The 2019 edition of the U.S. Amateur Team East chess tournament took place February 16-18 in Parsippany, NJ. Over 300 teams competed for the bragging rights that come with being USATE champions.

SIG was able to field a competitive team this year, “Masters of the Exchange,” with team members Stas, Eric, Bill, and Justin. We scored 4.5/6 and narrowly missed out on the Top Company prize (finishing second to Impact Coaching Network), but we did capture prizes for Top U2100 team and Top Pennsylvania team. Our only loss of the tournament was to the eventual winners of the tournament, “Princeton Orange,” who scored a perfect 6-0.

The following excerpt comes from Stas’ game in the first round. He had the pleasure of playing this checkmating pattern on the board to clinch the match win.

In the second round, we played a team headed by International Master David Vigorito. Despite being out-rated by our opponents, we scored a convincing 4-0 victory, meaning each player won their game. Eric was able to capitalize on a few mistakes by his opponent and score a nice win with the Black pieces.

In round three we ran into the buzzsaw that was Princeton Orange. They were headed by FIDE Master Kapil Chandran on board one and out-rated us on every board. Fortune was not on our side and we lost, 3-1, bringing our overall score to 2.0/3. Stas played an extremely theoretical battle on the White side of a Benoni and he sacrificed the exchange (rook for bishop or knight) for a strong passed d-pawn and attacking chances. Unfortunately Chandran was too strong in this one. On board two, Eric defended the black side of a Grunfeld Defense deep into a rook endgame, but ran low on time and blundered. Bill and Justin drew their games in equally tough matchups on boards three and four.

After our loss we played weaker teams in rounds four and five (teams are matched against other teams with the same score) and won both matches. At 4.0/5 points going into the final round we were out of contention for first place overall, but we did have a good chance at the Top Company and Top Pennsylvania team prizes. In round six we were paired against a team led by Grandmaster Michael Rohde with a 2450-rated player on board two. Since the rating discrepancy was smaller on boards three and four, this strongly implied that Bill and Justin needed to win their games to give us a chance to win the match. Bill held a draw with the Black pieces and Justin put together the following nice attacking win with White.

Eric lost his game so the match was tied at 1.5 points apiece pending Stas’ result. The battle turned back and forth until they were the last game remaining out of the hundreds that filled the tournament hall five hours before. The success of our tournament now depended on whether Stas could hold a draw in a pawn-down rook endgame. There’s a common chess saying that “All rook endgames are drawn.” While that may be true in a theoretical sense, these endgames tend to require remarkable precision and fortitude to defend in practice.

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