Sunday, January 10, 2010

College rivalry plays out in local chess championship

As reported earlier, college rivalries come in all shapes and forms. The more traditional football or basketball rivalries are celebrated events attracting huge national audiences. Other rivalries might be less visible, but are competed just as fiercely on fields of play appropriate to the sport.

One such rivalry, while not as long-standing as The Game between Harvard and Yale, is the chess duel between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Texas—Dallas (UTD). Capping a near flawless performance over four days of competition play, the UMBC chess team recently captured first place at the Pan American Intercollegiate Championships held at South Padre Island, Texas, soundly beating both UTD and the University of Texas—Brownsville for possibly the biggest win in team history.

Earning bragging rights as champions in the “World Series of College Chess,” the UMBC Retrievers placed ahead of 27 other teams including Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and NYU. “This may be the greatest chess accomplishment for UMBC because it came against the strongest competitive field ever assembled on college chess,” said Alan Sherman, director and founder of the UMBC chess program and associate professor of computer science.

UMBC has now won or tied a record nine Pan-Am titles and is among the best college teams in the country. UTD challenged in the past, winning the championship in 2007 and 2008.

Members of the team include Leonid Kritz ’12 and Sergey Erenburg ’11, who are both grandmasters, and Giorgi Margvelashvili ’12, Sasha Kaplan ’11, and Sabina Foiser ’12. Many players attend UMBC on chess scholarships—up to full tuition plus a housing stipend. They play at least two hours per day in mentally challenging workouts and yet maintain very impressive GPA’s.

In 2008, UMBC got swept into its first-ever run to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But that was nothing compared to the crushing chess victory over rival UTD, at a school where “chess is king” and "Retrievers are believers."

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