2020: A Year of Success for Oxford Chess – Cherwell Online

Grandmaster Chess

The Oxford University Chess Club has won the 2019-20 Clubof the Year award from the English Chess Federation (ECF). Presented by the nationalgoverning body for chess and open to all clubs across the country, it is thefirst time that Oxford University has won the award, capping off a year filledwith success on and off the board.

The chess club is one of the oldest societies at the university, founded in 1869. Several Grandmasters have been members, including the four-time Womens World Chess Champion, Hou Yifan, in 2018-19. The club fields teams in local, national, and international competitions, holds popular social events, and teaches chess for all abilities. Pre-lockdown, you might have spotted the first team playing a Thursday evening home match at Balliol, a beginners lesson taking place in Christ Church on Friday afternoon, or players packed into the Kings Arms for casual games in eighth week. During the lockdown, chess has thrived online. The club held tournaments over the web, conducted lessons on Zoom, and faced teams in competitive matches from Dundee to Hawaii.

Much of this years success has come in competitive chess. Chessmatches range from a few minutes long (think of the old Red Bull advert) toseveral hours marathons of concentration. Strengthened by the arrivals ofmaster-level freshers Victor Vasiesiu (Hertford) and Akshaya Kalaiyalahan(Regents Park), a seasoned first team became formidable. The clubs firstaccolades came in autumn 2019, when a strong line-up of Daniel Abbas (Magdalen),Filip Mihov (Balliol), and Jessica Wen (Queens) finished in the top 10 at an invitationaluniversities tournament held in Nankai, China. Its biggest triumph, came in2020, when the first team won the British Universities Chess Association (BUCA)Championships for the first time since 2011 to become national champions, achievinga perfect score. The first, second and third teams each placed top in theirrespective divisions in the Oxfordshire league the first team had an unbeatenrecord, pipping arch-rivals Witney to the title. Stalwart former president JorisGerlagh (Univ) was voted best player in the league. While some universitysports clubs have glamorous summer tours and play in front of packed crowds, someof the chess clubs hardest-fought victories came on a cold Monday night at achurch hall in Cowley and in the conference rooms at the Birmingham AirportHoliday Inn.

The ECFs recognition also cited all the other initiativesthe club has put on throughout the year. Pioneered by this years president,Aloysius Lip (Christ Church), the club arranged simultaneous exhibitions withGrandmasters Hou Yifan and Keith Arkell, drawing players from all overOxfordshire. Its social events frequently attracted large crowds of 40-50 atone pub night, former president Andrew Rogozinski accepted a challenge from a passer-by,played blindfolded, and won. The club also started new annual matches withImperial, LSE, and Warwick, and set up new teaching partnerships with localschools. Its efforts have continued throughout the lockdown. Victor Vasiesiuslessons continued over Zoom, and were broadcasted on YouTube. Only last week,the club held a Chess Week of fun chess variants, organised in collaboration withthe Invariants, Oxfords maths society. The author thought hed try his hand atAtomic Chess, but came third-bottom. In all, there are more opportunities thanever before to play chess in Oxford.

Reflecting on the last year, Aloysius Lip commented, Thewhole committee and I have put in a tremendous effort over the past twelvemonths, so it really is gratifying to be recognised by our nationalorganisation basically the highest we can go. Well keep maintainingstandards to make chess the most inclusive sport fun for the uni.

It was not all success this year Oxford lost the 2020Varsity Match to Cambridge, relinquishing the title won in 2017 and defendedthe following two years. And unlike their Cambridge counterparts, who receive ahalf-blue for their efforts, Oxfords best chess players are still unrecognisedby the Blues Committee. But it has been a historic year for chess players atOxford University, and for now, the nations highest award for a chess clubwill have to do.

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2020: A Year of Success for Oxford Chess - Cherwell Online

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