2021-2022 Ivy League Challenge

On Friday, April 1st the Hart House Chess Club, at the University of Toronto, hosted the 4th annual Ivy League Challenge. The competition featured a modified online team battle where teams of students from the University of Toronto, University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Waterloo battled it out in sets of intense matches to determine the dominating Chess power on the East coast. Being the second time that the event’s been held online, the event was carried out on the Lichess platform under 15m + 10s time controls, with each university fielding a full team of four players.

Team UofT was led by our very own CM Koosha Jaferian. A PhD student in computer science, with a lot more to show than just simple calculation, known for his strong positional play and being able to hold down the fort on board 1 even against the best of competition. On board 2 WIM Yunshan Li looked to replicate some of the recent successes she achieved at the KCF Cup, which included a 8/9 performance and a win over a grandmaster. Christopher Knox was slotted in on board 3, where he scored a sensational 5/5 at CUCC in February. Finally, to complete the line up Joseph Bellissimo returned back in the fold on board 4, ready to show us what we were missing out on in his temporary leave from competitive play.

On paper, UofT faced a tough field. UChicago brought two GMs to the event (Awonder Liang and Praveen Balakrishnan) while Princeton fielded one GM (Andrew Tang) and one IM (Daniel Gurevich). Waterloo, who edged us out at CUCC after a tense tiebreak, was also led by IM Michael Song on board one. Tension was high.

In the first round it was UChicago vs Waterloo and Princeton vs UofT. However, things didn’t go as planned for all the favourites. In a series of several exciting up-and-down battles, UChicago’s board 2 GM ended up falling to Waterloo’s Richard Chen and Princeton’s board 2 IM lost to UofT’s Yunshan Li! While Chicago overcame that setback to defeat Waterloo 3-1, Princeton was held to a standoff as as Chris Knox picked up a win on board 3 for UofT to tie the match to 2-2.

In round 2, UChicago looked to extend its lead against Princeton, while UofT hoped to avenge their narrow loss in the CUCC against their rivals at Waterloo. Following a nice win by Awonder Liang on board one in a matchup of GMs, Chicago went on to sweep Princeton 4-0. While Joseph won on board 4, draws on boards 2 and 3 resulted in UofT’s second consecutive tied match. Sadly despite having some chances in the wild game on board 3, Chris Knox was unable to successfully the hunt down of William Li’s fleeing King, ultimately leading to a draw. However, the round’s performance still left UofT only a full match point behind UChicago going into the last round.

With Princeton and Waterloo sitting on half a match point each, they were fighting in the last round to overtake UofT for second place. Hoping that UChicago could beat UofT. With a win, UofT would tie UChicago for first, but anything less would keep the door to second place wide open. With a quick draw against Koosha on board one, Awonder Liang secured the top board one prize. His teammates finished the job, sweeping the bottom three boards, and concluding a perfect event for Kapil Chandran (board 3) and William Graif (board 4). With UChicago well ahead on 3 match points and 10.5 game points, Princeton defeated Waterloo by the narrowest of margins (2.5-1.5) to edge the other teams for second place. Though they collected 1.5 match points to UofT’s 1 and Waterloo’s 0.5, all three teams finished second with a total of 4.5 game points.

At the end of the event, several prizes were awarded to individual players for their performances. After a last round draw, Richard Chen shared the board 2 prize with Praveen Balakrishnan. Furthermore based on their flawless results, Kapil Chandran and William Graif of UChigago won the best board 3 and board 4 categories. Finally, the best game prize of the event was awarded to Kapil Chandran’s final round victory over Chris Knox.

Despite such a bittersweet result, with opportunities to edge it out into a shared first place, UofT ended up placing 2nd. Several amazing performances by our board 2 and board 3, Yunshan Li and Chris Knox proved to be the backbone to the team’s success in the event. Currently, we hope to continue to build up our roster’s strength and come back stronger next year! We’re looking forward to taking the IVY League crown next season…

Special thanks to the Hart House Chess Club Executives for putting setting up the event. A further message of appreciation for Jonathan Yu for providing commentary and live coverage of the event on twitch. We’d also like to thank the other schools for their enthusiastic participation. We hope to welcome everyone back to Toronto for an in-person classical event next school year!