Virginia Assassins Eliminate the Opposition at the USATE Print E-mail
By Al Lawrence   
February 18, 2015
USCF400.jpgGrandmasters headlined 11 of the 270 four-player teams that braved bone-numbing temperatures and snow-drifted highways to shake and stomp into the Parsippany Hilton for the 45th anniversary of the World Amateur Team Chess Championship. Also known as the U.S. Amateur Team-East, it's the mega-parent of the Amateur Team events around the nation in mid-February. In all, 1,140 players came in from the New Jersey cold.

In the end it was a team headed by FIDE master James Schuyler, the Virginia Assassins, that took home the first-place plaque. (For "The Team" attracts droves without cash prizes.)  Schuyler's squad knifed through the first five rounds in playing hall temperatures ranging from sweaty to shivery as the hotel's heating system struggled with the challenging weather. "This year the ballroom was the Sahara one round and the Arctic the next," Chief Organizer E. Steven Doyle laughed. In the final round, the Assassins drew with Magnus et Potens, a New Jersey group of favorite sons who had likewise put together a 5-0 streak but ended up third on tiebreaks. NYC Legends, the second-place finisher, had been nicked in round three but came back with three straight wins, beating Bone, the third team to make it to round six with a perfect result.

In board order, Schuyler's deadly accomplices were Andrew Samuelson, Daniel Miller, Lucas Knoll. Their average rating of 2185 wasn't tops-the rules put the limit at 2199, a number boasted by five disappointed teams. All three top finishers were in the 2180s. And all three featured a 2300 player on board one, distributing some precious points to their lower boards. 

Lots of winners
The Viriginia Assassins:l-r  Lucas Knoll, James Schuyler, Daniel Miller, Andrew Samuelson

Here's a rundown on some of the prize winners. (The USATE awards a host of hardware. For a complete list, see the New Jersey State Chess Federation website:

1st Place: Virginia Assassins
2nd Place: NYC Legends
3rd Place: Magnus et Potens
4th Place: We Will Deflate Your Rating
5th Place: Bone!

U2100: The Undutchable Dutchman
U2000: Exodus Opening
U1900: The King Hunter Gather
U1800: Strictly Hardcore
U1700: Chessaholics #2
U1600: Sac Sac Mate
U1500: All Knight Dance Party
U1400: Kadoojy
U1300: Ewing E
U1200: Pocono Chess
U1000: Knights of the Living
The bughouse festivities

Bughouse Tournament: No Expectation
College: Cornell University Team A
High School: The Other Team
Middle School: Masterman We Have Arrived
Elementary School: We Eat with Forks and Skewers
Scholastic 1: All About That Mate
Scholastic 2: Belichick Maters Rating Deflation
Mixed Doubles: Chess KQ Ghostbusters
Seniors: Komodo Dragon
Military: West Point USMA
Company: Princeton Alumni
Family: Maroczy Fish Bind

Each year, an elite group is awarded an engraved prize for going 6-0. This year, these players were added to the historical honor role:

On board one: Magesh Panchanathan of ChessKQ-A-team, Jay Bonin of Nassau Chess Chums, Richard Robinson of The Imitation Chess Gamers, and Luan Nguyen of Alternatives

On board two: Andrew Liu of Forknado, Chris Wall of Orwellian Horror, and Mike Lucente of

On board three: Jimmy Li of Knights of Infinity and Lawrence Lepes of The Isolated Pawns

On board four: Victor Smith of Exodus Opening

As alternate: Eugene Sokolovsky of Magnes et Potens

Names, Gimmicks and Class Acts

The Best Team Name and Best Gimmick are chosen annually by applause. This year the name Legalize Caruana lit up the crowd. Three Checks and You Are Out and Saturday Night Fever were the most popular shticks, for a song and a dance, respectively.

The best act at The Team, however, is Chief Organizer Doyle and his veteran crew. Every year Doyle coordinates and emcees a team tournament as big as the biennial Olympiad and somehow manages to infuse fun into an event that also features very serious chess. The playing hall is packed before each round for Steve's announcements of door prizes for players able to produce random artifacts-a library card from Connecticut, a quarter bearing the image of the state of Idaho could be the passport to a chess prize handed out by Harold Stenzel. Sometimes there were surprises.  A call for a married couple impels an excited twosome hurrying through the crowd only to find out they need to sing a duet on the podium to collect. A call for "anyone with BMW keys" ultimately disappoints the responder as Steve tells him, "You don't get a prize; you've already got a BMW."

DoyleCarolJ.jpgSeveral staffers hit meaningful landmarks this year. To the disbelief of anyone who can pass a standard vision test, perennial Chief Director Carol Jarecki celebrated her 80th birthday. Walter and Judy Heerschap, who since 1993 have driven from Tennessee to volunteer their services, are retiring from duties. Walter managed the entire facility set-up, as well as what was the highest annual USCF adult membership sign-up. Judy managed the collection of round-by-round results

Other critical staffers who worked around the clock for three days while the rest of us had fun: Sophia Rohde, Joe Ippolito, Mike Somers, Aaron Kiedes, Noreen Davisson, Harold Stenzel, Bernadette Doyle, Justin Kohler, and Bob Garrison. They run an enterprise that would be daunting for a crew three times their size. And they do it without a hitch.

Parsippany Hellton

In fact, it would be a stunning improvement if Steve and his crew could take charge of the entire hotel for the weekend.  To give the Hilton Parsippany its due, the business-oriented property itself is modern hotel chic, spic and span and glossy throughout. The newly remodeled lobby is inviting. The guest rooms are spiffy, comfortable and well kept. The chess rate of $119 is reasonable. The Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is excellent, but of course pricey, fine for a Friday-night-before-the-action splurge. That's the good. But, as we used to say, bring your lunch-and, in this case, bring dinner and a cocktail as well.

Because unmistakable for the second year in a row (since the expensive remodeling-coincidence?) is the dreadful understaffing throughout the weekend. What meager, overwhelmed and harangued hotel workers are on duty are pleasant and eager to help, despite bearing the brunt of the understandable impatience of the guests. But it's service-Thermopylae without even a narrow pass through which to funnel the invading hordes-in this case, paying guests who for some reason think they should be able to eat and drink between games during their three-day chess campaign. The bar? Often the only place to get a bite (if you somehow finish your 6 p.m. round before 8 p.m.), it was massively jammed but tended by only two desperate staffers, who to our disbelief and gratitude, didn't walk out.

And that brings up the worst of it, the closing times determined by an absentee management. The coffee shop shuttered at 8 p.m. on Sunday and 6 p.m. on Monday-awkward timing for hundreds of exhausted caffeine addicts who needed to stay alert in tough middlegames. The restaurant? In New Jersey's own celebrated epithet: furgeddaboutit. The hours were miniatures, the delays perpetual check-except in terms of getting the bill, which began a whole new classical time control of foot-tapping. And there was no employee to be spared to keep the wait list for the line. Only a shiny Hilton-emblazoned podium played mute host. Yes, there were a few hours of tables offering hot dogs and pizza slices. Probably the kids were happy.

I'm a devoted booster of the USATE. And I generally like Hiltons. But the disregard management showed for both its employees and the annually-returning guests more than merits my brief ripping. I recommend whoever runs the Parsippany Hilton take a turn on the CBS's reality series "Undercover Boss," if he or she dares. I won't, however, watch. Schadenfreude is not really my thing.

More than worth it

The Team itself is more than redemption. It's not for nothing that the USATE has garnered so many devoted fans. In fact, literally hundreds in this year's crowd had been returning for decades. Three at the event had been coming for 45 years: Vince Klemm, Bruce Davis, and Neil Brennan. Of course this kind of fidelity is unique testimony to the fact that The Team is fun like no other.

So if you haven't played, put the World Amateur Team Championship on your chess bucket list. If you've made the big show, I don't have to convince you. Just arrange ready transportation for the 10-mile trip to some excellent restaurants or bring your lunch.

Play through some key games selected by Pete Tamburro:


Instead of 27.f5??, White had 27 b3 with a clear edge. If 28.Rxc4 Qxc4 29.Qg5 Qd4+





Al Lawrence is director of the Texas Tech Chess Program, which you can also find on facebook.