Collegiate chess has exploded in America in the past 10 years — especially in Missouri.
When Webster University started its chess program, it instantly became the top-rated school in the country, and it has maintained dominance over college chess for the last seven years. However, things may soon change, as competition becomes stiffer every year.
Traditional powerhouses such as University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Tech University, and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have frequently provided tough matchups. And a young program at St. Louis University and a developing program at the University of Missouri (led by grandmaster Cristian Chirila) seem likely to make their marks in the near future.
For years, the two most important collegiate chess events have been the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship, held during many schools' winter breaks, and the Final Four of College Chess, usually played in April.
But with so many schools now offering full scholarships to players, the college chess calendar is expanding. A new event, the U.S. Collegiate Rapid and Blitz Championships, will be held at St. Louis University this month.
With the quickening of time controls and the increasing importance of rapid and blitz events around the world, it is only natural that collegiate chess offers an opportunity for a new national title in this modality.
In order to allow as many students to participate as possible, the tournaments will be played over a single weekend. The first day will be six rounds of rapid chess, played with a time control of 15 minutes per game and a 10-second bonus per move. Players will be competing for their schools as well as themselves. The top four scorers from each university count toward the team total. The team with the most points wins the title of national champion. (Players will not be allowed to play others from their same team.)
The next day, a new tournament begins. Instead of six rounds, the amount of games is increased to 12, and the time control is shortened to three minutes plus a two-second bonus per move.
The best teams are expected to take top honors, but perhaps we will have another Cinderella story, like the one from the last Pan-Americans, in which Harvard grabbed one of the top-four spots in the tournament. All the action will be played at Il Monastero in SLU's midtown campus. The tournament starts Saturday, March 16, at 10 a.m. The event is free to attend.
Alejandro Ramirez is the coach of the St. Louis University collegiate chess team.
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