Harvard has long been an underdog in competitive chess. More than a decade has passed since the Harvard Chess Club sent a team in contention for the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship title.
But at last year’s Ivy League Chess Championship, Harvard did not even reach the podium; Columbia took first-place, Dartmouth finished second, and Yale and Princeton tied for third.
Now, after a rewarding draw with Yale at the schools’ annual competition last fall, the team is preparing for a comeback at the 2013 Ivy League Chess Championship on Feb. 22, according to co-president Tony A. Blum ’14.
Regardless of the outcome, the leaders of Harvard Chess are pushing to intensify the team’s tournament training in hopes of becoming more competitive nationally in the long run.
Harvard Chess last grabbed headlines in 2002, when it placed fourth at the Pan-American competition and gave chess giants University of Texas at Dallas and University of Maryland, Baltimore County a run for their money.
While Harvard is now at the top of the Ivy League, on the national scene, the team faces steep competition from schools which recruit internationally.
Currently, the Harvard chess club includes one master and five experts, expert, a rank one knotch before Master
At University of Maryland, Baltmore, which offers full-scholarships to strong chess players, the chess team consists of two grand masters, two international masters, one women’s international grand master, and one master.
“[Our success] basically boils down to the fact that we’ve invested so much money and resources to get top players from around the world,” said Richard Selzler, vice president of the UMBC Chess. “Our top players come from Georgia, Israel, [and] Russia.”
Though Harvard Chess used to hold try outs to limit its membership, the team is now open to the Harvard and Cambridge communities, regardless of their experience.
As part of the initiative to increase the team’s competitiveness on the national stage, the chess club co-presidents and vice-president hope to revamp practice to include more formalized training.
WORK VERSUS PLAY
On Wednesday nights, club members camp out in the back of Quincy Dining Hall, lining a few tables with chess mats and clocks for timing.
For the first 30 minutes, the area is quiet as players practice tournament-style play.