Annotated by

GM Shabalov

The Story of Chess at UMBC 1990-1997

Dr. Alan T. Sherman
Faculty Advisor, UMBC Chess Club
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

December 30, 1997

"How many universities show more interest in their nationally rated chess club than the football team? That's the way it is these days at the University of Maryland Baltimore County."

So opened an editorial in the September 14, 1996, issue of the Baltimore Sun noting the 30th anniversary of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), winners of the 1996 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship (Pan-Am). Mirroring the rapid rise of this mid-sized public research university, the UMBC Chess Club has gained national and international attention for its strong teams, innovative use of chess scholarships, and pioneering application of technology to support spectator chess. Chess has become synonymous with UMBC, and UMBC is attracting some of the world's best chess-player scholars. In this article I would like to describe the chess program at UMBC, chronicle how it developed, explain why chess is helpful to UMBC, and share some of my visions for the future.

Chess Activities

1996 Chess 
CampClub activities include weekly meetings, coaching sessions, chess courses, tournaments, team competitions, simultaneous exhibitions, lectures, exhibition matches, an annual student vs. faculty match, special events, community outreach, and a summer chess camp for students entering grades 5-12. Behind the scenes, significant effort goes into event planning, fund-raising, recruiting, communications, public relations, technology, and coordination with local, state, and national chess organizations.

The Club meets 4-6pm every Friday in the University Center. In the spring, these meetings often take place outside in the adjacent plaza. Although blitz (G/5 mins.) is very popular, we also provide instruction to novice players, analyze member games, study grandmaster games, and play both sides of practice positions recommended by our coach in G/15 mins. The main purpose of these informal meetings is to have fun and welcome new members. It helps to have a consistent time and location.

9:30am-12:30pm every Saturday morning our coach, Master Igor Epshteyn, holds training sessions for team members. These sessions are also open to anyone in the UMBC community. Typically, each session focuses on some strategic concept of the middlegame and its relationship to pawn structure and typical endings. The lesson features thorough analysis of a complete game and practice from carefully selected middlegame positions. Epshteyn, a former coach of the Olympic Reserve Team in Minsk, also meets individually with team members.

Our Master Preparation chess course meets once a week in the evening. Targeted at players rated 1800-2200, this course develops the psychological, strategic, and tactical understanding needed to become a chess master. Each lecture is videotaped in front of a live audience and later broadcast over the internet on an Mbone multicast and on UMBC's cable TV network; tapes are also available for sale. The course was first taught by GM Ilya Smirin and Epshteyn in 95-96, when we also held weekly "intern et office hours" every Friday afternoon on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). The fall 97 lectures are presented by GM Alexander Shabalov Tuesdays 8:15-9:30pm. Course materials are available over the World Wide Web (navigate from Students may follow announcements and participate in discussions over the email list; they may also communicate privately with the instructor by sending email to

Each year the club holds two major 5-SS tournaments (25/1hr., SD/1hr): The UMBC Championship (for UMBC students only) and the UMBC Open. Held the second weekend in September, the Championship serves two purposes. First, the winner earns the title of UMBC Chess Champion and is given a large perpetual trophy to keep for one year. Second, the Championship establishes a ranking of team-eligible players used throughout the academic year to select chess teams as needed. To qualify for any UMBC Chess Team, students must play in the Championship. Teams are selected by final ranking in the Championship, not by rating. One week after the Championship, the top four finishers are invited to play in the UMBC Action Chess Championship (G/30mins). This single-elimination spectator event features computer projection of games from an autosensory chessboard and live move-by-move sports commentary broadcast over 93.9 MHz FM.

In early March, the UMBC Open grand prix tournament is held concurrently with the "Sweet 16" playoffs of the Maryland Scholastic Championship. Each year, the scholastic champion wins a full four-year instate tuition scholarship to UMBC. In 1995--the founding year of this award--the scholarship went to then 7th-grader Edic Tsibulevsky; his one year older brother Misha won the scholarship the next year. The scholarships will be waiting for them when they finish high school.

The major team event of the year is the Pan-Am, usually held December 27-30. Recently we have been sending three teams. In preparation, in October, we play a six-board intercollegiate match. For example, on October 18, 1997, we defeated the University of Pennsylvania 4.5-1.5 (see side bar). For additional training, team members play a timed simultaneous exhibition against a strong GM--most recently Ilya Smirin, Lubomir Kavalek, and Alexander Shabalov. After winning the 96 Pan-Am (Chess Life, May 97), UMBC went 0.5-3.5 in a timed simul against World Champion Garry Kasparov as part of Chess Jam 97 (CL, July 97). A UMBC chess team also plays in the Internet College Chess League (ICCL), and we like to have a second intercollegiate match in the spring.

To begin each semester we participate in a university-wide Activities Fair, where we try to recruit new members. In February, our first major event is a simultaneous exhibition open to the public. As part of the popular Quadmania spring festival, we hold the annual student vs. faculty match outdoors amid errant frisbees not far from a blaring rock band. Other regular fun events include a fall pizza party and blitz tournament, and the summer Friends of Chess Picnic.

In cooperation with the Departments of Mathematics and Computer Science, the Chess Club has hosted several interesting research lectures, including a talk by Dr. Bradley Kuzmaul on *Socrates, a talk by Dr. Mark Glickman on chess rating systems, and a talk by Dr. Robert Hyatt on Crafty. In addition, in fall 95, Dr. James Mayfield and I taught a graduate seminar on computer chess.

Each year we try to organize at least one major special event. For example, in 1995, we hosted the Maryland Scholastic Championships, and a Man vs. Machine Match. In this match, *Socrates (running on an 1800-node Intel Paragon supercomputer) defeated GM Gennady Sagalchik in 56 moves, as hundreds of people throughout the world watched each move live over the ICC. In 1996, we hosted an exhibition match between GM Ilya Smirin and 1995 Maryland Champion William "The Exterminator" Morrison (complete with sports commentary and video closeups of the players); we also hosted the Pan-Am (CL, Nov. 96).

An important component of our program is community outreach. In addition to running campus-based events (such as a fall scholastic chess festival and a summer camp), some of our members assist chess clubs in Baltimore-area schools.

Building a Program

The growth of chess at UMBC is a story of serendipity, determination, organization, recruiting, coaching, coordination, vision, perseverance, teamwork, and good fortune. Shortly after completing my PhD in Computer Science from MIT, in fall 89, I joined the UMBC faculty as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science. At that time, I was no longer very active in chess, either as player or organizer. Over the next few years all that would change. Initially, however, I had no grand plan for chess at UMBC; instead, a sequence of events simply happened. Along the way, I began setting goals. With the successful achievement of each goal, I gradually raised my sights.

Eventually, I realized that I was the right person, at the right place, at the right time, to make some significant contributions to college chess, while helping students, the community, and UMBC along the way. With this insight, I took on the following challenges: to recruit outstanding chess-player scholars to UMBC, to establish a summer chess camp for Baltimore youth, to organize a Man vs. Machine chess match, to recruit a Grandmaster to UMBC, to beat MIT and Harvard at chess, and to win the Pan-Am Intercollegiate. I also set a personal goal of winning the top faculty prize at the Pan-Am Open.

91-93: Becoming Faculty Advisor

In 1989, these goals would have seemed absurd. To the best of my knowledge, UMBC had never entered the Pan-Am, and the one and only strong chess player on campus--Kimani A. Stancil--was an expert. At that time, rated only 1615, I considered experts to be very strong (less that 4% of tournament players in the USA are experts or higher). When UMBC first entered the Pan-Am in 1990, the team lacked adequate financial support, so Kimani's father drove the team members to Cambridge, MA. They placed 26 out of the 27 teams that entered. Who then could have predicted that, in only six years, the winner of the Pan-Am would be determined by a final-round showdown between UMBC's A and B teams? Who then could have predicted that being a senior master would not guarantee qualifying for the A Team? Who then could have predicted that UMBC would be flying three teams to the 97 Pan-Am at University expense? Yet, each of these three events happened, and by the end of 1996, I had accomplished all of my aforementioned goals. Despite placing next to last in the 90 Pan-Am, participation was progress.

Two events rekindled my chess activities. First, in 1991, local chess enthusiast Sid Robertson opened Chess by the Creek, a chess club situated near my home in historic Ellicott City. I would often spend time during the weekends playing chess there, including in rated tournaments. Like his chess play, however, Robertson's business sense had vision without sound tactics: within about one year, Chess by the Creek closed in bankruptcy. Meanwhile, I began playing blitz at the Friday afternoon UMBC Chess Club meetings, and with some students and faculty in the Computer Science Department. Second, UMBC English major Jeff Greenbaum challenged me "to defend the honor of the Faculty" in a Student vs. Faculty chess match held during the 1991 Quadmania spring festival. That was a challenge I could not refuse. Although I won my game against Jeff, and despite valiant efforts by former master Dr. Slo Petrovitch and Dr. Jim Mayfield (who had never before played in any tournament), the faculty lost 2-1 that memorable afternoon. I was hooked. When Kimani asked me to become Faculty Advisor that spring, I gladly accepted.

I know little about chess activities at UMBC prior to 1989, except that former master John Bell (Professor of History) had advised the club. During my first few years at UMBC, Meyerhoff Scholar Kimani Stancil (now a PhD student in theoretical physics at MIT) played a significant role. In particular, Kimani was very successful in attracting beginners to the club and in teaching them the basics of chess. Serious team competitions, however, did not materialize until after I became Faculty Advisor in 1991 and began recruiting strong players.

At first, my recruiting was extremely low-key. As a member of the graduate admissions committee in computer science, I noticed whenever an applicant mentioned chess as a hobby. I took the effort to write a personal note to such applicants, encouraging them to come to UMBC. My personal touch made a difference and resulted in the recruitment of former Sri Lankan chess champion Ishan Weerakoon. Based on his strong academic background, Ishan received a graduate teaching assistantship from what was then the Computer Science Department. This experience convinced me that recruiting was possible and could make a huge difference.

93-94: UMBC Turns Competitive

Recruiting gained momentum when I met Senior Master Craig Jones--across the board in Round 1 of the 1993 Maryland Action Chess Championship. After quickly losing to Craig without offering any meaningful resistance, we went out to lunch where I was immediately impressed with his energy, intellect, and interest in computer chess. I encouraged him to study computer science at UMBC. Craig matriculated in spring 94, and thus qualified for the 93 Pan-Am; to be eligible to enter the 93 Pan-Am, each player must be a degree- seeking student in the fall 93 or spring 94 term. Craig, however, did not win the 93 Action Championship. That honor went to a street player from New York, nicknamed "The Exterminator" for what he does to his opponents over the chessboard. Although I did not meet this intriguing character that day, our paths would later cross in significant ways.

In fall 93, we formalized the UMBC Championship as a qualifying tournament to select the UMBC Chess Teams and to determine the UMBC Chess Champion for the academic year. Ishan won the Championship, after Craig was upset by computer science major Milton ("Mack") Smith. That semester we decided to try to enter the Pan-Am in DeLand, Florida. Lacking adequate funds for travel, I appealed in writing to UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III for support, citing our strong team of Craig, Ishan, Kimani, and Manish Singh, with Mack as first alternate. With strong encouragement and financial support from President Hrabowski, we entered two teams in the 93 Pan-Am.

The 93 Pan-Am was a significant experience for me. I saw first hand how the Pan-Am worked. I made several important personal contacts, including GM Gennady Sagalchik and Dean Howard Prince of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). Although I had played in the 1976 Pan-Am as a member of a team from Brown University, that was a long time ago and I saw events differently as Faculty Advisor. Despite my initial optimism of having a senior master on Board 1, it became clear that winning the Pan-Am would require stronger players on all four boards. Despite drawing the winning BMCC team 2-2, UMBC ended up in a tie for third place. I placed second in the Pan-Am Open, taking the top faculty prize with a last-round win over Robert Haskins (2084).

The most exciting moment of the 93 Pan-Am was our match against Harvard in the penultimate round. With draws on Boards 1 and 3, and with Mack (who had replaced Manish) in trouble on Board 4, the outcome of the match depended on Ishan's game. Rising to the occasion, the usually conservative former Sri Lankan Champion began attacking like wildfire. Although Harvard triumphed, Ishan's all-out effort gained the admiration of his teammates. That day I vowed to beat Harvard in a rematch.

Recruiting in spring 94 met with two successes. First, through personal encouragement, I helped convince Bella Belegradek from Moscow to enter the PhD program in computer science. Her outstanding academic background earned her a teaching assistantship. Second, through the personal connections of our new Department Chair Tim Finin, I was able to make contact with Steve Shutt, who is a gifted chess coach at Masterman High School in Philadelphia. This contact led to the recruitment of our first chess-player scholar--Alexander Shinn--who received an academic scholarship in which chess played a role. Making contact with Shutt, however, proved to be more important, since he would supply UMBC with a steady stream of chess-player scholars.

1994 Team 
Photo UMBC 
Chess Coach Igor Epshteyn
1994 Team Members gather for a picture with Dr. Alan T. Sherman. Left to right: Alex Shinn, Predrag Tosic, Vinod Akunuri, Dr. Sherman, Bella Belegradek. UMBC Chess Coach Igor Epshteyn instructing Edic (left) and Misha Tsibulevsky (right). Both Edic and Misha won the Maryland Championship, entitling them to a full scholarship to UMBC once they graduate high school.

94-95: Coach Igor Epshteyn Joins UMBC

Another significant event happened in spring 94: At the UMBC Open, I met Master Igor Epshteyn, former coach of the Olympic Reserve Team and the Junior Belorussian Team in Minsk. A physicist by training, Epshteyn had immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, and had accepted a programming job in New Carrollton. It was obvious, however, that his first love was chess. When I asked him if he would like to coach the UMBC Chess Team, his face immediately lit up and he enthusiastically responded "yes!" I later learned that former students of the Belorussian Olympic Reserve Schools during Epshteyn's tenure there include GMs Boris Gelfand, Ilya Smirin, and Gennady Sagalchik, and IM Valery Atlas and his twin brother Dmitry. Smirin was from Vitebsk, the others from Minsk. Soon I began wondering if it would be possible to reconstitute the former Junior Belorussian Team at UMBC.

In fall 94, Master Epshteyn began coaching team members. Every Saturday morning he met with enthusiastic players. He focused his sessions around middlegame strategies, organized by typical pawn structures, and illustrated with carefully-chosen complete grandmaster games. Through his scientific approach he showed us that chess is much more than openings and tactics. I enjoyed his colorful use of Russian metaphors, such as "bishops lying in ambush." Through these sessions our understanding and appreciation of chess grew.

For several years there had been a friendly chess rivalry between UMBC and the nearby Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore. Typically we had a six-board rated match in late October, alternating sites each year. Despite our strong showing in the 93 Pan-Am, we often had trouble against JHU. So was the case in fall 94 when we lost due to a string of misfortunes, including Alex Shinn missing his ride because he forgot to reset his alarm clock to Eastern Standard Time the night before. Indeed JHU had a formidable team, but through these matches I learned the importance of logistical coordination and the danger of underestimating your opponents.

At the 94 Pan-Am in Providence, RI, UMBC tied for fifth place. Weerakoon returned to Sri Lanka to get married, so Belegradek played first board. Once again, BMCC placed first, and I finished first among the faculty players in the Pan-Am Open. Having twice placed among the top five schools, I began seriously to believe it should be possible to place first. At the same time, I realized that to accomplish this goal would require a stronger team, including a grandmaster.

Spring 95: Recruiting Gains Momentum

Although winning is not everything (having an active club with strong team that helps the community is more important), I understood that winning the Pan-Am would greatly help our club achieve its long-term goals of attracting and nurturing chess-player scholars and helping Baltimore-area youth through chess. In particular, winning the Pan-Am would gain credibility, attract publicity, and help raise money both within and from outside the university. With these goals in mind, I began to recruit more aggressively in spring 95.

My recruiting strategy involved six elements. First, I took out a classified ad in Chess Life seeking chess-player scholars graduating in the top 10% of their high school class with USCF rating over 2000 and SAT over 1400 for possible college scholarships to UMBC. Advertising these high expectations drew attention to the quality of the academic programs at UMBC. Second, I sent direct mail to the top 100 finishers in the National Scholastic Championship and to all U.S. chess players under nineteen years old with USCF rating over 2000. Third, I made connections with well-known high school chess coaches to encourage their students to consider UMBC. Fourth, I convinced the UMBC administration to offer a full four-year instate tuition scholarship to the winner of the Maryland Scholastic Championship, which we would host at UMBC that spring. Fifth, we increased our presence on the internet, through www pages, postings on news groups, and making interesting events available through the Internet Chess Club (ICC). Sixth, I began seriously to try to recruit a grandmaster.

GM Gennady Sagalchik giving a simulMy first attempt to recruit a grandmaster focused on Gennady Sagalchik of BMCC. He wanted to continue his studies at a four-year college, and I had met him at the 93 and 94 Pan-Ams. I invited him to visit UMBC to give a simultaneous exhibition, to play in our Man vs. Machine Match (which we carried live on the ICC), and to play in the UMBC Open. I wrote a letter to President Hrabowski seeking his support. Alas, Sagalchik was deeply rooted in New York City and elected to attend Brooklyn College. Nevertheless, Sagalchik helped our program by his interactions with us, and I learned about the culture of the grandmaster world.
Man vs. Machine Match

The Man vs. Machine Match was a huge success. Approximately 100 spectators watched the match in person; over 500 people followed on the internet; the Intel Corporation contributed $1,000; and the spectacle received significant media coverage, highlighting UMBC's combined strength in chess and technology.

How I obtained sponsorship from Intel is an amusing story of "just in time" funding. Since the *Socrates program was running on an Intel 1800-node Paragon supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratories, I reasoned that Intel might be interested in sponsoring the event to promote their machine. Unfortunately, I thought of this plan only the day before the event. That afternoon I persistently called many different Intel officials, each referring me to someone else. Finally, my assiduity paid off. I reached someone in the internet marketing division who seemed interested, albeit not because of the Paragon. He told me he would have an answer in about two hours. After buying a pair of table flags for the event, I telephoned him again from a pay phone outside the flag store alongside busy Rt. 40 in Ellicott City. He offered to provide $1,000 for expenses in return for our putting the Intel logo on our www page covering the event. Given the traffic noises in the background, I think he must have had serious questions about my legitimacy. Later that evening I added the logo, which I obtained from Intel's home page.

The 95 UMBC Open and William "The Exterminator" Morrison

Hosting the Maryland Scholastic Championship at UMBC in spring 95 was an important event. Through this event we strengthened our ties to the Maryland Chess Association, we advertised our scholarship programs, and we brought over 250 students (grades 1-12) onto campus. We also gained some valuable experience in running large tournaments. With the success of this event, I established another goal: to host the Pan-Am in Baltimore.

In spring 95, we established a new tradition: to host the "Sweet 16" playoffs of the Maryland Scholastic Championship at UMBC concurrently with the UMBC Open. As had been the tradition in Maryland, the top sixteen finishers from the Championship were invited to a four-round Swiss system playoff to determine the Maryland Scholastic Champion. Since UMBC was offering a tuition scholarship to the winner, it was natural for UMBC to be the site of the playoffs.

The UMBC Open in spring 95 was a remarkable event. The scholarship prize and the entry of GM Sagalchik added excitement. We broadcast Sagalchik's last-round game over the ICC. More importantly, however, was the entry of William "The Exterminator" Morrison, the mysterious player whom I had first heard of from the 93 Maryland Action Championship. Although Morrison held Sagalchik to a draw, Sagalchik went on to win the tournament.

William The Exterminator MorrisonWilliam Morrison grew up in New York City, where he frequently played chess in Washington Square Park. There he earned cash from anyone foolish enough to play him for money. The park chess player in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based in part on Morrison and others like him. His reputation spread throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and in 1995, he won the championships of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. In between rounds, I met the intelligent and charismatic Morrison. When I learned that he had never finished his college degree at Morgan State, I asked him if he would like to come to UMBC if I could arrange a scholarship. He agreed on the spot.

April-September 95: International Grandmaster I lya J. Smirin

The next recruiting break came with an unsolicited long-distance telephone call from Israel--from GM Ilya J. Smirin, then ranked 28th in the world with an FIDE rating of 2630, and the 1992 Chess Champion of Israel. Smirin had heard from his friend Sagalchik that I might be able to help him come to the USA to study computer science. SmirinGrandmaster 
Ilya J. Smirin wanted to experience America and to earn a computer science degree in case his earnings as a professional chess player declined. He requested two conditions: a full-tuition scholarship, and help in becoming a permanent resident. Both conditions seemed difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy. All UMBC chess scholarships are restricted to USA citizens or permanent residents. As I knew from personal experience through my Japanese wife, dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service is no easy task.

In order to secure a tuition scholarship, I needed to raise at least $20,000 in external support; no state money could be used. First, working through the UMBC Administration, we approached several local businessmen for a donation. When that strategy failed, I wrote a proposal to the Abell Foundation, arguing that bringing a grandmaster to Baltimore would help inspire Baltimore youth to value activities of the mind. In return for Smirin's tuition, UMBC would run a summer chess camp for Baltimore-area youth at which Smirin would be the Grandmaster in Residence. The UMBC Chess Club would also host community service activities, such as a Scholastic Chess Festival. It worked!

The next step was more difficult--helping Smirin gain permanent residency. Despite overwhelming odds against success, I was determined to succeed. I spoke with UMBC officials knowledgeable about immigration matters; I attended an immigration workshop; and I studied immigration policy. I then wrote a lengthy, well-documented I-140 petition arguing that Smirin should be granted immediate permanent residency on the basis of his extraordinary ability at chess. It worked! Smirin was coming!

With a strong grandmaster coming to campus, I conceived of the idea of our non-credit Master Preparation Chess Course. Working through the Office of Continuing Education, I organized this course in part as an experiment in distance education. The course also provided a way for Smirin to help local chess players and for Smirin and the Chess Club to earn some money. Twenty-two students attended the course at UMBC, and another fifty followed via the internet. Videotapes of the lectures, which are available for purchase through UMBC Continuing Education (tele: 410 455-2336), remain a popular item.

In lieu of playing in the UMBC Chess Championship, Smirin qualified for the team by playing a timed simultaneous exhibition against the top six finishers from the Championship. I also played. Smirin easily won all games, never using more than twenty minutes on any clock, and spending much of his time reading a book about his idol Al Pacino.

Another memorable moment was Smirin's participation in the fall 95 Activities Fair. There he played a sequence of simultaneous blitz games, three at a time, giving each of his opponents five minutes to his two. He never lost a game.

Picture of the 1995 UMBC Team
The 1995 UMBC Team crowds around Dr. Alan T. Sherman (seated center) before their match against MIT in Cambridge, MA. From left to right: IGM Ilya J. Smirin, Alex Shinn, Ishan Weerakoon, Bella Belegradek, Derrick Longo, and William "The Exterminator" Morrison.

Fall 95: UMBC Becomes a Major Player

On November 11, we flew to Cambridge, MA, to play MIT in a six-board intercollegiate match, which was carried live on the ICC. UMBC won the match 5-1, including a win by UMBC's Derrick Longo (who had turned down MIT to attend UMBC) over MIT's Kimani Stancil (former UMBC Chess Club President). I was proud to have beaten my graduate alma mater.

With high hopes, we entered two teams in the 95 Pan-Am in New York City. The field was very strong and included five grandmasters. Throughout the first five rounds, UMBC led the field. For the sixth and final round, Chief Arbiter Alan Benjamin had a difficult choice: the top score group had three schools--New York University (NYU), Brooklyn College, and UMBC--each with 4.5 points. In a controversial pairing, top-ranked NYU played UMBC, and Brooklyn College played down in a relatively easy match. We tried our best but were simply outplayed. After Brooklyn College easily won its last-round match, NYU and Brooklyn College tied for first place, and BMCC placed third. Reflecting an idiosyncrasy of the Swiss system, UMBC ended up in fourth place, even though we had tied Brooklyn College 2-2 and shut out BMCC 4-0. Smirin, however, won the prize for best player on Board 1, beating Sagalchik (Brooklyn College) and drawing Ilya Gurevich (NYU).

At the time, we were initially upset at the last-round pairing. Later, however, we felt glad that we had been given the opportunity to play the strongest team. Tying for first place without beating NYU would have been an empty victory. Only by playing strong competition can one improve.

The 95 Pan-Am taught me two lessons. First, all boards are equally important. Having a strong grandmaster on Board 1 (though helpful) is not sufficient to win; strength on all four boards is more important. Second, to win, a little luck (e.g. in the pairings) helps. With the first insight in mind, I set out to return in 96 with at least a senior master on each board.

95-96 An Eventful Year

1995 was an eventful year for UMBC Chess and for me. We had established a thriving chess environment, which was still gaining momentum. On the competitive side, I felt it would only be a matter of time before we could challenge the strong New York teams successfully. On the organizational front, we began planning for three major events: an exhibition match between Smirin and Morrison, the First Annual Summer Chess Camp at UMBC, and the 96 Pan- Am. My bid to host the 96 Pan-Am in Baltimore had been approved, which I saw as an opportunity to cement UMBC's leadership role in college chess. The 96 Pan-Am was also an opportunity to help scholastic chess--UMBC agreed to offer $60,000 in scholarship prizes to the top scholastic team in the Pan-Am Scholastic Team Championship (CL, November 96).

In 1995, I also accomplished two out of three long-standing personal goals: I was awarded tenure and promoted to Associate Professor, and I earned the rank of Shodan (first-degree black belt) in the Japanese martial art of Tomiki Aikido. In chess, however, my rating had risen only to 1875, still below my goal of expert. Although I had defeated GM Arthur Bisguier (77) and then IM Norman Weinstein (76), and drawn GM Sagalchik (95) in simultaneous exhibitions, I remained much more successful as a chess organizer than as a chess player. More significantly, my wife and I decided to have a child; on June 12, 1996, my son William was born.

As word spread about UMBC's unique chess program, people throughout the world began contacting me. In response to our chess scholarships, I received letters, telephone calls, and email messages from England, Israel, Bahrain, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia, the Phillipines, and from throughout the USA. For example, by email, I learned of Oxana Tarassova, a talented chess-player scholar from Tatarstan, Russia, who had just won permanent residency in the U.S. through an immigration lottery. I invited her to visit our campus, which led to her matriculation at UMBC in fall 96 under a chess scholarship.

In the summer of 95, Gusty Taylor--widow of the late Marvin B. Cooper-- contacted me to donate over one hundred chess books and journals to the UMBC Albin O. Kuhn Library (CL, March 96, p. 222). A life-long chess enthusiast, attorney, and chess teacher, Cooper was tragically murdered during a robbery on May 28, 1994. Thus was established the Marvin B. Cooper Chess Collection at UMBC, which is a permanent resource available to all chess players. Through additional donations from several sources, the collection now includes over six hundred items.

It was my visit to the 1995 Intel PCA Grand Prix in New York City that both convinced me that chess is an exciting spectator sport and inspired me to hold an exhibition match at UMBC. Backed with multi-million dollar support from the Intel Corporation, the PCA demonstrated how to apply computer, video, and audio technology to make chess fun and accessible, even to spectators who know little about chess. I began to think about how to run similar spectator events inexpensively at UMBC. Initially, I tried to seek financial support from TV producers, including ESPN and Maryland Public Television. My hope was to have a match between Judit Polgar, Smirin, Deep Blue, and Morrison. When no money was forthcoming, I focused my energy on how to pull off a match for less than $1,000. This inspiration and thought resulted in our Smirin vs. Morrison Exhibition Match held June 21-22, 1996.

The match was a huge success. Using a $300 Saitek Kasparov autosensory board connected to an IBM PC running the Genius 4 chess program, we displayed the game live through one of UMBC's high-quality data projectors in the Chemistry/Physics Lecture Hall. With two video cameras and two portable video projectors, we also displayed live closeups of the players' faces. For added excitement, and to make the event accessible to novice players, Senior Master Craig Jones and Master Igor Epshteyn broadcast live move-by- move sports commentary on FM 93.9 MHz using a $20 12-watt Radio Shack FM transmitter. Although the transmitter worked fine, it looked as if it would blow any minute, so we bought a second one for back-up. Instead of renting professional infrared or special FM frequency receivers for thousands of dollars, we asked each spectator to bring a standard Walkman-style digital FM receiver, available at many stores for approximately $35. A videotape of the match is available for sale from UMBC Continuing Education.

Smirin easily won the match 3.5-0.5, but Morrison put up a good fight and managed to draw one game. During the post-match ceremony, I asked Smirin how he could beat Morrison so easily, when in 95, Morrison was arguably the best player in the mid-Atlantic region. With delightful wit, Smirin brought down the audience with the quick response, "I'm not from the mid-Atlantic."

1996 Smirin vs. Morrison ExhibitionMatch
1996 Smirin versus Morrison Exhibition Match at UMBC held right before UMBC's First Annual Summer Chess Camp.

Spring 96: Institutionalizing Chess and the Intellectual Sports Council

In spring 96, I began thinking about how to ensure a lasting commitment to chess at UMBC. I was concerned that there was no formal institutionalized support for chess--except through the Student Government Association (SGA)--and that the success of the program depended too critically on a few key people, including myself and President Hrabowski. What would happen if Hrabowski moved on, or if I died driving to work? To this end, I began seeking a warm home for the Chess Club with greater and more permanent financial support.

One of my first ideas was to explore the possibility of becoming affiliated with the Athletic Department as a "club sport." To me, the main advantage of such a relationship would be the possibility of offering chess courses for athletic credit. The Athletic Department offered such courses in bowling and pocket billiards, so why not chess? In the former Soviet Union and in many eastern European countries, chess is a central part of university athletic departments. During a meeting with Athletic Director Dr. Charlie Brown, it immediately became clear that this idea would not happen at UMBC, and that if it did, it would not be in the Chess Club's interest because chess would have the lowest priority.

Dr. Brown's main objection was that he did not consider chess a sport. >From his reaction, it was clear that he felt uncomfortable with my description of the Chess Team as UMBC's most successful sports team. I invited him to come to our Smirin vs. Morrison match to witness chess first hand as an exciting spectator sport. Unfortunately, he never showed up. That meeting motivated me to write an op-ed essay on "Chess as sport," which was published in the Baltimore Sun (June 16, 1996).

Having been shunned by the Athletic Department, we conceived the idea of creating an "Intellectual Sports Council (ISC)" within the Student Activities Office. This council, which would initially include the Debate Society, Chess Club, Maryland Student Legislature, Model UN, and Quiz Bowl, could become a significant political force on campus with an office, coaches, and supplemental financial support. Instead of joining forces with the Athletic Department, we would align our organizations with the Honors College, which would gladly provide a warm home. Indeed, many members of the aforementioned clubs were members of the Honors College. To offer courses, we turned to the Office of Continuing Education, which had already provided support for our non-credit Master Preparation class and the summer chess camp. The Honors College could also provide an administrative structure through which we could offer credit courses. By spring 97, the ISC became a reality. It was my hope that the ISC would eventually expand to include additional clubs such as the Math Team, Computer Programming Team, and Bridge Club.

To strengthen our scholarship program, I negotiated with the scholarship office to formalize UMBC's chess scholarships as named scholarships. Previously, the chess scholarships were handled through various existing scholarship programs. The result was the creation of three types of named Chess Scholarships to UMBC: chess-player scholars, special merit awards for chess, and tournament- based chess scholarships.


    1. chess-player scholars could receive up to four-year full-tuition, room and board, depending on qualifications. These scholars would have to come directly from high school, and they are expected to graduate in the top 10% of their high school class, have USCF rating over 2000, and combined SAT scores over 1400.
    2. By contrast, the special merit awards for chess expect strong academic backgrounds and a USCF rating over 2300. These four-year awards were monetary awards ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per year, depending on qualifications. Transfer students are eligible for special merit awards.
    3. Finally, tournament-based scholarships are special scholarships awarded solely on the basis of winning certain tournaments. For example, each year, the Maryland Scholastic Champion receives a four-year instate tuition scholarship. Also, the top board of the winning team in the 96 Pan-Am Scholastic Team Championship would receive a four-year full-tuition scholarship.

All scholarships are restricted to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are accepted to and matriculate at UMBC as undergraduates. To maintain a scholarship, the recipient must be a full-time student and maintain a specified grade point average (GPA) which varies with the award. For example, most of the scholarships require a minimum GPA of 3.25 (out of 4.0), and the highest awards require a minimum GPA of 3.5. Graduate students have to seek financial support from their departments based on academic merit. Creating named chess scholarships helped with recruiting and helped ensure the long-term commitment to chess scholarships.

A significant factor in building the chess program was to connect within UMBC with numerous supporting organizations. In particular, through nurturing personal connections and identifying shared objectives, I forged relationships with the President's Office, Admissions and Financial Aid, Honors College, Continuing Education, Community Outreach, Institutional Advancement (for fund raising and public relations), Student Activities Office, Shriver Center (for internships), Instructional Technology (for technical support, including videotaping), and University Computing Services. In addition, I built relationships with external organizations, including the USCF, the Maryland Chess Association, the U.S. Chess Center, the Internet Chess Club (ICC), and the Chess Project for Baltimore City.

Spring-Summer 96: Recruiting a Dream Team

Recruiting during spring and summer 96 went wonderfully. Oxana Tarassova and Gregory Shahade (1996 National High School Co-Champion) each received special merit awards for chess, and Tal Shaked received the highest chess-player scholar award. Tal, however, ended up deferring his matriculation at UMBC for two years after he won the prestigious Samford Scholarship. During this period he became a GM and the 1997 World Junior Champion (CL, October 97). Next, my attention focused on Valery and 
Dmitry Atlas beforethe Kasparov Simul.IM Valery Atlas and his identical twin brother FM Dmitry Atlas--both former members of the Belorussian Junior National Team in Minsk, both from the same Olympic Reserve Chess School where Epshteyn was coach.

The twins were a perfect match for UMBC. Each was an outstanding student who wished to pursue a PhD in electrical engineering, and they were happy to meet Epshteyn again. An amusing difficulty arose when an official in the graduate school noted with suspicion that their college transcripts were identical: each had taken exactly the same courses and, for each course, had received exactly the same grade. After certifying that indeed these unlikely transcripts were genuine, the two were admitted into the PhD program in electrical engineering. The next difficulty was financial support--all chess scholarships are restricted to undergraduates.

Some of my most effective negotiations with university officials took place at receptions. For example, at one reception, President Hrabowski told me that he wanted UMBC to win the 96 Pan-Am. I responded that we could do so, but only with the Atlas twins. Fortunately, the twins were strong enough students to earn support on the basis of their academic accomplishments. On this basis, and with the support of Hrabowski, each received a graduate assistantship covering tuition and stipend.

The bad news was that Smirin decided to return to Israel. During his time at UMBC he discovered that being a professional chess player was too much in conflict with being a student. For example, it was difficult for him to devote sufficient time to chess preparation and international competition. Another factor was his realization that life as a professional chess player is much better in Europe than in America. For these reasons, and for family reasons, he left UMBC. Nevertheless, in his year at UMBC, Smirin had greatly contributed to our chess program by raising our standards, teaching the Master Preparation Chess Course, helping with our summer chess camp, and attracting media attention. As someone who had once considered experts very strong, I now began to appreciate differences between strong and weak grandmasters. Vividly in my mind I remember Smirin's game against GM Sagalchik from the penultimate match of the 95 Pan-Am, during which UMBC played Brooklyn College. In a cowering tone, Sagalchik offered Smirin a draw. Immediately refusing, Smirin ingeniously regrouped his pieces (including a creative queen fianchetto), achieved a dominating position, and won. To appreciate the difference in playing levels between Sagalchik and Smirin, it is important to keep in mind the humbling reality that Sagalchik can (and did) crush most college players and that PCA World Champion Garry Kasparov could likely do the same to Smirin.

During summer 96, I was delighted when Senior Master Erez Klein contacted me about the possibility of transferring from Pace University to UMBC. Erez, who had studied chess under Bobby Fischer's former teacher Jack Collins, had represented the U.S. at age 13 in the World Junior Championship. When I met Erez, I was immediately impressed with his brilliance and recommended him for a special merit award for chess. Although we no longer had a grandmaster, we now had five students who played at the senior master strength or higher.

At the last moment, however, the Atlas twins decided to delay their matriculation to spring 97. Although they would still be eligible to play in the 96 Pan-Am, they would not be able to play in the UMBC Championship nor in our upcoming match against Harvard, scheduled for October 12 at UMBC. Prospective team members all agreed to allow the twins a spot on the four-person A Team, even though they would not play in the UMBC Championship; it would be unreasonable to expect them to travel from Vaduz, Liechtenstein, simply to play in the UMBC Championship. That year, the top two finishers were William Morrison and Greg Shahade. Thus, Morrison retained his title as UMBC Champion for the 96-97 academic year.

Months later, at the U.S. Open, I saw Dean Howard Prince (BMCC), who knew Erez and inquired about his standing. I will never forget Dr. Prince's face-dropping reaction when I told him that, unfortunately, Senior Master Klein had failed to qualify for the first team.

96-97: The Road to Victory

Our six-board October 12 match against Harvard was a major event. Organized as part of UMBC's annual MindFest celebration, this match was an opportunity to avenge our 93 loss and to demonstrate that UMBC can compete successfully against the best universities on an intellectual field. UMBC vs. 
HarvardWinning the match, however, would be no easy task--Harvard had five times placed first at the Pan-Am, most recently in 1990. Clad in our newly acquired chess team jackets (see photo), we won the match 5-1.

That match attracted significant media attention, beginning with news reports on the radio and an October 14 article in the Baltimore Sun "Harvard outclassed by tough UMBC chess team." Soon the team was invited to appear on local TV. Reporters became fascinated with the concept of chess scholarships and with "The Exterminator." JHU canceled their match with us, which had been scheduled for late October; and Harvard did not return to Baltimore for the 96 Pan-Am. Excitement was building for the 96 Pan-Am in Baltimore--which we billed as the "World Series of College Chess."

For the rest of the semester, team members focused on their weekly coaching sessions with Epshteyn and for additional training, in mid December, played a timed simultaneous exhibition against GM Lubomir Kavalek.

As Dr. John Rasp (Organizer, 93 Pan-Am) had warned me, organizing the Pan-Am is a tremendous amount of work. I spent countless hours on numerous details, including fund raising, publicity, hotel arrangements, trophies, program booklet, and logistics. To add excitement, I made arrangements for Dr. Robert Hyatt's Crafty computer chess program to play in the Pan-Am Open. Meanwhile I was flooded with interviews from the media. One day, National Public Radio (NPR) contacted me for an immediate interview for All Things Considered. Physically and mentally exhausted, and suffering from a fever, I declined. The next day, I received a telephone call from President Hrabowski, who politely suggested that my decision was unwise. Fortunately, I later recouped the loss when NPR interviewed me in spring 97 for Morning Edition.

In mid December, via fax from Liechtenstein, Valery and Dmitry Atlas formally registered for the spring 97 term at UMBC, thus officially qualifying to play in the 96 Pan-Am. According to the USCF's College Chess Committee Guidelines, each team member and alternate must be an undergraduate or graduate student (full-time or part-time) registered for the fall 96 or spring 97 term in a degree-seeking program, and making progress toward the degree. I would like to point out that I am against this liberal rule. At the December 96 meeting of the College Chess Committee, I proposed that eligibility in the Pan-Am be restricted to students registered in the fall 96 term, since future actions cannot be guaranteed. I was outvoted on the grounds that participation in the Pan-Am should be encouraged and not unreasonably restricted.

Finally, the 96 Pan-Am had begun. With IM Valery Atlas, SM William Morrison, FM Dmitry Atlas, and FM Greg Shahade, our A Team was a powerful force. But as with all sporting competitions, anything could happen. Fortunately, this time luck was with us: although each player had a least one bad game, no two players had bad games in the same round. In an unprecedented event, after five rounds, the UMBC A and B Teams were tied with 4.5 points, a full point ahead of the field. Hence, Chief Arbiter Dan Burg was forced to pair the top two UMBC teams against each other in the sixth and final round.

In this final match, Board 2-4 eventually reached draws. The outcome of the Championship hinged on a tensely fought game between Valery Atlas and Erez Klein. In the end, Valery won. Thus, UMBC A won first place, and UMBC B tied for second place. Initially ranked ninth, UMBC B (with Klein, Belegradek, Tarassova, and Longo) accomplished a minor miracle in tying for second place. Valery Atlas and Oxana Tarassova won the board prizes for the best performance on Boards 1 and 3, respectively. By winning the 96 Pan-Am, UMBC also received an invitation to visit Peru.

With the generous support of our sponsors (including Uptronics, Inc., and Southwest Airlines), the 96 Pan-Am was a great success. Following the Pan-Am, with the additional sponsorship of Pizza Hut, we printed schedule cards, as all sports teams should have. The front of the card had a color photo of the team, and the back listed our 1997 events, together with a Pizza Hut logo.

Spring 97: UMBC vs. PCA World Champion Garry Kasparov

Our next goal was to arrange a timed simultaneous exhibition against World Champion Garry Kasparov, as had been done in 1994 by the winning BMCC team. Negotiating with his agent in Florida, I secured a tentative agreement for Kasparov to visit UMBC after his match with Deep Blue. The catch was to raise the required $12,500 honorarium, an amount Kasparov considered his "charity rate" (usually he charges $40,000).SimultaneousExhibitionvs. IGM World Champion Kasparov

Determined to succeed, I wrote letters to numerous local companies. Twice, I almost succeeded, but at the last moment, the deals fell through. Finally, with a slight change of plans, the Abell Foundation generously agreed to contribute $5,000, with UMBC providing matching funds. The balance would be made up with gate receipts. Instead of playing eight members of the UMBC Chess Teams, Kasparov would play the top four UMBC players and four Baltimore-area students (grades 1-12) to be selected in a qualifying tournament held the morning of the event. On May 17, 1997, Kasparov came to UMBC and was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of over 200 spectators.

Taking the match very seriously, Kasparov demanded that each player submit to him six recent games for his analysis. He also complained that playing the UMBC A Team would be more work than he usually is willing to do for a mere $12,500. After getting lost by driving twice to wrong campuses of the University of Maryland, Kasparov finally arrived at UMBC where he was greeted by a standing ovation. Following a 30-minute talk about his recent loss to Deep Blue, the match began.

Initially, UMBC gained the upper hand, with better (and probably winning) positions on the top two boards. Slowly, the tables turned and Kasparov won 7.5-0.5, with a draw by Dmitry Atlas on Board 3. 1997 Maryland Scholastic Champion Raymond Kaufman held out the longest, but lost after missing an opportunity to sacrifice a rook for perpetual check.

The Kasparov spectacle coincided with Chess Jam 97 (Juniors Against Masters), a new USCF-sponsored event featuring an unusual Grandmaster team simultaneous tournament involving winners from the Super Nationals (CL, July 97).

1996-97 was an incredible year for UMBC Chess. We beat Harvard, won the 96 Pan-Am, and played the World Champion. Nevertheless, with this success came some unexpected difficulties. First, the escalating chess activities were taking a toll on my time. I received countless telephone calls from prospective students and the media. In addition, numerous local schools started calling me requesting assistance with their chess clubs. Although I love chess and chess organization, I am also a full-time researcher and educator and a new father. I was overextended. Second, we felt great pressure to maintain our level of activity and performance. What would we do next?

Despite the incredible progress of UMBC Chess, I view this progress as only the beginning of what I hope will follow. I provided vision, spark, and assiduity, but the success of chess at UMBC is the result of the support and hard work of many talented individuals. In particular, I am especially grateful to President Hrabowski for his strong and unwavering support of chess at UMBC.

Why Chess?

Given the relatively low profile of chess at most American colleges, some people may wonder why the UMBC administration is eager to invest in chess. The answers are simple and compelling: Chess embodies many of the ideals we pursue at UMBC, including activities of the mind and excellence. Chess helps recruit and retain outstanding students. For example, Chess Club President Derrick Longo turned down MIT in favor of UMBC primarily because of UMBC's combined strength in chess and technology. In comparison with major physical sports, chess is relatively inexpensive. Chess develops academic skills. In addition, through chess, UMBC connects with its neighboring communities, including Baltimore.

UMBC's chess scholarships inspire young students to value activities of the mind. The significant and realistic possibility of earning a chess scholarship to UMBC gives students a concrete worthwhile intellectual goal. More powerful than abstract preaching, chess scholarships motivate students to work hard at school.

Chess blends especially well with UMBC's emphasis on science and technology. Chess is exceptionally well suited for play over computer networks, and the development of better computer chess programs remains a challenging research problem in computer science. In addition, a variety of technologies are needed for spectator chess events.

Very importantly, chess has given UMBC a unique identity. Founded in 1966, UMBC is a mid-sized public research university that cares deeply about its undergraduate programs; its goal is to become the best such university in the country. Although well along its way toward this goal, relatively few people had heard of UMBC before its rise in the intercollegiate chess world. As the team gained momentum, newspaper headlines heralded UMBC's crushing 5-1 victories over MIT and Harvard in fall 95 (CL, March 96) and fall 96, respectively. Winning the 96 Pan-Am (CL, May 97) attracted significant publicity, including a feature story on CNN Headline News and an invitation to visit Peru. A colleague told me, that while attending a mathematics conference in Tucson, another researcher approached him and said something to the effect, "I see you are from UMBC; isn't UMBC that chess school?" Through chess, UMBC has made a name for itself and has demonstrated that its talented students can and do compete successfully with the best.

Future Visions

My visions for chess at UMBC include continuing and strengthening our current activities, significantly expanding our role in helping Baltimore-area youth through chess, involving more students at UMBC through offering a variety of chess courses for credit, and playing a greater role in promoting chess as a spectator sport. To accomplish these goals, more financial support is required, preferably through a significant endowment.

The core activities I wish to continue are inspiring young students to value activities of the mind, attracting chess-player scholars to UMBC, and maintaining an active, enriching chess environment with a strong team. Nurturing talented players to become Grandmasters would be more satisfying than recruiting them. To secure these activities, it is necessary to move away from the current strong but ad hoc support of chess to a secure long-term institutional commitment to chess. Chess needs and deserves the institutional infrastructure and financial resources supporting successful physical sports programs. This infrastructure should include named scholarships (a reality at UMBC), dedicated office space, a full-time chess coordinator, a part-time chess coach (a reality at UMBC), dedicated office space, and a line-item in the University budget.

To make a significant impact on Baltimore-area youth, chess activities must be carried out at the schools, preferably as part of the standard curriculum. I would like to establish a Baltimore Chess Center, which would serve two functions. First and most importantly, it would coordinate paid instructors and an army of volunteers to teach chess in the schools. Second, it would provide centralized support of scholastic chess, including tournaments, leagues, lectures, courses, matches, information, and special events. The Center would include a dedicated building conveniently located downtown, which would be open long hours daily to provide a safe and friendly environment in which people of all ages could enjoy chess. The center would include a full-time staff of coaches and coordinators, and a Grandmaster in Residence. UMBC could play a key role in the Center through scholarships, student role models, work-study mentoring programs, a chess coach certification course, and its on-campus summer chess camp.

The most effective way to increase student involvement on campus is to offer chess courses for credit. For example, I am developing a three-credit honors course Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Through Chess, which will deal with all aspects of chess including its history, psychology, language, modes of thinking, mathematical properties, game-theoretic modeling, and computer solution. In addition, I would like UMBC to offer a course on the Fundamentals of Chess for "institutional credit" (similar to athletic credit, which differs from academic credit).

Building on our experience with the Smirin vs. Morrison match, I continue to explore new low-cost, good-quality technical solutions to the challenges of spectator chess. For example, dissatisfied with the limitations of our $300 Saitek autoboard, and discouraged by the $20,000 rental fee of the high quality alternatives, Dr. Uri Tasch (Dept. of Mechanical Engineering) and I submitted a proposal to the USCF to design and build a new, inexpensive, regulation-size autosensory chessboard suitable for spectator chess. Similarly, discouraged by the $10,000 price of telestration equipment (to enable commentators to draw strategy diagrams over the projected board position), I am currently supervising a master's thesis on the design and implementation of a digital telestrator, which we plan to make available for free. I hope to report on this work later in the year. Given its combined strength in chess, computer science, and computer engineering, UMBC is particularly well-suited to develop technology that will enable other clubs to host spectator chess events inexpensively.

* * *

I hope that our experiences at UMBC will help other colleges and universities find ways to inspire young minds and to connect with their neighboring communities through the exciting intellectual sport of chess.


After an incredible 96-97 academic year, in fall 97, the UMBC Chess Club suffered a serious loss of several key players. For personal reasons, IM Valery and FM Dmitry Atlas returned to Liechtenstein, and SM Greg Shahade transferred to Drexel. Furthermore, SM Erez Klein took a year of medical leave. Nevertheless, UMBC managed to defeat UPenn (ranked second in the USA) 4.5-1.5 at UMBC's ChessFest97.

December 26-29, UMBC entered three teams in the 97 Pan-Am, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Based on average team ratings, UMBC's A Team was initially seated seventh, with a lineup of William "The Exterminator" Morrison (2414), Oxana Tarassova (2122), freshman Nathan Fewel (2023), and Derrick Longo (2019). Rising to the occasion, Morrison, Tarassova, and Longo went undefeated, and UMBC finished clear third against strong competition. BMCC captured first with a perfect 6-0 score, followed by UTDallas in second place. UMBC's B Team won the trophy for top team rated under 2000, and UMBC's C team won the trophy for top team rated under 1200. Given our initial seating, we proud of these accomplishments.

In my personal bid to recapture the top Faculty/Coach prize, the prize hinged on my exciting last- round bout against Dr. Yuan J. Xu (*2187*) of NYU. Overestimating my position, I eschewed a simple draw and played for a win, only to go down in flames.

At the 97 Pan-Am I learned three lessons. First, I was deeply impressed with the importance in team Swiss System events (as opposed to individual Swiss events) of each team member being able to play in a steady, non-losing style. Second, I gained an appreciation for the need to help new players make the transition from scholastic to collegiate chess. Third, in my own last-round game, I learned that I should have followed my coach's advice that--in terms of results as opposed to personal enjoyment=="drawing is better than losing

We look forward to returning in 98.


I am grateful to several people who assisted Derrick Longo in his WWW-rendering of this document. In particular, I thank Chess Club officers Jay Beale and Oxana Tarasovva for scanning in images, and I thank Charles Nicholas for editorial comments. Thanks also to Institutional Advancement for their support, and in particular, to Maura Walsh-Seaman and Jeanne Ivy (Creative Services) for technical assistance and artistic suggestions. Last but not least, I would like to thank John Fritz and Lisa Akchin of Institutional Advancement for their continued support of this project.

About the Authors

Dr. Alan T. ShermanDr. Alan T. Sherman is Associate Professor of Computer Science at UMBC and Faculty Advisor of the university's Chess Club. He was the top faculty player in the Pan-American Open in 1993 and 1994. In 1997 he received a Meritorious Service Award from the USCF for his contributions to college chess.

UMBC Chess Team before theUPenn Match
Members of the fall 1997 UMBC Chess Team surround their Coach Igor Epshteyn (left center) and Faculty Advisor Dr. Alan T. Sherman (right center) shortly before their match against UPenn. Left to right: William "The Exterminator" Morrison, Nathan Fewel, Oxana Tarassova, Bella Belegradek, Pavel Pasmanik, Derrick Longo. [Photo by Doug Kapustin.]

An abbreviated version of this article--edited by Dr. Tim Redman (Faculty Advisor, UTDallas)--will appear in the new College Chess Column of Chess Life in February 1998.

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    modified 2001.05.26