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The Charm & Anguish of the Pan-Ams: An Organizer's Summary Print E-mail
By FM Alex Betaneli   
January 3, 2011
The winning team at the Pan-American Championships: University of Texas at Dallas L to R: Marko Zivanic, Alejandro Ramirez, Salvijus Bercys, Ioan-Cristian Chirila, Puchen Wang and Julio Sadorra. Photo Betsy Dynako

The 2010 Pan American Intercollegiate Championships were co-organized by the United States Chess Federation and the Wisconsin Chess Academy this year. The tournament took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 27-30th. The Crowne Plaza Hotel was an excellent host, providing top-level services all around. Twenty-eight teams attended the event. The standings, prizewinners and other details of the event can be found at panamerican.wichessacademy.com/.

Running such a famous, prestigious event was certainly exhilarating. Having organized national events for over a decade, I realized that this would be something special. However, having two NTD’s and a senior TD who has run tournaments for 40 years provided a sense of confidence that any unusual difficulties would be resolved successfully. I would like to believe that the event was a huge success and judging from the overwhelmingly positive response of the players, this was one of the most enjoyable Pan Ams in recent years.

Milwaukee is a famous city for chess players. This is where a Physics professor by the name of Arpad Elo came up with the rating formula that is still used today. This is also the “city of misery” for the only American world champion Bobby Fischer: he tried to conquer the tournaments held on Wisconsin soil, but without any success. Thus, some GMs started the tournament carefully, perhaps even with trepidation, as if they were afraid to follow Fischer’s footsteps. This extra caution may have prevented overconfidence as the top four seeds and heavy favorites (University of Texas-Brownsville (2612), University of Maryland-Baltimore (2585), University of Texas-Dallas 2552), and Texas Tech University (2487) ) swept their first two matches. 

University of Texas-Brownsville defeated Texas Tech University, while University of Texas-Dallas dropped one game against the University of Maryland-Baltimore B team:




Two rival schools from Texas produced spectacular chess on board one. Dallas beat Brownsville by the slimmest margin (2 ½ : 1 ½ ), setting up a dream pairing in round 5.




While University of Texas-Dallas was busy knocking out the top seed, University of Maryland-Baltimore took full advantage of the slightly easier pairings and won all 16 games!
University of Maryland Baltimore County chess team

This tension-filled match could have gone either way, but in the end Dallas got the required 2 ½ points to claim victory:






Dallas was a point ahead of the field, but had to at least tie the determined Texas Tech University in order to win the tournament. This was arguably the most dramatic match of the event and a worthy conclusion of the tournament. Dallas offered draws early on in order to clinch the title, but Texas Tech did not want to leave Wisconsin without trying to win the championship! Indeed, at times it appeared that not only would Texas Tech win, but do so by a crushing score. Nevertheless, when all the dust has settled, it was University of Texas-Dallas that the won the match (2 ½ : 1 ½ yet again), effectively deserving a coronation for their amazing performance.


Open, Blitz, and Scholastic Sections

Although the emphasis was clearly on the Intercollegiate tournament, we must not forget about the events that also made the experience memorable. The Open section saw two GMs, one IM and several masters joining 80 other participants to compete for $3,000 in prizes. Congratulations to IM Goran Vojinovic and NM Erik Santarius on their 4.5/5 performance. Ranadheer Tripuraneni and Akhil Kalghatgi won the Scholastic Rated section, while Sam Peterson, Xavier Loomer, Pranav Adavi, and Michael Visconti were co-champions of the Scholastic Non-Rated section.

The Pan American Blitz Championship had 58 players, including five 2500+ players. Please see panamerican.wichessacademy.com/blitz-championship/ for the wallchart.

Before I muse on the state of college chess, I would like to thank the tournament directors who gave up holidays to contribute towards the tournament: Glenn Panner, Mike Selig, Kaileigh Selig, Mike Nietman, and Sisira Amarasinghe. Thanks to our professional photographer Betsy Dynako; her pictures have truly immortalized the event.
Bogdan Vioreanu, Sabina Foisor and Timur Gareyev, Photo Betsy Dynako

Also thanks to Ashish Vaja who has encouraged me to bring this tournament to Milwaukee. A special thanks to monroi.com for enabling us with live game transmission (Sisira Amarasinghe did an admirable job bypassing all problems he was presented with). Finally, many thanks to the players and all adults that accompanied them to the tournament!


Alex Betaneli, Photo Betsy Dynako
It is important to conclude this report with an invitation for brain-storming. After the Olympiad, IM Donaldson published a report in which he expressed legitimate worries about the future of our National team. In particular, he pointed out that most talented young players quit chess at some point and never become strong Grandmasters. Perhaps the contrast between junior chess (immensely successful) and the low numbers of strong professionals is connected to difficulties at college level. All universities that offer scholarships to chess players are most definitely to be applauded and other schools should be encouraged to follow in their footsteps.

One of the ways to make a case for chess scholarships is by creating publicity for this annual event. Here we have a major difficulty, however. On the one hand, it is wonderful to have 28 teams participating, but on the other hand we have to wonder if this number should be much higher. One team could not make it because some airports on the East coast were closed. Another team fell apart because some players from the UW-Madison chose to accompany their football team to the Rose Bowl instead of playing chess.

Overall, only about 20 distinct schools were represented this year (some schools brought more than one team, resulting in 28 total) and this is how it has been for the past decade. Clearly, the number is not one to be proud of and, more importantly, is not much of a promotion point. Given the number of colleges in the United States alone, merely twenty schools playing chess is alarming.

There are several possible reasons for such low attendance and most are valid. Perhaps schools do not have enough money to send their players. Maybe the timing of the event is truly inconvenient.  As an independent organizer, I am merely puzzled by the situation, but as a professional player and instructor I am truly astonished.

There needs to be a group people whose mission is to address the needs of college chess. The group should have some professionals on board as otherwise it would be equivalent to B-class players running an International Chess Academy. Until such group exists and functions effectively, it is rather doubtful that the state of college chess will change. As long as we have such a situation, IM Donaldson’s sentiments are destined to become a prophecy.
Results Summary

1st place: University of Texas-Dallas-A 6/6
2nd-3rd : University of Maryland-Baltimore-A, University of Texas-Brownsville-A 4.5/6
University of Maryland College Park, Photo Betsy Dynako

4th place (tie): Texas Tech University-A, University of Maryland-Baltimore-B, University of Texas-Dallas-B, University of Texas-Brownsville-B, Stanford University, University of Toronto-A 4/6
University of Texas at Brownsville, Photo Betsy Dynako

Best International Team: University of Toronto-A 4/6
Division II (u2200) Winner: Texas Tech Univeristy-B (1995) 3.5/6 (higher ranked trophy on tie-breaks over Miami Dade College)
Division III (u2000) Winner: Miami Dade College (1940) 3.5/6
Division IV (u1800) Winner: Yale University (1672) (co-winner, trophy on tie-breaks), Texas Tech University-C (1774) (co-winner, medals on tie-breaks) 2.5/6
The Yale squad, Photo Betsy Dynako

Division V (u1600) Winner: Reed College (Oregon; 1475) (co-winner, trophy on tie-breaks) Montgomery College (Maryland; 1083) (co-winner, medals on tie-breaks)
Reed College in Oregon, Photo Betsy Dynako

All-Female Team Winner: University of Texas-Dallas-C 3/6
Farthest Travel Award: University of the West Indies (Jamaica)
West Indies Team, Photo Betsy Dynako

Board One: Sabina Foisor, Bogdan Vioreanu, Timur Gareyev (trophy on tiebreaks)
Board Two: Andre Diamant, Sergey Erenburg (trophy on tiebreak)
Board Three: Anatoly Bykhovsky
Board Four: Salvijus Bercys, Sasha Kaplan, Max Cornejo (trophy on tiebreaks)


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