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US Amateur Team North: The Bell Tolls for Azbel Over UChicago Team on Tiebreak Print E-mail
By Andrea Rosen   
February 23, 2011
For Whom the Azbel Tolls, L to R: Gregory Azbel, Alex Betaneli, Erik Santarius, Josh Friedel.  

When we folks in the Midwest think of New Jersey, we don't usually feel inferior.  It's hard not to suffer some pangs of jealousy, though, when reading the reports of the party atmosphere, creative costumes and flashy field at the USAT East.

But just because all 34 of our mostly uncostumed teams could have been tucked unnoticed in a corner of the room that housed the USATE, it doesn't mean that the USAT North players didn't have their fair share of fun, interesting games and exciting upsets, albeit in a rather earnest and pragmatic Midwestern way.

Let's start with the team names.  Even though a prize was offered for best name,  it didn't stir the imagination of most players, who perhaps thought that their creative juices were best saved for when the clocks started ticking.  With names like Downers Grove A and Downers Grove B (the two teams hailing from--you guessed it--Downers Grove, IL), the Four Milwauketeers (a team, from-yes--Milwaukee), the Chicago Industrial Chess League (a team whose members belong to--right again--the Chicago Industrial Chess League), well, you get the picture.  When I tried to give my friend Dan Parmet, lead board of Downers Grove A, a hard time about the less than inspired name, he responded with the Downers Grove defense:  "We had to get our club name in there, and the only other thing I could come up with was Downers Grove 1 and 2."  You have to love our Midwestern earnestness.

Check Norris and the Delta Force Knights: Jason Daniels, Hanson Hao, Cole Frank and Peter Karagianis
Still, while the pickings were slim, the judging panel still felt like they had some good ones to choose from, and Check Norris and the Delta Force Knights emerged on top, barely edging out The 4G Network: No Dropped Pawns.  If there had been a best costume prize, Check and his gang would have swept that too, being one of the few teams to arrive in clever matching t-shirts.  They also would have walked away with the cuteness award.
In real life, Check Norris is NM Peter Karagianis, who last fall moved back to Illinois, where he enrolled in a master's in creative writing program at Illinois State University in Bloomington, the center of the state.  His three Delta Knights are all young Class D players who he coaches:  fourth-grader Hanson Hao, second-grader Jason Daniels, and high-schooler Cole Frank.  He was clearly enjoying being their team captain for the weekend.  "It's a heart attack every move, but it's a lot of fun," he said, adding he was especially proud of Jason and Hanson for having Saturday night games that lasted two and a half hours and well past their bedtimes.  I wanted to ask Pete about the intimidating black eye that he was sporting as Check Norris, but before I could, he was called away to tend to a fifth round emergency when one of the Delta Force lost a tooth mid-game and was bleeding on the board.

Karagianis wasn't the only teacher serving as team coach for the weekend event. GM Dmitry Gurevich, although not playing himself, was coaching the 4G Network.  IM Angelo Young fielded a total of five teams:  his own, Pinoy of Chicago, which won last year's USATN; Liang Tian Swan Sun, and Rick Who Parked the Longcar, and two more in the one-day Saturday scholastic section, which attracted eight teams.  Local Chicago area teacher Shiva Maharaj also served as a non-playing coach to his team, The Mighty Pawns.

The lone GM in the field was Josh Friedel, whose team For Whom the Azbel Tolls (NMs Erik Santarius and Alex Betaneli, and Gregory Azbel), was the number one seed with a team rating of 2188.  Young was the only IM, and he lost to Friedel when their teams faced off in Round 6.


For Whom the Azbel Tolls went into the last round facing the only undefeated team of the event to that point, TorturedTown (Jim Dean, John Langreck, Danield Gater and Drew Hollingberger from Indiana), and won handily, 3-1, finishing with 4.5/5. 
The UChicago.edu team, Left to right: Jeremy Kane, Mike Mei, Steve Rand and Spencer Bledsoe

Uchicago.edu (the University of Chicago team led by NM Jeremy Kane, with expert Spencer Bledsoe and Class A players Steven Rand and Mike Mei) also tied for first place, scoring some upsets along the way.  Rand had a spectacular performance on Board 3, going undefeated and taking down Betaneli in the process, ending his weekend with a 78-point rating gain and a new title of expert.



Adding excitement and energy to the event were many Illinois high school players, who the weekend before competed in the 1,100-plus player high school state team championship.  The Obstacles, composed of three Niles North High School players (Evan Spiegel, Rafeh Qazi and Adil Dzelilovic) and recent alum Mases Hagopian who's now their assistant coach, logged some of the biggest upsets of the weekend and collectively gained a whopping 388 rating points.  Another Niles North player, sophomore David Paykin, and Evanston High School sophomore Madeleine Reiches, two of the players on Telebrenequiette, also had some big upsets and gained 105 and 126 points respectively.
Seated at right: Rafeh Qazi about to score another upset as teammates Adil Dzelilovic, Evan Spiegel and Mases Hagopian look on.

Also adding more fun to the weekend was the Illinois State Blitz Championship, which was held Saturday night and drew 31 players, a mix of USAT players and others who came out just for blitz.  Wisconsin's Santarius took first-place honors with nine points out of 10 in a very strong field, but IM Young, who came in second with 7.5, got the Illinois Blitz state champion title for being the highest scorer who lives in the state.
The Mighty Pawns go over their games in the skittles room

Organizers Tim Just and Glenn Panner were happy with the weekend's attendance and the event atmosphere.  "People are having a good time and that's what it's all about," said Panner.  The North American Chess Association provided all sets, boards and clocks.  Prizes were in the form of clocks and gift certificates to Checkmate Chess Supply, whose owner Peter Spizzirri provided a very well-stocked onsite bookstore.  See team results and prize winners here, and crosstables here.