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December 24, 2010

UMBC chess team set to defend title in “World Series of college chess” in Milwaukee next week

Contact: Daniel Clemens

BALTIMORE -- With a two-year winning streak and nine titles overall at the “World Series of College Chess,” the University of Maryland, Baltimore County chess team is the undisputed king of the hill.

And that’s just the kind of thing that keeps coaches up at night.

As UMBC prepares for the 2010 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships in Milwaukee next week, the team assures anyone who will listen that it is taking the opposition seriously. But it also is wary of foes that lurk beyond the chessboard: complacency, the economy, even the weather.

“It’s never easy,” said Sam Palatnik, UMBC’s associate chess director and a Grandmaster.

“This year will be more difficult because you might say, ‘If everything is fine, we don’t need to change,’” Palatnik said. “When you’ve finished first, what’s the goal?”

The recent dominance notwithstanding, UMBC is taking nothing for granted.

“We take them extremely seriously,” chess director Alan Sherman said of expected top opponents that include the University of Texas-Brownsville, the University of Texas-Dallas, and Texas Tech University. “You need a strong team, plus a little luck,” Sherman said.

Fortunately for UMBC, stability and continuity are strengths in 2010. The Retrievers will take two teams to the show, including an “A” team sporting the same lineup that won the 2009 title. Going a step further, UMBC shuffled the “B” team, putting last year’s A-team alternate, Sabina Foisor from Romania, in the lead position. The objective is to drain energy from top opponents by making them work harder to get past a bolstered B team.

“Maybe our B team can take off some points,” Palatnik said, “and some drops of blood as well.”

In 2009, UMBC outlasted a strong field to win the title, the record ninth time the Retrievers have won or shared the Pan-Am crown. This year’s field may be even tougher, Sherman said. As does UMBC, the stronger programs recruit Grandmaster chess players from throughout the world with chess scholarships.

Sherman has seen other perennially strong teams put increased effort and resources into their programs in hope of closing the gap. Amid the current economic downturn, making the case for upping the scholarship ante is tough to do, he said.

The Pan-Am is a highlight in intercollegiate chess and is open to any college or university team from North, South or Central America. Since the tournament began in 1946, dozens of universities throughout the Americas have participated. The Retrievers won their first Pan-Am title in 1996, and embarked on a five-year title streak from 1998 to 2002.

Before heading for Wisconsin, the UMBC players are finishing up final exams. That’s no small feat, as three of the four A-team players carry a perfect 4.0 GPA, and one is tackling a 25-credit-hour course load. Team members on scholarship are required to be full-time, engaged students who maintain at least at 3.0 GPA.

The site of this year’s tournament stands in stark contrast to 2009’s much balmier setting in South Padre Island, Texas. Milwaukee’s upper Midwest setting already has seen wintry weather destroy the roof of one sports venue, the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

“I hope our hotel has a strong enough roof,” Palatnik said.

The UMBC players
Team A
• Leonid Kritz, an International Grandmaster from Germany
• Sergey Erenburg, an International Grandmaster from Israel
• Giorgi Margvelashvili, an International Grandmaster from the Republic of Georgia
• Sasha Kaplan, an International Master from Israel
Average rating: 2,586.

Team B
• Sabina Foisor, an International Woman Grandmaster from Romania
• Aaron Kahn, a National Master from Detroit
• Richard Selzler, a National Master and president of the UMBC Chess Club
• Adithya Balasubramanian, a National Master
• Benjamin Krause, an alternate from Potomac, Md.
Average rating: 2,302

2010 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships
When: Dec. 27-30, 2010
Where: Crowne Plaza Hotel, 6401 S. 13th St., Milwaukee, Wisc. 53207
Format: Traditional six-round Fix Roster Team Swiss tournament
Team makeup: Four-player teams with up to two alternates

Follow the UMBC team during the tournament on Twitter @UMBCchess.

For real-time updates of Pan-Am matches in progress, go to

For more information on the UMBC team: Alan T. Sherman, director, UMBC Chess Program

410-963-4779, or

For more information on the 2010 Pan-Am: Alex Betaneli of the Wisconsin Chess Academy, (608)334-2574, or

Posted by chelseah at December 24, 2010 12:35 AM