Herndon, Va. – Under any other circumstances, GM Andrew Diamant of Texas Tech would have given up in a lost position such as the one he found himself playing against GM Conrad Holt of UT Dallas here over the weekend.
But when Diamant learned that the only way the Texas Tech Knight Raiders could defend their title as America’s top college chess team was to win or draw, Diamant decided to fight it out for what proved to be an exciting duel that lasted until only seconds remained on both players’ clocks.
“In a normal game, I would resign because my position was terrible,” Diamant said of his Round 3 game against Holt in a three-round tournament known as the Final Four of Chess.
“But when I figured out it was the last game to decide who will be the champion, I knew the pressure was on him, not only me,” Diamant said.
Their hands literally shook as they made their final moves. Diamant’s decision to battle it out under pressure ultimately paid off for Texas Tech, the only team to score a victory against Holt, who was the only player to enter Round 3 with 2 points.
“Sometimes what happens is I start to blunder almost every move,” explained Holt, who had what he described as a “totally winning position” against Diamant.
“I made many mistakes and eventually it’s a draw,” said Holt — who counted 36. …. Rb2, enabling Diamant to follow with 37. Rxe6 — as his first in a series of mistakes.
The draw – along with several other factors – ultimately enabled the Red Raiders to emerge with 8 points as the 2012 winners of the President’s Cup, which is awarded to the victor of the Final Four of Chess.
UMBC and UT Dallas, both longstanding contenders in the Final Four, each tied for second with 7.5 points, and NYU came in fourth.
“I’m very proud of my team and it’s a result of hard work throughout the year, the effort that we’ve done,” Texas Tech Head Coach GM Susan Polgar said of her team’s successful defense of her teams back-to-back championships.
“It’s very fulfilling, of course,” said Polgar, who is moving her chess program, known as the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, or SPICE, to Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, this fall.
The President’s Cup, however, will remain at Texas Tech until whichever team wins it next.
As happened last year, Texas Tech’s victory hinged on another last-round game, this time between NM Evan Rosenberg of NYU and IM Sasha Kaplan of UMBC.
Observers noted that in many ways, the tournament was decided by a team’s ability to sweep NYU, whose collective strength, at least based on ratings and titles, did not rival that of the three other teams.
Consider, for instance, that NYU was the only team that made it to the Final Four with only one IM and without any GMs, while the other teams were able to put GMs on just about every board.
Still, UMBC and UT Dallas yielded a draw each to NYU while Texas Tech swept NYU.
“When Texas Tech swept NYU and the others couldn’t, that was the delta,” said Mark Herman, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm that hosted and sponsored the Final Four of Chess, using “delta” as a mathematical term for difference.
As it did last year, Booz Allen Hamilton hosted the Final Four not only to support and advance the game of chess, but rather to recruit talent from among the best players in the world of collegiate chess.
Indeed, the firm extended an invitation to members of all four teams to explore internship opportunities with Booz Allen Hamilton – a significant development given the fact that last year the firm only offered internships to members of the team that won the Final Four.
Several players indicated a serious interest in taking the firm up on its offer.
Among them was IM Vitaly Neimer, 24, a freshman majoring in finance at Texas Tech. Neimer noted the similarities between the mathematical and analytical skills used in the game of chess and those required in finance, one of the areas in which Booz Allen Hamilton offers services.
“Many times in a game, you need to change the plan of the game,” Neimer said. “Also in finance, you need to change how you react.”
Herman, the Booz Allen Hamilton executive, said the nation’s top collegiate chess players represent a rich pool of talent.
“I’ve got a room full of the best critical thinkers that you’re going to find anywhere,” Herman said. “Why wouldn’t I want to recruit them?”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim will also be writing an article for Chess Life Magazine on the Final Four.
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– GM Susan Polgar