The Home Team's Perspective on the Pan-Ams Print E-mail
By WIM Luciana Morales   
December 22, 2009
Luciana Morales explores South Padre Island, the site of the 2009 Pan-American Championships, Photo Jack Yu

The Pan-Am Intercollegiate Chess Championship, to be held Dec.27-30 on South Padre Island, is drawing closer and closer. As usual, the teams compete to be among the top four American teams to play the President’s Cup otherwise known as the Final Four.

This year University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) is hosting the event and hence registered for the first time a C-team. Looks like in addition to the relative advantage of playing at home, we have the best A-team of our history. With three grandmasters (Axel Bachmann, Mauricio Flores and Timur Gareyev) we are hoping to make the Final Four again. After all, it will be held on campus in early April and it would be a shame being there and not taking part. Talk about pressure and motivation.

Actually, we don’t feel that much pressure. Everyone knows that this year the race for the top places will be tougher than ever because the highest ranked teams have added very strong players to their rosters. So far there are about 25 teams registered including New York University, Miami Dade, University of Chicago, Yale University, Rider University, El Centro College, University of Texas at Austin, University of Toronto, University of Utah, Princeton University, University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Tech and UMBC.

Although his team is not registered yet FM Elliot Liu of Stanford said the lineup would remain the same as last year, when they qualified to the Final Four.

“I guess we just hope to have a similar type of run like last year :), but all of us don't play much anymore, so hopefully we all aren't too rusty.”

The former Pan-Am U18 champion pointed out that it was a bonus having the tournament at “such a cool location.” 

So let me summarize why South Padre Island is so appreciated.

When it comes to beach vacations, this is one of the preferred hotspots nationwide. There are so many fun things to do on the island including surfing, parasailing, swimming, bungee-jumping (I should have included TCA President Clemente Rendon’s pictures to illustrate this point,) horse riding, dolphin and bird watching, have awesome seafood plates, etc.

Generally, it takes 30 minutes to go from Brownsville to SPI but during Spring Break and Thanksgiving going to the island can take FOREVER. This is what I know in theory and I say that because I’ve been to the island only twice during the two years I’ve been here—similarly, while I was in Peru I never visited Machu Picchu.
In the name of research I decided to go there and see what all the fuzz was about. On Saturday I went with Timur Gareyev to the island. The Uzbek GM is not only our strongest player but he can also be the most cooperative of my teammates. Timur is a good sport and doesn’t mind jumping or climbing up buildings and trees for a noble cause: to test my new camera’s capacity to take action shots.

Timur’s stunts surely count as physical preparation for the tournament. See some pictures:




Back to research, we didn’t get there early enough to have awesome beach pictures. In compensation, here are some pictures from the Sheraton’s swimming pool, which is one of the biggest in South Texas.

In the last semester GM Gilberto Hernandez resigned from his position as coach due to family reasons. While we are getting a new coach our most experienced teammate IM Alfonso Almeida is helping us.

In an attempt to keep everyone active GM Axel Bachmann, who’s back after a year of playing in Europe, would organize a little tournament that was played every Friday. It was a nice try but none of us anticipated that midterms would manage to sabotage the tourney. The cancellation of the tournament was a bummer for Bradley Sawyer who scored two upsets by defeating Bachmann and Dan Fernandez consecutively.

We were planning to play the Carlos Torre Memorial in Merida. Unfortunately, the tournament was cancelled for the first time in more than 20 years. So sad, they used to provide good conditions for titled players. In addition to the tournament, by far the best international tournament in Mexico, there was of course the chance to visit magnificent archaeological places such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal.

For a while there was a small glimpse of hope that we would be able to present an all-girls team but nope, we are still short of girls. It would have been interesting to see a competition between UTDallas’ girls team and ours.

Speaking of UTD, Jacek Stopa talked about his team’s aspirations. “I know it’s gonna be tough, especially you guys are a hard obstacle,” he said. “But we’ll be working our best on kicking your butt.”
Hopefully it won’t happen!

These days are pretty hectic for everyone but I can say on behalf of my teammates that we are all excited about the upcoming Pan-Am. Most of us, internationals, don’t go to back to our countries during the holidays and Rusty Harwood, Chess Program Director, invited us for a family-like celebration. Thanks, Rusty.

Many thanks go to UTB/TSC President, Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, for supporting our team. Recently she was named by TIME magazine one of the Ten Best College Presidents of 2009. During a recent dinner at her house she made sure to encourage each one of us to do our best at the Pan-Am. That was also the occasion for a peculiar request.

“We need cheerleaders,” Timur said causing everybody to burst into laughter. “Soccer players have cheerleaders.”

With cheerleaders or not, we look forward to this Pan-Am and make the biggest trophy stay at home. Wish us luck ;)

Useful links: tournament info, Hotel info (Sheraton)

On the last week of the decade, also stay up to date on the North American Open in Las Vegas and the Eastern Open in Washington DC.