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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Checkmate: U chess club gets national recognition

By John Collins

The U’s chess club recently split the 2009 Chess College of the Year award with the Miami University of Ohio. In a rare tie between the two schools, the award recognizes the university club that most contributes to the promotion of chess8212;both in its community and throughout the country.

In 2007, the U’s chess club sent two student representatives to the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Tournament. Without at least four members, the students were ineligible to compete, but they attended the conference in Miami anyway.

“Sending representatives was a way to put the U on the map, even if we couldn’t compete,” said Daniel Torba, president of the U’s chess club. “We wanted to get involved in the decision-making process and express our interest in future tournaments.”

This goal was accomplished. Last year, they sent two teams to the Pan-American Intercollegiate, this time in Dallas. The U chess club’s first team finished in the top 10.

The club is now more than 50 members strong, including students, alumni and professors. But it also has the support of numerous local, national and international chess organizations. Last year, the club helped Salt Lake Community College start a team of its own, and compete in an Internet college chess league.

These efforts attracted the attention of James Stalling, chairman of the United States Chess Federation College Committee, and the U received its nomination. The USCF agreed to the motion, and the award was presented in dual recognition to both schools.
U Chess Club adviser Robert Williams is grateful for the recognition.

“All the energy we’ve been putting into the university chess club is finally coming back in a good way,” he said.

The chess events are like busy hives for those who play and watch and include players from all across the country in scrimage-like competitions assembled in library basements and community centers.

The results of these tournaments are monitored by the USCF. After enough tournament participation, a player is issued a rating. Competitors are then paired according to this rating. The higher the number, the better the player. A player with a rating of 2200 or higher is called a master, but only about one percent of the international chess community can boast that title.

Last August, the Amateur State Championship was held in the Union. Alex Skibine, a part-time student at the U, was in attendance.

Skibine won the 1993 Utah State Elementary Chess Championship when he was in fifth grade. He hasn’t been actively competitive until recently. In fact, his rating at the time of the August match was the same as it had been in 1993: 1221.

Skibine has spent the past 16 years reading books about chess and playing somewhat reclusively. More often than not, it was against an old Milton Bradley chess machine called Grand Master. But recently, Skibine has been preparing to get back into tournament competitions by playing online.

“Computers get progressively better at chess, and they’ve gotten very good,” he said. “It was exciting to play in the Amateur State Championship because I had no idea how I’d measure up. I felt like I’d reached a deeper understanding of the game by studying it, but the tournament was a way for me to test that8212;to see if the studying had gotten me anywhere.”

It had, and Skibine left the tournament with the award for the largest upset. As a result, Skibine’s ranking went from 1221 to 1450.

In the coming months, the U’s chess club will be holding its semi-annual student tournament. Any student is welcome and encouraged to play. On Dec. 26, the club heads to South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico to compete again in the Intercollegiate Championship. Details can be found at the U chess club website, The 2009 Chess College of the Year award is on display in the Union on the west side of the second floor.

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