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College Chess / 2015 PanAms


The Knight Raider A-team members on hearing they had won Texas Tech’s first-ever Intercollegiate Pan-American Team Chess Championship. From left, IM Andriy Gorovets (board four), GM Andriy Baryshpolets (board three), Head Coach GM Alex Onischuk, GM Yaro Zherebukh (board one), and GM Elshan Moradiabadi (board two).


DARK HORSE WITH A LONG TRADITION Collegiate team chess goes back to the 1890s, and Columbia University was then dominant. Near the turn of the century, even José Raúl Capablanca played first board for Columbia. The PanAms have been held regularly since 1946, and Columbia has won five times, but not since 1984, a decade before the days of big scholarship programs. Led this year by FMs Arthur Shen and Kyron Griffith, who earned “best board two” recognition, the Lions lost only to Webster-B in round three. Escaping a matchup with another powerhouse, the 2340-rated team went 5-1. “The entire team was ecstatic,” Expert Jonathan Pagan, board two of Columbia’s B-team said. “The previous two years, we were close to qualifying but faltered in the critical rounds. We owe a lot of our success to Kyron Griffith’s performance on board two, including the last round win that earned us the Final Four berth.” (See Games.) “While we receive a generous allocation each year from Columbia, it does not come close to resembling that of our powerhouse colleagues. Playing against teams of grandmasters gives us ... a great deal of motivation.” Some of the biggest news concerned super-teams that did not make the


Final Four cut in Cleveland: UT-Dallas, a deep-bench program whose top two teams include seven grand masters and three international masters, has won the PanAms 10 times. But in rounds four and five, its A-team suffered back-to-back losses to UT-RGV-A and Webster-B. UTD-Dallas-B kept hope smoldering until its final-round 3-1 rout by Texas Tech. Another 10-time PanAms winner, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, is the only team that had qualified for the Final Four every year since the event’s founding in 2001. UMBC’s Alan Sherman is the pioneer of college scholarship chess teams. His program offers four Pepsi-sponsored full scholarships. But this year, the best UMBC could do was a 1900-player on board four. “With only


three strong players on our team this year … it was a difficult uphill battle. Recruiting has become more challenging now that at least six schools are offering major chess scholarships.” (See “Scholarship Bigamy,” page 40.)


B EQUALS A The most surprising also-ran was prohibitive favorite Webster-A, a team with an average rating of 2747—distancing anyone else by nearly 100 points. Its third-round loss to UTD-B and a fifth-round draw with Texas Tech-A left the nation’s premier college squad out of the winner’s circle. Regardless, the very same top four who played for Webster’s A-team will go to the Final Four, augmented with some addi tional GMs, according to a comment online to the Webster University Journal by team coach and publicist Paul Truong. Although Webster’s B-team secured the spot, the current rules permit a university to field what ever team they want at the playoffs. And there are no limits to the number of teams a university can enter. Some argue for limiting universities to one GM team. Columbia’s Shen, al though not a member of a scholarship powerhouse, disagrees. “If grand masters are going to college, they should be able to play.” While we’re on the subject of rules that may surprise—at the Final


Four it’s possible to beat every other team in head-to-head matches and still not win the championship. That’s because game points, not match points, count at the playoffs. Imagine Major League Baseball using total runs to determine the winner of the World Series. Or don’t.


THE BILLIKEN IN THE ROOM The “Billiken,” a gnome-like, fanciful creation of Kansas City Artist Florence Pretz, was the Yoda doll of 1908. Somehow, and no one really


www.uschess.org 39


PHOTO CREDIT: AL LAWRENCE


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