Pan-Am Team College Chess

by Alexey Root
12/29/2017 – Round three of the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships (Pan-Am) in Columbus, Ohio, ended on Thursday night, December 28th. As expected, the seven highest-rated teams have won every match thus far. There have been surprises, such as Webster University changing its “A” team lineup. However, the Pan-Am is not all about the top-rated teams. There are players and teams playing in their first Pan-Am who will grab your attention, such as Northwest University (pictured) Walter Borbridge (Board 3), Elliott Neff (Coach), Benjamin Mukumbya (Board 1), Phiona Mutesi (Board 2), Andrew Uptain (Board 4), Joseph Castleberry (Northwest University President) | Photo: A. Root

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New eye-catching teams

In my preview article about the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Team Championships (Pan-Am), I reported that Webster’s "A" team lineup was Jorge Cori, Ray Robson (team captain), Aleksandr Shimanov, and Illya Nyzhnyk. Webster University’s Chess Program Director Susan Polgar had announced that lineup in November and December blog postings, before travel and health problems beset Webster’s teams. Bus breakdowns meant that the trip from Webster University in St. Louis to the Hyatt Regency near The Ohio State University took eleven hours, according to Webster’s Coach Paul Truong. The travel delays combined with cold weather may have hurt players’ health. Less than two hours before round 1, Polgar wrote on Facebook, "Unfortunately, some of our players are sick. So we have to change the lineups for just about all our teams." The new lineup for the "A" team is Shimanov, Cori, Robson, and Vasif Durarbayli. Nonetheless, the reconstituted Webster "A" team is still the highest-rated team in the tournament. 

The fifth-highest-rated team in the Pan-Am tournament (after Webster "A," SLU, UTRGV "A", and Webster "B" and ahead of UTD’s A, B, and C teams) is the Texas Tech University (TTU) "A" team, staffed by GM Andrey Baryshpolets, IM Sergei Matsenko, GM Pavlo Vorontsov, and IM Evgeny Shtembuliak. In rounds 1, 2, and 3, TTU "A" defeated the University of Maryland, Baltimore County "B" team, the Columbia University team, and the team from University of California, Berkeley. TTU’s coach, Alexander Onischuk, stated that rounds 5 and 6 will determine whether Texas Tech will qualify as one of the four colleges invited to the President’s Cup.

During the early rounds, two teams new to the Pan-Am caught my eye, literally. Alaska Pacific University (Anchorage, AK) intended to have a four-person team but one player could not make the trip due to a family emergency. Participating are Board 1 Jonathon Singler, Board 2 Carson Kent, and Board 3 Emily Smith. The team had a rugged outdoor look suitable for representing a university from "the last frontier" state. For round 1, each player wore a gray long-sleeved shirt with the school logo and the men wore suspenders. For round 2, the players had furs around their necks and the men had plaid, flannel, lumberjack-style shirts.

Alaska Pacific University

Emily Smith (Board 3), Carson Kent (Board 2), Jonathon Singler (Board 1) | Photo: A. Root

In contrast, players from Northwest University (Kirkland, WA) wore blazers and dress shoes. The Northwest University chess club president is Phiona Mutesi. Her life story was told in a book that then became the basis for the Disney movie "Queen of Katwe". Mutesi plays second board behind chess expert Benjamin Mukumbya, who also has a counterpart in the Disney film. Rounding out the team is third board Walter Borbridge, who is from Sitka, Alaska, and is one of a few hundred Tlingit speakers in the world. The fourth board is Andrew Uptain, who is a community college transfer to Northwest University and the only non-freshman member of the team.

Northwest University paid for the team’s travel, hotel, entry fees, food, and uniforms, according to Northwest University President Joseph L. Castleberry, Ed.D. Castleberry said, "In the Pan-Am, Northwest University students have the opportunity to play superior players and grow in their chess skills." He looks forward to the chess club and chess team expanding in the coming years, as more students worldwide learn about the welcoming, Christian atmosphere at Northwest University.

The Northwest University team is coached by National Master Elliott Neff of Chess4Life. Neff was proud of Phiona for the following win, which helped Northwest University defeat the Tecnológico Nacional de México’s “A” team in Round 3. Phiona played on Board 2 as Black.


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A tournament hall banner lists sponsors, including Akuna Capital. Akuna Capital also had a representative, Freddie (Zheyuan) Fan, who spoke at the opening ceremony and staffed a booth where Pan-Am participants could learn about opportunities at Akuna Capital. Fan is a living example of such opportunities. Just three years ago, he was the captain of the Stanford team at the Pan-Am. Now he is a junior quant trader at Akuna.

Akuna Capital

Freddie (Zheyuan) Fan | Photo: A. Root

Fan emailed:

My chess experience helps with my decision making and mental strength in trading. In chess, you need to constantly focus, make the best decision, and anticipate your opponent’s move. This is just like trading where a best decision is required under every market scenario, and a single mistake could cost everything. Akuna is looking for talent with the qualities that chess players have: strong decision-making skills, the ability to handle high-pressure situations, and a high level of focus.

Players will be handling high-pressure situations in the coming rounds, as paired teams will be more evenly matched. Already, UTD "C," the eighth highest-rated team, lost to SLU "A," the second highest-rated team. The top seven highest-rated teams have not lost or tied a match yet. However, that will change Friday morning when six of them are paired against each other for round 4.

Teams of Tecnologico Nacional de Mexico

Teams of Tecnologico Nacional de Mexico | Photo: A. Root

Pairings, standings, and live games are available at Look also for my next report, which will cover rounds four and five.

All available games



Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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