Why USATE is the perfect tournament

There exist a variety of tournaments that chess players can participate in, ranging from heavily monetized events, such as the Millionaire Chess event, which had three iterations before quiescence, or the long-running World Open, to the completely non-monetized local events, such as those run for scholastics by the Right Move. Within that broad spectrum of money versus not money chess lives a unique event, an annual affair that has been hosted in Parsippany, NJ for ages, featuring an affordable chess weekend of team play that draws players of all levels to participate for trophy, status, and joyful competition. This year’s event boasted 1167 participants inundating the two hotel complex of the Parsippany Hilton. Wandering the festival atmosphere leads players to stumble into games and analysis happening on any surface that will hold a chess board, with discussion ranging from the most basic to the most arcane. It is a huge festival of chess, where opportunities abound to compete against every level of player. It is the most cheerful event that I have had the opportunity to attend. Everyone should find a way to make this journey sometime in their career.

The Capitol District sent multiple teams this year, including two teams from the Schenectady club. Today’s game features the efforts of my teammate on the chess league team Geezers, playing here for the Schenectady B team. John Phillips is a previous champion of the club, and is capable of turning out a game that most of us only dream of playing, filled with unusual stratagems and tactical ripostes that overwhelm an uninspired opponent. In this particular game John features an opening that I have been playing for decades. While I have moved on to other passions, John raises the flag in support of the Leningrad Dutch, showing in exemplary fashion the attacking possibilities that this line offers the aggressive player. Enjoy!

How Deep? Sandeep…

All of us wonder from time to time about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Science fiction fans regale us with the story of how a super computer the size of a small city, named Deep Thought eventually arrived at THE answer. It took eons of profound calculation, but the ultimate truth turned out to be the prophetic number 42. And so the much older and wiser head scratching human race had to go back to the drawing board and propose a better question. Lesson learned, that while we might arrive at a final answer to some conundrum, it is the questions we ask along the way that often prove most important.


In the not so science fiction world of global commerce, International Business Machine invented Deep Blue, a highly specialized super computer to defeat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov.  The take away from that victory of machine over wo/man, is that the best computer could overcome human-kind’s elite champion in a highly specialized and complex task.

ChessKids with Sandeep

Now that we are collectively bested by machines in our chess endeavors, we can say to ourselves and the machines: “Your good at chess, better than me, but how good is your Kung-Fu?” Are your tactics and positional notions as good as Sandeep Alampalli is at debate? Could a computer or even a super computer draw a National Master in chess AND win first place in the NY State History Competition like Sandeep did? Can silicon based artificial intelligence also gain a Black Belt, attend Youth Court and remain the teenage President of Make the Right Move for two years? Can any hardware or software combination boast that it also serves as a regional Secretary of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT)?

Brother John 2015

The simple answer to the questions above is not 42, but NO. Sorry DeepMind, you may well be Google’s AI victory of software over humans in the game of GO, but you only do one thing really well. Sandeep Alampalli does many things exceptionally.


Here is a game in which Sandeep, a growing and thriving student at Albany Academies, invested much thought facing Simon Yelsky, a National Master in the 4th round of the Parsippany, NJ World Amateur Team Championship. Can you follow his depth of thought?

Chess Table at Albany Academies

Deep thought in NJ
Deep thought in NJ





2016 US Amateur Team East: amazingly inexplicable

Greetings, everybody. As usual, I thought I’d say a bit about the Schenectady Chess Club’s representation at the annual US Amateur Team East tournament in Parsippany, New Jersey over Presidents’ Day weekend. This year’s experience was rather different from our usual story, so I’m a little puzzled about how to describe it. But perhaps something will come to me if I just jump in.

We assembled two teams for the club this year:

Schenectady Amazing Inexplicables

  1. Philip Sells (C)
  2. Patrick Pagano
  3. John Phillips
  4. Richard Chu


Schenectady Awesome Upstarts

  1. Zachary Calderon
  2. Martha Samadashvili
  3. Sandeep Alampalli
  4. Herman Calderon (C)

Curiously, the Amazing Inexplicables consisted entirely of garden-variety club members who were all simultaneously playing in the annual club championship this year, while the Awesome Upstarts’ lineup had no such members at all (though it did contain the current holder of the Schenectady club championship, that being Zachary).

This post will concentrate on the Amazing Inexplicables’ journey through the tournament, as I have very little information on how things went for the Awesome Upstarts. If you’ve read my posts about past editions of this event, you know how much I like to recap things round by round in considerable detail, but this year I only have that kind of information as it pertains to my own team. There was also a team representing the Albany Area Chess Club – hopefully they’ll chime in at some point with their tale.

Continue reading “2016 US Amateur Team East: amazingly inexplicable”

One of the Schenectady Teams at the 2011 US Amateur Team East

Hello out there!

It’s time for a report on things that happened at the US Amateur Team East (or, if you insist, the ‘World Amateur Team’ as organizer Steve Doyle now styles it–as you’ll see from the story below, it wasn’t a total exaggeration this year). The Schenectady Chess Club fielded two squads, one being ‘Favre Snaps A Pawn,’ of which I was captain, and the other being ‘Chess Club Bailout’, led by club member John Phillips. A third team, made up of scholastic standouts from the Albany area, had an indirect connection with the club, as two of its players are or have been club members. I regret that I can only cover here in detail the doings of the team of which I was part; hopefully, someone with greater knowledge of the other teams’ play-by-play progress in Parsippany will put up a blog entry here. I, for one, would love to hear about their experiences.

The roster of ‘Favre Snaps A Pawn’ was a little different from the past couple of years. I played board one, followed by Alan LeCours, Bill Townsend and Phil Ferguson as options on board three, and club president Richard Chu on board four. Phil had things that could need his attention back home at any moment, so we lined up Bill as an alternate.

Our first round was on table ten, just outside the ropes. Unlike in the past couple of years in our first-round match, we were clean shut out. This was a bit of a disappointment since, though we’re always paired well up in the first round, we usually come away with at least something from these first-round matchups. I played Black against FM Oliver Kniest from Solingen, who’s at school in Boston. It was an interesting back-and-forth game. At one point, I played 26…Rxe3, which came as a rather unpleasant surprise to my opponent. I mention this only because it dawned on me much later that I had carried out the action suggested in our team name–I’d snapped a pawn! The game was very complicated, though, and I was behind on the clock (I know, what a surprise); eventually I turned a winning position into a dead loss due to the time pressure. I thought we carried some decent chances in some of our other games, but in the end we had all succumbed. This was the toughest team we were to face all weekend.

The round after that was easier. We were paired well down this time, and scored 3.5/4, with Alan taking the only draw of the match. Ferguson was the first of us to win; his opponent was for some reason wearing a funny moose hat, which I thought at first was serving as a team ‘costume’. None of this gentleman’s teammates saw fit to follow his lead, either on this point or in terms of his opening play, which was apparently careless enough to land him in serious trouble with Phil as early as move seven, to judge from the self-deprecatory chuckling that I was hearing from that area. Richard also won quickly, playing a young boy. My opponent lasted rather longer, but that was because I was taking a considerable amount of time trying to refute his strange system against the Yugoslav Attack. He explained to me in postmortem that he and his brother had worked up this setup between themselves, and apparently the brother in particular has done well with it. But he also noted that my treatment of the line was the most pressure to which their setup had ever been subjected, and that because of this, he admitted that it would need some more work.

Round three saw us all the way down on table 70, which was our lowest location for the weekend. We were still in the grand ballroom, but because accelerated pairings were now done with, we were well and truly in the middle of the pack. Again, being paired down helped our cause, and we scored another 3.5/4. I got the draw this time, after Richard and Bill Townsend won their games (I had put Bill in on board three so he could get warmed up in view of Phil’s inevitable departure). My opponent, Jonathan Pagan, played fairly well; I tried out the Sveshnikov, which I sometimes do these days against lower-rated players, and this time it didn’t give me very much, as Pagan was fairly familiar with the ideas. I thought I had a bit of a bite, but in the end couldn’t get any real play and settled for a repetition. But that won us the match, at least. The other games were pretty routine for our side, as far as I could tell from a distance.

Round four was made interesting by the fact that we were paired against a team of unrated youth players from China–Harbin, specifically. Here was a great advertisement for the tournament’s alternate name of World Amateur Team Championship! Two of these squads from China, with players ranging in age from perhaps eight to maybe fourteen or so (according to FIDE, my opponent’s birth year is 1999, so he’s about twelve years old at this writing), had traveled to the US specifically to play in this tournament! None of their players had USCF ratings, of course, and I don’t believe any were FIDE-rated, though my opponent, Tong Xiao, is listed currently on FIDE’s website as unrated, but with some experience against rated players. In any case, it seemed to me on the basis of what happened in our game that the boy is going to have a respectable FIDE rating before too long. This time, I got to play another Sveshnikov… with White! Knowing what I do about the rigorous Chinese approach to training in just about everything, I assumed that my opponent would be well prepared in the Bxf6 main lines, so I went for the branch with 9.Nd5. Here again, he knew the book line pretty well, and I actually couldn’t remember the theory beyond move 18 for some reason. As we approached the endgame, I learned that Phil had gotten a lost position on board three. I wasn’t too worried yet. Perhaps if I had seen how Richard’s game was going, I might have been more concerned, because Richard told me afterward that he was basically losing, but his young opponent just happened to drop material at a crucial moment, which turned things around for us and evened the match. I eventually won a rather interesting double-rook ending. Alan fought on for a long time trying to use his slight material advantage, but eventually took a draw in order to secure the match for us, 2.5-1.5, rather than risk making a mistake. This gave our team a 3-1 score going into the final day of the weekend–not a bad place to be. For the remainder of the tournament, though, we no longer had Phil available on board three for us.

On the last morning of the event, we were paired up on table 30. Again the round-five blues struck, as has happened to us before, and we lost 1-3. I found myself playing a Hedgehog setup against a strong Expert, which I haven’t tried in some time; I had a decent game going, but time pressure again caused me to err, losing a piece, then more material later. Once more the clock had caused me to turn a pretty good position into a dead loss! Richard also lost. Bill had taken a draw on board three, which was actually not a bad result, considering that he was pretty rusty and playing an Expert. My game finished third in line, and that left Alan soldiering on, trying to save our honor. It seemed that he was about to do so when, in a minor-piece ending, his opponent made a blunder, but Alan got his move order wrong and found himself in a dead draw instead.

In the final round, we were on table 49, which happened to be in the exact middle of the room, where the lighting was rather poor due to the arrangement of the fixtures. It was an odd match. Richard’s game finished first–in fact, while the rest of us were still in the opening, he and his opponent were already well into the endgame, which ended up drawn soon. My game featured what I felt was slightly passive play from my opponent, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the position. Suddenly I found myself losing a pawn, which I tried to pass off with an air of confidence. As I played on, about the only thing I had going for me was my bishop pair. After a long time, this became influential enough to induce a repetition from my opponent, which I accepted rather gratefully–I knew that this ‘executive decision’ would put a certain amount of pressure on my teammates, but there was no way I could squeeze a win from the position I had. Much to my relief, Bill won his game when his opponent walked into a lost pawn ending. That left Alan with our last game, which seemed to involve a lot of subtle maneuvering from both sides. The sporting situation suggested that Alan’s opponent would buckle down and at least make some serious effort to win, but instead, perhaps not being up for a long fight into the wee hours, he extended a draw offer, which Alan accepted. So a very close win for us, 2.5-1.5! (Curiously, the Albany-area scholastic team was playing our opponents from round three at this time.)

That put us on four points, which turned out once again to be “close, but no cigar,” as a rival team with a relatively low rating average, but still in our rating class, had performed very well to reach 4.5 points. I don’t remember how our other team did in the end, sadly; nor do I know for certain what the final result for the scholastic team was, though I believe they reached 3.5 points, which strikes me as commendable.

Our team’s individual scores were:

    Philip Sells          3/6
    Alan LeCours     3/6
    Phil Ferguson      1/3
    Bill Townsend     2.5/3
    Richard Chu       3.5/6

So Richard was our top individual scorer! Congratulations! I also want to point out Bill Townsend’s undefeated record, which was not due only to his abbreviated playing schedule–he showed considerable focus on the last day, fighting through fatigue to keep us in the race. Alan was also playing a good anchor role on board two. Phil Ferguson, of course, was the pirate of the bunch! Again, I thank the team for allowing me to serve as captain, and I’m grateful to the Schenectady Chess Club for all of its support.

[Edit: changed the title to make the number of teams more clear]

Report from USATE 2010

Hello, you readers out there!

I was brought into the writing group on this blog on the premise that I would be producing a timely report on the Schenectady A team at the US Amateur Team East a couple of weeks ago. Well, timely or not, I’ve decided to write something, at least, even if it’s not of the best quality. I’ve been trying to educate myself about the use of Blogspot’s features and have learned a little bit, but it has taken me some time to get the hang of it. One of the other things I’ve been trying to do is figure out a method of game display for blogs like this. Various possibilities have crossed my path, but one of the more appealing ones that I eventually decided upon is shown in action on my own blog, to which I’ll link for the detailed analysis of these games that I’m going to show you.

To start off, as Alan mentioned in his post (beating me to the punch to a degree), the Schenectady Chess Club fielded two teams for the event this year, the higher-rated of which consisted of this writer and Messrs. LeCours, Barnes and Townsend in that order. We’ve had the good fortune to field almost the same team with few alterations in the lineup for a couple of years in succession. We took the moniker Beans & Rice Gambit: Recession-Proof Opening for this occasion (henceforth ‘Beans & Rice’ for short). This was my conception, in the hope of appealing to the organizer’s whimsical predilection for topical and punny team names. We might be in the running for best team name this year! Worth a try. The other team featured our clubmates Messrs. Phillips, Chu (the club president and captain of his team), Northrup, and Eson; their team took the name Leko my Greco, which is catchy for those of us who like waffles and Hungarian chess masters.

There were a couple of other teams in the competition whose doings would have been of some interest to players in our region. I remember seeing a team from the Hudson Valley, I think, on which Ernest Johnson was playing first board, for example. Jon Leisner from the Saratoga area was heading up a team of old friends of his from high school (maybe? I forget exactly). There was a scholastic team from the Capital Region containing a couple of youths from Kingston, the Albany area (including an old student of mine), and one pick-up member from downstate. I didn’t get a chance to follow these teams much, being absorbed in our own struggles.

We didn’t actually decide on who was going to captain our team until we were sitting at the board for the first round. I took on the duty, figuring it was basically my turn anyway (there’s been a kind of rotation among us in practice–as I said, team composition remaining pretty stable from one year to the next, this is easy to arrange). For this first round, we were at table three (!), which is the highest I myself have ever reached at this event so far. Our opponents were Khodarkovsky’s MACademia, featuring the strong (2400) master Mackenzie Molner on board 1 (I think he’ll start reaching for the IM title soon), and several other good players such as Chris Wu and Sean Finn; I forget who their fourth board was. Since they were on table three to start with, they were obviously one of the top-seeded teams in the crosstable, so we knew it would be a challenge to get something from this match. But in the past couple of years, playing up in the first round in similar circumstances, we had often come away with upset match draws, so we were hardly without hope in this case. And it seemed to me that our new team shirts, provided thanks to Alan’s efforts, would inspire some confidence in the wearers.

In the event, the only one of us not to lose was John Barnes, who played very well to upset his 2100+ opponent. John often punches well above his weight at this tournament, and he did so once again here. Unfortunately, his teammates failed to rise to the occasion. Bill Townsend’s game was actually the first to finish, then John’s game. Alan and I resigned almost simultaneously. I’d made my opponent work a little bit, but not very much, in a Bg5 Najdorf that I played rather half-heartedly. It looked like Alan’s opponent had played rather skillfully to reach a winning endgame in the meantime. So we lost this match 1-3.

But not to worry! For round two, we were paired down on table 45 against a team of youth, Dean of Chess All-Stars. From the name, it was clear that this was one of the teams coming from IM Dean Ippolito’s chess school in New Jersey. This match we cleaned up 3.5-0.5. My game finished first; it was fairly routine, brightened by one tactic that some readers may find cute, if not particularly challenging. I’ve posted the game at my other blog here. Then Bill and Alan defeated their opponents, leaving John to soldier on in what looked like a tricky position. At one point, his young opponent offered him a draw, then after John had thought about it for some time, announced that he (John’s opponent) no longer wanted the draw. John admonished him that the offer, once extended, could not be taken back; and after some more thinking, accepted the draw. It’s often a tricky thing with these teams of young kids, the notion of proper etiquette in these matters. It reminded me of a similar experience we’d had with a different opposing team of children a few years ago.

So we had 1 out of 2 points from the first day, which held out some hope for our chances. In round three, we had a chance to build upon this, being paired down again at around table 60 (I seem not to have written the table number down on my note cards). Our opponents, Pawn Pushers Anonymous, were again a team of youth, so we knew we had to be a little careful. You see, it’s been a trend in the past couple of years at this event that there almost inevitably comes a crucial match in which we’re playing a team of kids, and the entire team has a collective fit of lunacy, plays badly and loses the match in a landslide. I was hoping that this wouldn’t happen this year! But one thing that we had going for us this time was that such collapses have historically happened to our team in rounds five or six, when we really need to deliver. But this being round three, maybe we could avoid the jinx. And so it proved–we again won 3.5-0.5, my game finishing first after my opponent messed up a tactical sequence (though I still thought he resigned very prematurely), then Bill and Alan bringing in their points, and finally John drawing against his opponent. I’m suddenly a little skeptical about my memory of this–John Barnes drawing a 1492 in one round, and then a 1234 in the next?!–but this is what my notes tell me. And I made a point of being a better captain than I’d been last time, taking notes on our opponents and all. Anyway, we won handily, which is obviously the important point.

Now to round four, when we were due to meet Tiger’s Wood Pushers on table 55. Before the start of the match, we had the usual contests for Best Team Name, Best Team Skit, Best Costumes and so on. I was hopeful that our team’s name would at least make a showing in the voting by the crowd, but was shocked when, after Steve Doyle ran through the list of the eleven or so nominees, he had said nothing about Beans & Rice! There were far too many variations on the theme of the Tiger Woods scandal, and most of the others on the short list seemed like extremely lame selections–I mean, the choices absolutely paled in comparison to the good team names of the recent past. I was extremely disappointed–our name should definitely at least have made the cut. To make matters worse, the final winner was some hideous double-entendre involving Tiger’s personal life. I may just have to give up trying to predict the organizers’ predilections. Most of the skits were pretty uninspiring as well, though it must be appreciated that people put in the effort to do this sort of thing for their teams. At least the Village Pieces’ rendition of “Y. M. C. A.” with modified lyrics was rather funny, at least for me:

Young man–did you make a bad move?
I said, Young man–now you think you might lose
You’re embarrassed–’cause the kid’s in preschool…

Anyway, the match itself was unexpectedly challenging for us. The games lasted all fairly long, mine finishing first once again, in a rather embarrassing loss for me. My opponent played one of these Bc4 anti-Sicilians which had the feel partly of a Closed Sicilian, partly of a Grand Prix Attack. I elected to play it as a Closed, which misled me into doing some things as Black that would be correct ideas in a real Closed Sicilian, but don’t make very much sense with White’s light-squared bishop already on the a2-g8 diagonal. My opponent’s kingside attack became dangerous long before my queenside counterplay could appear, and he found the right tactics to knock me out fast. Bill’s victory balanced this out, but John and Alan both had positions that looked tough to win from. Alan’s game was becoming tactically complex in time pressure, and I thought he missed a win at one point in the endgame, but that ended up drawn. Prior to that result, John had held his opponent to a draw in a simple rook ending. So we walked away with only a 2-2 result from a team that we had outrated. I think this result was more my fault than anyone else’s.

Going into the final day, our score was therefore 2.5/4. A score of 4.5/6 was within reach, and might get us a chance to get the top Under-1900 team plaque (our rating average, by the way, was 1893), depending on tiebreaks. First, though, on table 41, we had to fight the Kapengut Family, made up of IM Albert Kapengut and some of his chess-playing relatives. I recognized his name from his theoretical work in the Benoni back in the eighties–Watson’s book on that opening has a full chapter on the Kapengut System, for example, and cites his work at many other points. (Interestingly, as I’ve since discovered, Kapengut is originally from Kazan, as is my old coach GM Ibragimov. He has apparently recently changed his FIDE federation to USA, however.)

I briefly toyed with the notion of playing 1.d4 against the master to see what would develop, but decided against it once I sat down to the game. I got instead an Accelerated Dragon from what was actually a pretty normal move order, though I rarely encounter it with White. Because of my rather inexcusable unfamiliarity with this move order, I messed up the opening to a degree and got a difficult position early on. My teammates all won their games; Alan’s conduct of the Traxler Two Knights (see his post from the other day) was especially satisfying. I suffered through to the end, finishing last of all of us this time. Here is the game. Even though I lost, I felt it had featured some of my best play of this event thus far, which admittedly wasn’t saying much since I’d been playing well below my standard for the entire weekend. I knew I hadn’t gotten enough rest before the tournament, and this was probably the reason for my performance problems. But we did win the match 3-1, so our chances were still alive.

As happened to us last year, we were on a fairly high table in the last round (19), paired well up against a team apparently called simply Lucas, or maybe Lucas I (there was a Lucas II somewhere further down the crosstable, I think). Amusingly, Leko my Greco was facing the Kapengut Family on the other side of the ballroom. Anyway, this team Lucas I had another 2400-master on board one waiting for me, that being Thomas Bartell. (I see him and Molner often at the big Philadelphia events, which is how I know some of these players.) And also as happened to us last year, we were fairly wiped out in the last round by this strong team. Alan’s game ended first when, playing another master with White, his bishop got trapped on h6 in a King’s Indian, and he decided to resign to avoid a state of wretched misery, for which I couldn’t blame him at all. Then it was my turn to go down in flames as Bartell worked some finesse to win the exchange from me and then fend off my feeble attempts at counterplay. This game was really irritating because he played the very same anti-Sicilian line against me that Mr. Lawrence had used to beat me in round four! I really suspected that Bartell had seen that game and had chosen the variation for precisely that reason. Either that, or–it would not have surprised me at all to find this was true–maybe my former opponent had sent out a secret text message to the effect of “Hey, everybody, if you’re scheduled to play board one against Sells with White, play this line! He won’t have a clue!” It’s a conspiracy, I swear! However, I did manage to dream up a completely different setup in the opening this time, which actually gave me a reasonable position (which I then proceeded to royally botch up very soon afterward). It was one of those games that I walk away from shaking my head at my own incompetence. That doesn’t happen to me very often, but it seemed that bad.

Anyway, to conclude, John unfortunately lost from a crazy position with some kind of material imbalance, and Bill T. finished by winning his game. So with a 1-3 match score, we finished on 3.5/6, which seems to be where we’ve ended up fairly often in the standings in recent times. I think we had an okay tournament as a team. We tried a restaurant in Parsippany that we’d not been to before. But the event did seem to me to be a little less fun than in some previous years. There were not many titled players in attendance, though at least Leonid Yudasin and Robert Hess were among these. I was feeling a bit out of sorts for much of the time, which I put down mostly to the aforementioned general tiredness and maybe a little bit of unsettled health. But some of us did have some good games–John’s win in round one and Alan’s miniature from round five stand out. So congratulations, team! We made it through another year! 🙂 Thanks for allowing me to serve as your captain.