The University of Missouri entered the world of competitive collegiate chess at the beginning of this year, announcing the inception of its inaugural chess program under the banner of its College of Arts & Science.
One of the program’s main goals is to provide opportunities for its players to train and compete at the most challenging levels, while maintaining high academic standards.
Collegiate chess tournaments are generally rare, with only a handful of important events per year. For this reason, the best way to get the players, the fans and their respective universities involved is to create more tournaments.
During these events, world-class player-students would be able to showcase their skills, opening the doors of our game toward continuous engagement with fellow students, alumni and new fans. Engagement with the fans is the one metric a collegiate game or sport must have in order to flourish.
Best of the best
With that mission in mind, the Mizzou team decided to create a new chess tournament that would include the best of the best in our region.
The Midwest Collegiate Chess & Blitz Championship took shape, and its inaugural edition was scheduled to take placed at the Reynolds Journalism Institute situated in the core of the Mizzou campus. The invitations were sent, the dates were set and the best collegiate players in the Midwest arrived in Columbia, Missouri, on Oct. 3.
The participating teams were St. Louis University, Washington University and the host, Mizzou. SLU brought two grandmaster teams, clearly signaling their intent to take the competition by storm.
Wash U sent its best players, spearheaded by captain Akshay Padmanabhan. Mizzou fielded its new team comprised of three grandmasters, a woman grandmaster and a newly minted national master.
The competition was fierce from the beginning to the end, with the results in all categories being decided in the last rounds of the blitz, as well as the classical tournaments.
It was SLU’s sheer number of top GMs that made the difference, as Benjamin Bok and Dariusz Swiercz were ultimately crowned the Midwest Collegiate Champions in the blitz and the classical sections respectively, helping their university clinch the Midwest Collegiate Team title in the process.
Mizzou’s top woman, Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, took the title in her category and became the Midwest Collegiate Female Champion, edging the higher-rated Stavroula Tsolakidou of SLU in the process.
Ciprian Comsa of Mizzou took the amateur title after a brilliant performance in an event in which he managed to score his first draw against a GM.
The tournament was a success due to the continual support of the St. Louis Chess Club and the efforts of arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer. The energetic commentary was provided by Caleb Denby and Nicky Gurpinar, who broadcast the show live on the gaming platform Twitch.
Cristian Chirila is a Romanian chess grandmaster.