- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It’s a measure of how good the college game has become that the University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s second-place finish in last month’s Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship, hosted by Texas Tech in Lubbock, ranked as at least a mild upset.

Once a dominant force on the collegiate chess scene, the Retrievers needed a last-round upset of archrival — and higher-seeded — University of Texas-Dallas to secure second place. Winning the event was the now-dominant “A” squad from Webster University in St. Louis, which went undefeated with a lineup anchored by three 2700-plus grandmasters, Le Quang Liem, Wesley So and Georg Meier. Webster, which has made no secret of its ambition to do and spend what it takes to develop a dominant chess program, entered three teams at Lubbock. Even its lowest-rated team had an average rating of 2385.

Webster, UMBC, Texas Tech and surprise qualifier University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana earned places in the collegiate chess Final Four in April.

UMBC top board GM Niclas Huschenbeth, a 21-year-old former German national champion, was a rock for the Maryland team, with some critical wins over very tough opposition. One of his best games was an upset of University of Texas-Brownsville star GM Anton Kovalyov from the Black side of an English Opening. The game is an instructive illustration of how a single moment of inattention can prove fatal in high-level chess.

The middlegame appears balanced until White gets just a tad careless on 20. Ne3 Ne5 21. Ned5?! (see diagram; White’s move looks natural, but Kovalyov should have played something like 21. h3 now to avoid the pain to come) Bxd5! (a trade of one of Black’s most active pieces that probably came as a surprise to White, but one that pretty much decides the game) 22. cxd5 (one point is that 22. Nxd5? just loses a pawn to 22…Nxd5 23. cxd5 Qxe2) Neg4!, and Black’s kingside play suddenly becomes very dangerous.

Kovalyov-Huschenbeth after 21. Ned5.
Kovalyov-Huschenbeth after 21. Ned5. more >

Huschenbeth’s edge only grows after 23. h4 (h3 e3! 24. hxg4 Nxg4, when Black wins after 25. f3 Qh2+ 26. Kf1 Qxg3 27. Kg1 [Ne4 Rxe4!] Qh2+ 28. Kf1 Nf2 29. Rd3 Nh3! 30. Ke1 [Bxh3 Qf2 mate] Qxg2 31. Kd1 Nf4) g5! 24. Rd4 (f3 exf3 25. exf3 Ne3 26. Re1 gxh4) gxh4 25. Nxe4 Nxe4, when White finds no succor in 26. Rxe4 Rxe4 27. Bxe4 Qe5 28. Qb1, because of 28…hxg3 29. Bxh7+ Kf8 30. Kg2 gxf2 31. Kh3 Ne3 32. Qh1 Qxa1 33. Qxa1 f1=Q+ 34. Qxf1 Nxf1 and wins.

On 29. Qg3 Qxg3 (the cleanest win, though 29…Qf6 was also strong) 30. fxg3 Re3 31. Rf1 Rxg3 32. Rf3 (Rxf5 Rxg2+! 33. Kxg2 Ne3+) Rxf3 33. Bxf3 h5, White will get some queenside counterplay but Black’s passed kingside pawns keep the win securely in hand.

It’s over on 38. Rc4 f4! 39. Rxc7 f3 40. Bf1 (Rc3 Kf4 41. a5 Re8 42. Kf1 Kg3 43. Bb5 Nh2+ 44. Kg1 Re1+ 45. Bf1 Rxf1 mate) f2+ 41. Kh1 Ne3 42. Rc1 Kg4 43. b5 Nxf1 44. Rxf1 Kg3, and White resigned facing 45. a5 Re8 46. a6 Re1 47. a7 Rxf1 mate. Kovalyov’s game never recovered from that bishop trade on Move 21.

The North American Open, the massive year-end Swiss tournament held this year at the Bally’s Casino Resort in Las Vegas, resulted in one of those massive traffic jams at the top with eight grandmasters and IM Chen Wang of China splitting the glory and the prize money at 6-2. (GM Giorgi Kacheishvili, who missed an easy win in his final game, nevertheless took home a $300 bonus for the best tiebreaks.)

Former U.S. champion Larry Christiansen played only an abbreviated schedule in the tournament, but turned in a very professional win against New York master Deepak Aaron, using a devastating pair of bishops to run his opponent’s king to ground. While the early play is balanced in this Sozin Sicilian, once again a loose move leads to trouble for White on 26. Qg4 Rf5 27. Nd4?! (the Black bishops come to life now; safer was 27. Rd1 Raf8, and only then 28. Nd4) Rd8! 28. Nf2 (Nxf5 exf5 29. Qg5 Bxe4 wins material, while 28. Rd1 now is met by 28…Re5, with the threat of 29…Rxe4 30. Rxe4 Bxe4 31. Qxe4 e5) Rxf2! — White declined the first exchange offer, but cannot turn down the second.

After 29. Kxf2 Qf6+ 30. Qf4 (Nf3 Qxb2+) Qxf4+ 31. gxf4 Rxd4 32. Rxe6 Bc5, Aaron finds himself just where he didn’t want to be — facing Black’s strafing bishops with an ineffective rook. A cute combination, luring the hapless rook from control of the e7 square, leads to a nice mate: 34. Kh4 Bc8! 35. Re8+ Kf7 36. Rxc8 Be7+ 37. Kg4, and White resigned before Black could administer 37…h5 mate.

Kovalyov-Huschenbeth, Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship, Lubbock, Texas, December 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 a6 4. Bg2 b5 5. d3 Bb7 6. O-O bxc4 7. dxc4 Bc5 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Na4 Ba7 10. b4 d6 11. Qb3 Nbd7 12. Be3 Bxe3 13. Qxe3 e5 14. a3 Re8 15. Qb3 Rb8 16. Rfd1 Qe7 17. Nc3 e4 18. Nd4 Qe5 19. Nc2 Qh5 20. Ne3 Ne5 21. Ned5 Bxd5 22. cxd5 Neg4 23. h4 g5 24. Rd4 gxh4 25. Nxe4 Nxe4 26. Bxe4 f5 27. Bg2 Rxe2 28. gxh4 Qxh4 29. Qg3 Qxg3 30. fxg3 Re3 31. Rf1 Rxg3 32. Rf3 Rxf3 33. Bxf3 h5 34. Rf4 Rf8 35. Be2 Kg7 36. Bxa6 Kg6 37. a4 Kg5 38. Rc4 f4 39. Rxc7 f3 40.
Bf1 f2+ 41. Kh1 Ne3 42. Rc1 Kg4 43. b5 Nxf1 44. Rxf1 Kg3 and White resigns.

Aaron-Christiansen, North American Open, Las Vegas, December 2013

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4 Qb6 7. Nb3 e6 8. O-O a6 9. a4 Qc7 10. Bd3 b6 11. f4 Be7 12. Qe2 O-O 13. Bd2 Bb7 14. Rf3 Nb4 15. Rh3 g6 16. Nd1 d5 17. e5 Ne4 18. Bxb4 Bxb4 19. Bxe4 dxe4 20. Nf2 f5 21. exf6 Qxf4 22. Re3 Bd6 23. g3 Qxf6 24. Nxe4 Qe7 25. c4 Bb4 26. Qg4 Rf5 27. Nd4 Rd8 28. Nf2 Rxf2 29. Kxf2 Qf6+ 30. Qf4 Qxf4+ 31. gxf4 Rxd4 32. Rxe6 Bc5 33. Kg3 Rd3+ 34. Kh4 Bc8 35. Re8+ Kf7 36. Rxc8 Be7+ 37. Kg4 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.