“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
That quote can be summarized in a single word, and that is Webster! I am going to primarily focus on the laborious efforts of the Webster team on its path to success in Columbus, as a recap of the whole tournament is written by Al Lawrence in another article.
When the Webster team started its journey on December 26,2017 to Columbus, we hoped that all the bumps before the event had come to an end, only to find out that there were few more hiccups before we reached our destination.
The first bump we faced as a team before the event was final exams until December 22nd, which left most of the players with very limited time to train and, also, to get in the spirit of Christmas!
When everyone finished with their exams, then came the next shocker to the team, which was GM Ilya Nyzhnyk falling sick and being diagnosed with pneumonia, which derailed our board order plans. Ilya was so sick that it was highly doubtful if he could make it to Columbus with the team. As lineup changes happened at the last minute, few of the team members had to prepare for additional opponents to make sure they have bullet proofed all their chess weaknesses.
There were a few more niggles like delayed buses, bad weather on our way to Columbus, but none of these affected our team spirit as all that the players had in mind was to give their best to this team and to ensure that the title streak of Webster continues for one more year in the Pan-Ams.
Once we got down to business on December 27th, the Webster-A team was the top seed with a rating average of 2724.3, and the Webster-B team with a rating average of 2634.3 was ranked #4. The one thing that was constantly said to us by our coach Susan Polgar and manager Paul Truong is that every single team out there is aiming to take us down, so we were asked to be on our toes the whole time to make sure no one upset the apple cart.
As the 800 lbs, gorilla teams were beating much weaker oppositions in the early rounds, there were quite a few individual upsets on the lower boards like this. In a spectacular tactical game, the top board of Webster-D, NM Aaron Grabinsky beat GM Denis Kadric of UTD-B.
The monster matchups began in Round 4 when Webster-A faced UTD-A. Board 1 and 3 were quick draws, which gave an upper hand to Webster-A as we had black pieces on both those boards. It was all left to Jorge Cori and Vasif Durarbayli to bring the winning point of the match, and the Grandmaster from Azerbaijan lead the way in bringing home the match point.
Webster-B meanwhile got destroyed by UTRGV-A(1-3), as I lost my game to GM Belous and GM Manuel Leon Hoyos lost to GM Carlos Hevia Alejano. At the end of Round 4, three teams had a perfect 4-0, and they were the top three seeds (Webster-A, SLU, UTRGV-A).
Webster-A vs. SLU. Photo: Paul Truong
The most awaited matchup of the tournament happened in Round 5 between Webster-A and SLU, the only teams to have a rating average above 2700. The match turned out to be an absolute nail-biter! Let’s join as one of the spectators of the game to see what happened between Ray Robson and Yaroslav Zherebukh which was the most defining game of the tournament, as it basically decided who is going to win the tournament.
The mood in the Webster team room had lightened a bit after the crucial victory, as Webster-A was the outright leader, and the B-team was up there in the standings too with a score of 4/5. As the players were enjoying the moment of success, our coach gave us some wise words “It’s not yet over, you have one more game tomorrow, and it is important that you go and give your best one final time for 2017.”
Webster-A could not make it 6-0, as we conceded a draw to UTD-B in the final round, but we had achieved our mission of being the champion for the 6th year in a row! I personally had a good event playing for the Webster-B, picking up few rating points, and also got to play a beautiful game against IM Zurab Javakhadze of UTD-C in my last ever Pan-American Collegiate game.
This was the last Pan-Am for myself, Ray Robson, and Manuel Leon Hoyos from the Webster team and I guess we can call ourselves very content Pan-Am veterans (playing six Pan-Am which is the limit according to collegiate chess rules).
Webster Team. Photo: Paul Truong
2017 ended on a high note, and now its time for the top four finishers (Webster, Saint Louis University, Texas Tech University, and the University of Texas at Rio-Grande Valley) to battle it out for supremacy from March 30-April 1, 2018 in the Final Four of Collegiate Chess at the historic Marshall Chess Club in New York City.
For more on the Pan-Ams, check out Al Lawrence’s on-site coverage: