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December 6, 2002

Who Cares About College Football Bowl Rivalries When UMBC and U.T. Dallas Get Ready to Rumble?

Baltimore, Md. – In late December and during the first week of 2003, the attention of sports enthusiasts throughout the United States will be riveted on the college football bowl games to see who emerges Number One. But if they really want to learn who is the best (and brightest) and to take in the most heated rivalry intercollegiate competition has to offer, they should plan their tailgating parties for Miami, not to watch the Orange Bowl, but to catch The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) going king-to-king in the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.

Dozens of other universities will participate in the Pan Am, which is regarded as the top college chess tournament in the Western Hemisphere and will be held Dec. 27-30 at Embassy Suites near the Miami International Airport. But it is the UMBC-UTD rivalry that makes the event so special. UTD and UMBC are without question the two best teams in college chess, at least in the United States, and they are so evenly matched that they are separated by scarcely a nanometer. Texas-Oklahoma? Florida-Florida State? Notre Dame-Michigan? They pale in comparison.

How evenly matched are UMBC and UTD?

Would you believe that they have tied for first place in the Pan Am two years in a row?

This year's competition figures to be an All-Star game of sorts: seven of the eight competitors on the two teams carry the title of grandmaster, which is reserved for the most highly ranked players in all of chess. It is estimated that 40 million people play chess in the United States; only 40 are grandmasters. As in previous years, it is simply too difficult to predict whether UMBC and UTD will come out on top.

UMBC Chess fans are quick to point out that their chess team has finished first, or tied for first, in the prestigious Pan American tournament five of the last six years, an unparalleled record of achievement. UMBC also earned the “Chess College of the Year” title from the USCF -- in 2000.

The UTD enthusiasts will quickly counter that their kings of the square board have won the last two Final Four of Chess championships held each year in April, albeit by the narrowest of margins, and that UTD was named “Chess College of the Year” more recently (last year) by the U.S. Chess Federation.

There may be no crying in baseball, but in chess there is no talking, especially of the “trash” variety.

“Academics do not indulge in trash talking,” said Dr. Tim Redman, professor of literary studies at U.T. Dallas and director of the school's six-year-old chess program. “I would never, for example, refer to our esteemed opponents as 'Baltimorons' or threaten to clean their clocks, especially since tampering with the clocks is illegal in chess."

“I agree with Tim that with chess, one should always take the high road,” said Alan Sherman, UMBC Chess Team advisor and associate professor of computer science. “I mean, speaking of clocks, I could always say that UTD's time has passed and that when our two teams meet in Miami UTD is going to go gently into that good night. But it would be unseemly for an academic to say such a thing.”

The presidents of the two universities, UMBC's Freeman A. Hrabowski and UTD's Franklyn G. Jenifer, both view chess as a metaphor for academic excellence and intellectual rigor. And both universities have established themselves as places where it is “cool to be smart.”

UMBC's team, which has menacing nicknames for each of its players, will be represented by Alex Onischuk (Alex the Invincible) of Ukraine, Alex Wojtkiewicz (Alex the Great) of Poland, Pawel Blehm (The Polish Magician) of Poland and Alex Sherzer (The Surgeon) of Maryland.

The UTD team in Miami is expected to be composed of Yuri Shulman of Belarus, Marcin Kaminski of Poland, Dmitry Schneider of New York and Andrei Zaremba of Michigan. Andrew Whatley of Alabama will serve as first alternate and Dennis Rylander of Sweden as second alternate.

About UMBC
UMBC, named a 2003 “Hot School” by Kaplan/Newsweek, is a medium-sized, selective, public research university situated on 500 acres between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. UMBC has an enrollment of more than 11,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences and engineering. A campus community rich in cultural and ethnic diversity, UMBC promotes cutting-edge research and creative activity. The campus is home to the nationally-known Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, the Shriver Center, and a number of major research centers. UMBC is a member of the University System of Maryland and is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. For additional information about UMBC, please visit the university's web site at www.umbc.edu

About UTD
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor, enrolls more than 13,000 students. The school's freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university's web site at www.utdallas.edu.

Posted by dwinds1 at December 6, 2002 12:00 AM