Checkmate: Chess Club Exceeds Expectations at Tournament

Rannon Huo, 4th board of WashU’s A team, in the middle of a lap. (Photo courtesy of Bill Simmons)

In the second round of the 2022 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, the University of Washington Chess Club A-Team faced a team of international masters, all ranked among the top 1,600 active chess players in the world. While WashU lost all four matches this round, they exceeded their overall expectations against such high levels of competition and left the tournament with a higher ranking than when they arrived.

The Chess Club sent two teams to participate in the tournament, which was held in Dulles, Virginia from January 6-9. Team A consisted of seniors Philip Keisler and Nicholas Bartochowski, sophomore Rannon Huo and sophomore Saumik Narayanan. The B team consisted of senior Andrew Shiman and first years Josh Warner, Ilan Schwartz and Joseph Badros.

Team A entered the tournament as the 20th seed and Team B entered as the 42nd seed. After the final round, Team B finished in 33rd place with a score of 3.0/6.0, while Team A finished in 16th place with a score of 4.0/6.0 , narrowly missing out on the medals awarded to the top 15 teams when it fell behind the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in a tiebreaker.

The annual tournament uses a six-round Swiss system, a non-elimination format where teams are ranked by number of wins and then by tiebreaker score. Each round, each college team was paired with another to play a game of chess in the classic time format. The members of the teams were each ranked according to the standards of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and paired with the corresponding member of the opposing team.

“WashU has truly exceeded expectations,” said Andrew Shiman, Club President and 3rd B-Team Board of Directors. “A-Team was 16th, and the field had a lot of grandmasters and international masters, so we did a lot better than our rankings suggested.”

The tournament featured 57 total teams from different colleges across the country. The level of competition varied from unrated and novice players to titled players, including 24 chess grandmasters.

“[The competition] was really a mixed bag,” Shiman said. “We played against some pretty decent college teams that had pretty strong tournament players. We played against a team of mostly professional players when the A-Team played against the SLU B-Team. We also played against some teams with a group of very inexperienced players, against whom we did well.

At the end of each round, each player’s individual scores were added together and the cumulative score determined the winner of the round. Due to the team nature of the tournament, the strategy differed from traditional tournaments.

“Most chess tournaments are individual, so you play for yourself and draw or play aggressively for wins depending on your own personal tournament situation,” said Philip Keisler, member of the A-Team. “In a team tournament, the risk you take on the board is much more about how your other boards and other team members are doing, because it’s about winning every game, not necessarily winning. get your personal best score This can lead to different situations during the match which are sometimes a bit more complex.

A-team member Saumik Naraayanan also noted some of the complexities of team play. “You have to pay more attention to your teammates as well as yourself,” he said. “In some scenarios, if you only need a draw to win the game, even if you win, you can just draw to help your team.”

The tournament was held at the Marriott at Washington Dulles Airport. Before each round, pairings were released, allowing teams to prepare for their opponents. Then the teams would play together against their opponents, aiming to have a cumulative positive score.

“The pairings don’t come out until an hour before the round, but usually we can figure out how we’re going to play,” Naraayanan said. “We will determine who is going to play… what color we are going to be, then we prepare all the openings. Usually we can figure out which opening our opponents were going to play by doing research online. Depending on what openings you think they were going to play, we would try to set up our counters, and maybe we would have our own surprise.

Keisler further described some of the team preparation that took place before the rounds that helped individual players conduct their matches better. “[Pre-round], we all go into preparation mode because in chess the first move to really gain an advantage is in the opening if you can outplay your opponent,” Keisler said. “If your opponent is playing the Nimzo-Indian, ‘how can I find a tricky sideline that I know better than them?’ We were all getting ready for each other, so Saumik was helping me out with some lines [and] Nick would go to his computer and look for a bunch of crazy lines that we could sacrifice a bunch of gear on. Then we all went to the board together to start playing our games next to each other.

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