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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 USATE 2015 - A Man Amongst Boys
 Matt Phelps
  June 2015
Every President’s Day weekend, over a thousand eager players gather in Parsippany, New Jersey for the US Amateur Team East, and it is truly an amateur event. With no cash prizes, four-person teams with average USCF ratings no higher than 2199 square off for a few plaques, a few clocks, and a whole lot of bragging rights – including the official titles of “Best MA Team,” “Best Seniors,” and “Best Mixed Doubles.” The winners of the event go on to compete against the victors of the South, West, and North tournaments for the national Amateur Team championship.
Planning for the mid-February tournament begins months before. Teams jockey for just the right combination of players to approach the 2199.75 maximum average rating. Being a director at the MetroWest Chess Club, and a former manager of the Boston Blitz in the US Chess league, I know many masters in the area, so I usually have a fairly easy time latching on to a competitive team. This year, however, all my sources were coming up dry. I had resigned myself to not playing in 2015 when in January I asked high school master Sid Arun if he was playing. He was working on forming a team with fellow masters, and high school students, Mika Brattain and Andrew Liu. They needed a board four rated around 1750. “How about 1733?” I asked. “I’ll be your ‘underrated kid.’” Considering I just reached qualifying age for the US Seniors last year, joining a team with some of the best high school players in the area seemed highly unlikely. Yet so it was.
Getting on a team, of course, is only half the battle. Next comes choosing the team name. There’s a contest each year for the best name, so some thought is required. Movie titles, current scandals, and hit songs are regularly twisted with some bad chess related puns to form clever names. I came up with a few candidates I liked, including “The Grand Parsippany Hotel,” “1. f4 Birdman,” and “Je Suis Giri (or ‘Je Suis Chucky’).” The most popular reference in the year’s names was the “Deflategate” scandal, an idea we toyed with but ultimately rejected. In the end the kids came up with “Forknado,” which I liked. The winner of that competition this year ended up being high-minded “Legalize Caruana.”
The usual set of Massachusetts based teams was there again, including the Bill Kelleher’s Cambridge Springers, a strong Waltham Chess Club team, and “Vitaliy Ryabinin,” led by IM Denys Shmelov (but not featuring its namesake). GM Larry Christiansen, with his wife Natasha, was back with a team, and IM David Vigorito again led a crew. More on them later.
Our team came in at an average of 2184, 23rd out of a total of 270 teams. Teams have won before that far from the top, so we had hopes of being in a position to win the tournament, and if not, we felt we had a decent chance of gunning for the Best Massachusetts Team prize.
The first two rounds of the tournament use accelerated pairings, so we faced two teams with an average rating in the 1900s. It’s hard to tell how these teams will be composed. Sometimes there’s a GM on board one with students making up the rest of the team. Who knows what I’ll face on board four. Fortunately, both opponents on the first day were on relatively “flat” teams, so we out rated them on the first three boards. Sid won a nice game in round one:
NM Siddharth Arun (2236)
Marvin Shumowitz (1958)
2015 U.S. Amateur Team East (1)
Nimzowitsch Defense [B00]
Annotations by S. Arun

Meanwhile, I played horribly against a 1700 player, and should have been mated. But I managed to trick my opponent and win. We won the match 4-0. In round two the kids all won again. I played well against a higher rated opponent, and was in fact winning, but got tricked and lost. Chess works in funny ways sometimes.
In round 3 on the second day the accelerated pairings stop, so we faced a team with a high 1500s average rating, and we all won again, giving us a 3-0 record in matches and 11-1-0 in games.
The top nine boards in the playing hall are cordoned off with velvet ropes like you’d find in a fancy old bank. It’s a joy to be “behind the ropes” as there’s plenty of room, and no spectators roaming by the table distracting you. Plus it feels like you’re in a “real” chess tournament, with lots of grandmasters ending up playing there. Our fourth round pairing had us playing on one of the coveted spots, and unfortunately it was versus IM David Vigorito’s team. I had to face Mark Fins, whom I’ve played many times at the MetroWest Chess Club and have not fared well against. True to form, I lost without much resistance, and with a draw on board 1, but another loss on board three, we lost the match 1.5 - 2.5. Our hopes for winning the tournament were dashed, bet we still had a shot at the state prize.
Day three began with us facing a tough team from Cornell. I lost on board four, but the guys all played interesting games, winning all three! All this set up the final round. Now, I have had nightmares about being behind the ropes in the final round and playing the last game with the match on the line. That nightmare scenario would come to pass, beginning with Siddharth losing a tough game on the 3rd board. Our captain had played his usual aggressive style throughout the tournament, finishing a good 4-2.
Andrew was next to finish, and he topped off a pristine tournament run with his sixth win in as many games:
NM Andrew Liu (2319)
NM James Nitz (2233)
2015 U.S. Amateur Team East (6)
Nimzo-Indian [E63]
Annotations by A. Liu

Next, our top board drew a very tough game on board 1 against a high 2300 player. Mika, one of Massachusetts’ newest Senior Masters, had a great tournament with four wins and two draws.
FM Ted McHugh (2366)
SM Mika Brattain (2458)
2015 U.S. Amateur Team East (6)
Annotations by M. Brattain

And so, it was left up to me. I have been behind the ropes many times over the years, always facing an expert or high class A player, but never scoring even a half point. History was against me when I found out my opponent’s rating was 2038.
Matt Phelps (1733)
Doug Fiske (2038)
2015 U.S. Amateur Team East (6)
Ruy Lopez [C60]

So the nightmare turned into a moment of glory! It turned out we had indeed won the Best Massachusetts prize. I was very glad to be able to contribute where I could to the team and win something for them. I imagine their ratings will continue to rise throughout the year, so we probably won’t be able to return as “Forknado 2: The Second One” without some changes.
I want to thank Sid, Mika, and Andrew for letting me join them. I wish them all the best for their futures, both in chess and beyond. I also want to thank Steve Doyle of the NJ Chess Federation and all the volunteers who run the USATE. They do a great job. It’s my favorite tournament every year, and I know I’m not alone with that sentiment. And for all those playing next year, in case you’re looking for a wily veteran for board four, you know where to look.