Texas Border Business
By Victoria Brito Morales
RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The reigning chess champs have done it again.
The UTRGV Chess Team has won its third consecutive President’s Cup, successfully defending its title as national collegiate chess champions to retain its first-place rankings from 2018 and 2019.
Typically held in New York City, the competition was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year it was moved online, the first time the Final Four has been held virtually rather than in person.
UTRGV competed in the Final Four of Chess this weekend against the best collegiate chess teams in the nation: Webster University, St. Louis University and Texas Tech University.
UTRGV Chess Coach Bartek Macieja said the win feels amazing because competition in the United States is so high.
“Universities in the United States are the best in the world,” he said, “so to win – that feels really good. I am very proud of our students because they were so motivated and focused and knew what was expected of them.”
St. Louis held a lead in the competition on Saturday, but on Sunday, the UTRGV team surged ahead to win the title.
“Other teams were very strong,” Macieja said, “but our guys did everything they could. I think that was the key.”
The UTRGV Team that competed consists of:
- Mateusz Bartel, GM, from Poland.
- Hovhannes Gabuzyan, GM from Armenia.
- Kamil Dragun, GM from Poland.
- Vladimir Belous, GM from Russia.
Dragun has been on the team since 2017 and has been a part of all three teams that have won the President’s Cup for UTRGV. On Sunday, his individual score was third overall, and he was the highest ranked player from the UTRGV team.
Dragun said he feels great about the win, even though he does miss the purity of in-person board competition.
“It is very difficult to predict everything,” Dragun said. “On the final day of competition, I had some problems with connection. I lost WiFi right before we started and I started the competition with less time on the clock. It is difficult to adjust to being nervous before the game even starts.”
This victory comes after a strong showing in the FIDE World University Online Championship, which UTRGV cohosted. Macieja said a big part of the team’s preparation was online practice.
“This semester we focused on playing in online competitions,” Macieja said. “All the time, there was a championship or a training tournament, so there were in good shape.”
So far this year, UTRGV has won the Kasparov Chess Foundation University Cup and the international FIDE World University Online Blitz Championship. The Final Four was the last scheduled tournament of the spring semester.
Dr. Douglas Stoves, UTRGV dean for Student Rights and Responsibilities, said the chess team has excelled despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“This has been a great year for our UTRGV Chess Team, with great achievements earned by our team and coaches,” he said. “Words cannot adequately capture the excitement and pride we have for our players and our university to know we have won the President’s Cup again – for the third time!”