The Saint Louis University (SLU) team earned its spot in the President’s Cup by being the first to win the 2022 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship with a perfect score. The winners will join the Final Four along with UT Dallas and Texas Tech, who both finished 5/6, and the fourth and final spot goes to Webster on 4.5/6 tiebreaks.
Four other teams scored 4.5/6, most notably The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) who lost to SLU in the final round and the University of Chicago (UChicago) who tied against the B team in the final round from Webster. UTRGV has won the President’s Cup for the past three years in a row, so a new champion will be crowned this year.
Here’s a recap of some of the highlights from the tournament. You can find the games here, watch the tournament broadcasts on our Twitch channel, and you can check out all the team and individual results here or on vachess.org.
In the first round, WGM Maili-Jade Ouellet from 30th seed UTRGV B played against GM Cemil Can Ali Marandi from 2nd seed SLU. The SLU GM placed his rook on a precarious square and Ouellet immediately took advantage and forced him to sacrifice the exchange for a pawn. She eventually managed to convert the exchange against Ali Marandi’s pair of bishops, forcing him to resign after 72 moves.
In the second round, another WGM and GM faced each other, but this time between the 15th-seeded team from Harvard and SLU. WGM Jennifer Yu managed to win two clean pawns against GM Nikolas Theodorou when she started to slip under time pressure.
The grandmaster had 19 and a half minutes against Yu’s 90 seconds. She lived off the increment and made the last 10 moves of the game with less than a minute on her clock. Her opponent was able to win back one of his pawns before settling for a draw.
In another second round game, Dang Nguyen of 24th seed UT Austin B played FM Ezra Chambers of seventh seed Webster B. In this dramatic game, Dang sacrificed the Queen to get an exciting material imbalance and finally a complicated two rooks and two pawns against queen endgame.
It looked like the queen could hold the draw with a perpetual, but Dang was able to push the pawns forward and protect the king enough to progress in what was a 100+ move game.
The same round also saw another upset from NM Howard Zhong of 18th seed MIT against #1 seeded Webster A’s GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista. Howard was able to trade in a tie rook and pawn endgame, with the players agreeing a draw. Unfortunately for the MIT team, these would be their only points of the round as the powerhouse Webster team won on the remaining three boards.
In round three, the SLU team faced the Webster B team in a tie in the fourth and final game between SLU’s GM’s Dariusz Swiercz and Webster’s Yuniesky Quesada Perez.
What appeared to be a certain draw in rook and pawn versus rook and two pawns, Swiercz continued the fight on a pawn, crushing his opponent until he broke through. Yuniesky blundered by continuing his rook checks when he had to defend his last remaining pawn.
The win for Swiercz maintained SLU’s winning streak in what would otherwise have been their first draw of the tournament.
In round four, SLU had another close encounter against Texas Tech this time. GM Benjamin Bok was able to take the lone win in the match by ruining his opponent’s pawn structure and creating a strong passed pawn. His opponent IM Samuel Schmakel resigned on move 49.
This round also saw another very close match between UChicago and UT Dallas. Chicago’s top two players GM’s Awonder Liang and Praveen Balakrishnan drew against IM’s Guillermo Vazquez and Ivan Schitco, and Chicago’s board three IM Zhaozhi Li drew against IM David Brodsky.
The entire match came down to fourth boards FM Kapil Chandran from Chicago and IM Rahul Srivatshav Peddi from Dallas. Rahul was able to gain an extra pawn one square away from promotion when Kapil had one last chance at a stalemate. Kapil took the extra pawn on move 44, and if Rahul took back it would have been a stalemate. Rahul wisely avoided the immediate capture and gave a series of checks to win the rook and the game.
The Dutch GM Bok got in the clutch again for SLU against UT Dallas in round five. Again, he was able to take the only win in the match against IM Brian Escalante to win the match 2.5-1.5.
The all-female SLU B team also saw success in round five against UC San Diego. The ladies won the game 3-1 with two wins and two draws.
One of their wins came from FM Thalia Cervantes over Sudhir Vasudevan, and their other win came from FM Gabriela Antova over San Diego leader NM Richard Yi. The SLU B team finished in 4/6, which tied for 9th place and good enough for 10th place on a tiebreak basis and won the Best Female Team award.
Their opponents, UC San Diego, also did well for themselves, similarly scoring 4/6, finishing in 12th place despite being the 44th seeded team. They also won the main prize for the head and the team prize for the best division 6.
In the sixth and final round, many teams competed for a spot in this year’s Final Four. SLU and UTRGV played on table one with SLU at 5/5 and UTRGV at 4.5/5. Thanks to Theodorou’s win over GM Ulvi Bajarani, SLU would win the match 2.5-1.5 and finish the perfect tournament and take first place in the Final Four.
Six other teams were all tied at 4/5. Texas Tech would play against Yale, UT Dallas would play against SLU B, and UChicago would play against Webster B. All of these top four-table teams have scholarship programs, except UChicago and Yale, which finished first and third respectively in the previous Collegiate Chess League season.
UChicago and Webster B split the game 2-2 and Yale would fall 1.5-2.5 for the Texas Tech team. With this win, Texas Tech would improve to 5/6 and secure a spot in the President’s Cup, and UT Dallas hit their ticket to the Final Four with a 3-1 win against SLU B.
With the tie between Chicago and Webster B, they were now tied at 4.5/6 along with UTRGV. They had to wait and see which team would make it to the last place. Two other teams would rise to join them, Webster A after beating Mizzou, and UT Dallas B after beating Harvard. Once the dust settled, Webster A finished with the strongest tiebreaks and would take the fourth and final spot in the President’s Cup.
Maybe SLU will finally win it all for the first time after their clear first outing at the PanAms last weekend. Their best performance in the Final Four came last year when they took second place, losing only to UTRGV.
SLU still has stiff competition standing in their way as Webster, Texas Tech and UT Dallas strive to reclaim their title. Webster has won the championship five times in a row between 2013 and 2017, Texas Tech has won the President’s Cup two times in a row before that from 2011 to 2012, and UT Dallas has won the President’s Cup four times since its inception in 2001. President’s Cup is likely to be held in April and the venue is currently being determined. Stay tuned for location and broadcast updates!