Every year, usually after finals, the University of Texas at Dallas prepares its top players for the upcoming Pan-American Collegiate Championship. And how better to prepare for such an event than to organize a GM norm event? This year's field was uniquely strong. First and foremost, we were graced with the participation of GM Alexey Dreev. This top Russian grandmaster has been in the top 10 and is one of the most important theoreticians in the Slav and 1. d4 overall. We also had the participation of World u-18 Champion Steven Zierk and of upcoming youngster FM Darwing Yang. As a nice surprise, GM Magesh Panchanathan, a UTD graduate, also played in the event. The UTD squad was comprised of GM Ioan-Christian Chirila, IMs Sal Bercys, Julio Sadorra, Puchen Wang, FM Tyler Hughes and myself. The average rating was 2500 FIDE, which allowed players to make a GM norm with 6 points and an IM norm with 4.5.The tournament itself can be summarized with one word: Fight! Unlike some recent top GM tournaments, all the players here were incredibly bloodthirsty, with many rounds finishing with no draws at all! This mood was set with the very first round, which saw no peaceful results. The fighting chess exhibited at the event can be attributed to many things, but I believe mainly the young age of the players and the at times large rating differences between the players.I needed +3 points (6/9) just to keep my rating, so I thought it would be a great start if I began by beating fellow GM Ioan-Christian Chirila.
All other games were decisive this round.
The tournament started out as expected, Dreev and I lead with 3.5/4, followed by an ever-changing group of IMs unfortunately neither Magesh nor Darwin started out very strongly, but they managed to make incredible comebacks in the second half of the tournament. After round 4, where Alexey drew GM Panchanathan, GM Dreev was completely unstoppable. He went on to score an incredible 7.5/8, proving his top class and dispatching most of us without complications. Our own IM Sal Bercys was able to hold him to a draw in the last round.
The tournament results reflected the styles perfectly. Dreev’s crushing chess earned him a well-deserved first place with 8/9, two points ahead of his nearest competitor. My uneven chess cost me a few important points, especially against GM Magesh Panchanathan in a time-troubled position that could have gone either way. Sal Bercys and Julio Sadorra brought incredibly fighting and strong chess, scoring important wins against many rivals and holding their own against the GMs.
Unfortunately, Julio fell half a point shy of the GM norm, while Sal lost all his chances in the penultimate round by losing to Zierk. Panchanathan and Chirila did not have superb tournaments, the first one starting particularly badly. However they held their own and finished on a solid 50%. Puchen finished with 3.5/9, but arguably this was due to a little bit of bad luck. He had strong chess and great positions that he was simply not able to convert. The two youngest participants, Zierk and Wang, both finished with 3/9, a decent score but I'm sure that they were expecting much more. Although Hughes finished with only 2/9, it is to note that he was over 150 points lower rated than anyone in the tournament and over 250 below his opponents’ average; indeed his performance rating was slightly higher than his actual rating!
This strong warm-up leaves the UTD team in a great position to go to the cold weather in Milwaukee and attempt to snatch first place at the Pan-Ams. Rivalry will be strong with Texas Tech and UT-Brownsville having their top GM lineups, as well as UTD’s eternal rival UMBC coming with their strongest lineup. Certainly another college event to look forward to!