Rapid Rooks triumph at Jamaica Int'l Chess Festival

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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The Jamaica International Chess Festival came to a climactic conclusion over the weekend with Rapid Rooks bettering Dark Knights, 22 1/2 points, to 21 1/2 points to claim the inaugural Maurice Ashley Trophy.

The slender, one-point margin after 44 games made for an exciting atmosphere at Spanish Court Hotel, as both teams battled through the rounds for advantage without clarity at any stage in the match of which side would eventually emerge victorious.

The score after the first round was 6-5 in favour of the GM Akshat Chandra and WGM Qiyu Zhou-led Dark Knights. This was reversed by the end of round two in favour of GM Awonder Liang's and WIM Akshita Gorti's Rapid Rooks, who enjoyed a brief 12-10 lead. Round three saw yet another inversion allowing the Dark Knights to enter round four with a psychologically important 17-16 lead.

In the end this was not enough to stop the determination of the Rapid Rooks, who delivered a 6 1/2 to 4 1/2 result in the final round to clinch match victory by a narrow, one-point margin.

The Rapid Team Chess match featured two 11-a-side teams paired by strength for four games, with each lasting just over an hour. The teams consisted of visiting international chess prodigies playing alongside Jamaica's National and Carifta chess champions.

One of the highlights of the Rapid Team Chess match was the highly anticipated clash between GM Awonder Liang and GM Akshat Chandra.

The GMs (Grand Masters) produced technically proficient games of high quality. Carving out a superior position in the first round, GM Akshat suffered from a time deficit that prevented him from fully exploiting his better position; with the result being a draw. By the beginning of the final fourth round with the scores between the GMs at 2-1 in favour of GM Awonder, GM Akshat needed a victory to level his match. This last game between them went to an opposite-coloured bishop ending, which is usually drawn. With GM Akshat having the better chances, however, he pressed on, but with little time on his clock. In the end, GM Awonder kept his nerves, held firm, and won on time.

On Board Two, the 16-year-old Canadian Female Chess Champion and former Under-14 Female World Champion, WGM Qiyu Zhou faced WIM Akshita Gorti, the highest-rated 14-year-old female player in the world. Their first two games ended in draws and in round three, WIM Akshita introduced some dynamic imbalance when she sacrificed an exchange to create counter-play on the queenside. After complications and short time on both clocks, WGM Qiyu prevailed and also won the fourth round and thus her match 3-1.

With Rapid Rooks and Dark Knights tied on the first two boards combined, it was the lower boards that determined the outcome of the match. The Rapid Rooks' NM Akeem Brown overcame Malik Curriah 2.5-1.5 despite losing round four.

The Dark Knights WCM Adani Clarke held her own against Angelus McDonald with a 2-2 draw. Lontae Walker of the Dark Knights defeated Nicholas Lyn in a 3-1 result that saw Lontae humbled in round two and rebounding in rounds three and four. Sheanel Gardener of Rapid Rooks and Ashanti Blackwood of Dark Knights experienced victory and loss in succession, and in equal measure resulting in a 2-2 finish.

Raehanna Brown of the Rapid Rooks got the better of Nickleah Curwin in a 2.5-1.5 match. There was a similar result on Board Nine with Kishan Clarke of Rapid Rooks bettering Johmoi Blake with a 2.5-1.5 victory. The Dark Knights' Cameron Coe prevailed against Laila Griffiths to achieve a 3-1 result. Zaina O'Connor of Rapid Rooks was the only player in the match with a perfect score, having overpowered Christian Rampair to win 4-0.

The Jamaica-born GM Maurice Ashley, who is the world's first black grandmaster and who is an international chess commentator, officiated at the event and presented the trophy bearing his name to the winning team.

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