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US Amateur South: Cookie Monsters Crumble the Competition Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
February 21, 2013
Cookie Monsters: USATS champions and proud possessors of new Chronos clocks and (more importantly) the coveted Ugly Rook! From left to right: TD Jon Haskel, Eric Cooke, Nicky Rosenthal, Lester Machado, Mel Goss
This year the US Amateur Team, Southern-style, moved to a Holiday Inn and Suites in Sunrise, Florida, mere minutes from my house.  Our family is accustomed to traveling for chess – even getting to the Boca Raton club every Friday night can become a harrowing, stop-and-start, traffic-jammed driving adventure – so the convenient locale was a huge and welcome sigh of relief for us. 

Unfortunately, NTD Jon Haskel broke a cardinal (if unwritten) rule in the CLO preview article by stating that no rain was predicted, so of course, it rained buckets all day Friday, still coming down, albeit less fiercely, by evening.  That meant that Nicky’s Palm Beach teammates, who were already facing our regular Friday night traffic nightmare (in reverse) now had weather complications tossed into the mix. 

Lester Machado (Board Four) and Eric Cooke (Board Three) arrived together a few minutes before start time, clutching sacks of Taco Bell and grumbling about the drive.  Meanwhile, Mel Goss, the team’s Board One player, was nowhere in sight and wasn’t answering his phone (he was probably gripping his steering wheel, white-knuckled, afraid to take his eyes off the rain-slick road).  The team was becoming a little jittery about Mel’s absence and was wondering what to do as Jon wrapped up opening announcements and told the teams to start their clocks. 

But, just like in a cheesy movie, Mel skidded in at the last minute, hair tousled and wind-blown, looking slightly dazed (time- and death-defying driving can do that to you).  Crises averted!  Despite their harried start, Nicky’s team, seeded in first place for the three-day event (fourth overall), swept their first round against Foctis (Razvan Dima, Suganth Kannan, Abhimanyu Banerhee, and Michael Bregar),  4-0.

Saturday, the start of the two-day event, saw the big guns entering the fray, with the top three powerhouse teams of Luna I (GM Julio Becerra, John Ludwig, Gil Luna, and Alejandro Allen), Pry My Alekh Gun (Jeffrey Haskel, Makaio Krienke, Jeremy Mandelkern, Ulises De Coza and Nickolas Moore), and Miami City Chess Club (FM Angel Perez Quinones, Miguel Recio, Juan Carlos Poza, John Salisbury, and Dereck Laureano), joining in. 

Altogether, forty teams and 164 players registered for the tournament, tying last year’s event but not quite breaking the 2007 record of 41 teams.  Because the teams from the Virgin Islands did not participate this year, the tournament was highly Florida-centric, with the majority of (if not all) players hailing from our home state.

Even though (maybe because?) the tournament was rooted in Florida players, there was no shortage of diverse, colorful, and interesting characters, including one non-chess playing retiree who saw the newspaper article about the upcoming tournament and decided to come photograph the action.  A big thanks to Michael Gora, who forwarded some thoughtful photos for this article.

Age really doesn’t matter! (Photo by Michael Gora)


The oldest team in attendance wore their seniority as a badge of honor, proudly naming themselves Old Men With Game. They certainly lived up to their moniker, finishing first in Under 2000 and taking Top Senior Team honors.
Old Men with Game: Francis Redway, Lawrence Storch, Dennis Dunn, and Joseph Diskin (with Miguel Fonseca photobombing)


Nicky’s team, Cookie Monsters (named in homage to their de facto leader, Eric Cooke), was about as evenly-balanced as a team could get; their board order could have easily switched depending upon which rating supplement was used.  Based upon the January 2013 supplement, this year Mel landed on Board One (last year Eric held the honor).  Nicky and Eric checked in with the exact same rating (2208), so team coordinator Lester employed a strategic and carefully calculated method for deciding who sat where: he put Nicky on Board Two because Nicky paid first!

As is often the case in tournaments, seeding order didn’t guarantee a predictable outcome.  When I ambled in for the final round, having deliberately stayed out of the loop for most of the tournament, I was a bit shocked to discover Cookie Monsters leading by a ½ point with a perfect 4-0 score!  The tipping point, according to the team, was their fourth round win over Number 2 team, Pry My Alekh Gun, which they pulled off with three draws and a win by Nicky.  Even more startling was learning that Nicky had a perfect 4-0 score going into the last round.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, though; something about team competition brings Nicky’s fighting spirit out in full force. 

Naturally, the final round against Miami City Chess Club didn’t unfold as smoothly or as easily as the team hoped.  Eric ceded his game first, followed by Lester, who apparently made a mistake in the opening and never quite recovered.  Yikes!  That left Nicky and Mel to try to pull out the draw that would land them (at worst) tied for first place, depending upon the outcome of the Board Two games.  Almost four hours later, Nicky secured a win against his opponent, Miguel Recio, leaving Mel, who was facing FM Angel Perez Quinones (provisionally rated 2407, or 169 points higher), to seal the deal.  Mel battled through like the fighter he is to win his down-to-the-wire match (and notch his first FM victory).  Hero of the day award definitely goes to Mel!

Here is Mel’s critical last round win over FM Quinones:


With the Board Two games ending in a draw, Cookie Monsters took clear first, becoming the 2013 US Amateur Team South champions! Nicky also claimed the top individual Board Two prize with his perfect 5-0 score.

Coming in second overall was Luna I, headed by GM Becerra.  

GM Julio Becerra, deep in thought (photo by Michael Gora)

Here is his fifth round win over Antonio Arencibia:


As the final round wound down, I noticed John Ludwig, Luna I’s Board Two, roaming around the tournament hall after his game, uncharacteristically wearing shoes.  John caught my eye not only because of his shoes, but also because he was performing the impressive feat of somehow crunching blue corn chips silently as he followed the on-going games.  I overheard someone ask him why he was wearing shoes and I’ll admit to wondering the same.  Being a fellow shoe-shunner, I think of John as a “sole mate” who learned early on the importance of living life (and playing chess) barefoot whenever possible.

GM Julio Becerra and John Ludwig, Boards One and Two of the 2nd place team, Luna I

In third place was the Team Yanov (named after Vlad by default) consisting of Antonio Arencibia, Vlad Yanovsky, Carlos Andretta, and Miguel Fonseca.
3rd Place finishers, Team Yanov (left to right): Vlad Yanovsky, Carlos Andretta, Antonio Arencibia, Miguel Fonseca.

The tournament format did not separate scholastics or under sections, but prizes were awarded for each. In scholastics, Rook-E Move from the University of Miami, consisting of Jeremy Berman, Kelby Katz, Louis Cai, and Noel Delgado, took top college honors:
Top College Team: Rook-E Move (University of Miami)

Top High School Team went to Gulliver Alpha, top Middle School Team to Hialeah Middle School, and top Elementary School Team to Are You Smarter Than A 4th Grader? from Miami Country Day.
Top Middle School Team: Hialeah Middle School


In the Under sections, Old Men With Game took top U2000 honors. Team Gillet finished first in U1800, Clermont Chess Club in U1600, Bosses in U1400, Luna2 in U1000, and Jaguar Jewels in U800.  Jaguar Jewels also grabbed the Top Female prize.

Under 1800 winners from Team Gillet.

Under 1600 winners from Clermont Chess Club

Under 1400 winners from Bosses

Under 1000 winners from Luna2

 Individual board winners were GM Julio Becerra on Board One, Nicky on Board Two, Carlos Andretta on Board Three, and Miguel Ararat on Board Four.  All received a trophy and a Chronos clock for their outstanding performances.
Board Winners, minus Julio Becerra. From left to right: Carlos Andretta, Nicholas Rosenthal, Miguel Ararat

 Finally, a grateful tip of the hat goes to NTD Jon Haskel for running his usual smooth and efficient tournament.  He even had the tournament rated and posted before we returned home from dinner!
Tournament Director Jon Haskel hard at work.

The prize table, decorated with Presidents and the Ugly Rook.

On a personal note, I was a little surprised, but happy, to run into a fellow employee from my “day job” at the City of Lauderhill, Charlie Cuyler, who’d stopped by to check out the tournament. Charlie’s a strong non-tournament player who’s always kind enough to ask about Nicky’s progress whenever we cross paths.  He’s also Lauderhill’s Director of Environmental and Engineering Services, an extremely demanding position many, many notches up the food chain from mine (so if you ever run into him, make sure to say good things about me, please!).  Charlie was able to pick up an extra rated game against Carlos Hoyos, and even though the last time he played a rated tournament was in 1992, he came through with a nice draw.
Charlie Cuyler, pre-game anticipation.

 As has become our custom, we celebrated victory with food, with the whole team chowing down on steaming platters of Chinese delicacies after the awards ceremony ended.  I relived the weekend through the team’s eyes, and what struck me most was the remarkably easy camaraderie this unlikely quartet has developed simply through years of playing together at the Boca Raton Chess Club. 

Nicky, guardian of the Ugly Rook (photo by David Rosenthal)
Nicky later told me being with his good friends was what made this victory particularly sweet.  In fact, there’s no better way to wrap this up than by borrowing Nicky’s happy post-win Facebook profile picture and status: US Amateur Team South Champions!!  Mel Goss, myself, Eric Cooke, Lester Machado, lots of fun and great to win with closest friends!

Nicky got it right in a few short words.  That’s what makes a perfect tournament: fun, friends – and a successful grab for the brass ring.  Congratulations, guys!  See you at the playoffs!

Melinda J. Matthews won a best of CLO award for her piece on the 2012 High School Nationals. She will post a report on the upcoming SuperNationals V and is also working on an essay on yoga and chess.