On Chess: Collegiate Chess Players Exhibit Strong Talent At First National Rapid And Blitz Event | St. Louis Public Radio

On Chess: Collegiate Chess Players Exhibit Strong Talent At First National Rapid And Blitz Event

Mar 21, 2019

The college chess scene is booming, and it is easy to see why. The inclusion of so many strong chess programs and the explosion of rivalries between universities that give scholarships based on chess naturally lay the groundwork for more and more tournaments to be added into the circuit.

Traditionally, it is clear that the two most important events of the year for collegiate chess are the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and the Final Four. However, there is plenty of room for growth, and last weekend, the inaugural U.S. Collegiate Rapid and Blitz Championships was held on St. Louis University's campus. 

The rapid-and-blitz format is perfect for collegiate events, as students juggle their on-campus responsibilities with the challenges presented to titled players.

Most of the expected powerhouses of chess sent their strongest players to the beautiful Il Monastero playing hall. The format of the event emulated the successful Texas Collegiate Rapid events: pairings are done individually, players from the same school cannot play each other, and, at the end, the top four finishers from each school count toward the team score. Two distinct tournaments were held: rapid on Saturday and blitz on Sunday.

Saturday saw complete domination by the reigning national collegiate chess champions (the winners of the Final Four) from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Coached by Bartlomiej Macieja, UTRGV’s players are known to be specialists at quicker time controls.

The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley chess team won the rapid competition in the U.S. Collegiate Rapid and Blitz Championships.
Credit Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

One student, grandmaster Kamil Dragun, had a blistering start, scoring 5.0/5, but was unable to clinch the championship in this six-round tournament, as he fell in the last round to Pavlo Vorontsov from Texas Tech University. This paved the way for Kamil's teammate, Vladimir Belous, to beat Nikolas Theodorou from SLU and clinch first place with 5.5/6. The final standings in the team competition were not even close, giving UTRGV the first U.S. Collegiate Rapid Championships title.

Things went very differently on Sunday. With nine rounds instead of six, and a much faster time control (games lasted about 40 minutes in rapid and only 15 minutes in blitz), the tournament took a completely different turn.

Fresh off a tremendous performance representing Team USA as our first board in the 2019 World Team Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, grandmaster Dariusz Świercz showed why he is one of the top 100 players in the world. Representing St. Louis University (SLU), Dariusz dominated the competition, starting with a convincing 7.0/7, and only allowed one draw in round eight. His teammate, grandmaster Benjamin Bok from the Netherlands, also played an excellent tournament, finishing second and securing not only players' individual standings but also SLU's place as the 2019 U.S. Collegiate Blitz champions.

In both the rapid and the blitz, Texas Tech University (TTU) player Iryna Andrenko won top women's prize. The complete list of winners is as follows:

2019 U.S. Collegiate Rapid Championship (full results)

  • 1st Place Team: UTRGV
  • 1st Place: GM Vladimir Belous (UTRGV)
  • 2nd Place: GM Kamil Dragun (UTRGV)
  • 3rd Place: GM Pavlo Vorontsov (TTU)
  • 1st Place Female: WIM Iryna Andrenko (TTU)
  • 1st Place Under 2200: Christian Ammon (TTU)
  • 1st Place Under 2000: Ako Heidari (George Mason University)
  • 1st Place Under 1800: Jack Thain (Parland Junior College)

2019 U.S. Collegiate Blitz Championship (full results)

  • 1st Place Team: SLU 
  • 1st Place: GM Dariusz Świercz (SLU)
  • 2nd Place: GM Benjamin Bok (SLU)
  • 3rd Place: IM Guillermo Vazquez (UTRGV)
  • 1st Place Female: WIM Iryna Andrenko (TTU)
  • 1st Place Under 2200: Nadiia Salakh (TTU)
  • 1st Place Under 2000: Christian Ammon (TTU)
  • 1st Place Under 1800: Kyle Rentmeester (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Despite being an inaugural event, which inevitably has details that need fixing, the event was very successful and saw some very high-level chess. TTU's coach and former U.S. Champion grandmaster Alex Onischuk came up with the idea for this new event. He remarked how exciting it was, saying, “I wish I could just jump right in!”

SLU will soon be submitting a bid to host this wonderful event again next year.

Alejandro Ramirez is the coach of the St. Louis University chess team.