SLU Chess Pan-Ams

Earlier this month, as most Billikens were enjoying winter break, the Saint Louis University Chess Team was working hard to win the 2022 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Championships, held Jan. 6 through Jan. 9 after a two-year hiatus.

This year, over 250 participants from 35 schools competed in the tournament. SLU sent two teams, an “A” team featuring Darius Swiercz, Nikolas Theodorou, Benjamin Bok, Robby Robby Kevlishvili, Akshat Chandra and Cemil Can Ali Marandi, and an all-female “B” team that included Stavroula Tsolakidou, Gabriela Antova, Thalia Cervantes, Karen Hoshino and Varenya Chilukuri. 

Both the A and B teams put up stellar results. SLU’s A team offered a dominating performance, winning all six of their matches against other top-ranked universities and was the only team to finish the tournament with a perfect score. The B team won four out of their six matches, earning them a top-10 finish out of the 57 teams. The B team also won an award for finishing as the top female team, and Gabriela Antova and Thalia Cervantes won first and second place respectively among females. 

SLU’s A Team entered the tournament as the second seed behind rival Webster University, followed closely by Texas Tech and the University of Texas at Dallas. 

After nearly two years of virtual tournaments, the SLU chess team was thrilled to return to in-person competition, with the tournament being held in Dulles, Virginia. The format was a standard team chess format, also known as the “Swiss” format, in which four players from one university face off against four from another. A full point is earned for a win and a half-point for a tie. The team with the most points after the conclusion of the four games wins the match. 

Gabriela Antova, a freshman from Bulgaria with a major in international business, put up an incredible performance for SLU’s B team. She won five games and drew one, earning her an award for top female player of the tournament. One of her most impressive games was an upset win in round three against a much higher rated player from the University of Chicago. 

Benjamin Bok, junior studying finance, had an especially strong tournament, winning several must-win games to propel the A team to victory. In round four, he clinched the win for his team by beating Samuel Schmakel of Texas Tech. He came in clutch in round five again by beating Brian Escalante of Webster University. With the rest of the team finishing with draws, his win gave SLU’s A team the win over the top-seeded Webster University. Bok finished the tournament with five wins and a draw, earning him an award as the tournament’s top fourth board. 

Nikolas Theodorou, a junior studying physics and mathematics, came through in the sixth and final round to clinch the team’s tournament victory. At the start of the sixth round, there were several teams in contention. SLU led the tournament with a perfect 5/5, but they were paired against University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, who had scored 4.5. A win in the final round against SLU would have given the tournament victory to University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley.

Bok, Marandi and Swiercz each drew their games, but Theodorou won against his opponent Ulvi Bajarani, clinching the victory for SLU’s A team.  

By winning this tournament, the SLU chess team has earned the right to play in the prestigious President’s Cup, to be held in April. Since 2001, the top four finishing U.S. schools in the Pan-Am advance to the President’s Cup, also known as the “Final Four of Chess,” which determines the U.S. National College or University Champion. SLU hopes to improve on their runner-up finish last year with a win this April. Webster, University of Texas at Dallas and Texas Tech also earned spots in the Final Four.