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'Check Them Tech' Squad Wins Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship

'Check Them Tech' Squad Wins Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship

Less than four years after losing its top 10 players to transfersTexas Tech's top chess team has won the 2015 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship, the most prestigious university event in the Western Hemisphere. The tournament took place December 27-30, 2015

The win almost resembled a plot line in the television show "Friday Night Lights," and not just because of the West Texas connection. They won their first-ever championship after having their coach switch squads and enjoy more success after the transfer.

Not only did Texas Tech overcome that massive loss of talent, they had other obstacles besides the 40+ other teams and 70+ titled players. One came before arrival -- 10 inches of snowfall was described locally in their home of Lubbock, Texas as the "worst snowstorm in 30 years." The team made it on time to Cleveland, Ohio, but that's where another giant hurdle appeared.

Texas Tech's first title-winning team: (left to right) IM Andrey Gorovets, GM Yaroslav Zherebukh, coach GM Alex Onischuk, GM Elshan Moradiabadi, GM Andrey Baryshpolets. (Photo: Oberlin College Chess Chess Club Facebook page)

Webster University, the school that benefitted from all of those transfers when GM Susan Polgar switched programs, fielded the top team by about 90 rating points (Texas Tech is now coached by former U.S. Champion GM Alex Onischuk). Webster had won all three Pan-Ams in their team's existence (in their first year their A and B teams even tied with each other). The top team had also never lost a match according to the team's web site.

The end of a magical dynasty -- Webster's A team, average rating 2747 USCF, could not win four straight titles. (Photo: Oberlin College Chess Chess Club Facebook page)

That dominance ended in the last week of December. "Check Them Tech," as the Red Raiders' chess team is known, edged out three other teams on tiebreak, all with 5.0/6 match wins. Webster's A team lost their first match in history thanks to another Lonestar school, the University of Texas at Dallas. A further drawn match pushed the Gorlocks down to fifth, meaning they will not be able to repeat as champions of the Final Four of College Chess, at least not in the traditonal sense.

Also ending on 5.0/6, finishing second, and qualifying for the Final Four was the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Their entire existence is even newer than Texas Tech. The school changed names last year, but by doing so seemed destined to perform well. The new campus formed when the University of Texas at Brownsville, which had an existing chess program, combined with the University of Texas - Pan American, whose name sounds like they were made for this tournament!

A new design for a new school. See if you can spot the shape of Texas surreptitiously placed in the UT-Rio Grande Valley logo.

Finishing third was Webster University's B team, which keeps their hopes alive for winning the Final Four, although it will be a different squad than last year's title-winning team. On fourth was the biggest surprise, Columbia University, with an average rating at only 2340.

The Lions were the only team of the top quartet to suffer a loss, but won their other five thanks to a strong performance on board two by FM Kyron Griffith, the top overall finisher on second board. Columbia obviously finished as the top "Ivy" but since they didn't win the overall placement, they remained locked in a tie with Harvard for most overall wins by an Ivy League school (five each; the tournament began around the end of World War II).

The dark horse became the dark Lions as Columbia advanced to the Final Four. Highest-scorer FM Kyron Griffith held the trophy. (Photo: Oberlin College Chess Chess Club Facebook page)

Webster's A team went down for the first time ever thanks to a surprising tactic on board one. GM Le Quang Liem thought his bishop was immune. After all, he gets to respond by capturing Black's rook with check. It often takes something weird to end sporting perfection, just ask Tom Brady.


After a draw on board two, UT-Dallas B (that's right, not even the top team from the school) wrapped up the match with another win as Black on board three. GM Nadezhda Kosintseva hasn't played as much chess since becoming a mother and moving to the United States with husband GM Leonid Kritz, but she took full advantage of White's forced aggression due to the match standings.

GM Nedezhda Kosintseva once lost a Chess.com Death Match in heartbreaking fashion, but helped engineer a historical upset in Cleveland.

Her name means "hope" in Russian and her teammates were likely doing just that as she calculated the king-and-pawn ending precisely. The final idea is a well-known technique in queen-versus-pawn endings. If the king is close enough, even a bishop's pawn is winning.

GM Ray Robson represented one of only two GMs to play board four and even he couldn't win his round, making the final margin 3-1 for the UT-Dallas B team. It was Robson's only blemish on his otherwise perfect scorecard.

Texas Tech's road to the title wasn't due to any Swiss pairings fortune. After winning their opening two matches, they had to play four teams from chess scholarship schools in the remaining four rounds.

No word on whether GM Alex Onischuk gave the typical West Texas pre-game speech to his players!

That first big test came in the same round that Webster lost. Texas Tech faced the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, one of the oldest institutions in the U.S. for chess scholarships. Tech's top two players got through the event without any losses -- in this round second board GM Elshan Moradiabadi played the hero after team leader GM Yaroslav Zherebukh (a recent transfer to the U.S. federation) drew on board one. It seems they've learned to work together after these three hours of rivalry!

Moradiabadi must have had tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't often see a Berlin get crushed so quickly:


Not to be outdone, Check Them Tech fourth board IM Andrey Gorovets seemed to play even more quietly against the Berlin, but actually routed Black about 10 moves quicker. Gorovets is rated 2532 FIDE, so to say Texas Tech didn't have an all-GM lineup is really only a technicality.


Texas Tech then faced the eight strongest Gorlocks, any four of which would make most national teams blush. First up they drew the Webster B team, then faced the A team in a must-win match for their opponents.

Amazingly, Le Quang Liem had more "misfortune" on top board. After a long fight, Zherebukh found a tricky way to simplify into a drawn position. It's not that the Vietnamese player couldn't mate with bishop and knight; instead the lone pawn was just outside his grasp (the position is indeed drawn with best play).

Board two was also drawn, while Black won on the final two boards to render a tied match (Robson got one of his five wins). Here is board three, where the Berlin finally strikes back thanks to a blistering attack:


Several teams entered the final round on 4.5/5 but none were able to win. UT-Rio Grande Valley A drew Webster's B Team, while UT-Dallas B (who had just held Webster's top team to a draw) went down to the tournament winners, Texas Tech, who leapfrogged everyone on tiebreaks.

Here's the top game from that deciding match. Zherebukh made only one retreat, and that was to prepare a battery:


Although they didn't win another overall title, the Gorlocks took home some more awards. Top individual honors went to GM Manuel Leon Hoyos of their C team (5.5/6 on board one!). On board four, Robson was the top performer, also scoring 5.5/6. Webster also won top all-female team.

The "Battle of St. Louis" was won by Webster (3-1) in round two. GM Ray Robson (right) won his game over NM Nolan Hendrickson. (Photo: Oberlin College Chess Chess Club Facebook page)

Board two's top player was Griffith, whose 5.0/6 bested five GMs and a WGM. On board three, GM Holden Hernandez of UT-Rio Grande Valley (5.0/6) needed tiebreaks to edge NM Alex Richter of Lindenwood's A team.

Oberlin College, which hosted the event, won top small college for the third year in a row.

Members of Oberlin College, where John Heisman once coached football, celebrate their own triumph. (Photo: Oberlin College Chess Chess Club Facebook page)

Any team from the Americas is eligible to play in the Pan-Ams, but since the event is U.S. dominated, a "top international award" is given each year. This year the University of Toronto took the top two places (its A and B teams finished in the "correct" order).

Texas Tech A, UT-Rio Grande Valley A, Webster B and Columbia A will go on to play in the Final Four of College Chess, usually held in April and for the last two years in New York City.

2015 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship | Final Standings (Top 20)

Place Team Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 Score USATE Game Points
1 TEXAS TECH - A 2657 W23 W14 W10 D3 D5 W6 5.0 70.5 18
2 UNIV OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY - A 2619 W19 W15 W12 W7 D6 D3 5.0 66 17.5
3 WEBSTER UNIV - B 2584 W22 W24 W4 D1 W7 D2 5.0 66 16.5
4 COLUMBIA UNIV - A 2340 W26 W9 L3 W17 W12 W8 5.0 54.5 15
5 WEBSTER UNIV - A 2747 W20 W8 L6 W24 D1 W14 4.5 62.75 17.5
6 UNIV OF TEXAS AT DALLAS - B 2538 W30 W21 W5 W10 D2 L1 4.5 59 16
7 UNIV OF TEXAS AT DALLAS - A 2632 W13 W16 W11 L2 L3 W21 4.0 63.5 17
8 LINDENWOOD UNIV - A 2353 W35 L5 W27 W21 W15 L4 4.0 51 17.5
9 WEBSTER UNIV - GIRLS 2338 W28 L4 W23 W27 L14 W17 4.0 45.25 15
10 UMBC - A 2416 W32 W18 L1 L6 W20 W16 4.0 43.25 14
11 WEBSTER UNIV - C 2384 W38 W17 L7 L15 W23 W25 4.0 42.75 15.5
12 TEXAS TECH - B 2362 W40 W25 L2 W16 L4 W18 4.0 36.5 13.5
13 COLUMBIA UNIV - B 2076 L7 W28 L14 W35 W24 W15 4.0 30.25 11.5
14 UNIV OF TORONTO - A 2334 W37 L1 W13 D25 W9 L5 3.5 42.25 13
15 UNIV OF CHICAGO - A 2241 W39 L2 W22 W11 L8 L13 3.0 41.5 13.5
16 UNIV OF ILLINOIS - A 2234 W34 L7 W30 L12 W22 L10 3.0 38.5 13.5
17 UNIV OF PITTSBURGH 2182 W42 L11 W26 L4 W32 L9 3.0 37 15
18 PRINCETON UNIV 2199 W31 L10 D38 W29 D25 L12 3.0 35.25 13
19 UNIV OF CHICAGO - B 2069 L2 W37 L24 L28 W31 W33 3.0 31.25 13.5
20 WASHINGTON UNIV ST. LOUIS 2165 L5 L27 W31 W38 L10 W35 3.0 28.25 12.5

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