Kannappan on the Approach of the Pan-Ams
By IM Priyadharshan Kannappan   
December 18, 2014
Collegiate chess has been thriving in the United States for the past few years. Every year culminates with the prestigious Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship. The Pan-Ams bring a mix of  the brightest chess players and amateurs from all over the world, who are studying in the Pan-American region. This year’s event is set for University of Texas at Brownsville in the scenic South Padre Island from December 27-30.

The Pan-Am title is major in itself, but the event is also a qualifier for the Final Four Collegiate Championship.  By the name, you would have found out that the top four qualifying team from the Pan-Am get to participate in it. The only catch is two teams from the same university cannot qualify for it. The college players eagerly look forward for the Pan-Ams as it gives them an opportunity to meet their old friends, make new connections, and have fun on and off the board. 

This year, I think the fun part is going to be awesome due to the scenic location of the tournament.

The collegiate chess scene was dominated by the Texas schools(TTU,UTD,UTB) and UMBC till 2011. Then came a major shift in power in 2012, with the newly formed Webster University Chess Team, brining in top grandmasters like So Wesley, Ray Robson, Georg Meier which enabled them to win the 2013 and 14 Pan-Am's and also the Final Four Collegiate Championship. This year seems no different, with Webster fielding three teams and all of them in the top 7 in the initial rankings. The rating average of the three teams according to the official tournament roster is 2750.3, 2647.0, 2505.3 respectively.


Webster University Chess Team

One of the biggest competitors to Webster University is University of Texas at Dallas, which has posted a 2623.5 rating average lineup in it's A team. UTD has been offering chess scholarships since 1996, and they have always been a formidable force in the collegiate chess scene, by attracting strong players like Conrad Holt, Leonid Kritz etc. They were not able to qualify for the final four last year, and would be eagerly waiting for this event, to showcase their potential.


UTD Chess Team

The other strong university from Texas is Texas Tech University, which lost majority of its strong players in mid 2012 because of the players transferring to Webster University, but TTU has shown an amazing resilience to build the program back quickly, and now boasts of a 2618.5 average in it's A team, with having players from all parts of the world like Ukraine, Iran, Belarus. 
The two other major teams, which have really good chances to qualify for the Final Four are University of Maryland Baltimore County and the host of the Pan-Am 2014, University of Texas at Brownsville. These two teams have a rating average in excess of 2550+ and have established players like GM Niclas Huschenbeth and GM Andrey Stukopin leading their respective teams.

Wherever there is favorites, there are underdogs! There is a slew of teams, which are not as good as the ones mentioned above, but definitely have the firepower to beat the top teams on any given day. Those teams include Columbia University, having two strong IM in their lineup. Another Ivy, Yale, is captained by one of the best players in USA, GM Robert Hess. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has beefed up their squad by recruiting strong players from Uzbekistan and India; for those who haven't followed the past two editions of Pan-Am, University of Illinois qualified for the final four with a not so strong team by the ratings, but purely because of their indomitable team spirit, and the motivation to succeed, combined with a bit of luck in the pairings.


University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign chess team

Of course I have to talk about the team that I am going to represent in the Pan-Am. I will be the top board for Lindenwood University, and we will be #13 in the initial rankings list. We have a pretty decent team with our lineup consisting of myself(2572), Alex Richter(2274), Nolan Hendrickson(2212), Nicholas Rosenthal(2205). Everyone in the team is determined to give their best to qualify for the final four, with Psychology major student Nolan Hendrickson even training in hypnosis to improve his chess performance!! We have trained as a team throughout the year with the resident GM of Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and we hope to make it to the final four.


Lindenwood A team players (clockwise), Priyadharshan Kannappan, Alex Richter, Nicholas Rosenthal, Nolan Hendrickson

The Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship is getting stronger every year, and so far 46 teams have registered. This year without doubt we can expect some masterpiece game, mind blowing individual and team upsets.

The Pan-Ams also gives a chance for amateur college players, to play and mingle with the star teams, and players like Wesley So, Le Quang Liem and Conrad Holt. 

The fun starts in just over a week, and you can look for my next update on CLO upon the event’s conclusion. There is lot of blood to be spilt on the board, and lots of fun and memories to be made off the board!

Find more details on the event, including rosters on the tournament website at UTB.