Team East - It’s just two months away!
If you ask chess players living in the northeastern U.S. what one tournament they most look forward to each year, chances are the immediate answer will be “U.S. Amateur Team East.”
USATE (or “Team East,” as it is commonly called) is an annual tournament held in Parsippany, NJ. It doesn’t boast the enormous prize fund of the open tournaments; in fact, the most anyone can expect prize-wise is a plaque, a chess clock (a cheap one at that), and a possible picture in Chess Life magazine. Nor does the event take place in a city with interesting nightlife, as do the events in New York and Las Vegas. What draws more than 1,100 players every year (even though it often falls on Valentine’s Day!) is the fun, friendly atmosphere, the rare chance to play against some of the top players in the country (and sometimes the world), the random prize giveaways, and, most of all, the unique team spirit this tournament evokes for what is otherwise most often a solo sport.
Most people don’t think of chess as a team game. In fact, it can be rather antisocial. The most interaction one should expect with an opponent is the quick handshake and muttered “good game” before and after a game. At Team East, however, players play not only for themselves, but also for the good of the team. A team is made up of four players and an optional fifth alternate. The only requirement is the team’s average rating must be below 2200. Each round, teams are matched with first board playing against opposing first board, second board against second, etc. In order to win a round, a team has to score at least two and a half points out of the four games (i.e., two wins and a draw). Because of this, players have to be strategically conscious of how the rest of their teammates are performing. Before accepting a draw, for example, one has to make sure that a half point versus fighting on for the whole point isn’t going to lose the round for the team.
My own experience with this tournament has been amazing! I’ve played in it every year since 2002, and in that time I played a top Grandmaster, delivered the only “smothered mate” of my tournament career, came close to winning one of the annual “upset” prizes (by beating a player more than 400 points above me!), and, in 2010, won the under 2100 prize with my team.
My experience in the last round in 2010 epitomizes the tournament’s most compelling team component. I played board three for my team that year, and, going into the last round, I had had an extremely successful tournament with three wins and two draws against several strong players. My teammates and I knew that we had chances for the under 2100 prize going into the last round, but we were paired with a high rated team on one of the top boards. The board we were on was so high, in fact, that we were in a special roped-off area reserved for the top 12 boards, which only added to the pressure because these were the boards that attracted the largest gathering of spectators. My opponent was rated almost 100 points above me, and, to make matters more challenging, by the end of the third day of the tournament, I was exhausted. Playing hours of chess is more tiring than most people think, and I am somewhat notorious for losing my energy, resulting in last round collapses. But Team East is a team tournament. I couldn’t simply withdraw and quit while I was ahead; I had to stick it out for my team.
Our fourth board lost quickly, but our second board soon scored a quick win for our side. At this point, I had achieved a slightly better position in my game. If this had been any other tournament, I would likely have offered a draw and gone home to catch up on some sleep. But the match was tied, and our first board was in an incredibly complicated position against a very strong International Master, so we couldn’t count on a full point from that game.
With some coffee to aid me, I played on. Thanks to the caffeine boost and the silent encouragement of my teammates, I was able to outplay my opponent and win my best game of the tournament.
But I still couldn’t go home. And at this point, pumped with adrenalin from my win, my fatigue had faded and I had no desire to leave as we awaited the final results. The first board game had grown in intensity. My teammate was down a pawn in an endgame, but his opponent had very little time on his clock. My teammates and I gathered around the board, silent but extremely excited, holding our collective breaths. Suddenly, on the last move before time control, the opponent blundered his extra pawn and was forced to acknowledge the resulting position was now a dead draw. With two and a half points, our team had won the match, and with it the under 2100 prize!
The following is my game from that last round. Study it closely, start putting teams together, and get psyched for the best tournament of the year!
Max Schwartz (2039) - Robert Guevara (2107) 1-0
Feb 15, 2010
A14 - Réti System
1.Nf3 e6 2.c4 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.Qc2 This is one of the main lines of the Reti System.
6…Na6?! This is a strange move. Knights don’t belong on the side of the board. Black is never able to get this knight back into the game.
7.a3 c6 8.d4 Now white’s setup resembles a Catalan Opening but with black’s knight misplaced.
8…Re8 9.Rd1 Putting the rook on the same file as black’s queen to discourage black from playing a pawn to c5 or e5.
9…Nd7? Moving the knight away from the center is a bad idea.
10.e4! White takes advantage by gaining more space in the center.
10…dxe4 11.Qxe4 Bf6 12.Nc3 Qa5!? Black attempts to get some piece activity, otherwise his pieces will soon run out of places to go.
13.Qc2!? This quiet move gets the queen out of the center making it harder for black to get counter play. It also adds extra support to c3 incase white ever needs to play d5.
13…Qf5 Black has less space, so he wants to trade.
14.Ne4!! White refuses to trade. White pins his own knight with this move, but black can’t take advantage of this.
14…Kh8 Black doesn’t want to allow white to take on f6 with check.
15.Qe2 Be7 To prevent Nd6.
16.Bf4 White develops his final minor piece to an important diagonal. Now e5, d6, and c7 are under white’s control.
16…Nf6? Black tries to trade again…
17.Ne5! And again white refuses. The threat is now Nxf7+.
17…Kg8?? This move loses the game by force. The only move black can try is 17…Nd7, but he is still in serious trouble.
If 17... Nxe4 black’s queen gets trapped: 18.Bxe4 Qf6 19.Bg5 (or 19.Ng4).
18.Ng5! Adding a second attacker to f7, and threatening Bh3 trapping black’s queen.
18…Nh5 A last desperate attempt from black, but the game is lost no matter what.
19.Qxh5 Bxg5 20.Bxg5 g6 This allows white to keep his extra piece with no trouble, but there was no way to save the game anyway. Black could have tried 20... h6 using the fact that white’s bishop is pinned, but white has a tactical trick: 21.Be4! Qxe4 22.Qxf7+ Kh7 23.Qxe8.
21.Qf3 Now white is up a clear piece and still has a better position, so Black Resigns.