Webster Finishes Clear 1st At Pan-Ams For 7th Straight Title
Webster University's three teams, with head coach GM Susan Polgar in between the trophies. Photo: David Llada.

Webster Finishes Clear 1st At Pan-Ams For 7th Straight Title

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
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33 | Chess Event Coverage

It a case of "7Up" for its collegiate chess program, Webster University has won the largest open collegiate team event in the Western Hemisphere for the seventh time in as many years. The Gorloks are 2018 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Chess Champions thanks to their 5.5/6 performance in late December just outside San Francisco.

Webster has now won in every year of its existence (2012-2018). Only a Texas Tech win in 2015 (the former program of head coach GM Susan Polgar) attempted to break up the hegemony, and even in that year Webster tied for first, which officially counts as a title according to a ruling by the collegiate chess committee.

[A correction on 1/4/19: Note that in an earlier version of this story, Chess.com reported that in 2015 Webster's tie for first did not count as a win. Indeed, the rules for this year do state that in the case of a tie with three or more teams, then tiebreaks decide the champion (in 2015 there were four teams tied); only in the case of a two-way are co-champions declared:

However, a recent correction to Chess.com has stated that the rules were amended/clarified to state that all teams tying for first are now to be considered co-champions, and that the language on the web site for this year's event had simply yet to be updated. Thus, Webster has won seven titles in seven years.]

Susan PolgarGM Susan Polgar, likely the most winning college chess coach in history, and certainly this century. Photo: David Llada.

Bay Area Chess hosted more than 50 teams this time from places as disparate as Mexico and Alaska (any university in the Americas or Caribbean is eligible), but in the end it was the programs that offered chess scholarships that were mostly untouchable. St. Louis-based Webster's A-Team of GMs Illya Nyzhnyk, Lazaro Bruzon, Yuniesky Quesada, and Jorge Cori were collectively even more diverse that the colleges themselves (Ukraine, Cuba, Cuba, Peru, respectively).

They had two of only three individual losses come in round three, but survived that drawn match to win out and thus take first without any need for tiebreaks. Three teams finished a half-point back at 5.0/6, and that trio would normally join Webster in the Final Four of College Chess, traditionally in New York in April. The only "problem" is that Webster's B-Team finished in that pack, and a school can only send one quartet to the Big Apple. A nice problem to have!

Webster UniversityWebster University's winning team (left to right): assistant coach FM Paul Truong, GM Jorge Cori, coach GM Susan Polgar, GM Illya Nyzhnyk, GM Lazaro Bruzon, GM Yuniesky Quesada. Photo: David Llada.

Those teams on 5.0/6 were University of Texas at Dallas (A-Team), Webster University (B-Team), and the surprise of the event, Harvard University. Only in the chess world does a premier institution like the Crimson qualify as a huge underdog in a mental pursuit, but that's the nature of chess scholarships these days. Harvard doesn't offer any and indeed most Ivy League schools don't even offer official athletic scholarships (so GM Darwin Yang must have gotten there under other worthy merits!).

In fact, Harvard was the only squad in the top 10 finishers that was not a "chess school." Princeton University, one of their arch rivals, finished 11th. (Historically Harvard has won the event five times, tied with Columbia for the most among the Ivy Leagues.)

Harvard Crimson

So with Webster precluded from sending two teams to the Final Four, that meant the top team on 4.5/6 gets the last ticket. That ended up being the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), whose tiebreaks were better than St. Louis University's A-Team, Texas Tech's A-Team, and UTRGV's B-Team. Those superior tiebreaks mean that UTRGV gets a chance to defend its 2018 President's Cup title, which it won last year in New York to break Webster's run of five consecutive wins in the Final Four.

Note that once a school qualifies for the Final Four, it may elect to send any players it wishes as its foursome, no matter which team it played on at the Pan-Ams.

Nyzhnyk, who held down top board for Webster, was the standout player for the team. He led all board ones and was California dreamin' with a 5.5/6 personal score.

Illya NyzhnykGM Illya Nyzhnyk, the leader of the first-place Webster A-Team. Photo: David Llada.

In round two, after teammate Cori lost unexpectedly to NM Anshul Adve of UCLA, Nyzhnyk helped erase that when his opponent went awry late in the endgame. His foe was IM Michael Kleinman—no relation to this author!

Here was Adve's adventurous win, where he acted a little like our best game of the year award winner, although this king walk was out of necessity. Despite being +9 for much of the final moves, White couldn't finish it off and Black even won:

Despite this late slip, Webster A-Team beat the Bruins 3-1. One round later, they weren't so lucky, as UT-Dallas' C-Team, which featured only one GM against four, managed to draw the match 2-2. The Dallas squad enjoyed lunching on a "Cubano" as both Bruzon and Quesada lost to IMs.

Dallas' IM Titas Stremavicius set a funny trap for Bruzon. First, he retreated his queen to h1 in the middlegame (that's one way to get the bishop from f1 to c6). Then, instead of just moving the bishop to g2 immediately, he took a pit stop on e2 en route to f3. All of this led to the Webster player thinking he could just take on d3, which as you can see, he can't!

The top Gorloks righted themselves the next round and also got some revenge on UT-Dallas, as they would not be facing their B-Team. Webster's top two boards both had fun chasing bishops. Bruzon went fishing...

While Nyzhnyk was more of a trapper, simply playing most of the game up a piece since the bishop on h2 was immobilized.

And just for good measure, Webster made the rout 3.5-0.5 after Quesada didn't win the bishop, but rather tickled it.

Round five was pivotal. Webster actually led the event, but not its A-Team! It was its B-Team that was 4-0 at that point. It would end up closing out with two drawn matches to finish third on tiebreaks but also remain undefeated like iys eventual first-place teammates.

Webster UniversityAs Polgar wrote on Facebook: "We train as a team, travel as a team, dine as a team, fight as a team, and win as a team!" Photo: Paul Truong.

Webster's A-Team faced St. Louis University A-Team in a battle that would decide city-wide and hemispheric dominance (the two schools are only nine miles away; about the same distance as other collegiate rivalries like Duke and UNC).

After the top three boards drew, Cori got the job done on board four by keeping the rooks on the board.

In the final round, Webster's A-Team had little trouble with Texas Tech. It won 3.5-0.5 after Nyzhnyk wiggled his queen out of danger and won on the top board after a slip. Cori's game was the most entertaining win—at several points he allowed his opponent the chance to get two queens.

With Nyzhnyk taking top honors on board one, the other board winners were: GM Kamil Dragun (UTRGV) with 5.0/6 on board two; untitled and no FIDE rating(!) Tanmay Khattar (University of California - Berkeley, B-Team) with 6.0/6 on board three; NM Bryan Hu (Harvard) with 5.5/6 on board four; and WCM Claudia Munoz (Texas Tech B-Team) with 3.0/4 as alternate.

Did this player lose a bet? Maybe it is a fraternity hazing ritual? Photo: David Llada.

University of Michigan won the Division II award and "Best Mixed Doubles," while UC-Berkeley's B-Team won Division III. Hart House Chess Club of the University of Toronto won Best International Team; Miami Dade College best in Division IV; University of Utah best in Division V; and Oberlin College "Top Small College Team."

2018 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Championship | Final Standings (Top 10)

# Name Rtng Rd 1 Rd 2 Rd 3 Rd 4 Rd 5 Rd 6 Tot TB-T
1 Webster University Team A* 2737 W36 W16 D15 W17 W6 W7 5.5 66.75
2 U of Texas Dallas A* 2615 W31 W18 W4 L3 W11 W10 5 68.75
3 Webster University Team B 2665 W24 W20 W9 W2 D7 D5 5 67
4 Harvard University* 2421 W34 W30 L2 W12 W18 W9 5 57.25
5 UTRGV Team A* 2661 W29 W11 W10 L7 W14 D3 4.5 68.75
6 St Louis University Team A 2692 W22 W14 D17 W8 L1 W15 4.5 67.5
7 Texas Tech University Team A 2624 W23 W26 W13 W5 D3 L1 4.5 66
8 UTRGV Team B 2525 D32 W36 W25 L6 W23 W17 4.5 51.5
9 St Louis University Team B 2513 W40 W21 L3 W15 W25 L4 4 59.25
10 UMBC Team A 2484 W44 W33 L5 W26 W20 L2 4 51

*Advance to Final Four of College Chess (President's Cup)

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