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Freeman Hrabowski on Raising National Visibility

Power Surge: The UMBC Chess Team

As some universities eagerly root their quarterbacks toward the end zone, UMBC fans proudly wave their pompoms for players holding kings, queens, and pawns. The victory cry? “Checkmate!”

In the world of college chess, the UMBC chess team stands head and shoulders above the rest of the competition—even the Ivy Leaguers—having claimed the national championship title six times in the past seven years.

The team’s success has drawn attention to UMBC as a place with unbeatable brain power—an image backed up not only by the impressive winning streak, but also by the soaring SAT scores of first-year students and the University’s federal research funding. UMBC’s reputation in chess, combined with our impressive academic record and scholarship opportunities, has attracted some of the very best chess players from around the country and around the world. Once “signed,” players find themselves not only in the national spotlight; they enjoy celebrity status on campus with rallies in their honor reminiscent of those reserved for football stars at other colleges.

The UMBC chess team has garnered attention from a host of national media outlets—from “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show” to CNN and National Public Radio. The Baltimore Sun called them “Maryland’s No. 1 Team” and praised their “discipline, mental, and physical toughness (to get them through six-hour matches), and superior strategy.” In January 2002, UMBC junior Eugene Perelshteyn became the first current player on the team to receive the prestigious Samford Fellowship, awarded by the American Chess Foundation to the top young chess player in the country. Two other UMBC players have won the coveted award post-graduation.

“Over the past 10 years, UMBC has become the team to beat in college chess,” says Alan Sherman, the team’s faculty advisor and an associate professor of computer science. What does the future hold for the team? “My goal now is to institutionalize support for chess so the program can continue in perpetuity,” he says.

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