Sunday, January 9, 2011

This is Texas Tech chess

Four more national titles for the Texas Tech Knight Raiders
Posted: January 8, 2011 - 12:12am

The biggest college chess tournament — the annual Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships — just concluded in Milwaukee, Wis. This is the second year that Texas Tech has sent a Division I team to compete in the national championship. Around 30 top teams across the United States and the Americas entered in the prestigious event this year. The top four finishers qualify for the Final Four.

Our Knight Raiders A team (Grandmaster Davorin Kuljasevic, Grandmaster Andre Diamant, Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky, International Master Istvan Sipos) once again qualified for the prestigious College Chess Final Four. They will face the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the University of Texas at Dallas in April in Washington, D.C., for the President’s Cup, which is the college chess Division I National Championship.

Our B team (Chase Watters, John Flores, Rebecca Lelko (w), Brian Cassidy and Josh Osbourn) tied for first with Miami-Dade for the National Division II title.

Our C team (Zach Haskin, Maraani Kamphorst Diamant (w), Brett James, Ananya Roy (w) tied for first with Yale for the National Division IV title.

Grandmaster Andre Diamant tied for first with Grandmaster Sergey Erenburg (UMBC) for the best board two individual national title.

Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky won the best board three individual national title.

In a little more than two years, the Texas Tech Knight Raiders chess teams have won an unprecedented nine national titles, two states titles, and one regional title. This further lends credibility to Texas Tech as one of the world premier universities with a chess program.

But this does not tell the entire story of the accomplishments of our students/chess players. Let me first give a few examples of courage and determination in sports that served as inspiration to our group and then I will share with you the remarkable fighting spirits of our own Knight Raiders.

In December, Holland Reynolds, one of San Francisco University High School’s top runners, inspired countless people with her action. The 16-year-old junior collapsed about five feet from the finish line at her cross-country meet. Her body gave out. She had nothing left in her tank. But instead of giving up, she crawled past the line to help her team win the state championships. “I just kept on telling myself, ‘I need to finish and I need to cross the line’,” Reynolds told ABC News. Here is the inspiring video on YouTube (

Another story that stuck out in my mind is the dramatic movie ending of the Jamaican Bobsled team’s last race at a Winter Olympics (based on the movie “Cool Runnings”). After crashing badly, instead of giving up, they carried their sled to the finish line. Even though it is only a movie ending based on a real life story, it was nevertheless inspiring. Here is that clip on YouTube (

Our three Knight Raiders chess teams were also the underdogs. They faced countless challenges and adversities during their roads to the National Championships. Our chess program is one of the newest and least experienced in the country among major schools (this is only our second full year of recruiting), including ones in the state of Texas. Even though we have achieved unprecedented success on and off the chess board, we are still undermanned.

Other Texas universities with major chess programs get substantial institutional support for scholarships for their chess team members. Our Knight Raiders rely mostly on private generous donations. It is David versus Goliath! Without additional donations or institutional scholarships, the world class Knight Raiders Chess Teams may cease to exist in the near future, in spite of their incredible success on and off the field.

How does the scholarship dollars affect our chess teams? A chess game can last up to six or seven hours. Because of limited funding, we cannot have reserve players at the top level. Our players have to play two games a day, which is up to 12-14 hours of chess while another top-ranked team like the University of Texas at Dallas can rest their top players by substituting them with highly capable reserve players. In another word, if you compare chess to college basketball or football, it is the same as asking our players to play 40 minutes of basketball or 60 minutes of football without substitution or rest.

This is putting tremendous physical and mental pressure on all of our players. But you will not hear any of them complain. They gave everything they had to make Texas Tech and Lubbock proud. At midnight on the last night before the sixth and final match early next morning, while players from other teams rest or relax before the big day, every one of our players was strategizing and preparing.

Our three teams could have come home empty handed and they would have had more than enough legitimate excuses. But they refused to give up or give in to their mental and physical exhaustion.

On the next morning when our players arrived at the tournament hall, I could clearly see the exhaustion on their faces. It is disheartening for any coach to see the incredible personal sacrifices all of our players made. Win, lose, or draw, I could not be more proud of this group.

But in spite of the severe handicap, they pulled it off. They dug deep down to win four more national titles. But is it like football or basketball where they can turn pros and sign multi-million dollar contracts? No. In fact, many of our students have to subsidize a part of their trips to Milwaukee with their own personal funds.

These young men and women succeeded as a team with big smiles. They brought pride to our school and our city without asking for anything in return. Even a parade would not be too lavish for what they have accomplished. They gave up five days of their winter breaks to represent Texas Tech and Lubbock, coming from all over the country and around the world. And as a group, not only that they accomplished great things on the chess board, they also have a grade point average of about 3.3 while volunteering countless hours in the community.

This is what Texas Tech is all about. This is our Knight Raiders’ pride. This is Texas Tech chess.

Source: Avalanche Journal

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