I played for the University of Texas at Dallas at the President's Cup, or Final Four of Chess. The qualifiers were the 4 US teams who finished highest at the Pan-American Intercollegiate tourament. Teams can have up to 6 players, four of whom play in each round.
Some games can be viewed at http://monroi.com/watch/?tnm_id=1674
We played at some offices of the sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton, in Rockville, Maryland. The advantage of this location is that there is no chance of being disturbed by a dance party in the next room, as sometimes happens in a hotel. The disadvantage is having to drive back and forth. I ended up sitting around doing nothing a lot, due to the brevity of my first and second games. Unfortunately, the starting times for the 3 games were all crammed into a period of less than 24 hours.
A lot of strategy is dictated by the unusual game-point format. A team's score for the tournament is simply the sum of its players' scores. Whether one wins the team match against another team (the usual way to score points in team competitions) is only relevant as a tiebreak. Last year, the 3 top teams all drew each other. But Texas Tech got 4/4 against New York University, while UTD and University of Maryland Baltimore County were "only" able to score 3.5.
The field was similar this year. UTD and UMBC competed again. The Texas Tech chess program moved to Webster University, in St. Louis, while adding some players with monstrous ratings. For the underdog we had the University of Illinois instead of NYU. So there was a similar dynamic of the lowest-rated team being the kingmakers.
Our first round against UMBC went well with 3 wins and 1 loss. We improved in comparison to last year, when we scored 2 points against UMBC. GM Chirila had a nice game where he was less prepared and got a scary-looking position out of the opening, but managed to survive and win.
In round 2 we played the University of Illinois. Although they were the fourth seed, it was perhaps the most critical match for UTD. Both Eric Rosen and Xin Luo of Illinois managed to hold draws on the boards where they had white, so we got 3 points, which was not really enough--we should gave gotten at least 3.5, since in round 1 Webster had made 4 out of 4.
In the other round 2 match, Webster won with 2.5 points. Of course we were rooting for UMBC to reduce Webster's point total. One of the UMBC players reached something like the following position with black:
There was much derision of the player's decision not to trade queens, with an easily winning position. The game later ended in a draw.
Thus in the final round we trailed Webster by half a point. This creates a very unpleasant situation. Everyone feels compelled to push desperately for a win, which can lead to a lot of losses instead. UTD scored only 1.0/4 in the final match. Still we got a slightly better final result than last year (clear 2nd instead of tied 2nd-3rd).
I'm excited to be playing in the U.S. Championship. It is scheduled at an inopportune time for me, May 1-14, which happens to be when final exams are taken at UTD. But I had good luck: 3 of my classes have take-home finals (I never had one of these in any of the previous three semesters). That leaves only my two physics exams to worry about.