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Chess Team Third at Pan-Ams

By Eston M. Kimani

The MIT Chess Team recently tied for third place in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship, the top college chess tournament in the Western hemisphere.

With their high Pan-Am finish, MIT is now among the top teams in U.S. college chess. MIT is currently an alternate for the President’s Cup tournament, which features the four best college teams in the country.

“We did better than teams who fielded players on the same tier as ours, and so this was an important victory for us,” said Elina Groberman ’04, the current National US Women’s Chess co-champion and president of the MIT Chess Club.

MIT lost only to the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), which both tied for first place. Both of these schools offer chess fellowships to attract top players from around the country.

MIT tied for third place with four other schools including Stanford University, Harvard University and the UTD and UMBC “B” Teams.

MIT defeated Harvard B, Rhode Island College, UMBC B and Chicago B teams, ending with a score of 4 points out of 6.

The competition was held in Providence, Rhode Island in late December. Representing MIT were team members Groberman, Tamer Karatekin ’04, Sanne V. De Boer G, and Alex Skorokhod ’04.

Competition heated at tournament

The MIT team members felt that they could have done better had they not been placed in the same set as UTD and UMBC, which were undoubtedly the best teams in the tournament.

Skorokhod’s decisive victory over the higher-ranked Dennis Rylander of UTD was undoubtedly the biggest upset of the game, especially because Rylander is ranked about 500 points higher than Skorokhod.

“The result is that MIT tied with Harvard, Stanford and other colleges which we think we could have done better than,” said Karatekin, an MIT team member who is the national chess champion of Turkey.

“Last semester MIT beat the Harvard team by 7.5 to 2.5 which is a definitive margin,” he added.

For a student to participate in the tournament he or she must be enrolled in the spring or fall term at a college and be working towards a degree from the college. The college must also write a letter acknowledging the student’s enrollment.

Chess team hopes to hire coach

Right now, the chess team’s immediate goal is to raise money to fund their activities and, more importantly, to hire a coach.

“We basically practice alone and critique each other’s game; having a coach would greatly benefit us and improve our game,” Groberman said.

The team has also been busy in educating the community about the game of chess. They have been organizing chess workshops and a tournament over Independent Activities Period to encourage students to develop interest in the game.

“We believe that there are many chess players at MIT who could contribute to the development of the game at MIT,” Groberman said. “So we are giving them a chance to come out and play.”

The chess club has also organized a program with the Educational Studies Program (ESP) in which they teach high school children how to play chess and offer advice on how to better their game in an effort to promote chess playing in the community.

The MIT Chess Team’s performance was a great improvement on last year, in which MIT placed 15th. In all, 27 teams competed in the 47th annual Pan-Am tournament, which began in 1946 as a biannual tournament and became an annual event in 1965. Besides hosting the top chess teams in the nation, the tournament also had very highly ranked individual participants including three international chess masters and grandmasters.

The team is now preparing to compete in the US Amateur Team Championship East, which will be held in mid-February.