UTD Takes Final Four
By J.Shahade/M.Atkins   
April 7, 2008
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Home team support did not compensate for UTD's rating edge this time.
Photo Michael Atkins
The Final Four of College Chess (April 5-6, Baltimore) came down to the Sunday morning clash between powerhouse teams University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and host team, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). Going into the match, UTD was half a point ahead, so UMBC needed 2.5/4 to earn the title. WGM Katerina Rohonyan lost to IM Marko Zivanic in the first completed game of the match. Meanwhile, Alejandro Ramirez drew against GM Sergey Erenburg, leaving UMBC needing 2/2 to claim victory. Here is some video of the GM vs. GM first board face-off.


In another all GM clash on board two, Timur Gareev took down Magesh Panchanathan. Now victory was in reach for UMBC.



However, IM Davorin Kuljasevic, who has been in excellent form lately with two GM norms to his credit, prevailed in a long game against GM Pavel Blehm, pushing UTD to another title win. On Alejandro Ramirez's UTD chess blog , he writes that: " Kul-J's" excellent style was evidenced in this game, where it is impossible to say where Pawel went wrong. Davorin simply played too well!"

 

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IM Davorin Kuljasevic, UTD chess team director James Stallings, GM Magesh Panchanathan and IM Marko Zivanic. Photo Michael Atkins


Third and fourth place finishers Miami Dade College and New York University had significant rating disadvantages, so it's not surprising that neither team was in contention for the top spot. But there were still some notable games: IM/GM elect Reiner Gonzalez of Miami Dade, who already has three GM norms, defeated GM Sergey Erenburg in a marathon game:



Although NYU lost on points to Miami Dade, in their individual match, NYU won 2.5-1.5, with three draws and a victory. Sean Finn scored the decisive victory against Devlin Sinclair. In the tournament program, Sean describes his biggest chess accomplishment as "winning games with apparently no positional understanding whatsoever." Which must  mean his tactics aren't too shabby. In the following position with Nh4 a serious threat, Finn found an astonishing defensive blow. Can you find it?

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White to Move

Show Solution





Two very successful players on the college chess circuit are graduating this year: GM Magesh Panchanathan of UTD and GM Pavel Blehm of UMBC. Congratulations to both for their academic and chess accomplishments. Finally, we leave you an interview between TD Michael Atkins and one of the most influential figures in college chess, chess program director and professor Alan Sherman.
 
Michael Atkins:
Tell me about UMBC Chess's history and how you got started with it.
Alan Sherman: I came to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County ( UMBC) in 1989 and became director of the chess program in 1991, after being challenged to  play in a student vs. faculty match.  In 1990, UMBC placed 26 out of the 27 teams that entered the Pan-Am, and the top player on campus was an expert (Kimani Stancil).  UMBC had a chess club since it opened in 1967, but I was the first to attempt to build a national caliber team.   At that time Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), with its Russian grandmasters, was the team to beat.   Attracting prospects with academic scholarships, I began recruiting chess-player scholars.  Some turned down Harvard, Yale, and MIT to come to UMBC’s honor college (for some families, full tuition, room and board was an attractive alternative to paying over $200,000).  My first big catch was GM Ilya Smirin (then ranked 17th in the World) who attended UMBC in the 95-96 academic year.  But as the 1995 Pan-Am in New York proved, it takes more than one strong GM and William “The Exterminator” Morrison (then over USCF 2500) to win.  With a more balanced team including the Atlas twins, UMBC finally won its first Pan-Am title in 1996, a very satisfying culmination of five years effort.     A few months later, we celebrated with a visit by Kasparov who beat us 3.5-0.5 in a timed simul, magically transforming bad positions into wins. 
MA- What are your plans and hopes for UMBC's future?  
AS- I continue to try to improve and expand the program and to secure a lasting institutional infrastructure that will sustain the program long into the future.  Immediate goals include increasing the number of major chess scholarships, hiring a full-time associate director, and increasing the budget to permit more travel and events.   We would also like to make a greater positive impact with chess in Maryland schools.  We would like to host an annual major international GM-norm tournament.  I would like to continue promoting chess as a spectator sport with fast time controls and move-by-move sports commentary (necessary to attract major sponsorship).  In the future, I hope to organize a World Championship at UMBC, raise a chess endowment over $20 million, and construct a new building on campus dedicated to chess and other intellectual sports. 
MA-What do you think of the current state of college chess?  
AS- It is depressing that so few colleges have active chess clubs.  There ought to be an active club on every campus, with local and regional tournaments, and community outreach.  Clubs should play both online and at the Pan-Am OTB.  Key is to have a long-term faculty advisor and effective student leaders, supported by helpful information and services provided by the USCF College Chess Committee (CCC).  USCF should add a school zip code field to its membership record, to facilitate identifying chess players at the same campus.   USCF should also better manage the transition of active players from high school to college, to promote more continued chess activity.