Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2008 arrow December arrow Making a Team in Miami: Pan-Am Preview
Making a Team in Miami: Pan-Am Preview Print E-mail
By Chris Dobbs   
December 23, 2008
The Miami University Campus. Photo Chris Dobbs
On behalf of the USCF College Committee, Jim Stallings and Jonathan Hilton are proud to announce a new regular column for Chess Life Online on College Chess in America. Writers from across the national collegiate chess community will be writing about their teams, events, and experiences. In this premiere column, Christopher Dobbs of Miami University in Ohio writes about how he formed his own college team-a team that will be competing for its first year in the upcoming Pan-American Championship in Dallas, Texas (Dec.27-30).

As an incoming freshman at Miami University just a year and a half ago, I was on a chess high. I was playing more frequently and studying more than ever. In the one month before moving in I had played in two tournaments, going 2.0/4.0 and 4.0/4.0. However, the level of opposition was so high, comparatively speaking, that this resulted in a net gain of 205 rating points. I was very excited to move past the scholastic arena to test myself on the collegiate level.

Miami had recently boasted a very strong team, including Matt Rosen, the 2004 Ohio Collegiate Individual Chess Champion. The team had even invited the highest rated player in the United States in 2002, GM Gregory Kaidanov, winner of the 1992 World Open among numerous prestigious events, to give simultaneous exhibitions and lectures in 2001 and 2003. With rumors of such a strong team having reached me even in high school, after only having played for a couple years, I was thrilled to enter the scene and make my mark.

When I arrived at Miami the first thing I did after unpacking was look for members of the chess team. Expecting to see a dozen or so young adults on massive stallions, bedecked in royal capes in the red and white of Miami, riding onto campus with streets glowing gold in the glow of twilight and champagne foam, I was sorely disappointed. In fact, I couldn't even find someone riding through campus at noon on a donkey. Blaming zoning laws and animal rights activists for the failure of such a scene, the fulfillment of my dreams and expectations, I decided to hunt down players rather than expect them to appear before me.

After a long string of failed attempts, I checked the Student Organization Register to discover, much to my surprise and dismay, that there was no current chess team at Miami University. The last members had graduated just the previous semester. When sophomore year, this year, came around, I was determined not to live without a Miami University Chess Club. Filling out all the paperwork, finding a sympathetic professor to serve as our faculty advisor, and making myself both President and Treasurer, I ensured that the team would remain a part of the university.
Chris Dobbs, here pictured with GM Arthur Bisguier

It has been a true Cinderella Story thus far. I at first feared that I would be unable to discover which of my peers were chess players. However, they  flocked to the club upon hearing there was a team. Some players are still very active, maintaining ICC accounts and traveling to tournaments every couple months, while others are not very involved in the chess world. The biggest star uncovered is a graduate student who started just this year... IM Marek Stryjecki! A former Polish Youth Champion, he is an amazing player. Some of his recent triumphs include: winning the Columbus Open, and tying for first with IM Smith and GM Shabalov at the King's Island Open. Rather than being stingy with his years of experience and skill, he has agreed to help us all improve our game, something for which we are all truly grateful.

While Rybka, Shredder and Fritz may be stronger than all of us, they are impersonal. IM Stryjecki has proven himself to be an excellent analyst. Seeing what the rest of the team is unable to, he spends several hours a week working with us looking at our games, highlighting our good points and explaining our weaknesses. He never loses patience and never minds explaining himself multiple times or going over what he knows instinctively will be inferior lines. We all help each other as best as we are able, but with his assistance especially the team is flourishing. Hopefully in the future I will be able to tell family, friends, and readers how well we performed at the Pan-Ams in part thanks to his efforts and guidance. 

 With such great players starting just this year the team came together better than I could have hoped. However, the year has proven to be even more auspicious. Miami University, more specifically the Associated Student Government, showed extreme generosity and has agreed to send a four-man team to Dallas Fort-Worth for the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships (Pan-Ams). This is a huge event, and we will have the honor of playing against some of the best college chess players in our nation and others, with at least one team from each Canada and Peru preregistered.

To prepare we have been training hard. Most of us play on the Internet Chess Club for a couple to many hours a week. We also study tactics and openings some on our own, and meet once a week. On Wednesday evenings the school's population can usually see several of us playing speed games and analyzing in the dining area of the Shriver Student Center. The only downside to this venue is when checkered tablecloths are out it takes about an hour to pass the salt... and even then it is sometimes taken en passant by the pepper! Seriously though, while we get the same comments as most chess players, with some of our peers regarding us as ‘nerds' for enjoying our intellectual game, we receive much more encouragement than detriment from the student body. Most of our time together is spent laughing over chess anecdotes, discussing great players and tournaments, and analyzing our own games with one another.

The Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship began in 1945, and since then it has undergone several changes, bringing it to its current form. Since 2001, the top four finishers at the now annual Pan-Ams go on to play in the President's Cup. The team which emerges winner of this tournament of champions is declared the top collegiate chess team in the Americas. Since 1998, only two schools have won the Pan-Ams: the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. These two schools boast extremely strong chess programs, each with many titled players, GMs, IMs, and FMs, as current students, as well as at least one U.S. Champion as an alumnus.

In this next edition of the Pan-Ams which will be held Dec. 27-30 at the Dallas Fort Worth Marriott Hotel, it seems it will once again be a two horse race between UTD and UMBC, with other schools very unlikely to take top honors or second place. The team to watch will be UMBC A, possessing three GMs and one WGM on the roster. With an average rating of 2596, UMBC A is the tournament's top seed. UTD, attempting to win their third consecutive title, will be entering a record four teams this year-including one all-woman team-so we can expect to see big results from them. They are also serving as hosts for this year's event, giving them a "home field" advantage of sorts. "We always look forward to renewing our longstanding rivalry with UMBC," said Jim Stallings, director of the UT Dallas chess program. "We have enjoyed two years at the top of college chess and know that a three-peat will be extremely difficult this year against the UMBC team." UTD Chess Coach Rade Milovanovic says that challengers "should not underestimate the defending champions."

IM Marek Stryjecki
Third and fourth place will once again be up in the air, with several schools needing to be watched. Duke and Miami-Dade have historically done very well, but with Stanford and several other schools posting great teams this year the last two spots for qualification to the President's Cup will be wide open. Other U.S. schools participating include Texas Tech, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Yale University. Universities from Canada and one from Peru will round out the Pan-American Intercollegiate mix. I know I'll personally be rooting for Miami University-a team that took some initiative to create, but has proven to be well worth the initial effort.

Below are two games from our aforementioned top board and coach, IM Marek Stryjecki, annotated by National Expert Tim Moroney. Moroney is a chess blogger (http://blog.chess.com/TimMoroney) studying Psychology at Oakland Community College in Michigan.


1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.e3 e6 5.c4 c6

Breaking the symmetry, Black now takes on a Semi-Slav pawn structure with a notable difference-his light-squared bishop is outside of the central pawn chain. Does this activity aid Black, or can the bishop become a target of harassment?

6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.Nh4 Bg4
8.Qb3 Nh5

With his eighth move, White targets the b7 pawn, which was left unprotected when Black developed his light-squared bishop. Black responds with a double-threat of trading knight for bishop, and ...Qd8xh4. Note White does not want to take the b7-pawn now, because after 9.Qxb7 Nxf4 10.exf4 Rb8 11.Qxc6 Qxh4 Black is left with an extra piece and active piece play.
9.Bg3 Nxg3 10.hxg3 Qb6 11.f3 Bh5 12.g4 Bg6 13.Nxg6 fxg6

Position after 13...fxg6

Notice how both sides now have doubled pawns, but Black is already in a lot of trouble. Black now has two pawn islands, compared to White's one; a backward pawn on e6; the half-open f-file is inferior to White's on the h-file; and his king has become exposed. Because of these positional aspects, White is winning.

14.Qc2 Kf7

Black is already caught in defense mode. White was threatening 15.Rxh7 Rxh7 16.Qxg6+, winning two pawns.

15.Bd3 Kg8 16.0-0-0

White prepares to bring both rooks to bear on the kingside via a doubling on the h-file.

16...Be7 17.Rh3 c5

Black desperately tries to break free and build up some counterplay, but with the precarious position of his king on g8, pawn exchanges in the center will only open up lines of attack for White's pieces.

18.cxd5 cxd4 19.exd4 Qxd4 20.Kb1

White takes a timeout in the action to secure his own king position. When preparing to launch a mighty assault on your opponent's king, don't let any tricks  befall your own.


Black cannot play 20...exd5, because White has the straightforward 21.Nxd5 Qxd5 22.Bc4, pinning and winning Black's queen. All White has to do is open lines and the tactics pour forth!

21.dxe6 Nc5 22.Bc4 a6 23.Nd5 Kf8 24.f4 Qd6

Position after 24...Qd6

White is finally able to take full advantage of the h-file. Black's pawn is pinned, now 25...hxg6 26.Rxh8# ends the game immediately.

 25...Nxe6 26.Qf5+ Bf6 27.g5

Black cannot avoid the loss of a piece.

Nxf4 28.Qxf4 1-0


  1.c4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.e4 Nf6 5.f4

What started out as an English Opening has now become King's Indian Four Pawns Attack, an aggressive line for White often involving wild tactics.

5...0-0 6.Nf3 c5 7.d5 a6 8.a4 e6 9.Be2 exd5 10.cxd5 Re8

Principle would tell us that White has to be careful with his center pawns here, since he is not yet castled and could find his king in hot waters. Based on that, many players would play the cautious 11.Qd1-c2, which allows Black time to develop and coordinate his pieces for defense. Stryjecki tosses aside principles in favor of the specifics of the situation.


Position after 11.e5

11... dxe5 12.fxe5 Ng4 13.Bg5 Qa5 14.0-0 Nxe5 15.d6 Be6 16.Nd5 Bxd5?
This bishop is important for the defense of the weakened central squares, and Black should not part with it so willingly. He may be better off allowing White the knight fork which comes after Nd5-c7, as the active minor pieces are proving themselves to be far more useful than rooks in this position. For example, Black could try 16...Nbd7 17.Nc7, when 17...c4!? is interesting, restricting White's light-squared bishop and opening the fifth rank for his queen. Immediately ...Ne5xf3, followed by ...Qa5xg5 is threatened.

17.Qxd5 Nbd7 18.Nxe5 Nxe5

Forced, otherwise White plays the devastating Qd5xf7 next move.


 Here White misses a valuable opportunity, and understandably so. Better may have been the immediate 19.d7, which then follows a very tricky line that signifies just how powerful the minor pieces are in the current position: 19...Red8 (Black has to block the passed pawn, otherwise White plays 20.Rad1 and forces Black to lose material anyway.) 20.Rxf7! (Surprise number one. White's bishops are too powerful here to be traded for one of the cowardly Black rooks. Instead he finds a way to expose the Black monarch.) 20...Nxf7 21.Qxf7+! (Surprise number two! White enters a land where the enemy king is without shelter and tactical shots roam free.)

Analysis after 21.Qxf7

21...Kxf7 22.Bc4+ Kf8 23.Rf1+ Bf6 24.Bxf6! (Black's king still has nowhere to go!) 24...Rxd7 25.Bd8+ White wins back his queen, leaving himself with two seemingly super-bishops and a continued menacing attack, versus a pawn and Black rook flailing to find a target.

19...Qb6 20.d7 Nxd7??

Black overlooks White's final tactical shot. Best for Black was 20...Red8. Notice that this time White's fireworks show loses its impact, as Black now has his queen in position to guard the important f6-square.

21.Qxf7+ Kh8 22.Rxd7 Qxb2 23.Bf6  1-0 ♦

More details on the tournament schedule, location, and the scholastic scholarship to be offered can be found on the UT Dallas Chess Program's for the 2008 Pan American games Web site. Follow live games on the Internet Chess Club or monroi.com. The holiday chess weekend will also feature major opens in Las Vegas, the North American Open (Dec.26-29), which you can also follow live, and the Eastern Open in D.C. Look for CLO updates on all three events.