Final Four 2014

The UMBC team from left to right: chess director Alan Sherman, Sabina Foisor, team manager Joel DeWyer, Askhayraj "Raj" Kore, Levan Bregadze, yours truly, Nazi Paikidze and coach Sam Palatnik

In the heart of Manhattan, the best four college teams came together to ultimately determine who is the best of the best in the year 2014. The playing venue was the noble New York Athletic Club, whose members have presented the U.S. throughout the years in the olympiad. It was the first hotel I have ever been to which has a dress code. The dress code asks for business attire at all times (!) in public areas of the Club and it requires one to wear dress shoes, slacks, a button down shirt and a jacket. If one was not in a business attire, one had to use the side entrance and a specific elevator. Unfortunately our board 2, Raj, didn't bring the right clothes and was more or less obliged to go shopping in New York. But, look, which famous club member he met on the way:

 

Andre Agassi and Askhayraj Kore

Especially intriguing was the conversation:

Raj: "Are you the guy who plays tennis?"
Agassi: "Yes. Are you the guy who plays chess?"
Raj: "Yes. How did you know?"
Agassi: "It's on your jacket."

In our first round we faced Texas Tech University and that was already an immensely important round, because it was clear that they would be our main competitor for the second place, which seemed to be the most realistic goal to achieve. I played against my former Bundesliga teammate Yaroslav Zherebukh (Elo 2616).

2.Bf4... I didn't expect that!

He brought me out of theory early by playing 2.Bf4 and in the following, even though I thought I was close to equalizing, he always kept a slight pressure and we ultimately reached a for me unpleasant endgame:

Zherebukh - Huschenbeth Final Four

Black to move

With little time on the clock I suddenly realized that his plan was to play Bb8 and win the pawn on a7. I was thinking about 40...Kd7 41.Bb8 Nc8, but this is just way too passive. White will activate his king, while I can only wait and watch. I played 40...Na4 to counter Ba7 with Nc5, but now he also simply brought his king to d4 and the position is lost. I missed a beautiful resource: 40...Kd7 41.Bb8 and now the nice knight retreat Na8! and it is actually only Black who is playing for a win! After 42.Bxa7 (42.c5 Nc7 43.Lc4 a5 is no better) Nc7 43.Bb5 Bxb5 44.cxb5 Nxb5 the position should be a draw, but Black can definitely try on for a little bit. Well, I missed that opportunity and eventually lost the game. Unfortunate, because in the end we lost the match with 1.5-2.5. However, in the Final Four the first tie break is board points and not match points, so it was not as bad.

In the next round we played against Webster University and this was of course the highlight of the tournament. I don't often get the chance to play against 2700+ guys and this is always something special. So, for the second time in 4 months I played Le Quang Liem with the White pieces and unfortunately it turned out to be a Déjà vu. Again, I was better prepared in the opening, and again I gave my advantage away early in only one move. Then, he slowly outplayed me and with decreasing time I eventually ended up in a hopeless position. So, let's not talk too much about my game, but rather about how Raj was doing on board 2 against Wesley So, the number 19 in the world. This was the position after move 10:

So - Kore Final Four

Black to play

After a short look on his board I thought "oh man, it looks like Raj gets crushed". But then he suprised everyone in the room by playing the stunning move 10...e5!!, which sets the board on fire and gives Black excellent play. So, So (couldn't help it) spent a lot of time to dive into the complex position, but could not find his way out of the problems Raj posed to him. Eventually this position arose on the board:

Black to play

It looks like White has almost escaped by threatening to exchange queens. However, Raj's next move destroys White's hopes and gives him the decisive advantage: 17...h6!, which leads to a more favorable queen exchange for Black because he puts his rook on the e-file with tempo. So played 18.Qxe7 Rxe7 and now saw his best chance in abandon his knight by playing 19.0-0-0, but Raj simply took on g5 and the game did not last much longer. After 23 moves Raj had beaten the strongest opponent of his career with the Black pieces, chapeau! You can see the whole massacre, um, I mean game here.

Levan achieved a draw against Georg Meier, but Sabina lost on board 4 against Ray Robson, so once again we had lost the match with 1.5-2.5, which is however not the worst result against a team with an elo average of 2678. Going into the last round, we knew that we needed a high victory, preferably 4-0, to maintain any hopes for the second place. We played against University of Illinois, who were clearly the underdog in the tournament and had only scored one board point so far. I played against FM Eric Rosen and produced quite a decent game. Check it out:

All my other team members also managed to win and we achieved the desired 4-0 sweep. Now it was up to Webster. They needed to win at least with 3-1 to not give Texas Tech too many board points. The key game was Robson - Torres. Robson was with the back to the wall, but in mutual time trouble Torres blundered and Robson won. So won a nice game on board 2, but still Webster had problems on board 1 and 3. Funnily, both games eventually ended up in rook and bishop against rook endgame, with Webster on the defending side, respectively. But Le Quang and Meier, as you would expect from these guys, had no problems whatsoever to hold this endgame and gave Webster the 3-1 victory.

Consequently we ended up on the second place, only half a board point ahead of Texas Tech. The final score reads as follows: Webster on top with 9.5 board points, UMBC second with 7, Texas Tech third with 6.5 and University of Illinois fourth with 1.

The Webster Team from left to right: Ray Robson, Wesley So, Anatoly Bykhovsky, unknown, Susan Polgar, Le Quang Liem, Fidel Corrales Jimenez and Georg Meier

Levan, Nazi and I joking around shortly before the closing ceremony

The tournament was very well organized, the playing venue was great (right next to the Central Park!) and if one really wanted to find something to complain about, then one could hint at the missing tournament website. I personally would enjoy it if there was more time and not everything cramped into one short weekend. I think with such a prestigious tournament it would actually be appropriate to play a double-round tournament, but I understand on the other hand that the additional efforts and expenses are a strong counter argument.

The Final Four is going to be hosted in the same venue next year, which is definitely a strong motivation to qualify again at the Pan-American. Who would like to get another perspective on the whole tournament, should take a look at the detailed report by our team manager Joel DeWyer. See you!