Auspicious Beginnings

by admin on February 16, 2020

This weekend I’m playing in the U.S. Amateur Team West (USATW) tournament, which for the first time is being sponsored by the Mechanics Institute and run by one of the Bay Area’s finest directors, Judit Sztaray. Judit was with Bay Area Chess for a long time, and then when John Donaldson stepped down from the Mechanics last year for health reasons, she was an obvious choice to replace him. With her at the helm, the historic Mechanics club, the oldest chess club west of the Mississippi, will have a bright future.

Now let’s talk chess! I’m on the Kolty Club team for the first time. I’ve played in the USATW twice before, in 2012 and 2016 I think, with pickup teams. The first time was the most memorable; I was on a team called Forfeit By Disconnection, led by Robin Cunningham, which won the tournament and played in the national playoffs. We won five straight matches by 2.5-1.5 scores (four in the USATW, and one in the first round of the playoffs), but then lost to the East champions 3-1 in the championship match. One of the teams we beat (NorCal House of Chess) went on to win the next three years, so I like to say that we kept them from winning four in a row!

This year’s Kolty Club team has six players, because all of us are getting old and need substitutes to get through a six-round tournament. For some reason the tournament is using January ratings rather than February, so our rating order is 1. Mike Arne, 2. Mike Splane, 3. Juande Perea, 4. yours truly, 5. Marshall Polaris, and 6. Paulo Santanna. (If they were using February ratings, Juande and I would switch.)

We won both of our first two matches by comfortable margins, 3.5-0.5 and 3-1. I think the game of the day was played by Mike Splane against Ruiyang Yan on board one of round two. In a seemingly innocuous Q+B versus Q+N late middlegame/early endgame, he just squeezed and squeezed her. Often Q+N are considered to be better than Q+B, but not in this case, where her knight was forced to h1 and had to remain there until Mike had won a couple pawns and allowed it to escape so that he could trade into a queen endgame.

I won both of my individual games. The one in the first round, where I played White against Timothy Horng had a nice finish.

Position after 26. … Nd7. White to move.

FEN: 5rk1/q2Nbppp/2nppn2/1pp5/4PP2/2PP1N2/1P4PP/2BBQRK1 b – – 0 16

In this position White could win in lots of different ways. My initial intention was to play 27. g6, which is absolutely crushing. I would win at least two pawns with a dominating position. But then I noticed that Black’s last move, 26. … Nd7, cuts the Black queen off very badly from the defense of the kingside. Can White exploit that fact?

The answer is yes! I played 27. Bxf7+!, a very appealing move because you have to calculate a few variations but they are all completely clear in the end. The game variation was 27. … Kxf7 28. Qd5+ Kf8 29. g6! hg 30. hg Nxe5 31. Nxe5 Bf6 32. Nd7+, Black resigns.

One option for Black was not to trade on g6 but instead play 29. … Nxe5 right away. This loses to 30. Nxe5 Bd6 31. gh! with dual threats of queening the pawn or playing Qg8+. 31. … Ke7 is forced, after which 32. Qe6+ is the coup de grace. Horng’s move 29. … hg prevented me from taking on h7, but it had the drawback of opening the f-file for my rook. So now if he plays 31. … Bd6 I have 32. Rxf4+ Ke7 33. Rf7+, again with an obvious win.

I felt good about this game because even though I was “supposed” to win rating-wise, I won with style. The finishing combination was not just showing off, it really was the best way to end the game quickly.

Yesterday there was also a scholastic side event, which gave my two students, Emmy and Ryder, a taste of team chess. They paired up with Judit Sztaray’s daughters, Bori and Saci, and called their team “Coast to Valley.” As the lowest-rated team they had a tough day, but I was proud of the way they competed. If there had been a prize for “most enthusiastic team” I think they would have won. Ryder went 2-3 and Emmy went 1-4, which should have been 2-3 but she allowed a back rank mate in a completely winning position. I also saw her playing some games just for fun with one of her opponents afterwards, which made me feel good because she’s making friends. Chess games come and go, but friends last!

Today I’m sitting out round three but playing round four. If you want to follow the action live, you can do so by going to the Mechanics Institute web page, looking for the header that says “U.S. Amateur Team West National Championship,” and clicking on “Live Chess.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Aigner February 16, 2020 at 11:42 am

Good luck gentlemen! May all your pawns promote.

I actually wanted to play this year with a team of students (average of about 1950), but real life has intervened. Maybe next year!

I enjoy looking at the team names. Some are quite hilarious, such as Danish Pastry Gambit and Not Really Reti. However, my favorite is Always Advancing Rook Pawns, alluding to AlphaZero’s playing style and the age of the teammates. Unfortunately, most of the young competitors will not understand. My honorable mention goes to: Rausis Is My Second.

What are your favorites?


Mike Splane February 22, 2020 at 5:53 pm

RE: “…the game of the day was played by Mike Splane against Ruiyang Yan on board one of round two. ”

For those of you who ant to see it, here is a link!us-amateur-team-west-2020/2003757942


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: