January 10, 2011
A couple of years ago, college chess could be divided into two tiers. The elite included the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the University of Texas, Dallas. The second tier was made up of everyone else.
No more. With aggressive campaigns to recruit top players, the University of Texas, Brownsville, and Texas Tech University have joined the top tier.
Haraldur Karlsson, who is the faculty liaison for the chess team at Texas Tech, explained in an interview four years ago why the university had begun recruiting top talent.
“To be quite frank, Tech is not Harvard,” said Dr. Karlsson, who is an associate professor of geosciences. “And we have to compete really hard for the best students. And there tends to be a link between good chess skills and good academic skills.”
That also meant attracting grandmasters to mold the up-and-coming teams. Texas Tech, which is in Lubbock, hired Susan Polgar, a grandmaster and former women’s world champion, to run its program. In Brownsville, the university’s latest coach is Ronen Har-Zvi, an Israeli grandmaster.
All four top programs have quite a bit of firepower, with two or more grandmasters on each team.
At the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, which was held Dec. 27 to 30 in Milwaukee, the A teams from the four schools jockeyed for first, with U.T.-Dallas emerging with the title by winning all of its matches. It was the eighth time in the last 15 years that the university had won or tied for first.
U.M.B.C. placed second, using tie-breakers, over U.T.-Brownsville. Texas Tech took fourth on tie-breakers over the B teams from the other three schools and the A teams from the University of Toronto and Stanford.
In Round 5, U.T.-Dallas edged out U.M.B.C., 2.5 to 1.5. U.T.-Dallas was led by Alejandro Ramirez, a grandmaster who was born in Costa Rica. He defeated Leonid Kritz, a grandmaster from Germany.
In his match against Kritz, Ramirez chose the French Defense, and Kritz entered the Winawer Variation. It is among the most double-edged of systems because it weakens White’s pawn structure and leaves Black without a dark-squared bishop.
White could have played 11 Ng5, but after 11 ... h6 12 Nf7 Qf7 13 Qg6 Qg6 14 Bg6 cd4, Black would have been fine.
White erred with 13 Qg4; he should have played 13 dc5, when Black would have had a slightly inferior position.
After 16 ... Ne5, White had no compensation for his lost pawn, but he could have put up more resistance by playing 17 Qb4.
Once he gained the advantage, Ramirez continued to play well, slowly improving his position and advancing his pawns.
Kritz resigned because he had no way to prevent Black from promoting a pawn to a queen.