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April 3, 2006

UMBC Wins 2006 College Chess Final Four

Without Top Player, National Champs Rise to Occasion, Defeat Arch-Rivals


DALLAS – While the Cinderella story of George Mason University men’s basketball ended this weekend, the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County‘s (UMBC) chess team emerged from the “Final Four” of college chess with a hard-fought victory over its arch-rivals the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) at the 2006 President’s Cup Tournament.

UMBC claimed the title with a final score of nine to UTD’s eight. Emerging national chess power Miami-Dade College placed a respectable third with five points. Duke University found the chessboard less hospitable than the basketball court, coming in last with two points.

International Grandmaster Pawel “The Polish Magician” Blehm was the hero for UMBC, leading his team to victory in the absence of UMBC’s top player and U.S. individual chess champion Alex Onischuk.

“Pawel really rose to the occasion on Board One,” said UMBC chess program director and associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering Alan Sherman. “He defeated two grandmasters with decisive play.”

Other UMBC players who performed solidly in the “Final Four” included Pascal “The Frenchman” Charbonneau, Bruci “The Cuban Cyclone” Lopez, Women’s International Grandmaster Katerina “The Kiev Killer” Rohonyan, and first alternate Beenish “The Indian Tiger” Bhatia.

UMBC and UTD are two of just a handful of U.S. universities to offer full scholarships for chess. As the recognized national powerhouses in their sport, they share a competitive fire on par with North Carolina vs. Duke in college basketball or the NY Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox in major league baseball.

UMBC and UTD have traded the “Final Four” title in a series of close matches since the event began six years ago. UTD claimed the title for the first two years, but UMBC since went on to win the last four in a row. Unlike most chess tournaments, the “Final Four” is a team round-robin format.

The teams qualified for the “Final Four” by being the top four finishing U.S. teams in the Dec. 2005 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship, the Western Hemisphere’s most prestigious college chess competition. UMBC’s victory in the 2005 Pan Am was even tougher than the “Final Four,” with only a half-point deciding the outcome over UTD. UTD claimed the Pan-Am title in 2004 and 2003 and tied UMBC for first in 2001 and 2000.

UMBC will host the 2006 Pan Am tournament this December in Washington, DC.

Posted by crose at April 3, 2006 10:53 AM