|Largest Pan-Am Since 1986 in Full Swing|
|By Al Lawrence|
|December 29, 2014|
Perhaps because of the lure of a warm beach in December, this year's Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, hosted by the University of Texas-Brownsville, is the largest since 1986. While snow fell in northern Texas, early-arriving teams prepped for the 61st PanAms by analyzing the sea shells on South Padre Island, where it was a balmy 75 degrees. But by four p.m. on Saturday, players shook the sand from their shoes and slipped into something just a bit dressier to attend the traditional reception at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Team blazers and college sweatshirts representing most of the 26 universities and colleges who sent 45 teams filled the ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn. University of Texas-Brownsville President Ad Interim Dr. William Fannin spoke for the host school. South Padre Island Mayor Barry Patel welcomed the competitors.
Another notable among the reception's dignitaries was Dr. Juliet Garcia, outgoing University of Texas at Brownsville president. Under her leadership, the university has doubled in size. Time magazine has named her one of the top 10 college presidents in the nation. This March, the CNN Money/Fortune website included Garcia in its roll of "World's Greatest Leaders," ranking her 27th on a list that included Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and former President Bill Clinton.
At 6 p.m., it was down to board-business. Chief Organizer Russell Harwood, stepping down after four years as Chair of the USCF College Chess Committee, deftly solved a last-minute hotel mix-up-it committed half the playing space to a wedding, complete with dance band--that would have panicked the lesser experienced. The first-round was quickly re-organized at the adjoining La Quinta, allowing Chief Tournament Director Mike Hoffpauir to start the clocks on time.
Again this year, the tournament is powerful at the top. But it is even deeper this year, with more than half the teams averaging Expert strength. At starting time on Saturday night, the top five, in order, were returning champions Webster University, the University of Texas-Dallas, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas-Brownsville, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. UT-Dallas and UMBC each have 10 PanAm wins under their belt.
B-Teams and other underdogs take charge
A reflection of the general strength were the upsets in round three on Sunday night, when both Webster A and Texas Tech A were nicked for draws by teams rated significantly lower. Webster A gave up half a match point to Dallas B, while Texas Tech A drew Columbia University A. In the same round, an even more startling upset took place when Texas Tech B defeated UT-Brownsville's powerful A team 3-1. On board one, Texas Tech's Faik Aleskerov rolled out a rook-sacrificing brilliancy against UT-Brownsville's GM Anton Kovalyov.
As a result, Monday morning's round four sees two B teams among the perfect scores, with UT-Dallas A playing Texas Tech B on table one and Webster B taking on UMBC A on table two.
The fifth round will be played this evening, and the sixth and final round will be played Tuesday morning. The top four will qualify for the Final Four of College Chess, to be played Easter weekend in New York City. Only one team from each university can qualify. There are many division titles and trophies available as well.
Look for Al Lawrence's wrap-up report of this year's PanAms. Find standings at the tournament website at UTB and Follow live games on Monroi.