GM Perspective: USAT-N -- Battle of the Quarterbacks -- and Queen + Pawn versus Queen endings

The 2017 U.S. Amateur Team North Chess Championship, held February 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency Schaumburg, set new records, with 78 teams and over 320 individual participants.

Two teams tied for first: “Fake Moves” (pictured) led by FM Sam Schmakel, and “How to Train Your Sicilian Dragon” with IM Eric Rosen on the first board (pictured with second board Tansel Turgut). 

Fake Moves won on tiebreaks by a very narrow margin using the specific USAT tiebreaks as specified by US Chess.

Each leader was instrumental to his respective team’s success. It somehow reminded me of this year's Super Bowl, with Sam and Eric in the role of dueling quarterbacks.

(One major difference: Tom Brady came through in the fourth quarter and overtime. Sam lost round five, but his team won.)

Back in 2004, 10-year-old Eric Rosen and 7-year-old Sam Schmakel played in their first Amateur Team Championship, and they’ve participated in this event many times since then. I am sure this event helped them to sharpen their style and emerge as elite Illinois players.

I’ve annotated several of the games in a file which is posted here  (Use the dropbox on the left to select between games). The PGN can be downloaded as well.

Chess as a science

In the final round Sam Schmakel played against GM Aswin Jayaram (pictured before match), first board for the “Nice to Mate You” team. They reached a very rare ending: queen and g-pawn vs. queen. 


Schmakel - Jayaram, Schaumburg 2017

White to play

First, some history. In 1954, World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik won a game in this ending against Bulgarian International Master Nikolay Minev. 


Botvinnik - Minev, Amsterdam 1954

Black to play

Botvinnik had been known not only as a chess legend but also for his superb analytical skills. However, while most of Botvinnik’s analytical works have passed the test of time, his play in the endgame and subsequent analysis is far from perfect. Botvinnik’s errors are forgivable: queen and pawn endgames, especially those with queen and g- (or b-) pawn against a queen are incredibly complex.

Which reminds me of another memorable story. In the Soviet Union, chess enjoyed a very important status. One of the most popular annual events was the traditional encounter between Moscow and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). In 1968, when the score was tied 39½-39½, the final game was between the Muscovite Anatoly Volovich and the Leningrad master Vladimir Liavdansky.


Volovich - Liavdansky, Moscow 1968

Black to play

There were no sudden death rules at that time, so the games had to be adjourned and finished later. But the Leningraders had to make their train and go home. So the rules said that unfinished encounters would be adjudicated.

And then an analytical war began. Naturally, the supporters of the Northern Capital stated that Black is winning and therefore Leningrad had won the match. Moscow fans retorted that White could hold the position and therefore the match should have ended in a tie.

Every month, the magazine “Chess in the USSR” came out with a new article which was supposed to prove the correctness of one side. The following month, the opponents submitted equally compelling analysis. This argument continued for months, if not years. As a result, the Moscow-Leningrad match was never played again in the Soviet era!

Now, thanks to computer databases, we know that the adjoured position in the Volovich-Liavdansky game was in fact a draw.

See the accompanying file for analysis of the Schmakel-Jayaram game.


After Sam lost, his team was very lucky through the efforts of Jonathan Kogen and Stephen Horvath to draw the match and beat Eric's team on tiebreaks.

Eric Rosen couldn't have helped his team more, winning all five of encounters. I also want to extend congratulations to GM Ashwin Jayaram, Eric Santarius, Robby Hecht, Marissa Li, Anuj Dahiya and Greg Bungo for winning all five of their games. Rachel Ulrich scored 4 out of 4.

George Li won the Midwest Blitz Championship with a perfect 10-0 score on Saturday night!

Many thanks to the organizing team of Chess Weekend's Glenn Panner and Bill Feldman who ran this event so smoothly. The U. S. Amateur Team North was another fitting memorial for our brilliant organizer Sevan Muradian, who had done so much for the Amateur Team Championship in past years.

Note: All photography credits to Dmitry Gurevich.