SLU Chess: Best in the Midwest


Photo Courtesy of SLU Chess Team

Earlier this month, the SLU chess team continued their hot streak as they competed at the Midwest Collegiate Chess Championship at the University of Missouri. Held from Oct. 6 to 8, SLU’s chess team was met with tough competition from Washington University and Mizzou, all three teams fielding their strongest players. 

The Midwest Chess Championship was the first event of its kind, and the inauguration represents a push to bring together the best collegiate chess players in the Midwest for competition. According to Mizzou chess coach Christian Chirila, “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.”

The tournament was divided into two back-to-back events: a five round classical tournament, where games last several hours and mental stamina is a key factor, and a nine round “blitz” tournament, where the games are much shorter but the pressure is often ramped up. 

Players from each school competed individually, and both the classical and the blitz events were won by SLU players. Sophomore Benjamin Bok, who recently made St. Louis headlines for his performance at the FIDE World Cup in Russia, built on his strong performance there by capturing first place in the blitz section, winning seven of nine games.

With this victory in the blitz event, Bok edged out fellow teammates, including sophomore Akshat Chandra and senior Dariusz Swiercz, who took second and third place, respectively. Bok’s victory came down to the wire, as Chandra and Swiercz both won their final game, each finishing with a score of 6 ½ points out of 9. Bok’s winning score of 7 points out of 9, just half a point ahead of his nearest competitors, meant that his final round win clinched the victory—had he lost or even drawn that game, the blitz event might have ended much differently. Another strong showing for SLU in the blitz section was made by sophomore Nikolas Theodorou, who placed inside the top ten with 5 ½ points out of 9. 

Commenting on his victory, Bok said, “I was happy to win the blitz tournament ahead of several strong Grandmasters, but also because I moved up to number 64 in the world blitz chess rankings.” 

After the blitz event, players moved to the classical event, where five games of chess were played. Classical chess is played at a much slower pace than blitz, and for that reason endurance and mental stamina are key factors for success. In the blitz section, each player began with three minutes on their clock, with two seconds added to their remaining time every time they made a move. In classical chess, on the other hand, each player starts with 90 minutes on their clock, with a thirty second increment each time a move is made. This difference in the duration of the games meant that players had to adjust their mindset and strategy as they moved from the blitz section to the classical section, an adjustment that SLU’s team made quite easily. 

Swiercz added to his second place finish in the blitz section by taking first place overall in the classical section with a score of 4 points out of 5. His victory featured three wins and two draws, including a final round draw against teammate Theodorou, who took second place overall in the classical section. The final round draw between Swiercz and Theodorou meant that each player had scored 4 points out of 5, and as a result, a playoff was needed to decide the overall winner. 

The playoff between the two players was tense, made more exciting by the fact that both players were teammates. The playoff consisted of a two games of blitz, with the same time format that was used in the blitz section. Swiercz backed up his strong finish in the blitz section by winning both playoff games, thereby earning first place in the classical section.

With SLU players taking the top three spots in the blitz section and the top two spots in the classical section, the SLU team secured the top team prize in both sections. Such a successful showing against the top chess players in the Midwest is a testament to the depth of talent and versatility found in SLU’s chess team. Even though SLU came into the event as the favorite to win, Bok made it clear that such success is never taken for granted. Bok noted that “coming into the tournament, we were the favorite to win both sections, but living up to that expectation is never easy.” 

The chess team hopes to carry their momentum into the next event on their calendar: the 2019 World Prestigious University Chess Tournament, hosted at Nankai University in China. Summing up the competition, Bok said, “We will be playing against some of the top collegiate chess teams in the world, and our goal is to win.”