- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In two big national team events last week, the locals got passed by the express.

The University of Maryland/Baltimore County could only stand and admire in the College Chess Final Four as St. Louis-based Webster University and its monster lineup of top-level grandmasters cruised to its second consecutive national title. Anchored by Vietnamese-born star Le Quang Liem and U.S. No. 4 Ray Robson, Webster swept their matches against UMBC, the University of Texas-Dallas and Texas Tech, scoring 10 out of a possible 12 points in their three matches. UTD was a distant second at 5½-6½.

Perhaps more impressive in its way, the NorCal House of Chess claimed an unprecedented third straight U.S. Amateur Team title, defeating a very game Virginia Assassins — winners of the giant Amateur Team East tournament in February — 3-1 in the finals.

Unlike the college tourney, teams in the Amateur event cannot have an average rating over 2200, making it far more of a crapshoot. That NorCal has been able to repeat — twice — suggests it has a very smart formula for building a successful team.

The Assassins went with a more balanced lineup, which meant top board James Schuyler, a strong master, had to take on NorCal’s GM Enrico Sevillano in the finals. But Schuyler gave as good as he got, in a wild struggle that does credit to both players.

We don’t have the room here to do justice to this fight, as Schuyler as White repeatedly pitches pawns to keep his attack alive, and Sevillano absorbs punches in a very risky game of rope-a-dope as he tries to fend off the attack. White throws an exchange onto the sacrificial pyre, but Black finds a way to avoid getting burned.

The game is decided after 35. Nd7+ Kg5 36. Qe4 (the White pieces appear to be circling for the kill, but Black finds an escape hatch) h3!! 37. Qg6+ Kh4 38. Nf6 Qf4! (neatly combining defense of the mate threat with attack on White’s suddenly vulnerable king) 39. Ne4 Qc1+ 40. Kh2 Be5+ 41. Ng3 Qe1!, forcing resignation as 42. Qf7 (to guard f2) fails to 42…Bxg3+ 43. fxg3+ Qxg3+ 44. Kh1 Qg2 mate.

 Robson will have little time to celebrate as the U.S. Open and Women’s Championships get underway Tuesday at their familiar home at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

This will be the strongest U.S. title fight in history, at least on paper, with two-time defending national champion GM Gata Kamsky ranked only third in the 12-man field. The Open average rating is a remarkable 2732, topped by U.S. No. 1 Hikaru Nakamura and recent U.S. recruit GM Wesley So, both securely among the world’s top 10.

On the women’s side, New York GM Irina Krush, the three-time defending champion and a six-time U.S. women’s champ overall, is the clear favorite, although Armenian-born WGM Tatev Abrahamyan has been playing strong chess in recent days.

We’ll have full coverage and games from the Gateway City in the coming weeks.

 The back-rank mate is one of the fundamental tactics that every beginner learns. Still, the idea — or creative variations upon it — can be of use even at the highest levels.

Indian GM and No. 1 seed Humpy Koneru is out of the FIDE Women’s World Championship knockout tournament now wrapping up in Sochi, Russia, in large part because her failure to watch her back (rank). Koneru had swept her first three matches 2-0, but was stunned by Ukrainian WGM Mariya Muzychuk in the first round of their Elite Eight match.

In a well-known Scotch line, Koneru as Black quickly equalizes and generates real queenside pressure (17. h3?! Ra3! neatly blocks any White expansion on that flank), even picking up a pawn after 20. g4 Rd8 21. Qf2 Rxa2 22. Rxa2 Bxa2. But Black is soon singing the back-rank blues as she fails to head off White’s desperate counterattack.

Koneru puts herself in a hole immediately with 23. b5 Na7?! (understandably trying to keep up the pressure on White’s busted queenside, but 23…Ne7 was safer and better; clearly 23…Qxb5? 24. Qxa2 is also out) 24. g5 hxg5 25. Nxg5 f6?? (see diagram — Black fails to notice the knight plugs the Black king’s escape via f7 or h7, effectively pinning the king to the dreaded back-rank; still playable was 25…Rd1! 26. Qf1 Rxe1 27. Qxe1) 26. Qd2! Rf8 (Rxd2 27. Re8 mate is the point) 27. Bd5+ Bxd5 28. Qxd5+ Kh8 29. Qf7!, and this time the back-rank tactic is winning. Koneru resigned as 29…Rg8 30. Qxg8+! Kxg8 31. Re8 is yet one more mate along the back rank.

To her credit, Koneru battled back to win the second game of the classical match, but was eliminated in the rapid-game playoff. The four-game finals, to determine a challenger to women’s world champ Hou Yifan of China, begins Thursday.

Schuyler-Sevillano, U.S. Amateur Team Championship, March 2015

1. g3 d5 2. Bg2 Nf6 3. Nf3 c6 4. O-O Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. c4 Nbd7 7. d4 e6 8. cxd5 cxd5 9. Bf4 Bg6 10. Nc3 a6 11. Qb3 b5 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bd6 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. e4 b4 16. Na4 dxe4 17. d5 Qe7 18. Nb6 Rd8 19. Qa4+ Kf8 20. Qxa6 Be5 21. Rad1 Kg7 22. Rfe1 f5 23. a4 Bxb2 24. a5 Bc3 25. Re3 Bh5 26. g4 fxg4 27. hxg4 Bxg4 28. Rg3 f5 29. Bxe4 h5 30. Bc2 h4 31. d6 Rxd6 32. Rxg4+ fxg4 33. Rxd6 Qxd6 34. Qb7+ Kf6 35. Nd7+ Kg5 36. Qe4 h3 37. Qg6+ Kh4 38. Nf6 Qf4 39. Ne4 Qc1+ 40. Kh2 Be5+ 41. Ng3 Qe1White resigns

Muzychuk-Koneru, FIDE Women’s World Championship, Sochi, Russia, March 2015

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Be3 Qf6 6. c3 Nge7 7. g3 d5 8. Bg2 dxe4 9. O-O O-O 10. Nd2 Bb6 11. Re1 Nxd4 12. Nxe4 Qf5 13. Bxd4 Nc6 14. Bxb6 axb6 15. f4 Be6 16. b3 h6 17. h3 Ra3 18. Qd2 Qa5 19. b4 Qa4 20. g4 Rd8 21. Qf2 Rxa2 22. Rxa2 Bxa2 23. b5 Na7 24. g5 hxg5 25. Nxg5 f6 26. Qd2 Rf8 27. Bd5+ Bxd5 28. Qxd5+ Kh8 29. Qf7 Black resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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