A Tournament Where the Competition Is Everything and Nothing
ByAlan C. PriceFeb 26 — 10:00 AM
Image by Alan Price
A report from the United States Amateur Team Championships, where people truly play for love of the game.
In a rite of winter that seems like it could have been lifted out of the movie “Groundhog Day,” last weekend, more than 1,300 people from around the country packed into a suburban hotel in rural New Jersey for President’s Day weekend. It was their 46th annual convention, though not always at the same location, and not always with the same people. It was the U.S. Amateur Team East chess championship.
Billed as the “World Amateur Team Championship” (in a country where the championship of its national past-time, baseball, is called the “World Series,” such bravado should not come as a surprise), it is the biggest and oldest of the four annual amateur team championships held around the country every year on President’s Day weekend.
Why does the tournament have such a loyal following? It certainly is not the prizes. In the best spirit of amateurism, there is no money, just clocks, plaques (for best teams in different categories), and the dream of true national title.
Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, who teaches Carissa Yip.
Grandmaster Michael Rohde
Sunil Weeramantry, a FIDE master and the step-father of Hikaru Nakamura, No. 6 in the world, played in the amateur teams while his son was competing in the Sharjah Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates.
Part of the main playing hall.
Chris Welcome, a master and long-time coach and teacher.
Arslan Otchiyev, a master originally from Turkmenistan.
Richard Bauer, a master from Connecticut.
Daniel Hayon, who played Board 4 for Cornell University's A team, which finished fourth overall. Hayon scored 4.5 points.
A university student found a quiet place to study while his teammates continued to play.
An accessory that was hardly needed: ear plugs
Oh my aching head.
He probably should stick to chess and not take up poker.
The amateur championships can even bring rivals (New York Mets and Boston Red Sox fans) together on the same team.
Army vs. Navy.
A game that went on until the wee hours of the morning after most others had gone to bed.
Young and old continued analyzing in the lobby after the games.
When some of the younger players finished their games, they switched to Ocean-Opoly.
The tournament has such wonderful energy that it always attracts a large number of players, including grandmasters and international masters. Indeed, this year’s attendance set a record with 307 teams and 1300 players. Among them, there were 12 grandmasters, 24 international masters and FIDE masters, and 75 masters. (The rules are that the teams, which have four regular players and can also have an alternate, must have an average rating of less than 2200, the level of a master. So a grandmaster has to be balanced with a lower-rated player, who is often one of their students.)
There are also prizes for best team name, best costumes and best chess theme. My team was named, “Yip Yip Hurray!” in honor of our top player, Carissa Yip, who at 13, and with United States rating of 2349 (and 2234 internationally) is a rising star. Predictably, many team names were inspired by politics including, “Our Stonewall is Yuge,” “My Trump Beats Your Queen,” and the co-winning name, “Grab Them By the Pulugaevsky,” which tied in audience support with “Pillsbury Takes En Croissant” (which also won the top prize for the seniors category).
I have competed in the Amateur Team East almost every year since 1980. In spite of life’s twists and turns, I continually return to Parsippany, N.J., the site of the tournament for the last few decades. And I’ve been able to live out the amateur dream twice — I’m one of a handful of people who has been on two winning teams (1998 and 2009). Nobody has won it three times.
It addition to the competition, it also is a reunion event. People who are otherwise immersed in their daily lives get together once a year to check in and catch up with old friends.
I often see people from the Marshall Chess Club from the days when I lived in New York City, the Boylston Chess Club from when I lived in Boston/Cambridge days, the New Britain Chess Club from Connecticut, where I now reside, and many others from around the east coast and beyond. This tournament is unique in so many respects, but what always amazes me is the diversity and intergenerational connections among the players.
My team, which ultimately took the top prize for mixed doubles (two men and two women), won the first four matches, but we were demolished in the fifth round by the team that ultimately won the tournament, “Summer Academy Talented Youth.” The champion team was somewhat a family affair with Ethan Li, Wesley Wang, Warren Wang, and Jason Li.
We battled back in the final round to beat “Putin Gave Us Our King,” a strong team with grandmaster John Fedorowicz, on Board 1. Carissa, playing the White pieces, held him to draw. Our team finished with five team points, lots of terrific memories, and the desire to return and do battle next year.
The following game was Yip’s best effort, a win in Round 2 against Denys Shmelov, a Ukrainian international master.
Yip, Carissa vs. Shmelov, Denys
U.S. Amateur Team Championship |Parsippany, N.J. |Round 2 |18 Feb 2017 |1-0
1. e4Nf6The Alekhine Defense, named for the former World Champion, doesn't
have such a great reputation at elite levels, but it is not so bad. 2. e5Nd53. d4d64. Nf3dxe5Not necessary, but a known line; 4... e6 seems
wiser, if a little passive. 5. Nxe5c66. c4Nf66... Nb4 is considered a
better move. Among other things, it contains the threat of 7... Qd4. 7. Nc3g68. Be2Bg79. Be3Nbd710. f4Without doing anything extraordinary, White
has a very nice position. 10... Qc711. O-OO-O12. Bf3Rd813. Qe2Black is
really cramped and has a problem getting his light-squared bishop out. 13... a614. b4Nf815. Rac1Bd716. a4The position is almost comical. White
is simply dominating the game. 16... Be817. Rb1This waste of time does
not hurt White because her position is so good. 17... N6d718. Rfc1Yip has
been patiently improving her position while Shmelov has had to sit and wait
for her to do something and hope that he find some counterplay. 18... Nxe519. dxe5Capturing fe5 was better. Yip probably feared some pressure against
her pawn on d4, but Black cannot do anything. 19... f620. b5Rab8If 20...
fxe5, then 21. bxc6 and the threats of cxb7 and Bb6 give White a clear
advantage. 21. exf6One consequence of her earlier decision about which way
to recapture -- Yip's impressive center has disappeared. Nevertheless, she
retains a healthy edge because of her lead in development and advantage in
space. 21... exf622. f5!Sealing in the dark-squared bishop. 22... Bf723. Bf2Re824. Bg3Qa525. Qf2Rbc826. bxc6bxc627. Ne4!Winning an
exchange. 27... Rcd828. Nd6Re729. Nb7Rxb730. Rxb7Bh631. Bc7Qxf532. Bxd8Bxc133. Bxc6Qd334. Bb6Bxc4Black has picked up a pawn for his
exchange and his pieces are active, so the game is far from over. 35. Qf3Qd636. g3Bh637. Bf2Bg738. Rb1f539. Rd1Qb440. Bd5+Exchanges help
White. 40... Kh841. Bxc4Qxc442. Qf4Qb343. Rd8Qb1+44. Kg2Qb7+45. Kh3Qf746. Bd4Kg847. Bxg7Kxg748. Qe5+Kh649. Qe8Qc450. Qe3+g5With
the subtle threat of 51. Qf1, mate. 51. Kg2Qc2+52. Qf2Qe4+53. Qf3Qc2+54. Kh1Ng655. a5Qb1+56. Rd1Qc257. Rf1Ne558. Qxf5Qc6+59. Kg1Qc5+60. Qf2Qxa561. h4Ng662. Qe3!Simple but effective. The pin is deadly. 62... Qd563. Rf2Qd1+64. Kh2Qd565. Rd2Qf566. Rf2Qd567. Rc2The threat
is 68. Rc5. 67... Qe568. Qxe5Nxe569. Rc5Nf770. Rc7Kg671. h5+Kf672. Kh3h673. Ra7Ke674. Rxa6+Kf575. g4+
And this was an interesting game of mine from Round 3 against an expert.
Price, Alan vs. Sazci, Bilgen
Amateur Team Championships |Parsippany, N.J. |Round 3 |19 Feb 2017 |1-0
1. d4Nf62. Nf3g63. g3Bg74. Bg2c55. d5White had many options
including; 5.e3, 5.c3, and 5.00. 5... d66. Nc36.c4 would be the more
popular and possibly logical choice. I was trying to get us both out of
opening preparation. 6... b57. O-O7.Nxb5!? grabs the pawn but gives Black
the initiative and adequate compensation after 7...Qa5+ 8.Nc3 Ne4 7... b48. Nb1Nbd79. c4bxc310. Nxc3O-OAs a sometime Benko Gambit player, this
position looked somewhat familiar to me. The big difference is the presence of
Black's pawn on a7. Thus, it's not a gambit and White cannot look forward to a
long-term endgame advantage, while Black cannot look forward to pressure down
the a-file. That difference may have been important as Black spent
considerable time developing a middle game plan. 11. Re1Rb812. e4Ng413. Qc2Ba614. Bf1Reluctantly admitting that his bishop is better than mine. 14... c4?!It's hard to fault this move. Black seizes space and some key
squares, but dooms his own bishop in the process. 15. Be3!?This move can't
be the best for me, but I made the practical decision to develop and invite
the exchange, which would ease some of the pressure. I began to imagine a king
endgame where my king would run to d4 and win the pawn on c4. 15... Nxe316. Rxe3Qa517. Rd1Rfc8?!18. Bh3!Black's knight can hurt me. 18... Rc719. Bxd7Rxd720. Nd4Qb421. Re2Bxd422. Rxd4Rdb723. Rdd2Bb524. Kg2Bd725. Qd1a5?!This plan is slow and does not work. 26. f3a427. a3Qa5White's plan is clear: centralize the queen to d4 and enjoy the fact that
Black's bishop is "bad" in spite of its apparent scope. The pawns on a4 and c4
are both weak and targets. 28. Qg1e5!?Black sees my plan and tries to
counter it. This changes the structure. Black get's a new pawn weakness but
gives Black at least the possibility of dynamic chances. White's position is
perfectly solid, centralized, and ready to adapt to Black's threats. 29. dxe6Bxe630. Qd130.Qd4 immediately would have been fine but I wanted to
pressure a4 and see how Black would respond. My hope was to disrupt Black's
piece coordination. 30... Rb331. Rc2Rd832. Qd4Qh533. h433.Rcd2
Shredder thinks that Black's threats can be ignored. 33...Bh3+ 34.Kg1 Qxf3
35.Rf2 Qh5 36.Qxc4 Be6 37.Qxa4 however humans are not computers and I saw no
reason to invite needless complications near my king. 33... d534. Qf6Rbb835. Rcd2Rd736. g4Qh636...Bxg4 37.Nxd5 Be6 38.Qf4 threatens both the loose
rook on b8 and a knight fork on f6. 37. exd5Rbd838. dxe6!Rxd2?38...Qxd2
is the only move. 39.Rxd2 Rxd2+ 40.Kg3 fxe6 41.Qxe6+ Kg7 42.Qe5+ Kg8
43.Ne4+ 39. exf7+Black resigned here. Mate is forced: 39... Kf8 40. Qe7+
Kg7 41. f8/Q, mate.
Alan C. Price is the incoming president of Earlham College in Indiana (his alma matar) and a recent official in the Peace Corp. He is an expert, but also earned the master title at the 2015 Amateur Team Championship.