Collegiate Chess Players Exhibit Strong Talent at First National Rapid & Blitz Event

by Alejandro Ramirez

The college chess scene is booming, and it is easy to see why. The inclusion of so many strong chess programs and the explosion of rivalries between universities that give scholarships based on chess naturally makes ground for more and more tournaments to be added into the circuit.

Traditionally, it is clear that the two most important events of the year for collegiate chess are the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and the Final Four. However, there is plenty of room for growth, and last weekend the inaugural U.S. Collegiate Rapid & Blitz Championship was held on Saint Louis University's campus. The rapid and blitz format is perfect for collegiate events, as students juggle their on-campus responsibilities with the challenges presented to titled players.

At the beautiful Il Monastero playing hall, most of the expected powerhouses of chess sent their strongest players. The format of the event emulated the successful Texas Collegiate Rapid events: pairings are done individually, players from the same school cannot play each other, and at the end the top four finishers from each school count towards the team score. Two distinct tournaments were held, rapid on Saturday and blitz on Sunday.

Saturday was a complete domination by the reigning National Collegiate Chess Champions (the winners of the Final Four) University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Coached by Bartlomiej Macieja, UTRGV’s players are known to be specialists at quicker time controls. One of their students, Grandmaster Kamil Dragun, started off with a blistering start, scoring 5.0/5, but was unable to clinch the championship in this six-round tournament, as he fell in the last round to Pavlo Vorontsov from Texas Tech University. This paved the way for Kamil's teammate, Vladimir Belous, to beat Nikolas Theodorou from SLU and clinch first place with 5.5/6. The final standings in the team competition were not even close, giving UTRGV the first U.S. Collegiate Rapid Championship title!

Things went very differently on Sunday. With nine rounds instead of six, and a much faster time control (games lasted about 40 minutes in rapid and only 15 minutes in blitz), the tournament took a completely different turn. Fresh off a tremendous performance representing Team USA as our first board in the 2019 World Team Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, GM Dariusz Swiercz showed why he is one of the top-100 players in the World.  Representing SLU, Dariusz dominated the competition, starting with a convincing 7.0/7 and only allowed one draw in round eight. His teammate, GM Benjamin Bok from the Netherlands, also played an excellent tournament, finishing second and securing not only their individual standings, but also SLU's place as the 2019 U.S. Collegiate Blitz Champions.

In both the rapid and the blitz, Texas Tech University's Iryna Andrenko won best women's prize. The complete list of winners is as follows:

2019 U.S. Collegiate Rapid Championship (full results)

2019 U.S. Collegiate Blitz Championship (full results)