Challenging a chess champ at a college's competition

Tournament: Local players attempt to corner a 20-year-old international master at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

February 20, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Vowing to take on as many as 50 opponents at a time, Eugene Perelshteyn strapped on his running shoes yesterday -- and proceeded to play chess.

Though only 13 were brave enough to take on the 20-year-old international chess master at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Perelshteyn seemed pleased with the day's results: 12 wins and one draw.

The event was organized to popularize chess on campus.

"Everyone showed spirit," he said.

Perelshteyn rushed from board to board, and 90 minutes later it was over.

Championship play takes concentration and physical stamina, he said, and he should know. Perelshteyn is captain of the UMBC chess team, which won its third national title in December.

"You have to be in good physical shape," he said. "If you are not strong, you'll tire and then you could make a crucial mistake."

Stevie Funk, 6, with three months of chess to his credit, lost his first game within five moves. Perelshteyn had him set up and play again.

An undeterred Stevie, playing beside his father, repositioned his pieces and started anew three more times. Stevie said he has not learned to read but "has studied chess books and can set up positions."

While others pored over their boards or took brief notes, Stevie watched Perelshteyn. As soon as the champion appeared at his table, the child was clutching whatever piece he planned to move.

"He showed real fighting spirit," Perelshteyn said. "He tired only after the third game."

While his opponents sat pondering at their boards, he set a fast pace, making most rounds within one minute. The only sounds were the thump of Perelshteyn's shoes against the wood floor, the clack of plastic chessmen against the boards and an occasional deep sigh. A small crowd of spectators whispered softly, but no one cheered.

"Chess is our big thing here, and this guy is a chess athlete," said junior Dan Reagle. "We have no football team, so we came to support our chess team. Maybe we should have brought signs, since we can't cheer."

Jose Perez, 19, chess club vice president, said the game is not nearly as popular as football but that "you can always find people who will play."

Less and less time

As the tournament progressed, the time between moves became shorter and shorter.

"You feel you have to move when he comes around," said Robert MacMillan, 42, of Silver Spring, who is taking the university chess master class. "I still needed more time to think. This is really where it tells who is master and who is amateur."

Keeping up the pace was harder than anticipating players' strategy, said Perelshteyn.

"You cannot spend too much time on any one game," he said. "The faster I go, the less time they have."

He said MacMillan's board took up most of his time -- once for a full minute. But on the next move after lingering, MacMillan was defeated.

"I can anticipate and play out the moves in my head," said Perelshteyn. "I can remember the patterns. For me, it's obvious. For them, they have to figure it out."

Josh Pfarr, 22, who traveled from Lancaster, Pa., to play in his first tournament, said he lost his chance at a draw.

"I saw the move, but I was scared to do it," said Pfarr. "I really could not believe how fast he could move."

Instant replay

When Pfarr conceded, Perelshteyn set up an instant replay, demonstrating a key move.

"You should have played on," Perelshteyn said to Pfarr. "You had good chances for a draw."

Perez, the last to lose to the champion, had taken far more passes than the three normally allowed in a simultaneous tournament. In the end, rather than play to checkmate, he shook Perelshteyn's hand in concession.

"I tried to launch a king-side attack, but my pieces weren't coordinated," said Perez, a sophomore psychology major. "Eugene is a great player. Just coming in here, we are at a psychological disadvantage."

Lindy Ergino, at 63 the tournament's oldest player, played to a draw. It was his second game against Perelshteyn; the two had battled before in chess class.

"He told me to always look at the whole board," said Ergino.

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