Texas Tech University

Check 'Em: Texas Tech Knight Raiders Dominate Pan-Am Chess Championship

Amanda Castro-Crist

December 31, 2019

The first-place win qualifies Texas Tech for another trip to the President’s Cup in New York City, which will be the ninth appearance for the team at the national championship.

At the end of each of the six rounds of the 2019 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship, the competitors facing the Texas Tech University A Team all heard the same thing: checkmate.

"We won all six matches," said Texas Tech Knight Raiders Coach Alex Onischuk. "That is very unusual to achieve in this tournament – I don't remember the last time when a team finished 6-0 in this competition."

But that's just what the team did, earning first place in the tournament, held Dec. 27-30 at the Charlotte Chess Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The win secured Texas Tech's spot at the President's Cup, also known as the Final Four of College Chess, April 3-5 in New York City.

This is the ninth time in program history Texas Tech has qualified for the Final Four. Texas Tech won the Final Four in 2011 and 2012.

To earn the top spot at the 2019 Pan-American tournament, Texas Tech beat teams from Ohio State University, Harvard University, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Saint Louis University (SLU) and University of Texas at Dallas (UTD).

Texas Tech Women's Chess Team
Texas Tech Women's Chess Team

"Starting from round three, we were playing very tough opponents and winning all our matches with the smallest margins," Onischuk said. "The toughest was the final round against the University of Texas at Dallas. About two hours into the round, it looked like we were going to lose, but our guys managed to turn the tables around. After almost five hours of play, we eventually won.

"I'm also happy for our women's team. They finished first among the women's teams and overall placed 34th."

Sixty-three teams competed at the Pan-American Championship this year, including three teams from Texas Tech. The A Team took first place with 6 points, the Women's Team earned first place among women's teams and 34th place overall with 3 points, and the B Team placed 26th, also with 3 points.

The Texas Tech's A Team win broke a recent streak at the Pan-American Championship by Webster University, which has won the tournament every year since 2012, except for Texas Tech's first-place win in 2015. Webster, which placed second (5 points), will join Texas Tech at the Final Four, along with third-place SLU (5 points) and fourth-place UTD (5 points).

"We all feel very happy of course," Onischuk said. "Before the tournament, we hoped we could get into the Final Four and, with very good play, maybe even win. But nobody expected us to dominate this event. It was really a team effort. Everyone played well, and in every round, we had someone who would make a decisive victory."

Onischuk said he and the players are looking forward to competing in New York City this spring.

"We will have a competitive team at the Final Four," Onischuk said. "I feel that we are getting better with every tournament. I'm optimistic. Our players got even more confident, and I know they will be ready."

Texas Tech Knight Raiders
Texas Tech Knight Raiders

The 12 students who competed at the tournament were:

  • A Team: International Grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets, a doctoral student in agricultural and applied economics from Kyiv, Ukraine, who also was part of the team that won the 2015 tournament; FIDE Master Aleksey Sorokin, an undergraduate computer science major from Barnaul, Russia; International Master and World Junior Champion Jack Shtembuliak, an undergraduate finance major from Odessa, Ukraine; International Grand Master Pavel Vorontsov, an undergraduate computer science major from Kyiv, Ukraine; and International Grandmaster Sergey Matsenko, an interdisciplinary studies graduate student from Chelyabinsk, Russia.
  • B Team: Andras Horvath, an undergraduate engineering major from Wichita Falls; Esteban Ruiz Proano, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major from Quito, Ecuador; National Master and Candidate Master John Zapata Hincapie, a chemical engineering graduate student from Medellin, Colombia; and National Master Shyam Gandhi, an undergraduate finance student from Cerritos, California.
  • Women's Team: Women's International Master Iryna Andrenko, a horticulture science graduate student from Simferopol, Ukraine; Woman Candidate Master Claudia Munoz, an undergraduate mathematics major from Wichita Falls; Nadia Salakh, an undergraduate mathematics major from Kahovka, Ukraine; and Opuriche Duruoha-Ihemebiri, an undergraduate accounting major from Lagos, Nigeria.

For a full listing of the 2019 Pan-American final standings, visit the tournament website.

About the Texas Tech Chess Program
The Texas Tech Chess Program was established within the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in 2007. The Knight Raiders, the university's chess team, has since earned more than 10 national titles and the program was named Chess College of the Year in 2014. Head coach and director Alex Onischuk was named Grandmaster of the Year in 2014 and has been ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world for the past 20 years. In 2018, Onischuk was inducted into the Chess Hall of Fame.

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