Behind the Scenes of a Final Four Team

With no great surprise, Webster University placed first at this year’s President’s Cup aka the “Final Four” Collegiate Chess Championship for the fifth year in a row. Facing stiff competition from longtime rivals Texas Tech and University of Texas at Dallas and the newly formed Saint Louis University, Webster managed a clear victory.

The final results:
1. Webster University: 8
2. Texas Tech University: 6½
3. Saint Louis University: 5
4. University of Texas at Dallas: 4½

Games, details, and more can be found on Chess24.

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Webster Team in the final round | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Congrats to Webster’s Final Four chess team- GMs Le Quang Liem, Ray Robson, Alex Shimanov, Vasif Durarbayli, Illia Nzyhnyk, and Priyadharshan Kannappan!

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SLU Team vs. Webster | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Despite some ties to the Webster team, it was another team that received my affections this past weekend. Throughout the tournament, I was personally rooting for the SLU Chess Team, the newcomers and first year qualifiers- this school year was the team’s first year of formation, first year at PanAms and the Final Four. With GM Alejandro Ramirez as the coach, there were many high hopes for the team composed this past year of 3 grandmasters, 1 international master, and an alternate.

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SLU Team’s Coach, GM Alejandro Ramirez | Photo by Vanessa Sun

The SLU team:

1. GM Darius Swiercz

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GM Darius Swiercz | Photo by Vanessa Sun

2. GM Yaro Zherebukh (who is soon playing in the US Championship so look out for that!)

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GM Yaro Zherebukh | Photo by Vanessa Sun

3. GM Francesco Rambaldi

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GM Francesco Rambaldi | Photo by Vanessa Sun

4. IM Cemil Can Ali Marandi

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IM Cemil Can Ali Marandi | Photo by Vanessa Sun

5. Nozima Aripova

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SLU Team Alternate: Nozima Aripova | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Alas, it was not meant to be as the first and second boards maintained their performances but the third and fourth boards were unable to gain momentum and fell prey to mistakes. It was an unusually tough weekend for the SLU team, but there is no doubt that they will continue to train harder, learn more, and grow as a team.

The team dynamics were to me, the most interesting aspects to observe outside of the chess. Ordinarily, no one outside of a chess team knows what goes on inside of the team’s preparations and lifestyle during a tournament such as the Final Four, but getting to experience that as both chess journalist and friend (to many of the players) gave me a taste of the struggles and inner workings of the team.

Homework.

This is so relatable to any young chess player, to be honest. Everyone had to do it. Having to balance school and chess is such an integral part to being both a student and a chess player, and homework definitely adds an extra stressor to the tournament. I saw math problems being solved, heard midterm grades discussed, and as I was covering the event, even had to do homework myself! I guess the action is not so limited to the team players, but also to young journalists watching the event.

 

Each team member has such a different personality.

I think it took a little getting used to each member of the team’s attitudes, habits, and characteristics. One person might have the loudest voice, but his roommate could be relatively quiet much of the time. One person could wear sweatpants to a game, but another could wear more professional looking blue pants. It’s clear that underlying everything, chess brings all different types of people together, and these seem to actually come out more when a team is composed.

 

Inside jokes.

I can’t reveal the inside jokes of the team, but it was interesting getting to know just how close chess team members can get by having so many inside jokes together. It shows that chess teams are just like those of other sports, and that each chess team is unique and has experiences that no one else will understand. I wondered all weekend if other teams had as many inside jokes and if that was even true of all teams.

 

Eating and Eating together.

The SLU team members ate together as a team. Maybe this helped increase the bond between the players- is there something strengthening in the act of eating together? Either way, no one ever seemed to eat alone as a general rule. There was always plenty to eat and plenty to discuss over the food. Many of the team members tried new foods as well- namely Poke and some Georgian food (which was new to me).

 

The Respect/Friendliness Toward Other Teams

I enjoyed chatting with the Texas Tech alternates, WCM Claudia Munoz and WIM Iryna Andrenko, and Nozima seemed very friendly with the two as well. Greetings were said as familiar faces were recognized. In general, amidst the competitive spirit, there was clear sportsmanship and no strong animosity toward other teams. Each team at the very least respected members of other teams and that reflects a lot about chess, which can yield vicious battles OTB but also create lasting friendships.

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Iryna playing against Nozima | Photo by Vanessa Sun
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