The opponents of the chess club “P(A)WNS” in the season of success
While the Chicago winter is just freezing cold for most, the University of Chicago Chess Club kept warm in the heat of competition and paved the way for victory in its wake. From the frosty final weeks of the fall term to the surprisingly sunny February outing, the team has fought its way to the top ranks in competitions ranging from the Fall Collegiate Chess League (CCL) to the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship through the US Amateur Team-North event. .
Winter also brought the return of William Graif. The former president of the Chess Club had spent the entire fall term playing chess around the world. He expressed sheepish joy exchanging Zoom calls from the Chess Club at 3:30 a.m. – a necessary consequence of Budapest time – for the team’s familiar playgrounds at Hutchinson Commons.
Plus, returning to campus with another honor and a new title never fails to start the competitive season off on the right foot.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Graif said. “I achieved what I wanted to achieve abroad, in particular to be named FIDE [International Chess Federation] Master. Then I traveled to Europe for a while with my girlfriend, visited New York for a bit before going to Virginia, and straight from Virginia to Chicago.
Graif’s personal success in his chess journey mirrors that of his team; the fall saw UChicago Chess being named the 2021 CCL Fall Champion, along with the top prize of $5,000. The online tournament, which began as a small group of colleges competing against each other, has grown into an attraction catching the attention of chess players and fans alike.
“Our biggest success of the year so far has undoubtedly been the CCL,” said Grandmaster and current Chess Club President Praveen Balakrishnan. “We were the underdogs coming in, facing colleges around the world, some of them known to recruit grandmasters from around the world to play specifically for their college. So it was a really special experience.
Balakrishnan’s words underlined the magnitude of the club’s victory. The team opened the CCL playoffs with a 9.5–6.5 upset against the University of Missouri. Graif echoed Balakrishnan’s fear of victory.
“In the quarter-finals, honestly, I think we even surprised ourselves,” Graif said. “And the finals were extremely close. We were related [with the University of Warsaw] 6–6 going into the final round, and we literally all won our very last games to make that final score 10–6.
Graif went on to point out that the team’s success could not have been achieved without the support and guidance of third-year chess club vice-president Stephen Eisenhauer, who served as both organizer and captain of the chess club. team at CCL. Dividing his time between the team and the pursuit of computer AB/SM, Eisenhauer, like many Chess Club members, remembers his early days in chess as a source of connection to his loved ones, which has turned into a driving force to find its community on the University campus.
“I started playing chess ten years ago because a lot of my older brother’s friends were chess players,” Eisenhauer said. “I basically just followed him to a chess club he went to when he was a kid – he didn’t hang on to it, but I really enjoyed it.”
After winning the CCL, the team competed in the 2022 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, where the club received praise and compliments from rival universities for its tenacity and dedication to the game.
“We had coaches at [chess] scholarship universities praising us for our program and for our efforts to be there to compete alongside them,” said Graif. “It was incredibly flattering, and the whole experience was so much fun that I thought, ‘Even though this is the last college chess game I’m playing, I’m happy.'”
And while the UChicago A team was three points from last place in the Final Four, Balakrishnan highlighted the truly inspiring experience of being able to observe the team at their first in-person team event since the start of the pandemic. .
“Before the rounds started, we would all gather in one of the members’ rooms, pull out our laptops and prepare as a team,” Balakrishnan said. “If we needed help with a certain opening, we could ask anyone in the room, but usually everyone had advice to share. It was a big change from the virtual environment.
Most recently, the Chess Club sent two teams to compete at the US Amateur Team-North (USAT) event in Schaumburg, IL from February 18-20. UChicago swept the competition, with UChicago B, consisting of Balakrishnan, Graif, Brian Hu, and the campus’ newest grandmaster, freshman Awonder Liang, taking first place, and UChicago A narrowly in third place, leading by Kapil Chandran, Christoph Eichinger, Dylan Sunjic and Oliver Heggli-Nonay. The team also won the tournament’s first varsity prize, so UChicago B will travel to the USAT Nationals at an undetermined date.
With the spring term fast approaching, Balakrishnan jokingly feigned nerves about taking on the CCL’s second season as returning champions.
“We have more pressure this year because we won last time! Balakrishnan said.
As the club continues to prepare for its next game, Graif highlighted how the string of success is indeed a testament to the growth of the club and the bond shared among its members.
“In my first year, three people came to the club. And so to now have about 20 students enrolled at CCA alone, with all very invested in each other’s play, all eager to help each other out, is just great,” Graif said. “It was truly an honor and a privilege to compete with the teammates I have.”