Chess Team Is Ready for Its Next Move: Final Four in New York City
The UT Dallas chess team received a Comet-style send-off at a recent pep rally. The team will compete for the President’s Cup this weekend in New York City.
With a new coach and plenty of preparation, the UT Dallas chess team is heading to the top collegiate chess tournament in the country, hoping to secure the top trophy for the fifth time.
The 2019 President’s Cup (informally known as the Final Four of College Chess) will take place April 6 and 7 in New York City. This will be the Comets’ 16th appearance in the 19 years the Final Four tournament has existed.
Julio Catalino Sadorra BS’13, the new chess team coach, played at the Final Four tournament twice when he was a member of the UT Dallas team. He has been sharing his experiences with the team and preparing them for the competition.
“The Final Four is a high-pressure event, and this year will not be any different,” he said. “While the team and I are hungry to win this tough event, I’m encouraging them to focus more on improving their play and getting into their best possible form.”
“The Final Four is a high-pressure event, and this year will not be any different. While the team and I are hungry to win this tough event, I’m encouraging them to focus more on improving their play and getting into their best possible form.”
The four teams that will compete at the tournament are UT Dallas, Webster University, Harvard University and UT Rio Grande Valley. They qualified by their top performances at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in December.
Four players will represent each school, with two alternates. The UT Dallas Final Four team comprises grandmaster David Berczes, international master Kacper Drozdowski, grandmaster Anton Kovalyov, grandmaster Gil Popilski, grandmaster Razvan Preotu and international master Omer Reshef.
Webster has won the title five times in the last six years, and UT Rio Grande Valley won the cup last year. Sadorra knows the competition will be tough, but he said he is preparing the UT Dallas team in a holistic manner. For instance, he wants to make sure the players’ minds are focused.
“I want to make sure they know what they want, that they carry a winning legacy of UT Dallas. They’re representing not just themselves, but also their families, their countries and, most of all, the whole University,” Sadorra said.
The team is spending a lot of time preparing for the specific opponents they will be facing, looking at previous games and tendencies.
“As a group we look over the opponents’ games, discussing players’ weaknesses and strengths,” Sadorra said. “We want to avoid positions where a particular opponent is strong. We want to take him out of his comfort zone. Doing that as a team, rather than individually, bonds us together.”
The biggest unknown that the players will face is whether they will draw the white or the black pieces. Drawing white means the player will make the first move, which can provide a slight advantage.
“Often, the white piece player wants to go aggressive, but that doesn’t happen every time. Some white piece players like to play more conservative. It really depends on the player’s style,” Sadorra said.
He also encourages the team to prepare physically, which more chess teams are now doing. He said he doesn’t require a specific exercise program but encourages players to take time to get physically fit.
“In one of our previous collegiate tournaments we played soccer against another college team, which was physically exhausting yet fun,” he said. “We are planning to do more physical activities like this for the team.”
The players at the Final Four tournament are some of the best in the world, with high chess ratings and impressive tournament wins.
“When you get into that playing hall, everyone knows what they have to do. Your opponent is not your friend, just your rival,” Sadorra said. “Our team will be ready to compete.”
The President’s Cup was founded in 2001 by Dr. Tim Redman, UT Dallas professor of literary studies, with the financial support of former UT Dallas President Franklyn Jenifer. The first tournament was held on the UT Dallas campus. Redman was the only two-term president of the United States Chess Federation in its history.
UT Dallas Chess Final Four Team
||David Berczes, finance graduate student
USCF Rating: 2564
FIDE Rating: 2509
||Kacper Drozdowski, information technology and systems graduate student
USCF Rating: 2552
FIDE Rating: 2480
||Anton Kovalyov, computer science graduate student
USCF Rating: 2680
FIDE Rating: 2641
||Gil Popilski, computer science senior
USCF Rating: 2601
FIDE Rating: 2518
||Razvan Preotu, computer science sophomore
USCF Rating: 2555
FIDE Rating: 2501
||Omer Reshef, software engineering freshman
USCF Rating: 2561
FIDE Rating: 2497