SLU Chess Team Heads to President's Cup
The goal for Saint Louis University’s chess program is simple: build the strongest collegiate team in the world. In just its first year, it is well on its way.
Established in the fall of 2015 as a partnership between SLU and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, with support from SLU alumnus and chess enthusiast Rex Sinquefield, the team recently finished third in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship. It will advance to the President's Cup, also known as the Final Four, on March 24-26 in New York, where it will take on players from Webster University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Dallas.
SLU's chess team is not a club activity but rather a strategic effort by administrators and alumni to recruit promising players and build on the University's excellent academic reputation.
“It has always been Rex Sinquefield’s vision that his alma mater has a strong chess presence, and when the University heard of the idea, it was picked up with great enthusiasm,” said the team’s coach, Alejandro Ramirez, winner of chess’s 2010 U.S. Open and runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Championship.
Ramirez also has qualified for the FIDE World Chess Championship, the Chess World Cup and multiple chess Olympiads, and is a world-renowned chess commentator and journalist for Grand Chess Tour, ChessBase and a number of other chess outlets.
At SLU, he coaches five members of the chess team: undergraduates Cemil Can Ali Marandi, Nozima Aripova, Francesco Rambaldi and Dariusz Swiercz, and graduate student Yaroslav Zherebukh.
The individual accomplishments of the players are already significant, Ramirez said. Most recently, Swiercz took the Millionaire Open in Atlantic City while Zherebukh took the Marshall Chess Club Championship.
The Pan-American tournament in which they most recently played and the upcoming President’s Cup are the two most important university events in the USA.
This semester the players will also take part in national championships, tournaments and major opens.
There are also plans for the team to continue to grow through SLU’s donor-sponsored competitive chess scholarships, which can include room and board, tuition and fees.
Recruitment continues for players at the undergraduate and graduate level, said William Perkins, assistant to the vice president of enrollment and retention for diversity engagement and director of pre-college and access programs at SLU.
Work on dedicated space for the team in Morrissey Hall includes an outdoor playing area and a life-size chess board that will be completed this spring.
SLU's partnership with the Saint Louis Chess Club makes it the ideal place for a student seeking not only an excellent education, but also to pursue his interests in a chess career, Ramirez said.
The United States Senate named St. Louis the “National Chess Capital” in 2014.
“If you are a chess player, it is natural to move to St. Louis, as have done many top-level grandmasters in the recent years,” he said.