Le Leads Webster To Fourth Straight Title
Sometimes dictionaries change the meanings of words, but "Webster" has been consistent since 2013. Webster University repeated as champions of the President's Cup, also known as the Final Four of College Chess. The event took place April 2-3 and the win was their fourth win in as many years.
The iconic Marshall Chess Club played host for the four-team round robin, with two rounds Saturday and one Sunday. Teams consisted of four players per round, though colleges were allowed to bring more players and use alternates.
Despite the dynasty continuing, this time the Gorloks won by their smallest margin (scoring 8.5/12 game points and winning by one). They were able to maintain one impressive statistic -- they've never lost a match while competing for the cup (a perfect dozen).
The rooftop shot is reminiscent of the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, but this time the Empire State takes the place of the Arch. (Left to right) GM Ray Robson, GM Le Quang Liem, GM Alexandr Shimanov, Coach GM Susan Polgar, GM Vasif Durarbayli, GM Ilya Nyzhnyk, GM Fidel Corrales Jimenez. All photos courtesy Paul Truong.
Besides the on-the-board worries, one incident before the tournament also tested the team's nerves (read below for that account).
Wins were hard to come by this year, and second place University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly UT-Brownsville) even had a chance to tie the top seed going into the final round. They finished on 7.5 game points.
In the end, of the five 2600+ FIDE GMs that traveled from St. Louis, top Webster player GM Le Quang Liem was the one to ensure his squad fulfilled their goal. He was the only one in the event to finish personally with 3/3.
GM Ray Robson finished with 2/3, although Coach/Chief Strategist FM Paul Truong said that both he and GM Alexandr Shimanov (three halves) could have won a lot of their drawn games. GM Vasif Durarbayli had one win in his only game.
Texas Tech University, winners of the 2015 Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship, couldn't recover from an opening-round pummeling by UT-RGV and ended with 5.5 game points. They finished third while longshot Columbia University could only muster a few individual surprises (2.5 points), but did play spoiler in the final round.
All four schools qualified via the Pan-Ams, but teams were not required to use the same rosters. This proved very useful for Webster, whose B-team was the one who advanced in December. They chose all four A-team members to go to the Final Four. Only two of the four B-teamers traveled to New York, and one, GM Fidel Corrales-Jimenez, didn't play any of the three rounds.
In the opening round, the reconfigured Webster team took out Columbia 3.5-0.5. They were likely going for more, as game points counted for the standings instead of match points, and in two of their previous three titles, they won one round 4-0. Susan Polgar, the team's coach, chronicled this after the victory by compiling the team's stats page on her official site.
Le's crush of top Lion IM Arthur Shen set the tone for the match against the rest of the pride.
Robson didn't need much longer than that for his win. The extra eight moves allowed for more brutality:
UT-RGV proved they would be the main chaser, as their two wins and two draws against Texas Tech put the Red Raiders essentially out of contention for first in the short event.
Top board GM Yaroslav Zherebukh just couldn't get off the ground for Tech. He opened with a loss to GM Anton Kovalyov and the only managed a draw from his next two games. In the opening contest, his heavies were terrorized by Black minors more than anyone can bear.
Rounds two and three followed the same pattern. Webster faced the two Texas universities, and both times Le got a win on the top board while his three grandmaster teammates below him drew. First they beat UT-RGV in this manner, then came back Sunday morning and repeated it against Texas Tech (Webster A and Texas Tech drew their head-to-head match in December's Pan-Ams).
Here's Le's leadership in action in round two:
After the game, the team voted to go out to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, and when Le was the hero again the next day, they repeated the ritual. Le is the number one rated player from Vietnam.
"They are like brothers," Truong said.
How did Le celebrate after the event? He had to jet off to the United Arab Emirates, where the Asian Nations Cup had already commenced!
Webster's final-round 2.5-1.5 win over Texas Tech nearly wasn't enough, but UT-RGV could "only" beat Columbia 3-1. Shen's upset of Kovalyov prevented a tie at the top of the standings. The rules state that the first tiebreaker is match wins, and since Webster ran the table, they may have "done the math" and realized that 2.5 points in the final round was good enough to ensure better tiebreaks if needed.
Columbia was the first Ivy League School to play since 2002 and only the second in history (Harvard played in the event's second year). Shen didn't let off the gas when he scored his team's lone win:
Texas Tech won the President's Cup the two year previous to Webster's run, but they had the same coach. Polgar moved her program from Lubbock to St. Louis beginning in the 2013 college chess season.
Robson, Le and Corrales have been members during all four Webster titles.
Truong said that the team's nerves got going even before the first pawn was pushed. While in one of the famous New York City yellow cabs he took the front passenger seat and the driver overheard Le, Robson and Corrales discussing game theory in the back seat.
The Webster team went a little more upscale for the ride back to the airport!
"We were discussing the colors from the drawing of lots...the cab driver asked if we were discussing Go," Truong said, before correcting him. "All of the sudden he got so excited."
Truong said the driver offered his rating, 2084, then asked about the college kids in the back. Truong told him the names Corrales, Robson, Le, and the driver's speech quickened. "I know all of your games!" The cabbie asked if they were the "team from St. Louis."
He continued on about how GM Fabiano Caruana missed his chances in Moscow, and how GM Magnus Carlsen should make short work of GM Sergey Karjakin. (It looks like the driver may have been one of those to vote in our poll).
"It got a little scary because he was so excited, he kept turning his head back to talk to our students, which caused a few near misses of hitting other cars!" Truong said.
It seems there are constants in New York City -- out of control yellow cabs and a well-informed chess public. It also sounds like the world championship could be a hard ticket to get.
2016 President's Cup | Final Standings