The University of Maryland, Baltimore County reasserted its dominance in college chess this week with an undefeated run through the Pan American Intercollegiate championships in Texas.
UMBC swept its six matches, posting wins over arch rival University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Brownsville. Both Texas schools entered the tournament with higher per-player ratings than UMBC.
"This is maybe the greatest chess accomplishment for UMBC, because it came against the strongest competitive field ever assembled on college chess," said Alan T. Sherman, director and founder of the UMBC program.
UMBC has ranked among the best college teams in the country since winning its first Pan-Am championship in 1996, but UT-Dallas had challenged its pre-eminence in recent years.
Not this week.
UMBC beat UT-Dallas 3-1 on Tuesday morning and followed with a 2.5-1.5 win over top-ranked UT-Brownsville that evening. UMBC also beat UT-Dallas at the year's other big college tournament, the President's Cup.
"We clearly were at our best," said coach Igor Epstein from the tournament site in South Padre Island.
UMBC recruits elite players from all over the world. Its top player, Leonid Kritz, was born in Russia and grew up in Germany. Its No. 2, Sergey Erenburg, hails from Israel. Kritz and Erenburg are the top-ranked college players in the Americas and are both grandmasters.
Such players are attracted by the opportunity to stay sharp against top competition and to work with elite coaches, Sherman said.
Many of the players attend UMBC on chess scholarships. Though most play chess at least two hours a day, three of the top four players on this year's team have perfect 4.0 grade-point averages, Sherman said.
The other players on UMBC's A team are Giorgi Margvelashvili, a soon-to-be grandmaster from the Republic of Georgia; Sasha Kaplan of Israel; and Romanian Sabina Foisor, one of the best female players in the world.
Sherman said the team might not be the most talented in school history but said its performance this week shows that UMBC has not lost its edge.
"It's extremely satisfying," he said.