Students who have visited Morrissey Hall recently may have noticed the new space given to the chess team on the first floor. However, students may not know that SLU’s chess team, started only in 2015, has quickly risen the ranks to become a premier collegiate chess program. Recruiting from around the world and competing in prestigious tournaments, SLU Chess has already begun to make its impact on the competitive chess scene.
The chess team was originally established in 2015 as a partnership between Saint Louis University and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. However, the team can rightfully be considered the brainchild of SLU alumnus and chess fan Rex Sinquefield. The team is not simply a club activity or organization, but rather an effort by the university and other parties to recruit promising players and build on SLU’s academic reputation. In this way, it is more similar to SLU’s NCAA athletics programs than it is to a club activity.
The team is coached by Alejandro Ramirez, an accomplished chess player in his own right. He won the 2010 U.S. Open in chess and was the runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Championship. Here at SLU, he coaches five players—undergraduates Cemil Can Ali Marandi, Nozima Aripova, Francesco Rambaldi and Dariusz Swiercz, and graduate student Yaroslav Zherebukh.
Several of the players have already accomplished significant milestones in their chess careers. Ramirez said that the most recent tournament victories in the group of five are Swiercz’s win in the Millionaire Open in Atlantic City, N.J. and Zherebukh’s win in the Marshall Chess Club Championship.
This semester the players will also take part in national championships, tournaments and major opens, allowing them the opportunity to continue to build their chess resumes. Meanwhile, there are also plans for the team to continue to grow through SLU’s donor-sponsored competitive chess scholarships, which can include room and board, tuition and fees— much like SLU’s NCAA athletics programs.
SLU’s chess team recently participated in the President’s Cup, from March 24- 26. Te President’s Cup is similar to the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. SLU went in with the overall lowest rank in the President’s Cup compared to the other three teams, which were Webster University, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Texas Tech University. Webster University repeated as national champions in the tournament.
However, SLU’s chess journey this season is not over yet. Currently, the chess team’s coach, Ramirez, and one of its players, Zherebukh, are participating in the 2017 U.S. Chess Championship, which is taking place in St. Louis, featuring 12 of the nation’s best chess players.