University of Toronto reclaims the crown in the 2019 Canadian University Chess Champion!

Just several days have passed since the closing of the Canadian University Chess Championship. It was a riveting competition that took place in McMaster University this year. Twenty-three teams of chess players competed in two divisions: the Championship League and the Reserves section. Both sections had intense competition. Our club sent in four teams in an attempt to claim victory to both sections and show everyone what U of T students are! University of Toronto A and B competed in the upper section, whereas University of Toronto C and D played in the Reserves Division (< CFC 1800). It is with honor, that the Hart House Chess Club may exclaim that we have brought home the Grand Cup!

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Left to Right: Joseph Bellisimo, Qiyu Zhou, Mark Plotkin, James Fu (missing from the photo is Zehn Nasir!)

Of course, the road to success was full of challenges as there were another five teams fighting for the big trophy. Our University of Toronto Team A consisted of Mark Plotkin, Qiyu Zhou, Joseph Bellissimo, James Fu and Zehn Nasir averaging CFC 2293. However, it was the defending champions, Waterloo University, who were the top seeds of the tournament with an average rating of 2364. There followed, at a very close distance, the very capable teams of Ottawa University (2266), Western University (2002), McGill University (1936) and University of Toronto B (1804).

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University of Toronto A smiling at the camera!

But let’s start from the beginning. The games took place January 12 to 13 at the elegant Convocation Hall of McMaster University and 23 teams took part in the tournament (6 played in the upper section and 17 competed in the lower division). Unfortunately, Ontario was once again over-represented, with 22 teams coming from this province and only one team coming from Quebec, while the Western Provinces were not able to participate. Hopefully, this imbalance will be adequately addressed in the future.

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The games were hosted at McMaster University’s biggest and most beautiful Hall!

After the first two rounds of the tournament, University of Toronto A and Western University A were the only teams with 2 match points. Both of them had beaten McGill but, while UofT had won a convincing match against the mighty Ottawa University, Western impressed even more by beating the mightier (at least in rating) Waterloo University.

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In Round 3 Western University faced the rival University of Toronto A.

Round 3 could be the moment of truth for the two leading teams, which were facing each other in a very tough battle. This big match ended in a 2-2 tie with the top board game between FM Mark Plotkin and FM Terry Song really standing out. The former chose to open with the peculiar 1.a3!? but, nevertheless, went on to win his game. 🙂

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The Round-3 battle between Waterloo’s and Ottawa’s A Teams has just begun!

In the other important match of the third round, Waterloo University suffered a second defeat by Ottawa’s Team A, which managed to climb up to 2 match points, just half a point behind Western A and UofT A. It was now UofT’s turn to prove that they could take the heat of a match against the defending champions, who really needed a victory to make their big comeback.

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The critical Round-4 game between the defending Champions and our own UofT A has started.

This critical match started out rather quietly but it quickly became extremely suspenseful. It seemed that UofT had built a small edge over the course of the match but that advantage was not converted into solid full game-points. To the contrary, things became quite rough for UofT when Boards 2, 3 and 4 drew their games, leaving Mark Plotkin fight against International Master Michael Song in a very challenging endgame.

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The fate of UofT’s match against Waterloo was placed in the experienced hands of the Team Captain, FM Mark Plotkin.

The position was extremely asymmetrical in terms of material: Michael Song had a Queen, whereas Mark Plotkin had two somewhat uncoordinated minor pieces, three pawns and a fairly exposed King. Could Mark hold the draw against a stronger opponent? The answer is, he did! He defended brilliantly and he scored a draw, amid a big crowd of spectators who were holding their breaths throughout the endgame! This match proved that chess can, indeed, be an impressive game full of strong emotions and excitement. This one truly  was an exciting moment! In last year’s match against Waterloo, Mark played Zi Yi Quin on board 2 and, due to an unfortunate miscalculation, his advantage evaporated and he even lost his game, allowing Waterloo to tie the match 2-2 and win the tournament. This time, however, it was the other way around!

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A swarm of enthralled spectators are watching the last and most exciting game of Round 4!

But the tournament was far from over yet as both Western and Ottawa duly won their respective matches against UofT B and McGill. This meant that Western entered the last round of the tournament as the sole leader with 3.5 out of 4 match points, while Ottawa and UofT A were tied for second place with 3 out of 4 and within striking distance.

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In Round 4, University of Toronto B fought to the best of its abilities, but in the end, Western’s A team proved too strong and won the match convincingly.

Thus, everything would be decided in the 5th and last round of the tournament. UofT A defeated UofT B with relative comfort and finished the tournament with 4 out of 5. But the final ranking turned on the result in the match between Western and Ottawa, the other two big rivals for the medals. In the end, the match was a draw, which meant that University of Ottawa was third with 3.5 out of 5.

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Amazing performance, 4 out of 5 match points and silver-medal position for Western University A!

As for the big winner of the tournament, the tie-breaking criteria provided the unequivocal answer: University of Toronto was the 2019 Canadian Universities Chess Champion!!

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A (litteral) taste of victory?

For a third time in a row, Toronto’s A team went undefeated with a score of 4.0/5.0! Formidable performances warrant warm congratulations to each and every one of our great players.

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Joseph Bellissimo played on the third board of UofT’s A Team!

However, a special shoutout is called for for the Team Captain who, not only held the draw in the most critical match against Waterloo, but also contributed 4.5 points in 5 games!

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FM Mark Plotkin: His 4.5/5 points were a major contribution to the Team’s success.

It was an extremely close tournament and, in the end, it was thanks to the tiebreakers that our team managed to pull ahead and reclaim the most precious trophy in Canadian University Chess!

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James Fu, who has represented UofT in all the major 2018-19 tournaments, shared board four with Zen Nasir.

Quite naturally, things were a bit harder for University of Toronto B, as they were the underdog team of the upper division based on their starting rating (Avg. Rtng: 1804). However, the players enjoyed their matches and used this opportunity to compete at the highest level and gain as much experience as they could for the future. In fact, some of them managed to get some rating points!

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Tanner McNamara was the Captain of UofT’s B Team. It’s been a very active chess year for Tanner!

A most delightful surprise, which is worth noting, was the presence of the Club Secretary, Leslie Tang (CFC 1756), on Team B! Leslie played on board 4 of the team providing a lot of inspiration as well as encouragement to the Team!

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This was the first time that Mahip Singh represented UofT in a chess competition, since he joined the club in December 2018. He gained 59 rating points!

Finally, an honorable mention is owed to Jurgen Aliaj (CFC 1570), who bravely joined a Division 1 team as an alternate and even managed to score a draw against a stronger opponent winning some rating points!

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Jurgen Aliaj, currently captaining the UofT’s Student Team in the Greater Toronto Chess League, has demonstrated rapid progress in his chess skills!

But the fun does not stop at the upper division, of course! In the reserves section two of our teams competed really hard to bring back a second big award to the club! University of Toronto C included Jimmy Bartha, Sahan Karunaratne, Jonathan Moore and Alyssa Rusonik, who averaged a solid CFC 1454!

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UofT C boasted not one but two Club Execs among its ranks!

These players put up a really hard fight to help UofT achieve the double triumph but, in the end, the victory went to the truly deserving Team A of Queens University, who scored a breathtaking 5 match points out of 5 matches.

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With 4 out of 5 match points, Ryerson University’s Team A clinched second place and a silver-medal position!

Following Queens’ perfect team score, the second place went to Ryerson University’s Team A with 4/5 and the bronze-medal position was won by Western University’s team B with 3.5/5 (Western saw its teams win an award in both divisions, even though on neither of the two occasions was it the gold medal).

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Alyssa Rusonik (CFC 1305), a new member of Hart House Chess Club and one of the few women in the CUCC, played on board 4 of Team C!

Finally, University of Toronto D consisted of Henry Vu, BenJohn Libardo, Blake Jones and Jeremy Downey, who joined the competition, looking to gain more chess experience!

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Led by freshman Henry Vu, University of Toronto D took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 2019 CUCC and gain considerable experience from the competition!

For some of them, it was their first-ever chess tournament! Thus, it is to be hoped that this competition will serve as the beginning of an even more exciting journey in chess and that it will only enhance their appetite for more games and further improvement!

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Jonathan Moore played on the third board of UofT’s Team C! He’s clearly one of the most active UofT players!

Our club is ecstatic to thank each and every player who competed on behalf of the club. There were many impressive games from our members that made us really proud. Hart House Chess Club defines winning as the enjoyment and satisfaction of competing in a tournament. Awards such as trophies and the alike may be fantastic but our greatest pride is to say that the all of our players have won something from the tournament.

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Jimmy Bartha was another Club exec who delightfully took part in the tournament. For Jimmy, this must me the fourth CUCC!

With that said, a special thanks is owed to Sahan Karunaratne, the External Events Coordinator of our club, who was the chief organizer of the logistics regarding UofT’s participation, including the trip, the registration and the accommodation of 20 people! His job was excellent.

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Sahan Karunaratne, the Events Coordinator of the Club, was once again the key person in organizing UofT’s 20-person delegation. His devotion to the club is worthy of high praise.

A special shout-out goes out to FM/WGM Qiyu Zhou and her mother Penny Zhou. The former, played on board 2 of UofT’s Team A and wrote a beautiful blog post about the 2019 CUCC on chessbase.com which can be accessed here (it is a really good read coupled with a few annotated games as well as insights from within the tournament so we highly recommend it). The latter, covered the entire event for the popular Facebook page “Chess Tournaments in Canada” and provided most of the photos that we included in the present article.

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WGM/FM Qiyu Zhou played on board 3 of UofT’s Team A and she covered the event in a very handsome blog post for chessbase.com (here)

Finally, Hart House Chess Club would like to thank the organizers of the tournament for all their hard work. Especially McMaster Chess Club’s Co-Presidents Alvin Leenus and Andrew Leber handled all the logistical pre-tournament questions very professionally. Of course, they were not alone in this. A team of tireless volunteers, including Selvin Leenus, Jacob Cianci, Harold Hunter, Kyrie Xu, Nikhil Patel and Vincent Hou contributed to the great success of the tournament. Given their devotion, it is small surprise that every complication that occurred during the tournament was dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

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The hosts of the 2019 CUCC, McMaster University, worked as a team and did a wonderful job organizing the games!

The bar is now set very high for future organizers and we are already looking forward to next year’s CUCC, which will be hosted by Laurier University! Until then, the precious Queen’s Cup for chess will be safely kept in the display case of University of Toronto’s Hart House!

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