Pan Ams Recap

Yale’s performance this past Pan Ams, 4/6, was the best it had in years, especially amid an extremely competitive field. Robert Hess, who headed first board, also filed an in-depth report for our alumni. With his permission, here it is now, in full!

Robert Hess's Report (spoilered)

Hey all. I’ve penned a recap of the event. Please see below:

Heading into the 2014 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, the other three Yalies considered our team a dark horse contender for the Final Four. Seeded tenth, we were in the top quarter of the event, which meant we would be paired down at least the first two rounds. Personally, I felt we were a bit overrated, as my rating skewed the team average to 2370. A team full of elite college students who were taking finals just two weeks before the event is not in the best shape to beat excellent chess players. I also felt that we could crush the lower-rated teams, but would undoubtedly lose to the 4 GM lineups. In order to qualify for the Final Four, we’d need to sneak in. I assumed the best place to be going into round six was 3.5/5 and playing a decent – but not elite – team. With rusty me manning board one, International Master Raja Panjwani (~2450 and an SOM student who I’ve played on numerous occasions, and have seen him defeat many a GM) on two, WIM Yuanling Yuan (Board one for Canadian Women’s Olympiad team at ~2270 FIDE, who I’ve helped prepare) on three, and 2L at Yale Law School Josh Divine (rated 2088, but also married with two young children) on board four, it was an uphill battle.

We were all squished into our hotel room (4 people sharing just one room, yikes) by 11pm on the night before the first round. To get to Brownsville, we flew into Houston or Dallas, then took a small, hour-long flight over to Brownsville. It was an expensive ~30 mile cab ride from the airport to the hotel on South Padre Island, but we were happy to arrive at the tournament site without too much difficulty. Our hotel (La Quinta) was the worse of the two, but they were right next door to each other. The free breakfast in the morning was awesome — we generally got omelettes and waffles and yogurt. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t so great, so the beach wasn’t a realistic option. We were pretty much stuck at the hotel, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you want to play focused chess. However, the only food option was the Hilton restaurant…so that got a bit boring. Anyways, moving on to the chess!

We were definitely happy to play down in round one. We got paired against the University of Illinois D team, who had an average rating of 1778. I was expecting a clean sweep, but Josh’s opponent (Aswath Bommannan) was clearly way better than his 1761 rating indicated. Aswath just had been busy with college and not competing, but he ended the tournament unbeaten and with a new rating of 1873. I won in twelve moves with black, as I sent in a previous email. Raja dispatched of his opponent while Yuanling outclassed hers. In spite of Josh’s loss, Yale won 3-1.

Here is how Raja finally squeezed the life out of his opponent, with a nice tactic in a dominating position. I may not have every pawn on the right square, but the idea holds true:

pan ams (0)

I was hoping that our second round matchup against Columbia’s B team (top three average of 2129, with an unrated on board four) would be simple enough, but that match did not go exactly as planned. Josh had a crazy game stemming from a peaceful opening against an unrated player. His opponent opted for the exchange French (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5) which is a relatively harmless sequence of moves. Eventually Josh sought the initiative, but his opponent calculated very well until he missed a beautiful tactic. Josh ended up with a big material edge, and it was too bad that he could not convert. For those of you with a chessboard , put the following position on it and try to find the tactic that Josh’s opponent did not find:

pan ams (1)

For those of you who want the solution, feel free to contact me separately, as I want to give everyone a fair shake at it.

Anyways, I actually played quite a good game against a master that round. I seized an initiative with an offbeat variation against the Grunfeld Defence, and brought home the full point by chiseling away at his pawn solid pawn structure. In the position below, I had just played the move h2-h4. See below:

pan ams (2)

I went on to win, but Raja completely blundered in a winning game against a 2100. Because of this we went down 2-1. Yuanling was unable to break through her opponent’s stubborn defenses, and so we lost to this rather weak team 2.5-1.5.

A huge letdown, but we bounced back nicely against UT Austin B team (2026 average) in round three. Raja and I both drew much lower rated players, but Yuanling and Josh reeled in full points for a 3-1 win. I was winning but blundered into a perpetual check. Yuanling had a wonderful ending that she converted for the win (we were up 2-1 at the time, but she was not going to be deterred)! Let’s take a peak at her ending below. At first, she thought she was going to draw, but thankfully she realized that she could push her g-pawn, which ultimately allows the black king to run to the queenside and eat up those pawns, not to mention boot the well-placed knight on e4.

pan ams (3)

Round four pitted us against U-Chicago (2139 average). I was paired with a 2250, Raja took on a 2125, Yuanling and Josh players just under 2100. In a battle of intellectuals, Yale came away with a 3-1 win, though not without some scares. I won first, then Yuanling, and so Raja went safe and accepted a perpetual check in an unclear position to secure a team win. Josh had an INSANE game as black, which somehow fizzled out into a draw. Yuanling and I had awesome wins — I’ll pose both below as tactics, and you guys can vote whose you liked better. Hers first, then mine…

pan ams (4)pan ams (5)

So we were riding high after this 3-1. We went on to play Texas Tech’s A team, which consisted of three GMs and a very strong IM, along with another IM as a reserve. We were facing an elite opponent, but we were pumped. Yuanling and Josh tried their best to prepare for the opponents listed on the pairing sheet (Josh was slated to play against their reserve IM, while Yuanling was pitted against Egyptian GM Samy Shoker) given there was just one hour before they were posted and the round’s start time. So they work a bit on their openings while Raja and I rest, and we arrive at the board…only to see that the lineup isn’t as it was posted!!! They were playing their top four boards!!! Needless to say, we were pretty livid. I actually approached the TD, who took fault for this mistake. Yet I was unsure how this could happen. How is the reserve player thrown into the lineup as a “mistake?” Indeed his inclusion makes their team a ton weaker, as they only managed a tie against Columbia due to him losing on board 4. But I’m not sure what happened there. Needless to say we were a bit frazzled. Of course we were the HUGE underdogs, so they didn’t need any extra help winning.

GM Samy Shoker soundly defeated Josh, Yuanling got ground down by IM Andrey Gorovets, I lost a heartbreaker to GM Yaroslav Zherebukh, and Raja was the hero of the round, beating GM Elshan Moradiabadi. I actually played very abnormal chess because, no offense to Josh or Yuanling, I felt they would lose and I needed to defeat Yaro with black, an unenviable task when paired against such a strong GM.

All games can be found here: http://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2014-panam by clicking on the “5” button under Round and just going through the games (conveniently analysis engines are on the boards if you want to check how bad our moves were!).

Round 6 we were a bit deflated. We had been eliminated from contention for the Final 4, but hey, we wanted to go out with a bang. We ended up beating University of Illinois B team (2144 average) 3-1, as Josh lost to a 2100 player and the rest of us won our games. Yuanling’s opponent hung material in an unclear position, Raja crushed his master opponent with black, whereas I had to grind out a tough ending. I made a temporary pawn sacrifice in the position below to open up the seventh rank for my rooks.

pan ams (6)

He accepted the sacrifice (what else? He absolutely cannot allow me to simply progress with c6 next move), and in mutual time trouble I won both the A and C pawns. Check out the position below, and see if you can figure out if it should be winning for white or not! Opposite colored bishop endings can be the peskiest type of positions in chess!

pan ams (7) So, Yale ended with 4/6, tied 7th-12th, but 11th on tiebreaks. If you check out the final rankings, the best teams all finished at the top. Columbia A just failed to qualify for the Final 4 — a last round victory would have landed them a coveted spot. Alas, they could not hold off Webster C, and likely would have lost out to Texas Tech on tiebreaks anyways. Please see the results yourselves at this link: http://www.utb.edu/sa/chess/Documents/ChessTournament2014/FinalTeamStandings_2014PanAmIntercollegiate.pdf

I hope you all have a fantastic New Year, and thank you all for being so supportive of Yale Chess. It was a pleasure to represent our beloved Bulldogs at this event. I really hope you enjoy this recap, and sorry about it being so long!