Western Chess
Pan-Am Games 2003


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Andrew Pastor

Thirty six teams from North and South America descended on Miami, Florida from December 26-30 to compete in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships. The Pan-Am Games is the largest and most prestigious collegiate chess event in the Western Hemisphere. Dating back to 1946, many of the finest academic institutions across the land have vied for the title including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT and the University of Toronto. In recent years, UMBC and UTD have distinguished themselves as the dominant schools in collegiate chess. With thousands of dollars in chess scholarships annually, they are able to attract some of the strongest players across the globe. The stakes were high at this year’s event with the University of Toronto’s longstanding record of six victories on the line. With a victory, UMBC would leave their mark as the most dominant collegiate team in the events history. The event was held at the beautiful Embassy Suites Hotel.




This year’s event saw a record turnout including the appearance of five grandmasters. At only twenty eight years old, GM Alexander Onischuk topped off the field with a rating just over 2700. He is currently ranked number two in the United States and among the top forty players in the world. GM Leonid Yudasin, formerly of Russia has been a two-time World Championship Candidate and is currently ranked number five in the United States. Other notable players included GM’s Blehm, Kreiman, Kaminski and Canada’s very own IM Pascal Charbonneau. It was nice to see the presence of some of the strongest females in the country as males have typically dominated this event. Brooklyn College set a precedent by sending the first all female team in the event’s history. We are proud to have the only female from Canada and one of just 9 females out of 144 participants.


Round 1:

GM Leonid YudasinAfter some confusion with the pairings and a late start to the first round, Western A was to meet one of the pre-tournament favorites, Brooklyn A. This was to be a daunting challenge as Brooklyn sported two grandmasters and an international master on their first three boards. On board 1, I had the task of grounding down a world-class grandmaster. After some unambitious play with the white pieces, black managed to equalize fairly easily. I turned down an opportunity to create complications and found myself in a fairly level endgame against GM Yudasin. I lost my nerve in time trouble and resigned myself to the fact that I was at the hands of an unyielding opponent. On board 2, Rich was paired against Russian sensation, GM Boris Kreiman. At the young age of 27, Kreiman secured his final GM norm at the U.S. Championships in Seattle. Considered by many to be one of the most dangerous players in the country, Kreiman is capable of holding his own with the very best. He is a very sharp player who never backs down from a theoretical debate. Ironically, Rich was the only challenger to come away with victory in Kreiman’s simul just that afternoon! This time around Kreiman would have the white pieces and would never look back. Rich opted for an offbeat line in the winawer that proved extremely hard to equalize. Despite some creativity from the black side, this ambitious idea proved to be fatal. Kreiman executedUWO's Richard Guttman vs GM Kreiman beautifully, demonstrating great positional understanding to bring home the point. On board 3, Liat had the white pieces against FM Dmitri Shevelev. Liat’s attempt to create complications in the ensuing middle game backfired and lead to a swift victory for the FM. On board four, Hansen struggled out of the opening against the experienced veteran, Peter Aravena Sloan. Sloan demonstrated great theoretical knowledge and had little trouble securing the full point. Despite the result, it was a remarkable start to the event and promised greater things to come.


Round 2:

In Round 2, we were paired against the lower rated team from NYU. After a few minor setbacks, we prevailed in convincing fashion with a crucial draw on board three. On board 1, I had the black pieces against Gregory Markshank. White’s unusual treatment of the opening left black with a material advantage and a strong attack.. However, after losing the thread of the game in time trouble, an outright blunder cost me the full point. On board 2, Rich demonstrated beautiful technique against Rexford Cristal's classical KID. Rich finished in style with a cute sacrifice that abruptly ended the game. Liat played a very solid game with the black pieces, grounding down Brad Couch. Her opponent would press for hours but was unable to breakthrough and Liat escaped with the crucial draw. Hansen came through under pressure with an important victory on board four. His play was outstanding; dominating the game from the outset. After a few inaccuracies by his opponent, Hansen swiftly took control of the position and put Alan Walk out of his misery.


Round 3:

UWO A Team vs MITAfter a successful bid for victory in round 2, we were paired against MIT. On board 1, I had the pleasure of meeting WIM Elina Groberman. As a junior, she represented the USA on numerous occasions including her 1st place finish in the Girls Under 18 Pan-American Championships. At the tender age of 18, she held the title, US Women’s Champion. Elina is a very solid player who possesses great endgame prowess. In one of my first outings with the French defense, I employed a rare setup that has been tried successfully by Canadian IM Igor Zugic. White entered the middle game with a space advantage and some active pieces but I was able to rid myself of the typical french bishop. I managed to create complications along the h-file and entered an endgame with fairly level chances. After a complete oversight, I spurned a perpetual check and decided to play on only to be completely outplayed in the resulting position. Once again time trouble proved costly and I was at the mercy of a formidable opponent. On board 2, Rich faced a very determined Sheel Dandekar. With the white pieces, Rich controlled the rhythm of the game from the outset. Unfortunately, Rich overextended his position and left many weaknesses in his own camp. His opponent proved too strong, finding some great resources near the end of the first time control to come away with the full point. On board three, Liat struggled out of the opening. Her opponent, Adrian Garcia capitalized on her early mistakes and managed to expose her king with no trouble at all. After finding a few precise moves, he was able to convert for a victory to secure the match. Hansen was unable to save face on board four as we would come away empty handed. His attempt to draw first blood backfired and Bryant Vernon had little difficulty in bringing home the win.


Round 4:

Our team came sprinting out of the gates in round 4, with some inspired play on all four boards. On board 1, I faced a very solid opponent, who in spite of of his lower rating, played some beautiful chess. Despite my numerous attempts at creating complications, he was able to hold his own. With 14 moves and just under two minutes to go before my time expired, he let me off the hook as I finished the game with a pretty tactic. On board 2, Rich made it look easy as he put on a clinic. He took a small positional advantage and pushed his opponent to his limits until finding some nice moves to seal the deal. Liat had little trouble with her opponent and finished the game off in style. On board four, Hansen made his intentions clear early with a swift and crushing attack on his opponent’s king. His opponent would never get an opportunity to recover, and we walked away with all 4 boards.


Round 5:      

Round 5 was a disappointment as we were unable to continue the momentum from the previous round. Mental exhaustion played a key role in this encounter, as we could not capitalize onUWO's B Team numerous opportunities. On board 1, I achieved a position that one can only dream of out of the opening. I took the exchange and my space advantage into the middle game and pressed hard for the full point. However, to my great dismay, a terrible decision left my king exposed to his coming onslaught. I let my frustration get the better of me as I put up little resistance in a position that could very well have been drawn. On board 2, Rich got a favorable position out of the opening with his pet line in the Queen’s gambit. However, Errol Daniels    created some counter play in the center and forced Rich to make some difficult decisions. A few inaccurate moves by Rich handed the position over to his opponent who would never look back. On board 3, Liat played a defensive setup that would have been good enough for a draw. She decided to turn down her opponent’s draw offer in an effort to keep our hopes of victory alive. She found herself pressing too hard and slowly lost the thread of the position. Despite her brave efforts, she was unable to weather the storm and came out empty-handed. On board four, Hansen surprised his opponent out of the opening and achieved a crushing position. He was able to convert his early material advantage into a favorable endgame which offered no losing chances. Despite some creative play, he was unable to find the proper technique and had to settle for a draw.


In a tournament of this nature, it is very easy to become mentally and physically drained. We let our exhaustion get the better of us and threw away our chances of a victory. Elsewhere in the tournament hall, the heavy pre-tournament favorites, UMBC were unable to keep their composure as they let UTD pass them on the leader board with a critical win. UTD would never look back and ultimately be crowned this year’s Pan-American Chess Champions!


Round 6:

We were able to recover from our disappointment in the previous round with a strong finish to complete the event. We had little trouble in securing the full point with quick victories on the bottom two boards. On board 1, I was pressing for a win in a positional line of the Najdorf Sicilain but bailed out with a draw upon news of our victory. Rich continued to play on despite this and was able to take home the point in brilliant fashion.


Closing thoughts:


It was a pleasant surprise to witness the friendliness of many of the titled players at the event. Having grown up on Toronto weekend swisses, it was a great opportunity to meet some of the strongest players across the continent. Their generosity was truly remarkable as they were always willing to analyze games with players of all levels. Our team also had the opportunity to talk with Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau. While this tournament did not find him in top form, he showed great composure and was a true gentleman throughout the event. His recent success in Kansas is hopefully just the beginning and the Western chess team wishes him the very best in the near future!


I would also like to thank the organizer, Arden Dilley and the tournament director, Dr. Ira Lee Riddle for making this event a huge success. They are a testament to the dedication and passion that are shared by so many volunteers in the chess world. Their tireless efforts often go unnoticed but I would like to thank them on behalf of the Western chess team.


As for next year, it would be honor to represent Western at this prestigious event once again. The playing site was beautiful, accommodations were excellent and the competition was fierce. Given the opportunity to return, we will come back better prepared are more determined than ever!


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