In Online Chess, Don’t Turn Draws into Losses

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Turning a draw into a loss and only drawing when one’s team needed a win both happened in the two most recent U.S. Amateur Team Championships. Two heart-breaking chess positions are discussed in this article, though undoubtedly more than two sad games were played.

Previously, I reported on the U.S. Amateur Team Championship-West. There was also the U.S. Amateur Team Championship-East (USATE), on February 13-14. All four of the U.S. Amateur Team Championships were held online in 2021.

No Internet

Due to a record-breaking Texas storm wreaking havoc on my Internet, I did not follow the USATE. My Internet was restored to full reliability on Wednesday afternoon, February 17. I was back online in time for the U.S. Amateur Team Championship-North (USATN) and U.S. Amateur Team Championship-South (USATS). I saw two heart-breaking situations. Probably, there were dozens that I didn’t see. The two positions that I did see, however, are worth discussing in detail.

USATN

Thanks to Premier Chess (Evan Rabin’s) Twitch stream, I followed the USATN on February 20-21. I was a guest on the second day of the USATN stream, joining many chess stars (listed in this blog posting).

On the first day of the USATN, in Round 2 of the six-round tournament, Nathan Holzmueller (2163 US Chess rating) reached a drawn position against International Master Josiah Stearman  (2472). Stearman, as Black, has just played 55…Rg2-h2+. It looks like White will lose a rook on h7 because of Black skewering the white king to the white rook. So White resigned. Instead, White should have drawn! Do you see how?

Click to reveal the solution

Kg5 Rxh7 57. Ra8+! Kf7 58. Ra7+

and if the black king wants to escape the white rook’s checks, for example 58…Ke6 then 59. Rxh7 regains the rook.

While resigning instead of drawing against an International Master was a personal tragedy for Holzmueller, it didn’t matter for his team’s Round 2 result. That is, Holzmueller’s teammates had lost two games and drawn a third game. Even if Holzmueller had won against Stearman on Board 1, Holzmueller’s team would have lost that four-board match.

Chess Weekend ran the USATN, which was won by the team named “a happy jubilant pawn.” A happy jubilant pawn’s first board was 2019 U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Yu, who drew Stearman in round 6 to secure her team’s victory with 5.5 of 6 match points.

USATS

Rabin streamed the USATS on February 27-28. The Texas Chess Association ran the USATS, with results found on this Dallas Chess Club page.

In Round 5, Board 1 of Logic Lab (Erick Zhao, 2304) had to win against Board 1 of Narein’s Disciples (Raghav Venkat, 2308). If Zhao drew, his team would lose the match because his Board Two and Board Four teammates had drawn but his Board 3 teammate had lost.

Black (Venkat) would like to sacrifice his rook for White’s h-pawn and, on the next move, pick up White’s a-pawn with his king. If both of White’s pawns are eliminated, White’s lone bishop can, at best, draw against Black’s doubled c-pawns. Therefore, White must hold onto his a-pawn to preserve winning chances. What would you play for move 52 for White, in this must-win position?

Zhao plays 52. Bg5. His idea is probably to block the black rook from attacking the h-pawn as it moves toward h8, perhaps with Bg7, or maybe Kf7 and Bf8. However, White’s move leaves the a-pawn undefended. Black is now able to draw.

The winning try for White is in the click solution box.

Click to reveal the solution

h7 Rxh7 53. Kxh7 c5 Kg6 c4 55. Kg7 Kc5 56. Bc3 Kc6 57. Kg6 Kc5 58. Kf6 Kb5 59. Ke7 Ka6 60. Kd8 c6 61. Ke7 Kb5 62. Ke8 Ka6 63. Kd7 c5 64. Kc8 Ka7 65. Kc7 Ka8 66. Kb6 Kb8 67.
Kc6 Ka8 68. Kd7 Ka7 69. Ke7 Kb8 70. Ke6 Kb7 71. Kd6 Ka8 72. Ke5 Kb7 73. Kd5 Ka7 Kxc5 Kb7 75. Kb4 Kb8 *

In the sixth and final round, Narain’s Disciples tied its match with “A Hairy Jittery Knight.” Venkat lost on Board 1, Board 2 (Nicolas Alejandro De La Colina) and Board 4 (Rohun Trakru) drew, and Board 3, Sharvesh Deviprasath, won. Deviprasath won all six of his games over the weekend. Since Narain’s Disciples led the field by a full match point going into Round 6, a tied match was enough to win the tournament with 5.5 match points out of six rounds.

All U.S Amateur Team Championships’ results are pending “fair play” review. Later this spring, the winning teams from USATW, USATE, USATN, and USATS will play against each other online to determine the national U.S. Amateur Team Champion.

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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