But it was its B team, not its top-ranked A squad that captured the title.

In the 2016 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship, Webster University’s biggest competition turned out to be Webster University.

Webster, which is in St. Louis, had four teams in the field and two of them, its A and B squads, tied for first. Surprisingly, it was the B squad that took the title on tiebreaks in the six-round competition. 

It was Webster’s fourth title in five years. It previously won in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Saint Louis University, Texas Tech’s A team and Webster’s C team tied for third. The first two teams, along with the A team from the University of Texas-Dallas (the top sixth-place team), will vie with Webster A in the President’s Cup (also known as the Final Four) this spring, as each university is only allowed one team in the final event.

Overall, there were 60 teams from 33 colleges and universities in this year’s field. With more than 250 players, including 24 grandmasters and 19 international masters, it was the biggest and strongest Pan-American championship in more than 30 years. Indeed, several teams had all-grandmaster lineups, mostly comprised of foreigners studying in the United States. The influx of talent is the result of many colleges now actively recruiting abroad. 

Webster B won its first three matches before coming up against Saint Louis University in Round 4. Saint Louis had the higher-ranked team, but Webster won thanks to a victory on Board 1 by Vasif Durarbayli of Webster, a grandmaster from Azerbaijan, over Dariusz Swiercz, a Polish grandmaster:

Durarbayli, Vasif vs. Swiercz, Dariusz
Pan-Am Intercollegiate Ch. | New Orleans | Round 4 | 29 Dec 2016 | *
Raf8 28. b5! This is a strategically risky move because it gives the Black knight access to the c5 square, but Durarbayli has figured out that he will be able to play c5 before that can happen.
28... Ng6 29. Rxf6 Rxf6 30. bxa6 bxa6 31. Kg1 Rf4 32. Qe2 Qxe2 33. Bxe2 Re4
33... Nf8 If Black can play Nd7, he will have a great position, but
34. c5! This was the point of White's play. After
...  dxc5 35. Bxa6 White has a big edge.  )
34. Bf1 White's play is simple but elegant. He has made a permanent weakness for Black on a6, and despite the modest positioning of his pieces, Black cannot stop c5, which gives White a decisive advantage.
34... Nf4 35. g3!
35. c5 This move was also quite good.  )
35... Ne2+ 36. Kg2 Black has to respect the threat of Kf3.
36... Nc3 37. c5! It is time to play this.
37... dxc5 38. Bxa6 Rb4 39. Bc8
39. Bf1 This was easier but the move played by White is good enough.
39... Nb5 40. a6 Na7 41. Rc1 And Black would probably have resigned.  )
39... Nb5 40. Bd7 Na7 41. Re1! e4 42. Rc1! Black's pawns are very easily targeted. Note how pitiful the knight on a7 is in comparison to the White bishop.
42... c4 43. d6! cxd6 44. Rxc4 Rb7
44... Rxc4 45. Be6+  )
45. Be6+ Kf8 46. Rxe4 White has an extra outside passed pawn and a much better minor piece. The rest was easy for Durarbeyli.
46... Rb5 47. Rf4+ Ke7 48. Bc4 Rxa5 49. Rf7+ Kd8 50. Rxg7 h5 51. Be6 Ke8 52. Rh7 Kf8 53. Rd7 Nb5 54. h4 Ke8 55. Rh7 Nd4 56. Bf7+ Ke7 57. Rxh5 Ra3 58. Bd5 Kf6 59. Be4 Ra4 60. Rd5 Ke7 61. Bh7 Nc6 62. Rd2 Ne5 63. f4 Nc4 64. Re2+ Kf6 65. Bg8 Na5 66. Bd5 Rd4 67. Re6+ Kg7 68. Rxd6 Black fought on as long as he could in a lost position, but after he loses a third pawn, there is not much more hope.
68... Nc4 69. Rd7+ Kh6 70. Bc6 Ne3+ 71. Kf2 Ng4+ 72. Kf3

In the same round, Webster A had a close call against Texas Tech A when grandmaster Ray Robson, the only American-born player on any of the top squads, lost a tough game to Andrey Gorovets, an international master from Belarus. Webster A managed to win anyway as Illya Nyzhnyk, a Ukrainian grandmaster, and Alex Shimanov, a Russian grandmaster, won fine games. I particularly enjoyed Nyzhnyk’s effort against Elshan Moradiabadi, a grandmaster from Iran:

Nyzhnyk, Illya vs. Moradiabadi, Elshan
Pan-Am Intercollegiate Ch. | New Orleans | Round 4 | 29 Dec 2016 | 1-0
Kf7 I was watching this game live without an engine, and I was not sure how White could win. Nyzhnyk puts on a master class.
48. e6+! Kf6
48... Rxe6 49. Rxb7+ Kf6 50. Rb6! And White wouls win the pawn ending.  )
49. Kc5 Ke5 50. Rb1! White does not want to trade pawns, but Black is unable to take e6 with either piece!
50... Rc7+
50... Kxe6 51. Re1+  )
50... Rxe6 51. Re1+ Kf6 52. Rxe6+ Kxe6 53. Kb6  )
51. Kb6 Re7 52. Rb4! Not the only move that should lead to a win, but definitely the simplest one.
52. Re1+ This is the machine's choice  )
52... Rg7
52... Rh7 53. Ka7 And White wins easily.  )
53. Rxh4 Kxe6 54. Rd4! Cutting off the Black king.
54... Rh7 55. h4 Ke5 56. Rg4 Kf6 57. Rc4 Ke6 58. Rc5! Accurate until the end. White will simply push h5 if Black does not grab the h-pawn.
58... Kd6
58... Rxh4 59. Kxb7 This is no better as the a-pawn will easily promote.
59... Rb4+ 60. Kc7 Ra4 61. Rc6+ Kd5 62. a6  )
59. h5 Rg7 60. h6! Rh7 61. Rh5 Ke6 62. Rh1 Kd6 63. Rc1! Another nice move, using tactics to put Black in zugzwang.
63... Rf7
63... Rxh6 64. a6! bxa6 65. Rc6+  )
64. Rd1+ Ke6 65. Rg1 Rh7 66. Rg7 Rxh6 67. Kxb7 And Black had seen enough.

The two top Webster teams faced each other in Round 5. A drawn match would be an unwelcome result for both squads, but it shook out that way as Robson, who had been struggling badly all event, won a very nice game over Jayaram Ashwin, an Indian grandmaster, to counterbalance a victory by Manuel Leon Hoyos, a Mexican grandmaster, over Shimanov.

Robson, Ray vs. Ashwin, Jayaram
Pan-Am Intercollegiate Ch. | New Orleans | Round 5 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1-0
29. Rfe1 This is a closed position, and the only player who make anything happen is White who can try to play f4 at some point. But Black has that square totally under control. After a simple and solid move by Black, I would expect the game to eventually end in a draw. But Ashwin erred at this point.
29... Nf8? The knight was quite good on g6.
29... Kf8 A move like this would have been fine. The king can move to h7 and Black has no problems.  )
30. Qc2! A very strong move. Black has to defend the pawn on a5 with his rook since the pawn on c6 is attacked by White's knight.
30... Ra5
30... Qa5? 31. Nxc6  )
31. Qd2! The point. Now that White has lured the Black rook to a5, he is threatening Nxc6. But after
31... Rb5 White can now play f4. Robson did not waste his chance.
31... Ng6? 32. Nxc6 Qxc6 33. Qxa5  )
32. f4! gxf4 33. Qxf4 The computer only gives White a slight edge a this point, but the position looks very unpleasant for Black. Ashwin crumbled very quickly.
33... Rg5 34. Nd3 Ng6? A miscalculation.
34... Qa5! The engine suggests this move, but it's very tough to play over the board.  )
35. Qxa4! It might look as if Black is winning White's e-pawn, but Robson has a plan.
35... Nxe5 36. Rxe5! Rxe5 37. Qf4! Black's rook is pinned and he will lose a piece unless he fatally exposes his king.
37. Nxe5 Qxe5 And Black would be fine.  )
37... f6 Without this move, Black loses a piece. But now he is dead anyway because his king will perish.
38. Qxf6! Re4 39. Rf1! Qe7 40. Qg6+ Kd8 41. Qg8+ Black is about to lose his queen, so he resigned instead of waiting for Kd7 Rf7 or Qe8 Rf8

Webster A and Webster B won their final-round matches, but Webster B had a greater margin of victory, beating University of Texas-Dallas A, 3-1. The most remarkable win was by Hoyos — a quick knockout of Angel Arribas Lopez, a Spanish grandmaster:

Arribas Lopez, Angel vs. Leon Hoyos, Manuel
Pan-Am Intercollegiate Ch. | New Orleans | Round 6 | 30 Dec 2016 | 0-1
Nf6 5. Bb5?! This move looks extremely suspicious. The bishop will be vulnerable on b5.
5... a6! 6. Qa4 b6! Energetic play from Hoyos.
7. e5?! Asking for trouble.
7. Bd3 The engine evaluates the position as fine for White after this modest move, but I would prefer to be Black.  )
7... Bb7! Counterattacking the bishop on b5 by breaking the pin on the a-pawn.
8. Bf1 This is a very sad move to have to make.
8. exf6? axb5 And Black will win material.  )
8... Nd5 9. Nxd5?
9. Bd2 This was important for damage control, although Black would still be better.  )
9... Bxd5 10. Be3 Nc6 White is already in trouble. The pawn on e5 is very hard to defend.
11. O-O-O This hastens the end, but the position was very bad already.
11. Nf3 b5 12. Qf4 Bg7 And the e-pawn will be lost.  )
11. f4 b5 And White's queen is in trouble.  )
11... b5 12. Qf4 Bxa2! Not fearing that the bishop will be trapped.
13. b3 Qa5! 14. e6
14. Kb2 e6 And White would soon be mated as he cannot stop Qa3.  )
14... dxe6 I'm not sure I have ever seen a strong player lose this quickly with White.

Webster A could only muster a 2.5-1.5 victory over University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley A, as Nyzhnyk lost to Andrey Stukopin, a Russian grandmaster:

Stukopin, Andrey vs. Nyzhnyk, Illya
Pan-Am Intercollegiate Ch. | New Orleans | Round 6 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1-0
exf4 White has a big, probably decisive edge, but from this point onward, the position becomes increasingly complicated and time trouble sets in for both players, leading to mistakes on both sides.
31. Rxe7 Bxe7 32. gxf7+?
32. Qf5! This (very difficult) move was the only way to preserve White's advantage. Black should lose after
32... Nf6 33. gxf7+ Kf8 34. Bxf4  )
32... Kf8 33. Qh7 Bg5! 34. Bg6 The pendulum has swung and Black has a big edge, but the position is almost impossible to play over the board without making errors.
34... Qb8
34... Qc8! This move was more accurate.
35. b3 b4! 36. c4 Nf6 37. Qh8+ Ke7  )
35. b3 a5
35... b4 36. cxb4 Nf6 37. Qh8+ Ke7 38. f8=Q+ Rxf8 39. Qg7+ Kd6 40. b5  )
36. c4 b4
36... Nf6! And Black should win.
37. Qh8+ Ke7 38. f8=Q+ Rxf8 39. Qg7+ Kd6 Scary as this position looks, White's attack is indeed out of steam.  )
37. Bb2! Simple and strong. White threatens to play d5
37... f3? Now White can play d5.
37... Bf6! This move was the only way to hold on.  )
38. d5! Nf6 39. Bxf6! Very well spotted with almost no time left to make the first time control.
39... Bxf6 40. d6! Black resigned as he is unable to prevent Qg8, with mate to follow. For example:
40... Qxd6 41. Qg8+ Ke7 42. Qe8+! Rxe8 43. fxe8=Q#

It was a great tournament to follow, and I look forward to seeing how the Final Four shakes out.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.