Final Four of College Chess won by UTRGV

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The Final Four of College Chess was won by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), for the second year in a row. Webster University (Webster) was second. The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) was third. And Harvard University (Harvard) was fourth. This article provides round-by-round results and two chess problems, taken from games in rounds 2 and 3.

First, the round-by-round results. For each game, a win is worth 1 point and a draw is worth .5 points. Each round featured four players from each team. In the Final Four of College Chess, formally known as the President’s Cup, the game points determine the winner. UTRGV not only scored more game points than its rivals but also won all of its rounds. Surprisingly, no one who entered the SparkChess contest picked UTRGV to win in 2019.

UTRGV Chess Team
The champs: UTRGV
Photo by Dan Lucas, courtesy of US Chess

UTRGV:

  • Round One: 3-1 over UT Dallas
  • Round Two: 3.5-1.5 over Harvard
  • Round Three: 2.5 to 1.5 over Webster
  • Total: 9 of 12 points for UTRGV

Webster: 

  • Round One: 3-1 over Harvard
  • Round Two: 2-2 tie with UT Dallas
  • Round Three: lost 1.5-2.5 to UTRGV
  • Total: 6.5 of 12 points for Webster
Webster University chess team
Webster chess team, 2nd place
Photo by Dan Lucas, courtesy of US Chess

UT Dallas:

  • Round One: lost 1-3 to UTRGV
  • Round Two: tied 2-2 with Webster
  • Round Three: won 2.5-1.5 over Harvard
  • Total: 5.5 of 12 points for UT Dallas

Harvard:

  • Round One: lost 1-3 to Webster
  • Round Two: lost .5-3.5 to UTRGV
  • Round Three: lost 1.5-2.5 to UT Dallas
  • Total: 3 of 12 points for Harvard

 In round 2, Grandmaster Vladimir Belous (UTRGV) had White against Harvard’s fourth board, National Master Bryan Hu. Here is the position right after Black’s 15th move. What do you think White should play on move 16?

[pgn][SetUp “1”]
[FEN “r4rk1/1pqn1pbp/p1p1p3/2PpN3/3PpP2/4P3/PP1B2PP/R2Q1RK1 w – – 1 16”]

16. Ba5 Qc8

({Taking the pawn leads to a worse game for Black.} 16… Qxa5 17. Nxd7 Rfe8 18. Nb6 Rad8 19. Rb1 Qxa2

(19… Qb4 20. a3 Qb5 21. b4 Qd3 22. Qxd3 exd3 23. Rb3 {and White will win the d-pawn.})

20. b4 {Threatening to trap the black Q with Rf2 followed by Rb3} Bxd4 21. exd4 {And White has a large advantage.})

17. Nxd7 Qxd7 18. f5 {And White has an initiative.} exf5 19. Qh5 Rae8 20. Rxf5 Re6 21. Raf1 {Bringing his remaining rook into the attack.} Rh6 22. Qg4 Rg6 23. Qh3 Rh6 24. Qg3 Rg6 25. Qh4 Bh6 26. Qh3 Kh8 27. Kf2 Rfg8 28. Ke1 R8g7 29. g4 Bg5 30. Qg3 Bd8 31. Qb8

(31. Bxd8 Qxd8 32. Rxf7 Rxf7 33. Rxf7 Rg7 34. Qe5 {This line is even stronger than what White chose, but White is winning either way.})

31… Rg8 32. Bxd8 Rxd8 33. Qe5+ Kg8 34. Rxf7 Qxg4 35. Qe7 {And Black resigns.} 1-0[/pgn]

From my home in Texas, I watched the game and listened to commentary provided by Grandmasters Maxim Dlugy and Irina Krush. Krush bet Dlugy 25 cents that White would not play 16. Ba5. Dlugy was exuberant when Belous played the move. Use the interactive game above to see why it was such a great move. You can use the Prev/Next buttons below the board or click on a move so see how it would play.

Since I work for UT Dallas, I watched the UT Dallas games in every round. The top board for UT Dallas is Grandmaster Anton Kovalyov, who defeated former World Champion Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand in a 2017 World Cup match. As Kovalyov mentioned in this World Cup video, he is studying for a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at UT Dallas.

In the 2019 Final Four of College Chess, Kovalyov drew in rounds 1 and 2. But in round 3, he won his game against Harvard’s Grandmaster Darwin Yang. Before you find Kovalyov’s move, here are some definitions you will need to know. Winning an exchange means gaining a rook for the cost of a minor piece. A minor piece is either a bishop or a knight. And the reason it’s called a “minor” piece as that it cannot deliver checkmate in an endgame with just kings. That is, king and bishop versus king is a draw, as is king and knight versus king. In contrast, a major piece (a queen or a rook) can checkmate with just a king’s help in an endgame with no other material. A king and queen versus king is a win; likewise, king and rook versus king is also a win.

After move 37 (White’s move 38) in Kovalyov-Yang, how did Kovalyov win an exchange?

[pgn][SetUp “1”]
[FEN “2b1qr1k/2n2rpp/p7/1p1pPpRP/1P1P1Q1N/1P5B/5P1K/6R1 w – – 4 38”]

38. Ng6+ Kg8

({Black cannot capture the N on g6.} 38… hxg6 39. hxg6 {with the devastating threat of Qh4+ followed by Qh7#} Kg8 40. Qh4 Qxe5+ 41. dxe5 Re8 42. Rh5 Rxe5 43. Rh8#)

39. Nxf8 Qxf8

{White has a material advantage and Black’s pieces are cramped behind his own pawns.}

40. Qd2 Ne6 41. R5g2 Qe7 42. Rc1 Bb7 43. f4 Qh4 44. Rf2 Qxh5 45. Qe3 Qh4 46. Kg1

{However, White has trouble penetrating Black’s position. Notice White’s rook can’t get to the 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th ranks, due to Black’s bishop and knight.}

g5

{This pawn break by Black backfires, as it ends up helping White access Black’s position.}

47. fxg5 Nxg5 48. Rg2 f4 49. Qe1 Qh6 50. e6 Rg7 51. e7

{White will either promote the e-pawn or win material, so Black resigned.} 1-0[/pgn]

Had Kovalyov drawn instead of won, UT Dallas would have tied its last round with Harvard, as the UT Dallas students playing boards 2, 3, and 4 drew their games. Next up for all the Final Four of College Chess students: final exams at their respective universities, and the end of another school year.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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