Earlier this month Hart House Chess Club continued its long-held tradition of representing the University of Toronto at the annual Canadian University Chess Championship. This year’s tournament, which was held at the University of Ottawa on January 13-14, featured five Hart House teams which courageously battled against schools from across Canada in an attempt to win the prestigious title of Canadian Champion for a third consecutive year.
CUCC 2018: A Memoir
The competition was challenging even for the club’s most experienced players. Jimmy Bartha, the Chess Club’s treasurer, offers a brief summary of the year’s most exciting weekend of chess:
“The members of Hart House Chess Club who travelled to Ottawa for the weekend displayed a tremendous amount of sportsmanship and performed exceptionally well. Our A team consisting of Christopher Knox (President), Mark Plotkin, Jim Zhao, and Zehn Nasir finished tied for second place with long-time rivals McGill. They narrowly missed a chance to defeat the eventual first place finishers from Waterloo. In the Reserves section, our C and D teams finished tied for fourth place. While we were unable to defend our title as Canadian Champions, our team is determined and already making plans to reclaim the throne at next year’s championship in Hamilton!”
The Chess Club executive this year has placed a strong emphasis on expanding its membership and encouraging participation by both new and experienced players alike. For Alexandra Yao, this year’s championship was an opportunity to showcase and improve her chess while enjoying the camaraderie displayed amongst our players and visiting some of the sites our national capital has to offer.
“In order to visit Parliament Hill and roam downtown Ottawa the day before the tournament, I took the earlier bus apart from my UofT teammates. To my surprise, on that very bus I met teams from other universities who were also participating in the CUCC, and the long road trip quickly flew by as we developed a friendship over our love of the game.
Despite the snowstorm on Friday evening, 30 participants made it to the blitz tournament. We relaxed and got to know one another over a few games of bughouse before diving into 10 rounds of 5.0 blitz.
During the tournament proper, I was surprised to find each of my opponents happy to analyze our games afterwards. They patiently demonstrated key moments of the game with me and we discussed stronger lines that could have played. I had analyzed games with my own teammates before, but I had not expected the same practice from unfamiliar opponents, especially after spending hours trying to trap and attack each others’ pieces across the board. Instead, my opponents were encouraging and insightful, and I was struck by their sportsmanship. I learned that many of the higher rated players knew one another well, and had grown up attending the same weekly chess tournaments together.
UofT boasted the most attending players, with a total of 5 teams. Teams played side-by-side and we wished each other good luck, occasionally glancing over at one another’s boards mid-game to take note and analyze afterwards. Eating and laughing together in the lounge, we enjoyed great camaraderie. At the end of the day, chess is a game of war, and it was assuring to have my teammates by my side both in battle and in post-game analysis.
When players weren’t competing, we were analyzing, spectating, watching GM 1.0 blitz live streams, and even joking about wild chess openings. For the entire weekend, we did nothing but live and breathe chess. It was an honor to represent UofT at the CUCC and a truly unforgettable experience.”
The Canadian University Chess Championship is traditionally split into two Divisions: the Competitive Section (Group A) and the Reserves Section (Group B). University of Toronto registered two teams in Group A and three teams in Group B! Team “A”, which was led by National Master and Hart House Chess Club Secretary/President, Chris Knox, finished the tournament undefeated, tying for second place!
The competition on Group A was really fierce and Team “A”, seeded #2 in the starting list, was paired against all the favorites (Teams #1, #3, #4, #5 and #6), drawing its matches against #1, #3 and #6 and winning against #4 and #5.
The critical match took place on Round 3, when UofT “A” was facing Waterloo “A”, the tournament’s top seed. Things started out pretty well for U of T, with Chris Knox defeating IM Michael Song on board 1 and Jim Zhao and Zehn Nasir drawing their games on boards 3 and 4 against Diwen Si and Toni Lin respectively. A draw on board 2, in the game of Mark Plotkin against Zi Yi Quin would have been enough for U of T to clinch the match! Mark had the better chances and so he decided to play for the full point but a couple of inaccuracies allowed his opponent to escape and to even seize the initiative, scoring a decisive victory and drawing the match for his team.
Three teams, Waterloo “A”, UofT “A” and McGill “A” entered the last round with 3 points. Waterloo defeated U of Ottawa pretty convincingly, whereas UofT was paired against McGill. The match between the two old rivals ended in a draw cancelling both teams chances for winning the precious trophy. As a result, Waterloo finished clear first, dethroning UofT and becoming the new 2018 Canadian University Chess Champion!
For University of Toronto “B”, participation in the Competitive League would have seemed like an uphill struggle as the team was the bottom seed in the competition. However, the four players on Team A really rose to the challenge, scoring 1.5 points in 5 games, climbing one rank up their starting rank and overtaking Waterloo “B” in the final standings (not against our Team “B” too Waterloo 🙂 )!
2018 Canadian University Chess Championship – Group A / Final Team Standings
1. University of Waterloo A (2400) – 4.0pt
2-3. University of Toronto A (2292) – 3.5pt
2-3. McGill University A (2201) – 3.5pt
4. Queens University (1943) – 3pt
5-6. University of Ottawa (2242) – 2.5pt
5-6. Carleton University A (2122) – 2.5pt
7. University of Western Ontario A (2097) – 2pt
8-9. McGill University B (1928) – 1.5pt
8-9. University of Toronto B (1811) – 1.5pt
10. University of Waterloo B (1881) – 1pt
In the Reserves Section the competition between the 18 contestants, representing 10 Universities, was also quite strong! With 5 wins in 5 games, University of Western Ontario C (1596) was the sole and uncontested winner of the League! Interestingly enough, the champions did not get to face McGill C (1495), the runner-up team, which scored 4 out of 5 without suffering any defeats.
In the same division, UofT’s Teams “C” (1490) and “D” (1258) scored 3 points in 5 games and tied for places 3-7. Based on the tournament tie-breaking criteria, Team “C” was 4th and Team “D” placed 7th.
Finally, U of T’s Team “E” (843) made an amazing effort and played some tough games against more experienced opponents, gaining substantial experience for the future!
Unfortunately, Team “E” had to start each round with a handicap, playing with only 3 players, that is with an empty board, as Team A’s Loyd Mai (2353), did not make it to Ottawa, resulting in a change in the line-ups of all the teams and leaving Team “E” with one player short. Still, the team scored one point, tying for places 17th-18th but beating University of Ottawa “D” in the tiebreakers, as UofT players had scored more individual victories!
Setting a new CUCC Record
This years’ CUCC was hosted by the University of Ottawa. Chief Organizer of this very successful tournament was the incredible Vice President of Ottawa Chess Club, Zach Dukic, who also played on Board 3 for U of Ottawa’s Team “A”.
The tournament was held in the hospitable and fairly spacious Desmarais building. According to Dukic, with a total number of 114 participants, this year’s event “set a record for the largest participation in CUCC history!” Indeed, the playing hall was packed with dozens of players, proudly representing their respective Universities! As previously mentioned, U of T was the top chess-player sponsor, by sending out the greatest number of teams and the biggest delegation of players!
Out of the 114 players, who signed up for the CUCC 2018, 30 brave ones made the treacherous journey through the snowstorm to participate in a 5.0, 10-round blitz tournament on Friday night (Jan. 12th)! The 150 dollar prize fund, which was generously provided by an anonymous donor, was split 3 ways due to a 3-way tie for first between Tony Bao, Terry Song, and Maroun Tomb, each of whom scored 7.5 points in 10 games.
2018 CUCC Blitz Tourney / Final Standings
Of course, this success wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and passion of a team of dedicated organizers and volunteers. The RA and Hull Chess Clubs, generously lent chess sets and clocks so that this event could be a success. The very organized and responsible Halldor Palsson, served us the Tournament Director, making sure that everything would go according to plan. John Upper, was present at the event on both days to take many pictures of the playing hall and the players so that the amazing action that took place in the playing could be communicated beyond the four walls of the Desmarais building. Finally, a triad of co-organizers, Misha Voloaca, Sebastian Tansil and Maged Kadri, helped Dukic make the website, reserve the venue and prepare lunch on Saturday.
Next year, the CUCC will be hosted in Hamilton by McMaster University! In his closing statement, Dukic wished good luck to next year’s organizers and thanked all his colleagues – and especially the participants – for the success of the 2018 CUCC. “It warms my heart to see that even as we grow into adults, peer off into separate directions and pursue careers, there will always be a time where we can put our personal lives on hold and meet back at square one, the starting point where we first crossed paths. The chess community among universities is clearly alive and well, and I speak on behalf of the University of Ottawa when I say we can’t wait to see you all next year at McMaster. Until then, I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
* * *