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Chess in the Ivy League Print E-mail
By Anna Ginzburg   
February 7, 2011
Anna Ginzburg at the Ivy League Chess Championship
Columbia senior Anna Ginzburg covers the Ivy League Chess tournament. This should get players revved up for the online collegeiate tournament held in February and March on the Internet Chess Club. See details at collegechess.org and login as a member to read the February Chess Life Magazine article on the UTD vs. Chennai online match.

There’s nothing quite like it: Four minutes on the clock, it's the pivotal moment of the game, and amid the stress, you have to balance all of the variations-- all in the nick of time. Do I play pawn takes e5, or move my rook to c7? I take on e5. Bam-- my knight on d2 is history. My clock is ticking again-- I have to find another move.

After several more moves, my opponent resigned, and so had finished round one of the Ivy League Chess Tournament.


The event was held over the January 29-30 weekend, at Columbia University. It was weird that the first game was over in what seemed like seconds – after all, planning this event had taken several months.
The rest of the day moved at an equally fast pace, and before I knew it, it was the end of round 4. The University of Pennsylvania was leading by one point, with Columbia, Harvard and Yale all tied up right behind them. Cornell, with only a few representatives, was in last. After the fifth and final round, Penn had managed to surge even further ahead-- claiming the Ivy League Championship by a margin of 1.5 points over second place Harvard.


The night before, it was a pair of Penn students who won the bughouse tournament, so perhaps, contrary to popular coach's adage, bughouse is good for your chess! Columbia's first board, Andrew Ryba submitted the following interesting game.


After the tournament finished, I had a chat with Penn freshman Zachary Weiner, about his first semester of college. Zack and I had attended Stuyvesant High School together so I was curious as to how he was adapting. We joked about all-nighters, papers, and difficult problem sets, but then our conversation hit a serious note. How do you balance chess with the academic rigors of an Ivy League education?

The girls of the Columbia Chess team includes freshman NM Abby Marshall
The truth is it’s not easy. The Ivy League Chess Tournament was my first tournament since August, and while that was one of my best tournaments—I drew a grandmaster and beat an expert, chess had to be put on hold this past semester. As a senior majoring in economics and political science having to write an 80+ page senior thesis, I was swamped. Not to mention, that I was recruiting for finance jobs for after graduation, and  I would literally spend 20 hours a week on networking events, applications, and interviews. The job hunt went well, and I am very happy to have found a job I really like, but there is no way I could have balanced chess with all that going on.

At first this rang untrue to me, because I still found time to compete with the Columbia Model United Nations team in Pennsylvania and in England. But Model UN, like many other pursuits, is different from chess. It only requires you to be intense for a weekend, and then you can get away with not training for three months and still perform well when it matters. With chess, on the other hand, playing a tournament sporadically here and there will not improve your game (I can attest to that coach’s adage).                                                 

My lack of studying was evident from my results at the Ivy League Chess Tournament. I beat two lower-rated players, and while I held my ground against a master until we both had a minute left, I eventually lost to him, and then to two other masters. I was not surprised by my result; when you don’t practice for months, you can’t expect to remember the intricacies of various openings or be on your A game tactic-wise.                         

So as Zack and I continued to chat, I found it difficult to offer senior wisdom about how to best fit chess into his life. One strategy, however, that I did find really helpful throughout my time at Columbia, is to treat chess as you would a class. So for instance, if you pretend that you have “chess class” every Monday from 6-8pm and treat it as an actual class—meaning don’t cut class and focus when you’re there, you’re bound to actually dedicate some time to chess, rather than saying, “I’ll just study chess when I find time.” Another approach is to find a classmate on campus that is of a similar rating, and play against them for fun. If both players are serious about improving, then the competitiveness of the matches should inspire them to work harder. One really important attitude to stray away from, however, is making excuses along the lines of “I’ll have more time next semester, I’ll work harder then” because as you take more and more upper level classes, you have to be prepared to dedicate more time to them.

After a while of chatting, it was time for Zach to go home. He remarked how much fun the tournament had been, and that the tournament should become an annual event. I definitely agree. Intercollegiate team tournaments offer a unique perspective on the priorities and goals we set for ourselves and remind us of the balance that we have to keep in our lives to do everything that we want.

For more on college chess, see details on the upcoming online collegiate team tournament at collegechess.org. Registration ends Thursday, so be sure to spread the news. Also check out Alex Betaneli's piece, the Charm and Anguish of the Pan-Ams and Jonathan Hilton's Best of CLO award for his piece on "Not Playing the Pan-Ams."