Chess Team Makes History in Havana Match
UT Dallas Players Lose But Score a Victory for International Understanding
Nov. 6, 2009
In their own way, UT Dallas’ chess masters rewrote international history last month.
College-level chess players from the U.S. and Cuba hadn’t squared off in half a century, so it was a triumph in itself when top UT Dallas players traveled to Havana to play against their counterparts at the Instituto Superior de Cultura Fisica (ISCU).
The thrill of victory from the competition proved to be the Cubans’ alone, however. After two days of play, ISCU emerged victorious, with a final score of 6 ½ points to UT Dallas’ 3 ½.
“Our opponents played well, and we missed some chances,” said Marko Zivanic, graduate student in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “In Round 2, team captain Alejandro Ramirez had a really good position that he ended up losing.”
“As with all of our international matches, this one was distinguished by fine sportsmanship on both sides,” he said.
But beyond the two-day competition, the chess team’s trip was seen by some as a goodwill gesture between two North American countries once considered enemies. Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president for diversity and community engagement, thought the match would “open a small window in the barrier for Americans to learn about Cuba.” A Cuban-born émigré to the U.S., she saw many encouraging exchanges as she observed the two teams in pre-match festivities.
“At the opening banquet, UT Dallas players sat next to ISCU players,” she said. “And despite any language barriers, I saw them not only sharing a meal, but also sharing ideas.”
The team also toured Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home, Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), and colonial Havana, part of the capital preserved from the time Spain colonized the island.
“The trip was a very positive experience, and I was very happy to be a part of it,” said Jacek Stopa, a senior majoring in international political economy. “It gave us a great opportunity to interact with a culture very different than what we see in our daily lives. Having a chance to speak to Cubans in their homeland was unique.”
“More than playing chess, this trip was a symbol,” said Spector. “Chess is so dear to the Cuban people. They play everywhere – from teaching it in elementary schools to recreational games in the streets. It was very special to have a team from the U.S. come to their country to play a game they hold in the same high esteem as baseball.”
The chess teams from UT Dallas and the Instituto Superior de Cultura Fisica faced off over two days.
Beyond the competition, the meeting of the two teams was regarded as a goodwill victory for both.
UT Dallas vs. Belgrade
Next up for the chess team is an Internet-based match with the University of Belgrade at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6. Spectators are welcome to watch the games live at the School of Management. The opening ceremony takes place at 12:30 p.m. Admission is free.