U Chess Club Succeeds at 2022 Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship


(Photo by Vlada Karpovich | Courtesy Pexels)

By Kailey Gilbert, News Writer


Living off turkey sandwiches and cereal for the week, the chess club at the University of Utah had major success at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship Tournament in January 2022.

As it was the first year the chess club was able to take two teams, the Pan-American Tournament already had major significance. In addition, Dhruvan Gopinath, a member of the U’s B-Team, took home the second place Top Upset Plaque, and the A-Team came in second place in division three.

In short, an upset is when a lower ranked player beats a higher ranked player, therefore increasing their own ranking and proving their skill level. 

Playing against Grand Masters, as students who had never performed at the Pan-American, this was a massive win for the chess team. 

“It’s a really prestigious international collegiate championship,” said Conrad Morris, a member of the A-Team. “Our A-Team tied for first and lost tie breaks.”

Morris said the tournament was a great team building experience. 

“The game of chess … is a battle of the mind,” he said. “It’s like this dance, this interplay of ideas, and whoever’s ideas are strongest ends up winning the game.” 

Gopinath described the game as maximizing the potential of one’s pieces while minimizing the opponent’s potential. 

“Every single move is absolutely critical to the position and when your opponent makes a move, you need to consider every possible aspect that that move accomplishes,” Gopinath said in an email interview. “You then need to react accordingly, make sure you’re not missing any traps or tricks.”

Robert Williams, the coach of the chess team, began playing chess in seventh grade, continuing on to play with his junior high and high school league.

He played on his university chess team, competing in the Pan-American in 1977 in St. Louis, Missouri. This, he said, is how the goal of the Pan-American tournament started.

Williams built the U’s chess club up beginning in 2003. John Coffey ran the chess club from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and he has supported the team since. When the chess club was restarted, Williams wanted to focus on getting to an intercollegiate chess competition. 

“It took a few years,” he said. “But finally we started getting students to go to the Pan-American.” 

He said some struggles they ran into were rough weather, reserving rooms and COVID-19 restrictions, saying their perseverance through this was emblematic of the club’s teamwork. 

“Success is safety of the students, the students being team players and the students doing the best that they can,” he said. 

According to Williams, the diversity and cohesiveness of the club is necessary for the team to be truly successful. 

Supporters of the chess club, including those at the tournament and away, in addition to the teamwork of the club, made success possible for these students.

If interested in the chess club, students can attend club meetings on Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. MST in the Union.

“It’s not just a game for intellectuals,” Williams said. “It’s a game for everyone.”


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This article was updated on Feb. 6, 2022, to clarify the University of Utah chess club’s history and credit John Coffey’s contributions to the club.