Webster Gorloks Lock Up Another College Title
Death. Taxes. Webster.
You can set your calendar by the Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Championship, literally. For the past five years, the dawning new year has brought Webster University at least a share of first place at the end of the premier open college team tournament. This last week in Columbus, Ohio, their top team made it six.
Lead Photo: The Winning Team -- (l. to r.) GM Jorge Cori, GM Ray Robson, Coach GM Susan Polgar, GM Vasif Durarbayli, GM Alex Shimanov, and organizer Kelly Bloomfield.
The streak eclipses the previous record of five in a row, set from 1998-2002 by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. UMBC and the University of Texas at Dallas are still tied for most all-time wins (10 apiece) but Webster is now six-for-six since their inception in 2012.
Nine GMs, 11 titles: Webster's top two teams and coach GM Susan Polgar gather in front of their six Pan-Am and five "President's Cup" (Final Four) titles. | Photo: Paul Truong.
Hosted by Ohio State University this year, the event is open to all college students in the Western Hemisphere. Overall, 58 teams competed, but not necessarily that many schools since some universities fielded multiple squads (UT-Dallas sent five teams, the most of any program). Everything from Ivy League schools to community colleges participated. They came from as far north as Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage (where it took a decent amount of searching to decipher that their 722-strong student body recently chose the "Moose" as the mascot) to as far south as the National Technical University of Mexico, based in the capital.
While in some of those six years Webster's B-team has usurped the school's higher-rated quartet, this time around the higher-rated Gorloks took top honors, winning with 5.5/6 match points. They were the only team with a perfect match record going into yesterday's final round six in the morning, and after four draws against the only team on 4.5/5, the UT-Dallas B-team, first place was assured.
They key matchup had come the night before in round five. Webster's A-team faced off against the fledgling St. Louis University squad.
St. Louis (left) vs. Webster A-team (right) in the critical round five. Webster Coach Susan Polgar observes. | Photo: Paul Truong.
In only their second year of fielding a competitive team, the Billikens could nearly match Webster's top four players in rating. They even had a deeper "bench" since they chose to only field one team.
With the match tied 1.5-1.5, GM Ray Robson scored the critical and decisive point to move the Gorloks to 5.0/5. Somehow the man who plays board four for the U.S. National Team "only" plays board three for his college, but he finished with a team-best 5.0 points -- none more immportant that this win over GM Yaroslav Zherebukh of SLU (video of end of game here).
"Obviously all Pan-Ams have been important, but I took this one extra seriously because I knew it would be my last," Robson, a senior, told Chess.com. Here he showed that four extra pawns on the empty side of the board aren't so useful:
"The competition was more difficult than ever before, while our team was, on paper, weaker than it has been," Robson said (longtime board one GM Le Quang Liem graduated this past spring). "Therefore, I was happy with our overall performance, not losing an individual game and not really being in danger of losing any match, whilst winning clear first."
About the only "dangers" to Webster had nothing to do with the board. Polgar posted updates on social media about the travails of their bus journey. Although only 280 miles from Columbus, the ride took nearly 12 hours thanks to snowy roads and mechanical problems (they ended up needing a second bus). Then their hotel temporarily lost the reservations for all 10 rooms before the team finally checked in the night before the first round.
Polgar also praised the spirit of GM Ilya Nyzhnyk, who was slated to play for the B-team but who had been sick for weeks and didn't even know if he could venture to the event. He did, but once there, he skipped team meetings in order to sleep, and Webster didn't know until the last minute if he'd be able to play. Nyzhnyk had told his team all along he would make it for his games.
"But true to his words, in spite of being ill and heavily medicated, not only Illia held his board [sic], he had one of best performances on our team," Polgar wrote. "He scored four wins and two draws, and his overall play was fantastic."
Several years ago Webster fielded an all-female team, and this year their C-team was all African-American. Left to right: Shawn Swindell, NM James Black, FM Joshua Colas, and FM Justus Williams. | Photo: Paul Truong.
Every year there's also a "tournament within a tournament" -- the top four finishing universities also qualify to the Final Four of College Chess, usually held in the spring and returning this year once again to New York City. Webster qualified again and will try to do another six-time by keeping their similar streak alive there.
Joining them and seeking to interrupt that dominance will be St. Louis University, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley. Those three teams all ended with 5.0/6 match points, and finished higher on tiebreaks than the Webster B-team (which didn't matter since a school can't qualify two teams anyway) and the hard-luck UT-Dallas B-team.
All of the top nine teams are "scholarship schools" and invest heavily in recruitment and training of student athletes. The highest-finishing schools that do not offer robust chess scholarships all tied with 4.0/6 and finished from 10th place onward: University of Michigan, Harvard University, University of Chicago (two teams with 4.0/6), Arizona State University, and the University of Illinois.
2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Championship | Final Standings (Top 15)
|2||ST LOUIS UNIV||2702||5.0||74.75|
|3||TEXAS TECH A||2615||5.0||72|
|4||TX RIO GRA VALLEY A||2650||5.0||67.5|
|6||UNIV TEXAS DALLAS B||2560||5.0||61.75|
|7||TX RIO GRA VALLEY B||2479||4.5||61.5|
|8||UNIV TEXAS DALLAS A||2593||4.0||60.25|
|9||UNIV TEXAS DALLAS C||2529||4.0||52.75|
|10||UNIV OF MICHIGAN A||2462||4.0||51.5|
|12||UNIV OF CHCGO A||2336||4.0||39|
|13||ARIZONA STATE UNIV A||2153||4.0||36|
|14||UNIV OF CHCGO B||2149||4.0||32.25|
|15||UNIV OF ILLINOIS A||2088||4.0||29.25|
Full standings available here.