first place since the start of its program in 2012.

Three teams scored 5-0, and four finished with 4 ½ -1 ½. In tiebreak order (four-board US Chess rating average is given in parentheses):

Webster U.-A (2737)5.5-0.5First-place trophy
UT Dallas-A (2615)5-1Second-place trophy
Webster U.-B (2665)5-1Third-place trophy
Harvard U. (2421)5-1Fourth-place trophy
UT-Rio Grande Valley-A (2661)4.5-1.5Fifth-place trophy
St. Louis University-A (2692)4.5-1.5
Texas Tech-A (2624)4.5-1.5
UT-Rio Grande Valley-B (2525)4.5-1.5

UT-Dallas, who was shut out of last year’s Final Four on tiebreaks, took no such chance this year. In its Round 6-match against University of Maryland Baltimore County, a 10-time PanAms winner, the only decisive game was GM Razvan Preotu-IM Matyas Marek on Board 3. But it’s an out-for-blood hair-raiser in which White castles long, while Black leaves his king in the center and pushes his queenside pawns all the way down to White’s palace guard. Ultimately, Preotu, a hot hand for UTD, found a dramatic closer. UTD Coach IM Rade Milovanovic can retire after 20 years on the same winning streak he started in 1999.

Tiebreak tension

The top four US universities qualify for the Final Four of College Chess—the playoffs for the US collegiate National Championship. But unlike the PanAms, the Final Four limits universities to just one squad. (Although the team needn’t be the same individuals who won the spot in the PanAms.) So, although Webster teams finished 1st and 3rd, one of the three teams that tied for fifth place with 4 ½ match points had to be given a shot at the overall championship in April. UT-Grande Valley, St. Louis University, and Texas Tech—all at 4 ½ —hoped to get into the Final Four for bragging rights to showpiece the scholarship programs that bring together their grandmaster teams. The conscientious team of top-flight tournament directors had to apply tiebreaks.

Hovhannes Gabuzyan, first board for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Photo by David Llada for Bay Area Chess

The critical tiebreak multiplier at the PanAms is a team’s total game points. Texas Tech had piled up the game points in the early rounds on its run to Table 1, where in Round 5, the squad scored a 2-2 tie against slightly higher-rated Webster-B. But the Swiss system of pairing rarely allows a good deed to go unpunished. The final round saw Webster’s big brother show up on Table 1 turf for family revenge against Tech. And Webster-A delivered a drubbing, allowing only a single, board-three draw. The tiebreak collapse included a time-pressure blunder by Tech’s top board, Andrey Baryshpolets, who had performed brilliantly in their surge. But, playing only on increment with an extra, passed pawn, he fell for a piece-losing trap set by GM Illia Nyzhnyk.

GM Illia Nyzhnyk, Photo David Llada 

Can a team this bright really be a dark horse?

The Harvard chess team: Photo David Llada

Harvard gives no monetary support to chess. This year’s team featured four seniors who got to San Francisco on their own—and frankly came for the fun of it. They were delighted with the outcome, of course, but said that they would have been happy with the weekend if they hadn’t qualified. In board order and with majors in parentheses:

  1. GM Darwin Yang (economics)
  2. IM Richard Wang (neuroscience)
  3. FM Varun Krishnan (computer science)
  4. NM Bryan Hu (electrical engineering)

Harvard clinched its standing with a last-round win against SLU-B, as Wang and Hu won and, in the final game going on the table, Yang, as Black against GM Francesco Rambaldi, played enterprisingly to reach a position in which he had a rook and bishop against a queen. But he also enjoyed three passed pawns. Rambaldi chose to repeat the position with checks, conceding the match. The game, on Table 4, wasn’t captured by the DGT board-broadcast, but here’s the score:

“I am also so happy for Darwin Yang of Harvard, a wonderful young man whom I have known for many years and who’s played in many of my events,” Webster Coach and former Women’s World Champ GM Susan Polgar said. “His team beat out other powerhouses to qualify!”

Important division team titles

Plenty of other teams compete for impressive titles—titles that boost their program’s standing back on campus. Bringing home the trophy goes a long way in catching the attention of college administrators—as well as other students.

Division II (2199-2000):           University of Michigan

Division III (1999-1800):          UC Berkeley-B

Division IV (1799-1600):         Miami Dade College

Division V (1599-1400):          Oberlin College

Division VI (Under 1400):     University of Utah

Top International Team:         Hart House Chess Club (Canada)

Top Small College:                  Northwest University, Oberlin College and Alaska University

Best Mixed Doubles:               University of Michigan

Top board prizes

Every successful team needs a “board beast.” The overall point-monster this year is UC-Berkeley’s Tanmay Khattar, the only player to win all six games. Khattar moves up to Expert class. GM Illia Nyzhnyk also merits special notice, piling up 5 ½ points for Webster-A while facing the best on Board 1. Here’s his first-round win over Arizona State U.-A’s NM Alec Andersen

[Insert game Nyzhnyk-Andersen]

Board 1:          GM Illia Nyzhnyk         Webster-A       (5 ½ points)

Board 2:          GM Kamil Dragun       UT-RGV-A        (5 points)

Board 3:          Tanmay Khattar          UC-Berkeley    (6 points)

Board 4:          NM Bryan Hu              Harvard           (5 ½ points)

Alternate:        WCM Claudia Munoz  Texas Tech-B   (3 points)

There are always big upsets at the PanAms. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (1782) took home the plaque for Biggest Team Upset for defeating Washington University of St. Louis (2128). John Ludlum of the University of Utah, rated 794, earned Biggest Individual Upset for his draw against an Expert rated 2011.

Organizers and staff make it happen

It’s no accident that the 2018 PanAms drew universal praise for its organization and direction. Organizer Judit Sztaray was named 2017 Organizer of the Year by US Chess. She’s executive director of Bay Area Chess, the sponsoring US Chess affiliate, which earned the 2018 Chess Club of the Year award. The TD crew of a national team event always has a challenging technical job, and this year’s blue-ribbon crew, led by Chief TD (NTD and IA) Tom Langland, was flawless and friendly. Floor TD was NTD Glenn Panner, Assistant TD was Jordan Langland, Pairings TD was NTD John McCumiskey.

Judit Sztaray of Bay Area Chess and Peter Giannatos of the Charlotte Chess Center

Next year’s PanAms will be held December 27-30 in Charlotte, North Carolina. So make your plans to get in on the history and fun. And remember to approach your college student government and administrators early for possible funding!

Al Lawrence is the managing director of the US Chess Trust, and a frequent contributor to CLO and Chess Life Magazine. 

Next up in the Bay Area: A strong International spanning from January 1-7, the Bay Area International. Follow along on the official site. 


  1. […] Judges praised the fun lede and breadth of the article on one of US Chess’s major events, the Junior High School Championships, one of three major Spring Scholastics on our Events slate. Vanessa Sun is a frequent contributor to CLO, and also active on social media on her instagram account and her new twitter feed. In 2018, she also reported on the  the Greater New York Scholastics and the US Amateur Team East. Sun most recently tweeted for US Chess on the Pan-American Championships in San Francisco.  […]

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