Cinderella brought home the glass slippers
Heavy underdog Knight Raiders win the biggest national collegiate chess title
In only our second year competing in Division I chess, the Texas Tech Knight Raiders achieved the improbably by winning the 2011 College Chess Final Four, besting University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC) and UT Dallas (UTD), the two teams which dominated college chess in the past decade. In the last 10 years, UMBC won the Final Four six times while UTD won it four times.
Even though the Knight Raiders have won nine national titles in the past two years, they were either individual division I titles or team division II, III and IV. This time, it is the most prestigious title in college chess, equivalent of the NCAA Final Four basketball.
The Knight Raiders entered the tournament as the 4th seed with an average rating of 50 points lower than the other three teams. It is like David facing Goliath three times. But in spite of the steep odd, they emerged as champions after three intense and grueling round-robin matches.
It is a consensus in the chess world that this is the strongest College Chess Final Four in history as each team fielded at least 3 Grandmasters and 1 International Master. The average USCF rating of the four teams is about 2580! There was no easy or lopsided match. Every battle came down to the last move, one way or another. If the tournament starts over again tomorrow, there is no telling which team will win. A tiny mistake could prove fatal, and a single move could decide the fate of the entire tournament.
The difference at the end came down to the clutch victory by Knight Raiders' team captain grandmaster Davorin Kuljasevic against the highest FIDE rated player in the Final Four, grandmaster Leonid Kritz, in the last match. This crucial win gave us a 2.5 - 1.5 match win against the defending champion UMBC and College Chess National Title!
Last year, Susan Polgar became the first female head coach of a men's division I team to make the Final Four. This year, she broke another gender barrier by becoming the first female to win it.
When the team got back to the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport at around midnight on Monday, a nice crowd was on hand to greet the newly crowned national champions. It is an amazing feeling to be able to bring this major title to Texas Tech and Lubbock, especially when we receive so much support from Tech and the community. This is truly a team effort.
The College Chess Final Four was organized and sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. for sponsoring this spectacular event. The entire Final Four was first class all the way.
Here are the members of the national championship team:
Board 1: Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky
Board 2: Grandmaster Davorin Kuljasevic (Captain)
Board 3: International Master Istvan Sipos
Board 4: Grandmaster Andre Diamant
Reserve: Senior Master Faik Aleskerov
Head Coach: Grandmaster Susan Polgar
Assistant Coach: FIDE Master Paul Truong
1. Texas Tech 7.0 points
2. UTD 6.5 points
3. UTB 6.0 points
4. UMBC 4.5 points
Photos from the 2011 College Chess Final Four in Washington, DC: https://picasaweb.google.com/SPICEChess/2011FinalFourInWashingtonDC
Photos from the heroes' welcome at Lubbock International Airport: