Blindfold to Texas: FSU at the Pan-Ams
By Ben Silva   
January 1, 2014
Ben Silva of Florida State University (picked as one of the happiest colleges in the US) wrote about his experience training and organizing a team to go to the Pan-American Championship (Lubbock, Texas, December 27-30) in Part I Of this article. Here he journals the long awaited event.

Road Trip

Dear Diary,

We left Tallahassee on Christmas Day to allow us time to make the 19 hour drive in time to check-in to the hotel the day before the tournament starts. Our board 3, Zach Herbst borrowed his dad’s spacious SUV, an improvement on our original plan to squeeze into a compact Saturn. The car trip saw the birth of many an inside joke as well as some excellent teammate bonding, and I can say I would do it again (just not anytime soon).  

Most of the ride, we play, or rather attempt to play, blindfold chess. This was great practice and helped burn oodles of time (even the driver can join in). Our Board 4, Kaisaer Ainiwaer, attempted some unorthodox and provocative moves to try and confuse his opponents, most notably a very early Kxd7??, with three other re-captures available. In the memorably devilish words of Fritz we started razzing Kaisaer, “hmm, I’ve never seen that move before…and I never want to see it again either!”  
The views on the road in Texas might as well be Mars compared to what we are used to seeing, from the windmills to the oil drilling and dry plateaus. The scenery was a reminder that we ain’t in Florida anymore.
WOO flippin’ HOO! We are finally here, the Overton Hotel is really boss looking and the décor can best be described as modern sheik cowboy. We took a quick tour of the playing area where we ran into the host team Texas Tech and their coach, team USA’s board 3 GM Alexander Onischuk. Onischuk took a minute to personally greet us and is an all-around good guy.

Then it was off to Walmart where we stocked to sustain us during the tournament.  Zach pretty much lived off roast beef sandwiches, Kaisar on bananas, my go to stash was beer and oatmeal, and Roderick remains a mystery. It is possible he doesn’t require human food and may even have the ability to photosynthesize his own energy source.
FSU.jpgRound 1
Oh Snap! We just found out before the first round that our board 3 and 4 ratings (from the tune-up tourney, see Part 1) were entered a day too late to count for this tournament and therefore our average rating, which would have been U1600, will actually be counted as 1829, the average of our top two boards. Just like that we are out of contention for the U1600 and U1800 team. I get it, but it still stings.

One result of the rating change was that we got paired higher than we would have otherwise. On a positive note we were all excited to play up since that is why we came to Texas in the first place.  Lindenwood’s A-team did sweep us, fracturing my hopes and dreams.  Having said that, Zach put up some commendable resistance on board 3 versus WGM Anna Sharevich:


On table 1 Webster A also swept their opponents, beginning their rout of the tournament. It is something else to watch these guys play and when you take into account that their board 1 Le Quang Liem and 3 Wesley So, are both 2700+ fide, and that Germany’s solid George Meier is board 2, AND team USA’s Ray Robson as board 4, the word juggernaut comes to mind.

Round 2
Paired against UMBC-B I got off to a nice start on board 1 before quickly going for an attack that just wasn’t there (yet?). My opponent quickly punished me and we analyzed after the game. I definitely learned my lesson and hopefully won’t soon again throw away such a promising opening position. On board 2 Roderick decided to play the Scandinavian for the first time and somewhere along the line lost a piece. The position was still complicated and his opponent’s time situation was dire so he managed to pull out a win, demonstrating a very aesthetic matting net.


Zach had a stone cold win on board 3 but steered it closer and closer to a draw until he forced the draw when his time had run too low. Since I lost my game I had no reason to point fingers, but my initial reaction to Zach’s draw was the desire to Chuck Norris style round house kick him in the appendix, cuz’ you know, he doesn’t need it anyway. I now know this was a projection of my own failure and probably owe Zach an apology (hope this will do). After losing on board 4 we lost the round with only 1.5/4 but at least it was a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile Webster A swept again, this time dismantling Princeton. While all of Webster’s players were playing superbly one thing that stuck out was how quickly Robson was playing. In the past, he has often allowed his time to get scary low, whether in a good or bad positions, so this seemed (at least to me) to be a sign of not only his superiority at board 4 but also of excellent form. Perhaps Robson 4.0 has arrived.

Round 3
Ugh Diary,

We managed to lose again!? This time we dropped the round to Yale in a comedy of errors. Interestingly enough we had met the Yale team the night before while playing blitz in the skittles room so we already somewhat familiar with them. They are a good bunch and we definitely count them as new friends made, but during the first hour of play I would have bet money on FSU coming out victorious. I turned back my attention to my own game and sometime later looked back to my dismay to see FSU was now losing everywhere.

On my own board I managed to perform the most embarrassing blunder of all. I made my last move with out even looking up as I was happily thinking about running/hopping/skipping to the restroom after promoting my pawn and wrapping up a completely winning endgame (time had been too low to go beforehand), then to my horror I heard the word “stalemate”, I looked up and that was that. We were the last game still going that round so it was a crushing blow to my morale. It’s not over till it’s over, another valuable lesson learned.

I didn’t even get to watch much of the Webster games this round, but heck yeah you guessed it, they won, only it wasn’t a sweep and they only managed a measly 3.5/4.

Round 4
We finally did it! And it was a sweep. I immediately ran up to my room to celebrate with a Shiner Bock, which is Texas’ answer to Yuengling.

Matched up against Texas A&M, very nice guys who were also struggling in early rounds, I managed a nice mating attack on board 1 (however I did miss a quicker win). All credit to my opponent for seeing most of my plans and playing dynamically after getting himself into some trouble in the opening.


Webster won again, this time with a score of 3/4 versus Texas Tech, the host school. Wesley So’s technique is definitely worth checking out in this round as he elegantly converted his advantage in the late middlegame to a totally sweet won endgame.


Round 5
Another sweep! This time against Lindenwood’s C team, which added a bit to the satisfaction, as it allowed us the smallest of paybacks to the school after their A team spanked us in round 1.

Not so nearby Webster was battling it out with the only other undefeated team left in the tournament, UTD. Check out Ray Robson’s beast-mode win on board four.


Round 6

Dear Diary,
We lost the round. Going up against Miami-Dade we were rating underdogs across all boards but one. As the round took off Roderick and Kaisar had seemingly winning games on boards 2 & 4 while Zach and I looked equal in our games but with decent positions with the black pieces out of the opening. I misplayed first and had to bail out by giving up an exchange. Zach blundered a pawn, fought on, but lost in the end. In a topsy-turvy game, Roderick flagged after a dramatic battle.

As fortune would have it my opponent tried to play a bit too slick and blundered a pawn, then immediately on the following move, a piece. In a flash I had a winning endgame and he soon after resigned.

Now it was down to board 4 to tie the round. Kaisaer still up materially, saw a ghost attack and hung a piece to chase the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow leaving him in a lost game. Despite this setback, Kaisaer shows real promise. He is a professional pianist and a truly amazing artist. I believe this contributes to his creativity over the board and I know he will bounce back quickly.  

Webster won their last round and sole first place by a mile.

The Way Back

It was back to our room to pack up where we decided to make the long ride back at once, in time to make it home to our families for New Years Eve. We played one last blindfold game on the car ride back.  Zach and Kaisaer took the black pieces (and their sight) against Roderick and I with the white pieces and the blindfold disadvantage. We called it the battle of the front seats versus the backseats. Kaisaer’s suicidal daredevil moves paid off as he trickily steered the game to a Knight and Bishop endgame that he counted on holding out for 50 moves to steal away the draw.


Exhausted, we decided not to test that theory and stopped for more Redbull and gas, turned on the radio and finished the long drive home.

Happy New Year to CLO readers and everyone I met at the Pan-Ams. The organization was top-notch, so thanks also to everyone at Texas Tech. Till next time!

Find more information in Al Lawrence’s CLO wrap-up and also check out Ben Silva’s first installment. Find results on the tournament website as well as the rated MSA here.