Texas Tech Prevails in Final Four of Chess
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
April 3, 2011
Herndon, VA-- In a groundbreaking victory that literally hinged on the last match of the last round of a collegiate tournament known as the "Final Four of Chess," underdog Texas Tech University clinched the title over the weekend for best college chess team in the nation.

Comprised of three GMs and one IM and coached by GM Susan Polgar, the Texas Tech Knight Raiders Chess Team bested long time exclusive dominators of the tournament -- the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) -- in a two-day, three-round tournament held here April 2 and 3.    

The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) came in second place with a total of 6.5 points, followed by the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College (UTBTSC) with 6 points and defending champions, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, (UMBC) with 4.5 points.
 
The upset win not only means that Texas Tech gets to bring home the Final Four tournament's prestigious President's Cup and all that it symbolizes home to Lubbock, TX.

It also means the players -- GMs Anatoly Bykhovsky, of Israel, Davorin Kuljasevic, of Croatia, Andre Diamant, of Brazil, IM Istvan Sipos, of Hungary and Faik Aleskerov, of Azerbaijan -- will be given top consideration for any summer internships for which they might qualify at international strategic and technological firm Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia-based defense contractor that sponsored and hosted the Final Four tournament, as well as a simul by GM Ray Robson and a scholastic chess tournament for area students.
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The firm's decision to support and host the chess tournament was not mere corporate philanthropy. Rather, company executives say the firm is seeking the best and most strategic minds in the world to help the company meet its objectives.

Michael Hoffpauir, a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton who served as TD for the Final Four event, explained the company's rationale for its corporate support.

 "It's important that we help our clients solve the toughest problems," Hoffpauir said. "Chess players have demonstrated that they are very skilled at solving some very tough problems. There's a natural linkage there."

Like most of the competitors in the Final Four event, the Knight Raiders were all foreign students. As such, jobs that involve defense contract work may lie out of reach, but they might be able to secure some of the various jobs that Booz Allen Hamilton has abroad.

As the Texas Tech players move closer to graduation and consider life after college andbeyond the chessboard, some -- including team captain Kuljasevic -- say the company's offer of a summer internship represents an offer they plan to give a serious look.

 "I'm graduating now. I'll be returning to Europe," Kuljasevic said. "I'm definitely interested in working after school."

Employment prospects aside, observers said this weekend's tournament represented the most competitive in is history.

Among other things, James Stallings, Chess Program Director at UTD noted that while in previous tournaments "you almost always knew" that UTD or six-time champions UMBC would win, this year collectively the teams all had several titled players and established chess programs that made victory less certain. The tournament itself featured 10 GMs, 9 IMs, and one SM.

Five of the eight games in the final round ended in a draw, making the games that were played to the end all the more essential.
 
Some of the draws were clearly strategic.

For instance,the match on Board 1 in Round 3 between Texas Tech's Anatoly Bykhovsky and UMBC's GM Sergey Erenburg, ended in a draw by agreement after a mere eight moves.

 "It's good for the team," Bykhovsky, who wasrated 2655, said when asked why he agreed to the draw with Erenburg, who was rated a mere one point higher at 2656.

But one of the more interesting draws took place between Texas Tech's IM Istvan Sipos and UMBC's Sasha Kaplan.



Sipos agreed to a draw even though he had a winning combination. The problem was that he didn't see the winning combination until Kaplan showed it to him after the clock was turned off.

"I should have taken on h7," said a disappointed-looking Sipos, referring to the strong possibility of 34.Nxh7.

Sipos said if he was playing as an individual he might have sent the knight on what at the time appeared to be a risky expedition, but not seeing a clear path to victory he did what he thought was best for the team.

All of the third-round draws made the last game in progress -- the one on Board 7 -- the most critical. If UTD's IM Salvijus Bercys, who had already won his first two games, won this particular game, UTD would have taken the title.

Instead, GM Axel Bachman, of the University of Texas at Brownsville, won in the endgame with the advantage of an extra pawn.



The Texas Tech team members all thanked Bachman for essentially handing them a victory by defeating Bercys.

But in actuality, what happened during the tournament was just one of several factors that determined the outcome.

Preparation for the event actually began back in the fall when the Knight Raiders started using a computer-based chess analysis program to study the previous games of their prospective opponents, as well as their playing styles.
 
"We expected a very close battle even though we were the fourth-ranked team," GM Polgar said.     

"Often times, a strategy, not just on the board but ‘off the board,' that makes the difference," Polgar said, comparing what her team did to how various sports teams might study films of their opponents in action.

But even after learning more about whether their opponents favored an open game, an attacking game, or a defensive game, running such reconnaissance, if you will, was only half the battle. The other part was execution against top flight competitors.

"This (was),without any doubt, the strongest Final Four," said James Stallings.