US Amateur Team West

by admin on February 18, 2014

President’s Day weekend can only mean one thing in U.S. chess — it’s time for the U.S. Amateur Team championship! I didn’t play this year, but I went to the tournament site on Sunday afternoon to spectate. It was another great success for tournament organizer Salman Azhar, with 52 teams entered. That’s an improvement over two years ago, when I played on the winning team, and there were 40 teams in the competition. The West region still has a long way to go to compete with the East region, which typically has more than 200 teams, but it would be cool if we could at least be the #2 region in the country.

The defending champions, NorCal House of Chess, won the tournament again with a 5-1 record. I would like to point out that they would have won three years in a row if my team, Forfeit by Disconnection, hadn’t beaten them in 2012. With Ricardo de Guzman on first board and Ron Cusi on second board, they were darn near invincible. But this year, they pulled out another secret weapon — Grandmaster Enrico Sevillano on board one! That moved International Master de Guzman down to board two and FIDE Master Cusi down to board three. That’s just sick! How can you beat that?

As expected, NorCal House of Chess raced out to a 5-0 start, but then Bay Area Berkeley United did the impossible and brought them down. Here’s how it happened:

  1. Sevillano (2539) drew Cameron Wheeler (2300)
  2. De Guzman (2502) lost to Albert Lu (2240)
  3. Cusi (2296) beat Teemu Virtanen (2105). Cusi was a stud, as always. He was one of two players to go 6-0 in the tournament.
  4. Shafieen Ibrahim (1403) lost to Josiah Stearman (2071).

This upset created a five-way tie at 5-1, but the tiebreakers went to NorCal House of Chess.

One of the beauties of the amateur team format is the eternal debate over which is better: a “stacked team,” like NorCal House of Chess, or a “balanced team,” like Bay Area Berkeley United. The stacked team has two or three super-strong players, but the average rating has to be below 2200, so they are forced to play a relatively weak player on board four. To win the match, the balanced team has to win the “gift” game on board four (which isn’t always so easy) and then somehow hold even on the other three boards. You need someone to be a hero, like Albert Lu beating Ricardo de Guzman. I wish I’d seen that game, because de Guzman almost never loses to lower-rated players.

I’d say that the bottom line is that the stacked team is more reliable. NorCal House of Chess will always be a favorite to win the tournament, as long as they have de Guzman and Cusi (and now Sevillano!). However, in any given year a balanced team could get hot. You need the right team chemistry and you need heroes to step up at the right times. That was what happened two years ago, and I was thrilled to be a part of it. It happened again for Bay Area Berkeley United, but the tiebreaks didn’t go their way.

By the way, I noticed one other interesting thing in the crosstable: none of the top five teams lost or even drew a match against anybody outside the top five. So it was almost like two tournaments — the top five and everybody else. The other three teams that tied for first were “Undercover Llamas” (the UCLA team), “Abusement Park” (a team of young masters and experts), and “Nohunterhere” (the Liu Chess Club team).

I was invited to play two rounds as a sub for Mike Splane on Monday (he had classes to teach) but I had other commitments and had to decline. Mike’s team, “Mikoko,” had a somewhat disappointing tournament, going 4-2.

Another team with a performance worth mentioning was “Sentestrat,” which was very happy with a 4-2 score because it gave them the top under-2000 prize. One of their players was Simon Rubinstein-salzedo, an occasional reader of this blog, who also came up with the name. It was surely the most obscure name of any team at the tournament. I asked Simon to explain it to me, and about ten minutes and several blackboards later (just kidding) I somewhat had the idea. Bottom line: Look it up on Google.

Congratulations to NorCal House of Chess and good luck to them in the playoff against the East, South, and North champions! Last NorCal won the playoff and became national champions. Can they turn themselves into a dynasty?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashish February 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Some great “chess celebrity” sightings at this tournament – Rochelle Ballantyne, USCF President Ruth Haring, Luke Harmon-Vellotti, Sam Sloan(!). And of course a ton of rising stars and future GMs, perhaps including Simon.

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Simon February 21, 2014 at 8:42 am

You definitely do wish you had seen the De Guzman vs. Lu game, as it was quite the spectacle. It was the last game in the tournament to finish, and it predictably drew a large crowd. De Guzman sacrificed two pawns to get a dangerous attacking formation: his queen on h6 and bishop on e5 were tying down the black king on g8, pawns on f7, g6, h5, knight on g7, and bishop on f8. The knight can’t move because of mate on h8, and the bishop can’t move because of mate on g7. Furthermore, there was always the idea of getting a rook to the eighth rank, pinning the bishop and allowing Qxg7#.

But Lu was able to get his own attack going, with a queen and a rook. It didn’t lead to mate, but it tied down enough of De Guzman’s pieces that Lu was able to create further counterplay with his passed pawn on the queenside. (I think it was a b-pawn.) Eventually, that was enough to force De Guzman to abandon his attacking formation. Most of the pieces were traded, and Lu ended up with two extra pawns in a bishop (same color) endgame, which he won convincingly in the blitz finale.

Also, thanks for the mention! Perhaps I’ll try to come up with a slightly less obscure team name next time around, as the team name failed to attract any collaborators for my idea of a CGT/chess research project. We were indeed delighted to win Top U2000, as that was our goal for the tournament.

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