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Hardware for the Illini Chess Club
While it remains to be seen whether the University of Illinois men’s basketball team will make it into this year’s Final Four competition, at least one other Illini team overcame big odds to make it into their Final Four.
The Illini Chess Club entered two squads of four players each in the national collegiate Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship held December 27-30 in Princeton, New Jersey. The Illini A team was seeded 14th out of 44 teams from across the country. Competition included teams from many Ivy League schools as well as other top-tier schools, including the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis. Competition also came from schools in Texas, Maryland and Missouri that offer full chess scholarships, provide full-time coaches and recruit international grandmasters for their teams.
With four wins and two draws in six total matches, the Illini A team garnered five out of six possible points and wound up in a 5-way tie for first place in the tournament. It was the only team among the five that had no coach and no grandmasters. The team’s four players--- Sophomore and Team President Michael Auger, sophomore Xin “Leo” Luo, freshman Aakaash Meduri and freshman Eric Rosen, now advance to the collegiate chess Final Four competition, officially known as the President’s Cup, which will be held April 6-7 in Herndon, Virginia.
What the team lacked in official support it made up for in drive, energy and passion. Auger, Meduri and Rosen met when they were 8 years old and began playing in scholastic chess tournaments, and as they grew up they were among the top chess players for their age in Illinois. Luo grew up in China, where he was one of the top scholastic chess players in that country until the age of 11, when he stopped playing. Rosen, the team’s Board 1 player, won the National High School Chess Championship in his junior year at Niles North High School. Auger and Meduri were the top players for Whitney Young High School and Hinsdale High School, respectively.
The team’s biggest upset came in the fifth round when it edged out the University of Texas Brownsville, which had two grandmasters on its team and entered the tournament seeded 6th.
“We came in thinking our odds of getting first were one in a billion, and that was being generous, “said Auger. “But we spent a lot of time preparing this semester by playing tournament-style games with each other, and analyzing them afterwards. It seems to have worked.”
The team was also fortunate to make the Final Four because out of the five teams that tied for first, it actually came in fifth on tiebreaks. However, two teams from Webster University were among those that tied for first place, and under the rules for advancing, each university can field no more than one team in the Final Four. Auger said he believes this is the first time in at least 20 years that a team from the University of Illinois went to the intercollegiate chess competition.
The Illini also fielded a B team in the tournament, with sophomores Sagaar Gupta, and Akshay Indusekar and freshmen Hephestion Bolaris and Austin Mei. The B team finished 36th in the tournament, a respectable showing as they were seeded 35th.
Auger and his teammates handled all the logistical work of getting the team to the tournament. They applied for funding from SORF (Student Organization Resource Funding), and received $1,700 that just about covered airfare to and from the tournament for the 8 players, but did not cover lodging, meals, the tournament entry fee and other incidental expenses.
The team will be looking to do some fundraising to help finance the trip to the Final Four in Virginia in April, when they will be competing against teams from the University of Texas in Dallas, Webster University in St. Louis, and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.
Contacts: Michael Auger, 773-860-5445, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Rosen, 847-212-0876, email@example.com