Grateful for the amazing weather we’ve had today for Quadmania at UMBC.
Very proud of the work put in by the Technical Services crew I getting the stage ready for the afternoon.
I am all for programs like this. I would love for the @UMBC Chess Program to become more involved locally in creating after school programs and other similar forms of outreach.
Would certainly be one of the benefits of having a full-time program coordinator one day.
A great way to give and promote development of young people in our community.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
New York, NY - Final Four of College Chess - Round 3 & Closing Ceremony
It was, without question, another exciting year at the Final Four of College Chess, this year at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan. Pre-tourney favorites struggled a bit, while arguable underdogs demonstrated that they shouldn’t be underestimated.
The final round began at 9:00 am on Sunday morning, which can be a rather brutal reality after playing two rounds of high-stakes chess the day before. Your mind becomes exhausted, as well as your body from the planning, the calculation, and the anxiety that comes from pushing your game to the final seconds on your clock.
In round three the Gorlocks from Webster University were paired against the #2 seed, Texas Tech Red Raiders. Webster U. had been struggling more than perhaps anyone had expected in the first two rounds of the tournament, being put on the ropes in round one by Illinois and being taken for 1.5 points by UMBC, thanks to GM Kore’s fantastic victory over the #19 player in the world, GM Wesley So. It was sure to be an exciting round.
Late in the middle game into the early parts of the endgame, with little time remaining on any of the clocks, Webster U. was objectively worse on at least three of the four boards. GM Wesley So managed to score a point with a victory over GM Moradiabadi, while GM Ray Robson of Webster U. danced on the time ledge with NM Torres, each of the players surviving on increment alone in a somewhat complicated position with queens still on the board. Robson eventually earned the win, clinching the national championship for Webster U. as they only needed to score two points in the match to defend their title. However, there are still two of their games in progress, which I will return to a bit later.
The other match featured the Illini of the University of Illinois versus the Retrievers of UMBC in a third round rematch from the 2013 Final Four. I had been telling the team since the opening ceremony dinner on Friday night not to underestimate the squad from U of I. After all, this is the second consecutive year these gentlemen have earned their right to play on college chess’s center stage. They pushed against Webster U. in round one, arguably had some chances on their boards, and they took a point from Texas Tech in round two. Furthermore, their top board, FIDE Master, Eric Rosen is a solid player who doesn’t seem to bring much fear with him to the chess board.
To achieve their best chance at finishing in second place, UMBC needed to sweep their match against the University of Illinois, which can be a tall order in a game such as chess and invites a level pressure that only complicates your preparation and play.
Mr. Rosen’s opponent on board one was GM Huschenbeth, who was sporting the black pieces again this round. Niclas had a nice position out of the opening and was doing quite well throughout before things started to teeter and totter a bit, heading into the endgame. Niclas didn’t express much worry beyond a slight shake of his head toward the end of the game, where it appeared as though he may have overlooked something, making his advantage a bit more difficult to convert. In the end, he prevailed, scoring a point for UMBC. That’s one.
GM Akshayraj Kore had the white pieces on board two for UMBC and I must be honest that I didn’t understand much of what was going on in his game until the very end when his threats were more concrete.
The beautiful thing about Raj’s play when you watch him is that he seems to sink into what I can only describe as a focused trance while he plays. It’s as if he shuts out everything else around him and their is only his game. If the world opened up and swallowed the athletic club whole, Raj would continue calculating his lines to the end while falling into the abyss.
Thankfully, he maintained his focus, accumulated some small advantages and nursed them to the end for the full point. UMBC 2.0 / Illinois 0.0.
On board three, IM Levan Bregadze faced down Michael Auger, who has also demonstrated his ability to play some solid chess in previous tournaments. Today, unfortunately, Levan’s knowledge of the Pirc/Modern defense was too much. Levan obtained a very strong knight on d4 and also managed to saddle Auger with doubled f-pawns. In fact, Levan managed to create threats in every sector of the board with weak pawns for White on the kingside, domination of the open e-file in the center and a nice lift of the rook to a6, where it could swing along the sixth rank to create new threats on the queenside. It was simply too much for white’s position to bear and Levan converted the point quite nicely. One more to go.
IM Nazi Paikidze rounded out the UMBC lineup on board four with the white pieces. She nursed her opening advantage throughout the middle game before making a calculation error in her opponent’s options (…Qc8) that nearly caused her heart to stop. ”I had overlooked the move …Qc8 by black and as soon as I saw it, I panicked for a moment because I thought to myself, if I lose this game, it will be my fault if we don’t get second,” said Paikidze.
After the miscalculation, Black had chances to draw the game all the way through to the rook and pawn ending, but captured the a-pawn when he should have captured the h-pawn, creating a position on the board that is a theoretical draw with correct play. By masterfully maneuvering her rook and king, Nazi was able to advance her kingside pawns and center pawn, making promotion inevitable. Black resigned, allowing UMBC to complete the 4-0 sweep they needed to give themselves a shot at second place. It was quite the comeback on day three.
It was indeed only a shot because the Retrievers had to rely on Webster U. delivering at least a score of 3-1 over Texas Tech in order for them to surpass Tech’s score (5.5),which had them standing in second place going into the final round.
As fate would have it, Texas Tech gave Webster quite the run for their money on boards one and three. Mind you, at this point, when most quarterbacks would take a knee and use their downs to run out the clock because they had clinched the championship, Webster fought on in their two remaining games. This is a testament to their class as chess players and the mentality instilled in them by their coach, Susan Polgar, a former Women’s World Champion herself.
In both games the Webster U. player was worse and playing the black pieces, but they don’t get to become grandmasters without knowing how to grit it out when all seems lost. Webster U. GM’s Quang Liem Le and Georg Meier managed to steer their battles into a rook and bishop versus rook endgame, which is incredibly difficult to win, even with correct play. They needed to avoid any kind of mating net and survive for 50 moves without a capture (or trade off the rooks) in order to secure the draw.
In the wings, UMBC patiently waited, trusting that the talented GM’s from Webster U. would hold their positions and allow us to become national runner-up in college chess.
Around 2:00 pm, the final players shook hands and we looked at one another with huge grins and open arms. We had become the national runner-up despite having lost two of our matches during the tournament.
I say it incessantly, but I am incredibly proud of the students that makeup our UMBC Chess Team. I admire their passion for their sport, the efforts they make in balancing this passion with their priority of earning a degree, and how they support one another by offering suggestions, assisting in opening preparation, or providing some encouraging words after a tough loss. This is a team.
Overall, it was a successful chess season for UMBC. We had some individual successes in our warmup events before the Pan-Ams, as well as the Final Four and we improved upon our place on the national level, moving from #3 to #2. Now, we head back to campus with our heads held high, filled with new memories, and focused on the weeks that remain in the semester.
I always experience a bit of a let down at the end of the chess season, mostly because I enjoy more than words can describe, spending time traveling, playing, and preparing with our team. Now, however, it’s time to focus on the tasks at hand and to begin to dream about our future, about what chances and opportunities we’ll create for ourselves next year - the Pan-Ams are only eight months away.
As I close my eyes and envision that place, our team, the new recruits who will hopefully join our quest, I still cannot help but think about one thing …
What happens when you don’t feed the beast?
Next year … I think it’s time we find out.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
New York, NY - Final Four of College Chess - Round 2 Report
For the second year in a row, the squad from UMBC has fallen to the team from Webster University, 2.5 / 1.5. I’m sure many would leave the headline at that, but, I believe with conviction that this is only half of the story that was told today.
Whenever you read anything about college chess or engage in conversations about the various teams at the top of our sport, one cannot escape the discussions about the formidable squad from Webster University. One cannot deny that, on paper, the odds are certainly in their favor almost 99 percent of the time, but what about that one percent? Contests are not simply decided by how teams or individuals match up on paper and the past two years have presented mounting evidence to support this theory.
After watching Webster U. come off a bit of shaky first round match against the University of Illinois, the Retrievers were optimistic that they could take advantage of the apparent vulnerability of the defending national champion, Gorlocks.
The story begins on board three, where IM Levan Bregadze faced down the solid German GM, Georg Meier. IM Bregadze, with the White pieces, achieved a safe and solid position from the opening and told me after the game, “I was prepared to sacrifice The Exchange [a rook for a bishop or knight] because it was my only chance. I would have had a rook for a bishop and a pawn, but with the two bishops, I had good chances.” After missing what IM Bregadze described as a fairly obvious continuation, GM Meier was left playing for a draw, which he managed successfully, but such an outcome only favored our overall objective, which was to draw this match.
WGM Sabina Foisor was paired up against GM Ray Robson on board four and prepared a special opening for the game that she had seen played earlier by a top GM on the international level. She felt comfortable out of the opening, but ended up with knight on d5 that, ostensibly looked nicely placed in the center of the board, but turned out to be more of a liability later in the middle game. Despite her fighting spirit, WGM Foisor was unable to hold and conceded a point to Webster U.
On board one, team captain, GM Niclas Huschenbeth had, for the second tournament in a row, caught GM Le Quang Liem by surprise in the opening. Had he continued with the correct move from his pre-game analysis, he would have emerged from the opening with a slight advantage, however, on about move twelve, GM Huschenbeth said, “My analysis became a bit jumbled in my head and I had difficulty remembering the correct continuation.” According to Niclas, “I played an inferior move and immediately gave away my chances for an advantage.”
This resulted in a persistent decline into time pressure and, down a pawn, found himself in extreme time trouble, playing the final ten or so moves of the game on the time increment (30 seconds per move) alone, eventually resigning.
This brings us to the sharp and exciting play that unfolded on board two. GM Akshayraj Kore, coming off of a tough loss in the first round against Texas Tech University, had the black pieces against the #19 rated player in the world, GM Wesley So. GM Kore opened the game with the Gruenfeld defense, a notoriously sharp opening variation, but played a misguided continuation before move ten, dropping a pawn. However, he managed to introduce some exciting complications where pieces were hanging and threats were forming all over the board.
GM So’s pieces suddenly found themselves placed a bit awkwardly on the battlefield, leaving him to attempt to seek refuge in trading off pieces to consolidate the position and head into an endgame. GM Kore had some very subtle, yet strong resources at his disposal, which ultimately proved to be too much for the white position to bear. GM So eventually resigned, allowing UMBC it’s lone victory in the match.
In sports it’s difficult at times not to get caught up in talk about favorites, mismatches, and unbeatable teams, especially when certain match-ups can look so imbalanced on paper. Yet, how many times have we been surprised and proven wrong by the underdog who chose not to listen to the hype, who chose not to compromise their chances based on how things matched up on paper or in the minds of critics?
While UMBC may have fallen for the second year in a row to a very talented squad from Webster University, they have accomplished something more subtle than victory, revealing a plot twist in a story whose closing chapters have yet to be written: Goliath is vulnerable.
What’s my point? Someone’s going to beat those guys.
While luck has not favored our squad against Webster University and defeat can be frustrating, I can’t seem to stop thinking to myself …
What happens when you don’t feed the beast …
Round 3 - Sunday, April 6th @ 9:00 am
Texas Tech University v. Webster University
University of Illinois v. UMBC
Saturday, April 5, 2014
New York, NY - Final Four of College Chess - Round 1 Report
The first round of any tournament, where the stakes are high, certainly brings with it a share of jitters and a bit of anxiety, but once you’re seated at your board and navigating your way through the first few opening moves, you begin to settle in and hopefully find some comfort in a familiar position.
Round one had Texas Tech University paired against UMBC, with the Retrievers playing the black pieces on boards one and three.
GM Niclas Huschenbeth was defending with the black pieces against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh on board one and found himself in a bit of a tangle in the middle game, consuming quite a bit of his time on the clock in the process. ”Yes, it was a bit unpleasant,” was the characterization offered by GM Huschenbeth at lunch after the round concluded.
After Niclas successfully disentangled his position, his prospects were looking good for a draw, then something went wrong. Precisely what still needs to be analyzed, but when the dust had settled, Niclas conceded defeat to his opponent.
Board two featured GM Akshayraj Kore with the white pieces against Iranian GM, Elshan Moradiabadi. GM Kore exited the opening phase of the game slightly worse than his opponent and spent a good portion of his clock trying to orchestrate an escape during the middle game. Through the help of some tactics and an oversight by GM Moradiabadi, Raj managed to win a knight for two pawns and a solid advantage, but with fewer than three minutes on his clock, had to deal with the liability of time trouble.
Time scrambles are troublesome shades, depriving players of the often necessary ability to calculate all the variations needed to navigate successfully toward the win. Overlooking a key continuation that may have led to a win or most certainly a draw, GM Kore flagged on his clock before he could convert an advantage, conceding another defeat to Texas Tech on board two.
Boards three and four were much more promising, however, for UMBC. IM Levan Bregadze didn’t push too hard on the black side of his game, seeing at one point that GM Kore had good chances to win or draw and that GM Huschenbeth, at the time, was looking good for a draw as well. He sacrificed a pawn to his opponent in an endgame with opposite-colored bishop (notoriously drawish), held with accuracy, and split the point with his opponent - draw.
IM Nazi Paikidze still faced much of both armies on the board as both players descended into a situation where they had less than ten minutes on each of their respective clocks. Her position was better throughout and she successfully managed to convert her advantage for the full point when all was said and done, scoring the lone victory in the round for UMBC.
Round 1 result: Texas Tech - 2.5 / UMBC - 1.5
It’s important for fans to note that the Final Four, unlike the Pan-American tournament, is based on cumulative board points and not match points. So, although UMBC technically lost the match against Texas Tech, they take with them 1.5 points, which will count toward their overall score and determine where they finish in the tournament come Sunday afternoon.
With two rounds to go, a lot can still happen. Webster University struggled in the middle game on several of their boards against arguable underdog, the University of Illinois, before eventually converting their battles to victory. Everything can be going perfectly well on your board, but it only takes one error to turn the tables.
Round 2 - Saturday, April 5th, 5:00 pm
UMBC v. Webster University
University of Illinois v. Texas Tech University
It’s not over until it’s over …