Webster University rolls to 7th Pan-Am title!

Webster University (2018 Pan-Am Champions)

from left to right: FM Justus Williams (Team C), FM Josh Colas (Team C), Shawn Swindell (Team C), GM Peter Prohaszka (Team B), GM Emilio Cordova (Team B), NM Aaron Grabinsky (Team C), GM Susan Polgar (coach), GM Vasif Durarbayli (Team B), GM Yuniesky Quesada (Team A), GM Lazaro Bruzon (Team A), GM Illia Nyzhnyk (Team A), GM Jorge Cori (Team A), GM Aleksandr Shimanov (Team B), Tom Polgar-Shutzman (Team C)

When I played for Chicago State University in the 1981 Pan-Am Intercollegiate tournament held in New York, we were 28th out of 71 teams in the eight-round tournament. The highest-rated team was the defending champion University of Toronto who had IM Illias Kourkounikas on top board.

An exchange student from Greece, he was the strongest player in the tournament and they successfully defended their title they won in Atlanta the previous year. Toronto had FM Ian Findlay and John Pajak who scored well, but there were a spattering of other strong masters in the tournament including a team from the Dominican Republic with an IM on board one.

The Pan-Am had none of the powerhouses that you have today with a collection of foreign Grandmasters. At the 2018 Pan-Ams, the field had 32 GMs and 24 IMs along with approximately 30 other FIDE titled players. Incidentally, the top performer in this tournament was named “Illia” … GM Illia Nyzhnyk.

Back in December while the world was following the World Rapid and Blitz, approximately 50 teams came from all over the U.S. to participate in the Pan-Am Intercollegiate Tournament hosted by Bay Area Chess in San Francisco, California. There were several teams with full Olympiad-quality teams featuring four Grandmasters. Most of these players were recruited from abroad and include some elite names such as Cuban GM Lazaro Bruzon who is in his first year at Webster.

Maurice Ashley presents $30,000 winner’s check to St. Louis University’s GM Dariusz Swiercz at 2016 Millionaire Chess Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Other names are Grandmasters Dariusz Swiercz (St. Louis University), Kamil Dragun (Univ. of Texas-Rio Grande Valley) and David Berczes (Univ. of Texas-Dallas). Interestingly enough most of the top schools are not well-known or satellite campuses, but chess has given many of these institutions a strong brand awareness. There are a number of former scholastic stars including GM Darwin Yang (Harvard), GM Akshat Chandra (St. Louis University) and IM Atulya Shetty (Univ. of Michigan). Unfortunately, Stanford could did not sponsor a team that would be lead by GM Daniel Naroditsky.

I visited Webster University in 2016 just after covering the World Championships in New York. In addition, I came to check up on Webster players, Justus Williams and Josh Colas who I covered since they were scholastic players. The campus is not particularly scenic, but in the SPICE building you can get a sense of how serious the chess program is. It resembles a laboratory with tables a handsome collection of books and an open area for their exercise regiment.

Webster University’s SPICE (St. Louis)
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Susan Polgar and Paul Truong are the wife-and-husband team who have generated years of success with a very finely-tooled system that creates successful results. Webster brought three teams to the Pan-Ams with Webster “A” (2737), Webster “B” (2665) and Webster “C” (2389) representing the “Gorlocks,” the team’s mascot.

With GMs Nyzhnyk, Bruzon, Yuniesky Quesada, and Jorge Cori, the A-team had a powerful lineup, but stumbled in the second round when UT-Dallas “C” held them to a draw! Both Bruzon and Quesada fell to IM Titas Stremavicius and IM Zurab Javakhadze, respectively. The Swiss Gambit worked out as they won out in the remaining four rounds including wins over St. Louis “A” and Texas Tech “A” ending on 5.5/6.

As far as the other Webster teams, the “B” was in the running for the title and beat runner-up Univ. of Texas-Dallas “A” tremendously helping their “A” team. They tallied an undefeated 5/6 points and came in 3rd place with a qualification to the “President’s Cup” chess tournament this spring. However, Webster will only be allowed one team so UTRGV will get the next spot by virtue of tiebreaks. Incidentally UTRGV are the defending champions of the President’s Cup and last year broke Webster’s five-year run. They will join Webster, Univ. of Texas-Dallas, and Harvard in this year’s “Final Four” event.

Harvard University was a surprise and the players had to pay their own way to the tournament. With GM Darwin Wang leading the Crimson into battle, the team was actually sparked by National Master Bryan Hu’s 5.5/6. They upset St. Louis University “B” in the last round to qualify for the President’s Cup.

Webster “C” ended on 3/6 with Justus Williams and Tom Polgar-Shutzman leading the way with 4/6. University of Toronto was mentioned earlier. While they are not the team they once were, their Hart House Chess Club won the best international school.

The top team teams were:

Full Results

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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