The oldest continuous fixture on the chess calendar is the annual Varsity Match held in England, staged annually between the two fabled universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and first contested back in 1873. Here in America, College Chess is a more modern-day competitive fixture, first contested in 2001, and run more or less as a direct nod to the success of its famous sporting cousin, the NCAA’s Final Four of basketball – and even scheduled to be held on the same weekend.
The “Final Four of College Chess”, the President’s Cup, took place from March 31-April 1 at the Marshall Chess Club in New York’s Greenwich Village, and once again very generously sponsored by Two Sigma and Booz Allen Hamilton through contributions to the U.S. Chess Trust
And the Final Four of College Chess pits the top four teams from the annual Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship from back in December 2017: Webster University (WU), Texas Tech University (TTU), University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), and Saint Louis University (SLU).
Scoring at the Final Four of College Chess is by game points. That is, a 4-0 sweep is far better than a 2.5-1.5 winning margin. The top seeds were the five-time defending champions, WU, coached by GM Susan Polgar – but all winning streaks have to come to an end, and this year, in something of a shock, they were narrowly pipped to the title by UTRGV, who denied the perennial favorites what would have been a sixth successive title.
This was UTRGV’s first Final Four title. “We have been chasing this goal since the [chess] program began at UTRGV,” said UTRGV Coach Grandmaster Bartek Macieja. “The team stayed strong and kept fighting, and I am very proud of them.” The full UTRGV team, in board order, included: GM Vladimir Belous, GM Kamil Dragun, GM Andrey Stukopin, GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, and GM Carlos Antonio Hevia Alejano.
Final Four standings:
1. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 7.5/12; 2. Webster University 7; 3. Texas Tech University 5; 4. Saint Louis University 4.5.
Photo: The winning UTRGV team celebrate a memorable victory.
GM Andrey Baryshpolets – GM Vladimir Belous
US College Chess Final Four
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 c6 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Rd1 b6 10.Bf4 Bb7 11.Ne5 Nh5 12.Bd2 Nhf6 13.Bf4 Nh5 14.Bd2 Nhf6 15.cxd5 White turns down any chance of an early draw by a repetition of moves. 15…cxd5 16.Nc6 Bxc6 17.Qxc6 Rc8 18.Qb5 Ne8 19.Qd3 Nd6 20.Nc3 Nf6 21.Be1 Qd7 22.e3 Rc7 23.f3 Rfc8 24.b3 Nf5 25.g4?! This is perhaps a little over-ambitious and, in the long run, just loosens the kingside. Instead, White had the very solid option of 25.a4! with both sides having equal chances here. 25…Nh4! Taking full advantage of the over-worked Be1 that crucially protects the Nc3 – and with that in mind, perhaps Baryshpolets just simply overlooked that this move was available? 26.Bh1 Ng6 27.Ne2 e5 Immediately looking to open the game up – but more challenging first was 27…Bd6!? 28.g5 Ne8 29.f4 f6!? and now this opening up of the kingside can only be to Black’s advantage. 28.Qf5 Qb5 29.Qd3 Qe8 30.dxe5 Nxe5 31.Qf5 Bc5 It’s becoming clear that the unwitting weakening of the kingside with 25.g4?! has opened up a lot of possibilities for Black to attack his opponent’s king. 32.Bf2 Nc6 Better first was 32…h6! with the idea of 33.h4 Nc6 34.g5 hxg5 35.hxg5 Nh7! where the knight has more options available, such as Mh7-f8-e6 (or g6). 33.g5 Nh5 34.Qh3! White has weaknesses – but it is not so clear Black has a direct winning advantage. 34…g6 35.f4 Re7?! Now Black is getting over-ambitious about his prospects, as he tries to just crash through for the win. But there was a simple and very good option in 35…Nb4! defending d5 and also threatening …Nc2xe3, and stopping Rd3. Now, White is in a bad way: if 36.Rd2 Re7! does look to be crashing through with impunity now on e3. 36.Rd3 Nb4 37.Rc3 What a difference a move makes! With the rook on c3, not only is e3 well-protected, but there’s now threats down the c-file for White, with the Rc8 being the target. 37…Rc6 38.a3 Nc2 It all looks dangerous for White, but, in fact, Black is the one with worries now – and likely the looming time-control and the position going ‘random’ is what saves Belous from misfortune now. 39.Rxc2 Bxe3 Belous has to go ‘all-in’ now – but it is all just a bluff. 40.Raa2? Tragedy always tends to come with the mad-dash to make the final move to reach the time control. And here, White blunders big-time, perhaps not fully realizing he’d walked right into a big tactic that easily wins now for Black. A pity, as after the brazen follow up of 40.Nc3! Bxf2+ 41.Kxf2 Nxf4 and while it still all looks dangerous for White, there comes the very resourceful 42.Qg3! and he seems to be over the worst of it, as now 42…Re5 43.Qxf4! Rf5 44.Qxf5 gxf5 45.Bxd5 Rg6 46.Re1 Qf8 leaves a materially imbalanced game – but with the White king out in the open and with no cover, a draw is the most likely result. 40…Bxf2+ 41.Kf1 The time scramble over, it is easy to see now that the tactical melee simply liquidates down to a lost endgame for White – but Black has to make a crucial king move to confirm the win: 41.Kxf2 Rxc2 42.Rxc2 Rxe2+! 43.Rxe2 Qxe2+ 44.Kxe2 Nxf4+ 45.Ke3 Nxh3 46.Kd4 Nxg5 47.Kxd5 Kf8! Easy to see now with less pieces on the board: the Black king slips over to c7 to prevent White’s very active king from saving the day. 48.Kc6 Ke7 49.Kb7 Kd7 50.Kxa7 Kc7 and Black wins with pushing the f-pawn up the board. 41…Bc5 42.b4? White is in dire straits, but this move only makes matters worse. But the alternative didn’t hold out for much longer anyway. If 42.Qg4 Ng7! 43.Rc3 Nf5 44.Qf3 Ne3+ 45.Ke1 Bxa3! and Black is easily winning. 42…Nxf4! [see diagram] The Black forces are now moving in quickly for the kill. 43.Qh4 The knight is taboo. If 43.Nxf4 Re1+ 44.Kg2 Rg1+ 45.Kf3 Qe3#. 43…Nxe2 44.Rxe2 Be3 45.Bxd5 Rc1+ 46.Kg2 Rg1+ 47.Kf3 Qd7 48.Be4 Bxg5 0-1