Texas Tech wins KCF University Cup and meets with Kasparov in New York

by ChessBase
3/26/2023 – The Kasparov Chess Foundation organized the third annual KCF University Cup in February this year. The tournament, which attracted well over 500 university students from every continent, was won by Texas Tech University. Francesco Bortolussi, who played board 4 for the winning team, sent us a first-person account of the tournament itself and of the team’s visit to New York City, where they had a training session with the legend himself, Garry Kasparov! | Photo: Alexander Onischuk

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By Francesco Bortolussi

Kasparov Chess FoundationThe 3rd edition of the annual Kasparov Chess Foundation University Cup took place online on Lichess, February 4-5, 2023. In total, 120 teams from all continents and more than 500 players from 30 countries participated in the event. This event was personally one of the most exciting chess events I would participate in. Due to the rating cap rule (2400 UIR), at least eight universities had the opportunity to win the overall prize. It introduced a strategic component to forming teams: a university could decide to put three grandmasters on the first three boards, and a non-titled player on the fourth board; or maybe it could decide to place titled players on all boards, slightly weakening the first two boards. The possibilities were endless.

A couple of years ago, I came across the Texas Tech Chess Program on campus. The TTU Chess Coach, Alex Onischuk, played a few games with me and invited me to join the program. I was fortunate to continue my old hobby at my new university. I’ve trained hard and this year I got the opportunity to play alongside the very best players at Texas Tech. The TTU A Chess Team consisted of GM Aleksey Sorokin (2551), IM Semen Khanin (2582), GM Viktor Matviishen (2523), and Francesco Bortolussi (1715) and had a combined average rating of 2343, putting us among the favorites to win this tournament. The game was on.

Texas Tech University

The eventual winning team playing at the Chess Program office of the Texas Tech University | Photo: Alexander Onischuk

Armed with our laptops, we met at the Chess Program office at the TTU on Saturday, February 4th. The first three rounds went relatively smoothly, scoring three victories against lower-rated teams. Starting from Round 4, we started being paired against the favorites at the tournament. Every match from this point was nerve-wracking, due to the possibility that it could easily go either way. In Round 4, we were paired against the highest-rated team in the tournament: the University of Texas at Rio Gran Valley (average rating of 2398). I was playing a balanced game against IM Dante Beukes until a few inaccuracies led me to a losing endgame — making me ultimately throw the towel. On boards 1 and 2 respectively, Aleksey Sorokin and Sam Khanin drew their games. We were down 2-1, but Viktor Matviishen equalized the score by winning an important game against Tamas Petenyi on board 3. We were able to draw one of the toughest teams, which made us optimistic about our prospects.


In round 7, we managed to win 2½-1½ against Saint Louis University in a very close and nerve-wracking match. Round 8 was also extremely difficult, where we got away with a draw against the very strong team of the Bucharest University of Economic Studies: I was able to find my way through a very sharp game against Cristian David (rated 2010) and draw, while Viktor Matviishen scored a key win against FM Andrei-Theodor Dolana. It was personally the most stressful match of the tournament up to that point. We had to collect our focus and be ready for the last round.

By that point, we were sole leaders with 7 points out of 8. We got paired against the University of Texas at Dallas A Team. A victory was the only way to win the tournament without needing playoffs. On paper they were slightly higher rated than us, with the biggest difference on board 4: my opponent WIM Tarini Goyal outmatched me by more than 500 points (rated 2221). However, I was ready to put up a fight. The tension in the room was palpable: the stakes were high. Aleksey Sorokin and Viktor Matviishen drew two very complicated and sharp games, while Sam Khanin and I were still battling on our boards. The conclusion of our games happened almost at the same time: Sam Khanin won a very convincing rook endgame against GM David Brodsky, and I was able to liquidate a worse position into an equal endgame and clinch a draw.


The last round was the toughest round. We beat the University of Texas at Dallas A Team by 2½/1½ and finished first. The fact that we were able to win 4 out of 6 encounters by the smallest of margins and drew the remaining two matches shows how closely matched the tournament was. I was very proud of my teammates, and I am glad that as a 1700 player, I was able to contribute to the final result.

Semen Khanin

IM Semen Khanin scored 7/9 on board 2 for Texas Tech | Photo: Jason Yu / Corporate Esports Association

The first prize for winning the tournament was a Zoom training session with Chess Legend and World Champion Garry Kasparov.

With everyone in the United States, the President of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, Michael Khodarkovsky, and the TTU Chess Coach discussed a plan to meet in person. A few weeks later, the team flew to New York City to meet the Chess Legend himself. It was the first time in the Big Apple for everyone on the team, which was especially exciting for us all.

We all gathered at the headquarters of the KCF on the 49th floor of a Manhattan building, and the training session began. Our team was joined by TTU alumnus and former U-20 World Champion Eugene Shtembuliak. In the two hours with Garry, we analysed some very complex games that were played by our team in past tournaments. Kasparov had this incredible ability to glance at a position and figure out the best plan on the board in a way that looked effortless. Not only he could spot deep tactical ideas very quickly, but he would also present complex strategical plans in a very intuitive way. I’m always in awe whenever a super grandmaster can distil a complicated position to a few key elements, spotting the most important features of the position in seconds. Kasparov was able to do this in a way that I have never witnessed before.

After analysing the games, we had conversations about a variety of topics, such as the pros and cons of utilizing engines when training, tournament preparation, and chess psychology over the board. Kasparov listened to our ideas and comments, and he — always very thoughtfully — gave us his point of view. The training session left me very inspired and very excited about my future in chess.

Garry Kasparov, Texas Tech University, Alexander Onischuk

First row (left to right): Eugene Shtembuliak, Garry Kasparov (holding the Texas Tech Mascot), Alexander Onischuk. Second row: Francesco Bortolussi, Aleksey Sorokin, Semen Khanin, Viktor Matviishen, Michael Khodorkovsky. | Photo: Alexander Onischuk

To me, participating in the tournament and having a training session with Garry Kasparov were opportunities of a lifetime. Being surrounded by all these great grandmasters was an incredible learning experience. I feel very lucky that I was able to learn from everyone on the team and play alongside them. I am also very proud of the fact that I could give a meaningful contribution to our tournament result.

At the end of our session, we exchanged gifts: the Texas Tech chess team got the trophy for the first place in the tournament and Garry received the Texas Tech Mascot, Raider Red, honouring this great meeting.

For this wonderful opportunity, I thank Texas Tech University and its administration for sponsoring our trip. I would have never been able to participate in such an event without their support. I thank Aleksey Sorokin, Sam Khanin, and Viktor Matviishen for being amazing teammates. I also thank the Kasparov Chess Foundation and Garry Kasparov — we are all so grateful for the time that he dedicated to us.

Game analysis by Viktor Matviishen



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