In college football, the big names include Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame. In college chess, the big names on campus are the likes of Webster University, Texas Tech and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
Anchored by two world-class grandmasters, the Webster Gorloks (Google it) took their second straight Final Four championship, although the UMBC Retrievers gave them a run for their money earlier this month in New York. Texas Tech finished third, with surprise qualifier University of Illinois-Champaign bringing up the rear.
One highlight for the Retrievers was GM Akshayraj Kore’s startling upset win with Black against Webster’s GM Wesley So, even though he was a 250-point rating underdog to the young Philippine star, now ranked among the top 30 in the world. So himself attributed the loss to “overconfidence,” but a look at the game shows that Kore won it every bit as much as his higher-ranked opponent lost it.
In a Grunfeld, Kore showed early on he was not intimidated after 9. Ng5 Bf5 10. e4 e5!?, when the play sharpens considerably with 11. exf5!? (also unclear is 11. dxe5 Rb8 12. Qxa7 Nxe4 13. Ngxe4 Nxe5 14. Rd1 Re8) exd4 12. fxg6 dxc3 13. gxf7+ Rxf7! (Kh8? 14. Bxc3 Qe7+ 15. Be2 Nc5 16. Qf3 and White consolidates) 14. bxc3 Rb8 15. Qc6 Qe7+ 16. Be2 Ne5, when the open central files and White’s lack of development give Black real compensation.
White may have thought a trade of queens would slow down the attack, but Kore pursues his chances with lethal accuracy: 17. Qe6 (see diagram; Black also retains the better chances on 17. Qa4 Nd3+ 18. Kf1 [Kd1 Nb2+] Ne4 19. Nxe4 Qxe4 20. f3 Re8 21. Qd1 Nb2 22. Qe1 Qg6) h6! 18. Qxe7 Rxe7, when Black has the advantage after 19. Nf3 Nd3+ 20. Kf1 Rb2 21. Bxd3 [Rd1 Ne4 22. Bxd3 cxd3 23. g3 Nxd2+ 24. Rxd2 Rxd2 25. Nxd2 Bxc3 26. Nf3 Be1! 27. Kg2 d2 28. Nxd2 Bxd2] cxd3 22. Rd1 Ne4 23. Be3 Bxc3 24. g3 [Rxd3?? Rb1+] Rd7 25. a3 c5 26. Kg2 c4.
But White’s game goes downhill quickly after So’s 19. 0-0-0 hxg5 20. Bxg5 Re6 (White’s useless rook on h1 is a big problem here) 21. Rd4? (f4 Nd3+ 22. Bxd3 is tougher, though Black remains in charge on 22 … cxd3 23. Rxd3 Reb6) Nd3+! 22. Bxd3 cxd3 23. Rxd3 (Be3 Ne4 24. Rxd3 Nxc3 25. Re1 Rb1+ 26. Kd2 Rb2+ 27. Kc1 Nxa2+ 28. Kd1 Ra6 29. Rd2 Nc3+ 30. Kc1 Rb1, winning) Reb6, and White gave up as Black has a decisive material edge after 24. Rhd1 Rb1+ 25. Kd2 (Kc2 R8b2 mate) Ne4+.
To his credit, So bounced back in the title-clinching final round match against Texas Tech’s GM Elshan Moradiabadi, wrapping up the win with a tidy little queen sacrifice. Although just 24 moves long, the game features a major strategic shift by White, who first readies a queenside expansion and then abruptly turn his attention to the other flank.
In a Bogo-Indian after 8. b4 0-0 9. e3, one would predict that So was planning to build on his space advantage on the queenside, while Moradiabadi tries to land a counterpunch in the center or the king’s wing. But White throws a change-up after 12. Qc2 Bf6 13. h4!? h6 14. 0-0-0 Rb8 15. Rdg1, switching to an all-out kingside blitz.
After the too casual 15 … b6?! (Black understandably doesn’t want to waste a tempo playing defense, but the White array will prove too powerful to ignore; better was 15 … Qe7 16. g4 fxg4 17. Rxg4 e5 18. Rhg1 Kh8 [e4? 19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Bc4+ Kh8 21. Rxe4 Qd8 22. Ba2, with the winning idea of 23. Bb1] 19. e4, with the game still in balance), So pounces with 16. g4 fxg4 17. Ng5! hxg5 18. Bh7+ Kh8 (Kf7 19. hxg5 Bxg5 [Be7?? 20. Qg6 mate] 20. Qg6+ Ke7 21. Qxg5+ Nf6 22. Rxg4 and White is winning) 19. Rxg4 gxh4 20. Nf3 — Black is a piece and a pawn to the good, but his king is facing heavy fire.
The computer thinks Black can defend here, but finding a string of best moves in the face of such pressure is notoriously hard over the board. Moradiabadi makes one misstep and the defense collapses.
The finale: 20 … g5 21. Nxg5 Bxg5 22. f4! (less convincing is 22. Qg6?! Qf6 23. Qxg5 Qxg5 24. Rxg5 Rf7 [Kxh7?? 25. Rxh4 mate] 25. Bd3 Rg7! 26. Rxh4+ Kg8, and the game goes on) Nf6? (losing quickly; also bad was 22 … Bf6 23. Qg6 Qe7 24. Rhxh4! Bxh4 25. Bg8 Bg5 26. Rxg5 Nf6 27. Qh6+ Nh7 28. Bxh7 Qxg5 29. Qxf8+ Kxh7 30. fxg5, but Black has at least a chance with 22 … Bh6! 23. Bg6 Qf6 24. Rgxh4 Qxh4 25. Rxh4 Kg7 26. Qg2, though the White attack remains potent) 23. Rxg5 Nxh7 24. Qxh7+!, and Black resigns facing 24 … Kxh7 25. Rxh4 mate.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.