The 2016 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship was held this past week from December 27-30 in New Orleans. This was my second time participating in this tournament and my first for the University of Pittsburgh since starting Dental school this fall.
Before the tournament we tried to see a little of Nah’Leans and ventured into the French Quarter. The architecture here was amazing and made me wish I had more time to spend exploring. We had a nice meal of Jumabablalalalala (Jumbalaya) and alligator! Chess had a way of finding us and we stumbled upon the famous Jude Acers who swindled me in a friendly game.
Going into the tournament, I had no individual expectations as I had not played seriously since last year. The Pitt team on the other hand was quite strong for a school that does not offer chess scholarships. Our average rating was above 2200, and this may have been the strongest Pitt team ever!
If you were to look at the final results, you probably assume our team performed just where we should; we beat the teams we were expected to, and lost to two monsters. This was actually far from the experience we had, coming close to upsetting one of the top seeds, and also escaping a few scares against lower teams.
Round 1 – A Crazy Escape.
We played an average team rating of ~1500. Supposedly our easiest match right? This was actually our scariest moment of the tournament. At one point we were all losing and this all started with me!
This game is quite possibly one of my best swindles ever against a strong opponent (~2100). Here is my game. I felt quite bad even playing on in this game, and probably would have resigned if it weren’t for the situation being a team tournament.
Somehow with a miraculous escape, I won this game and our team also won 4-0! Phew!
Round 2 – A Big Fish
We were paired with Webster A on board 1. I was excited to play Le Quang Liem, Vietnamese #1 and former World Blitz Champion. Coincidentally, the World Rapid and Blitz Championships took place this past week in Doha. I’m sure those participating in Doha were happy Liem was my problem instead of their own. I was ground down in a tough game but was a great experience.
Before the match, our team jokingly placed bets on what the chances were that we would even score against Webster A. I’m happy to share that we did nick them for a half point. I even think at one point we were close to splitting the match with them. Hibiki was better on board 2, and if John and I held who knows. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t meant to be. Here is the game between our board three John Ahlborg vs. Ray Robson.
We won our third and fourth rounds against respectively University of Chicago B and Rutgers University putting us at 3-1. We knew would play another big fish!
Round 5 – UTD-B Missed Opportunity
This match was our biggest chance at making some noise in the tournament. I was paired with Holden Hernandez. I got my pet Grunfeld defense and muddied the game up with an exchange of a piece for three pawns. Hernandez was definitely better but blundered giving me great winning chances. In the end, I erred, and lost another tough game. Argh. I hate Grandmasters.
Here I played Rb2+?! Overlooking Ra8! giving black good winning chances after picking up the a5 pawn. This pawn eventually led to my doom.
I’m sure each of my teammates would love to replay this match. I had good chances to win, John held a miraculous draw, and Isaac had chances to win as well.
But the real hero of this round was our board 2 Hibiki. He beat his first Grandmaster ever in scintillating fashion! Below is the position where Hibiki broke through. Can you play as well as Hibiki Sakai? Hibiki will post the answer to what he played in week or so 🙂
Round 6 – Chess is anything but The Big Easy
The last round was a tough one for us! Initially running high at the thought of knocking off a top team, we were running on fumes after three exhausting days of chess. Also it does not help that Isaac snores. Somehow we were able to beat UT Austin A 2.5-1.5 thanks to John winning a dead drawn bishop opposite color endgame (he’s the luckiest chess player I know, even luckier than me after that miraculous first game).
My game was probably the easiest and cleanest of the tournament. My opponent was a sport and let me place mate on the board. I don’t even remember the last time someone let me do that!
Overall the tournament was a great time. We finished 4-2 with some ups and downs, and also some ‘what-ifs’, but hey that’s chess. I really want to thank Tom Martinak for organizing and being a behind-the-scenes guy for our team. Without him, this would not have happened. I look forward to next year’s edition in Columbus, Ohio!