|Webster Wins Again: Final Four of College Chess
|By Jamaal Abdul-Alim
|April 6, 2014
New York — The Webster University Chess Team successfully defended its title as America’s top college chess team this weekend by emerging victorious in a grueling three-round tournament known as the Final Four of Chess.
The defending champions — who entered the tournament as the highest-rated team and the only one with an average rating above 2700 — nearly lost their one-point lead on three out of four boards in the final round. But they managed to finish the round with two victories — enough to secure first place regardless of the outcome on the other boards.
The first decisive final-round victory came shortly after Webster’s GM Wesley So sacrificed a knight with 17. Nc5 to create trouble for the enemy king. The game ended with a Queen-sac that forced his opponent — GM Elshan Moradiabadi of Texas Tech — to resign.
Although So’s victory helped Webster retain the title, it came only after So decided to recalibrate himself after being upset in Round Two by GM Akshayraj Kore of UMBC — an upset he attributed to being “overconfident” against a lower-rated player.
“I started to become more careful today than yesterday,” So said Sunday at the New York Athletic Club, the opulent new venue for the tournament — formally known as the President’s Cup.
“Obviously it’s better to make a move based on the position, not the opponent,” So said.
The other final round victory for Webster came when Webster’s GM Ray Robson fended off an aspirant pawn and won a knight in the endgame with 67. Qe8 + — ending the game.
“I was just trying to do my best to stop his f-pawn from queening,” Robson said. “Somehow I was able to do that, and he didn’t make progress and I had a passed pawn of my own.”
Robson said in the weeks leading up to the Final Four, he and his teammates spent up to five hours a day twice a week studying positions on a large projection screen. He and his team members were asked to find the best move in a given position or to play the game out among themselves.
Though this was the second straight championship for Webster University, it was the fourth straight championship for coach Susan Polgar, who previously led her players at Texas Tech to victory in 2011 and 2012.
There were moments during the final round when Polgar looked nervous about the prospects of defeat. Contrarily, Texas Tech’s new coach, Alexander Onischuk, momentarily looked excited about the prospects of leaping ahead of Webster.
“It’s always like that in sports,” Polgar said. “Sports wouldn’t be the exciting events they are if these types of nail-biter moments didn’t happen.
“But I’m very proud for my students that they prevailed.”
Polgar said her players prepared for the Final Four not only by studying chess but by doing physical training as well, specifically CrossFit, to build endurance at the board.
"I very much believe in the fit mind and fit body,” Polgar said. “I became a (CrossFit) competitor myself.”
The Final Four of Chess was sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia-based technology consulting firm and major defense contractor.
As it has in previous years, the firm offered internships to members of the teams that made it to the Final Four.
Joe Sifer, senior vice president and partners at Booz Allen Hamilton, said the firm’s interest in supporting chess is related to its need for talented individuals who the kind of possess problem-solving and analytical skills needed to “help our clients solve some of the hardest and most complex problems in business and government.”
Among the players who expressed interest in pursuing one of the internships is NM Michael Auger, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Even though the team finished in a distant fourth place, Auger, 20, a junior and communications major, said the opportunity to get connected to a firm such as Booz Allen Hamilton is a victory in itself.
“I think any company that values (chess) is a company I’d be very interested in working for,” Auger said.
Asked how soon he planned to follow up with Booz Allen Hamilton, Auger said: “We’ve already gotten the right people’s e-mails. We’re gonna shoot off resumes probably tomorrow.”
Find more games and details on the Final Four here and on Monroi and look for Jamaal Abdul Alim's Chess Life Magazine wrap-up.