University Challenge - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


The oldest continuous fixture on the chess calendar is the annual ‘Varsity Match‘ held in England, and staged between the two fabled universities of Cambridge and Oxford. It was first contested in 1873, and the 140th edition recently took place in early March at the plush private members RAC Club in London’s Pall Mall, that saw Oxford winning 4½-3½; though there’s some conciliation for Cambridge, who narrowly still lead the series by 60-58 (22 drawn).

In America, College Chess is rather a more recent modern-day fixture, and run more or less as a nod to the success of its famous sporting cousin, the NCAA’s Final Four of basketball – and since 2001, has even been scheduled to be held on the same weekend.

It features four of the top US schools from the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship doing battle for the President’s Cup, which this year featured Webster University (Ave Rat: 2692), Saint Louis University (Ave Rat: 2663), University of Texas at Dallas (Ave Rat: 2590), and Texas Tech University (2576).

As goes the ratings, the two-day event in early April, hosted by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, turned out to be a close two-horse race between top-seeds Webster and SLU. In the end, SLU edged out perennial winners Webster by just a half-point margin, scoring 7½/12 board points, to lift the President’s Cup for the first time.

Saint Louis University is supported by SLU alumnus Rex Sinquefield, with their all-Grandmaster cosmopolitan winning squad being: Dariusz Swiercz (USA), Nikolas Theodorou (Greece), Benjamin Bok (Netherlands), Akshat Chandra (USA), Cemil Can Ali Marandi (Turkey), and Robby Kevishvili (Netherlands).

The Saint Louis University Chess Team at the Final Four of Collegiate Chess. Pictured, from left, are team members Nikolas Theodorou, assistant coach Varuzhan Akobian, Dariusz Swiercz, Cemil Can “JJ” Ali Marandi, Robby Kevlishvili, Akshat Chandra, Benjamin Bok and head coach Alejandro Ramirez.

Photo: courtesy of Texas Tech University



GM Nikolas Theodorou (SLU) – GM Benjamin Gledura (WEB)
President’s Cup 2022, (3)
Exchange Slav
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Bf5 7.Ne5 e6 8.Qb3 Just one of the pitfalls in the Exchange Slav with playing …Bf5 – suddenly it is not so easy to defend b7. 8…Qb6 The best move by far – but it comes at the cost of Black’s queenside pawn structure being shattered. 9.Qxb6 axb6 10.e3 Nd7 11.g4 Ndxe5?! Dubious.  It would have been easier and better with 11…Bg6 12.Nxg6 (If 12.Nxd7 Kxd7 13.Rc1 Be7 14.Bb5 Rhc8 and Black is fine.) 12…hxg6 13.Bb5 and White has to see what he can really make from the bishop-pair combined with potentially targeting Black’s weak queenside pawns. At the end of the day though, while the queenside pawns may be a bit difficult to defend, Black should be OK with careful play. 12.gxf5 Nc4 13.Bxc4 dxc4 14.fxe6 fxe6 Black has avoided having to deal with the bishop-pair, but at the cost of totally wrecking his own pawn structure. 15.Ke2 Kd7 16.b3 Bb4 No better was 16…cxb3 17.axb3 Be7 18.d5! Nb4 19.Be5 and White has a little something extra to work with, heading into the endgame. 17.Ne4 Rhf8 18.Bg3 b5 19.Rhc1! Ba3 20.Rcb1 Nb4 21.bxc4! [see diagram] For just a brief moment, it looked as if Black had ‘got away with it’, managing to avoid any long-term endgame damage – but this move totally undermines how vulnerable Black’s position really is, as his king gets caught in an unexpected attack. 21…Nc2 22.Rxb5! As unbelievable as it may look, such is Black’s plight that White can afford to go a full rook down here. 22…Nxa1 23.Rxb7+ Kc6 The spirited try, looking to run the king up the board to “safety”. Instead, after 23…Kd8 Black runs into 24.c5! Rf5 The only way to stop Bh4+ and Nd6+ mating. 25.Rxg7 Ra6 26.Bc7+ Ke8 27.Nd6+ Kf8 28.Nxf5 exf5 29.Rxh7 and White will also soon be picking off the f5-pawn for an easy win – there will be no stopping White’s armada of passed pawns running up the board. 24.Rc7+ Kb6 25.c5+ Kb5 Black had to be thinking that there was not enough White pieces for a mate – but there lurks that and other dangers besides! 26.Kd3! With Black’s knight effectively now trapped on a1, his bishop out of the game on a3, White adds to mix now threats of Nc3+ and Rxg7 leaving Black paralysed. 26…Bb4 27.Rb7+ More clinical was 27.Nd6+! Ka4 28.Nc4! Ra6 29.Rxg7 h5 30.Rb7! Rg8 31.c6! and there’s no stopping the c-pawn charging down the board, as after 31…Rxc6 there comes the inevitable mate with 32.Ra7+ Kb5 33.a4#. 27…Ka4 28.c6! With the Black knight marooned on a1, White has all the time in the world to grab material for the rampant c-pawn, and then return to pick-off the hapless steed. 28…Ka3 29.c7 Once again, more clinical was 29.Nd6! Bxd6 30.Bxd6+ Ka4 31.Bxf8 Rxf8 32.c7 Rc8 33.Kc4! and now the mating threats with Ra7+ gifts White two easy tempi to move his king up the board to support the c7-pawn. 33…Ka5 34.Kc5 Ka6 35.Kc6 Nc2 36.Rb2 Ne1 37.Rb8 etc. 29…Rfc8 30.Bd6 White decides now is the time to reduce the material deficit – and then some! 30…Ra4 31.Rb8 Bxd6 32.Rxc8 Bxh2 No better was 32…Bxc7 33.Rxc7 as 33…Kxa2 walks into the winning fork with 34.Nc3+ etc. 33.f4 1-0 Black resign with no way to stop the c-pawn from queening that doesn’t involve a heavy loss of material.


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