After winning his first three rounds, FM Muhammad would receive a stiff test by facing FM Martinez. It was a few years ago that the young Cuban blazed onto the scholastic scene (after emigrating from Cuba) to win the U.S. Junior Championship. Muhammad would play level with Martinez and continue on the top boards where the IM sharks were hungry and waiting. In the 5th round, IM Gonzalez would try to derail FM Muhammad, but allowed too much of a spatial advantage, became cramped and saw his position crumble after relentless pressure. He resigned before losing a decisive amount of material.
The penultimate round would feature a Muhammad-Lugo matchup which lived up to its billing. This match was tactical from the beginning and it appeared that Lugo had strong initiative out of the opening. A middlegame tactical skirmish ensued as the two titans went toe-to-toe with one blow after another… like another Ali-Frazier fight! Lugo played several sacrifices in a row to expose the white king, but Muhammad refused to panic, tactically repelled the attack, and pocketed two exchanges. This sent Lugo reeling backwards. Muhammad returned one exchange to get his passed pawns rolling. The only hope Lugo had left was his menacing central pawn mass. However, he had to sac his last piece to stop white from queening and the remaining rook mopped up the pawn mass. Certainly a crowd-pleaser!!
So it was… FM Muhammad wins another state championship in dramatic fashion! The winner of the Wilbert Paige Memorial, FM Muhammad has sights on earning two more IM norms to close out his quest for the coveted title. Congratulations FM Muhammad!
Muhammad-IM Renier Gonzalez, 1-0.
Muhammad-IM Blas Lugo, 1-0.
Posted by The Chess Drum: 6 September 2001