U.S. College Chess to get Makeover

Several months ago, inquiries were made in the recruitment of chess players at the University of Baltimore-Maryland County (UMBC). The complaint was forwarded to the United States Chess Federation and rules were amended to place restrictions on eligibility for collegiate chess teams.

The central impetus came when UMBC fielded a team of seasoned players included several Grandmasters, but all were non-traditional students. This year the team had four GMs and an average age of 29. Some accused UMBC of buying championships by luring the strongest possible players with promises of full tuition and other perks.

GM Alexander Wojtkiewicz was a target as the 40-year old Polish GM was enrolled in the romance languages, but others questioned his motives. GM Alex Sherzer at 32, was also the focus of inquiry as the medical doctor was enrolled in UMBC's emergency health science program, but later withdrew. The team also includes FM William "The Exterminator" Morrison, 42 who earned a Bachelor's in History at UMBC and is seeking a Master's in Education. Morrison was quoted in the article as saying, "The chance to study and to play this 'sacred game' was too good to pass up."

Dr. Tim Redman, a former U.S. Chess Federation President and advisor to University of Texas-Dallas (UTD) chess team has spoken openly about the eligibility issue and some questioned whether his remarks were influenced by his affiliation with UTD. Both UMBC and UTD have dominated collegiate chess in the last several years… UMBC with six titles including two shared with UTD. Both schools have active scholarship programs and have been the subject of national media attention. UTD has recently attracted players such as Zambia's IM Amon Simutowe, 21 and FM Daniel Fernandez, 18.

A Wall Street Journal article stated that the changes implemented at the 2003 U.S. Open would result in the UMBC being effectively dismantled due to scholarship losses.
Dr. Alan Sherman, the team's advisor contends, "It's difficult to draw the line at a reasonable standard that doesn't exclude legitimate students." Despite this setback, UMBC should still be able to draw from a pool of talented players around the U.S. However, the recent ruling means that the days of "buying" championships are long over.

Read Ann Zimmerman's "Aging Knights compete in College Chess," Wall Street Journal.

The Chess Drum, "Pan-Am Intercollegiate sizzles… Morrison's UMBC takes crown!"  3 January 2003.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 28 October 2003