UChicago Chess Team Wins the 5th Ivy League Challenge

Ethan Moon a long-time member of the Hart House Chess Club shares his point of view of playing for UofT’s Team B at the 5th Ivy League Challenge.  

This year marks my 6th year at UofT, and my 6th year at the Hart House Chess Club. I still remember walking into the reading room for the first time in September of 2017, a space that was filled with a very different crowd of people compared to now. From that day on I made new friends, and watched novices to masters come and go. Since 2017, I wanted to represent UofT at a team event and I have gotten to do that multiple times, but one that I really wanted to take part in was the “Ivy league Challenge”, where I can play some of the strongest schools in North America.

Ethan Moon in 2017 vs Ethan Moon in 2023, how times have changed!

The Ivy League Challenge was founded in 2018 by Panos Tsialas, a former executive of the club, and a person that spreads positivity and good vibes in general. In his words:

 “As many innovative projects, the inaugural Ivy League Challenge was born out of economic necessity. In 2018, the PanAms had been scheduled to take place in San Francisco, which made the cost for the participation of a second UofT team prohibitive. In an attempt to think creatively, the club executives came up with the idea to host an international, intercollegiate chess tournament in Toronto. We extended invitations to four Universities of the North East, whose teams were stacked with strong players. The geographic proximity made travel arrangements economical and convenient. It was a unique opportunity for competitive team chess practice in anticipation of the PanAms. In the end, the event left us all so pleased, that we decided to continue it in the following year. If I could share one hope for the future, that would be to see the event become more universal; this will happen when the role of the host starts rotating among various Universities.”

Since then there have been 4 Ivy League Challenges, and the for the last 2 years the tournament had been held online. There have been really strong players that have taken part in this event, and this year did not disappoint. Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, Waterloo, and UofT brought some notable names in the field, including Grandmasters, Awonder Liang (Chicago), Praveen Balakrishnan (Chicago), and Andrew Tang (Princeton). The other team compositions can be found here.

GM Awonder Liang
GM Praveen Balakrishnan
GM Andrew Tang

“UofT A” featured varsity players identical to their winning GTCL lineup, along with WFM Cindy Qiao as an alternate.

From left to right: Derek Ma, IM Nicholas Vettese, WIM Yunshan Li, Dai Wenzhi, and WFM Cindy Qiao

Meanwhile, UofT B was formed due to Yale pulling out, and a mixed bag of undergraduates, graduates, and alumni were recruited.

Seven players in different levels in academia would piece together Team B!

Round 1

The first round was delayed due to a late opening ceremony. The players shook hands and started their clocks. Our team, UofT B, was against a very strong Princeton. 

I managed to win against my opponent Kyle Li (FIDE 1777) with not much difficulty. despite the engine indicating I played anything but a smooth game. However, Mark lost to GM Andrew Tang and Matthew had lost to FM Aydin Turgut. Despite being a pawn down in the endgame, Mike held a very comfortable draw with IM Daniel Gurvich.

Although we lost to Princeton 2.5-1.5 I thought that we made the match competitive despite our first 3 boards being completely outmatched on paper.

UofT A faired a bit better in round one drawing the top seed in the event, University of Chicago, with Derek Ma (2200 CFC) managing to beat FM Kapil Chandran and Nicholas Vettesse beating GM Praveen Balakrishan with black!

Derek Ma (left) and IM Nicholas Vetesse (right) managed to beat their respective opponents securing a draw against Chicago.

Round 2

After lunch, Round 2 featured an in-house UofT match, with teams A and B battling it out. This round featured weakest possible iteration of Team B (Elia, Matthew, Me, and Victor) meaning we were outmatched on all boards. However despite this, Victor defeated WFM Cindy Qiao and Matthew managed to draw. My opponent Dai Wenzhi, a very strong player (CFC 2224), beat me at the Pan-Am qualifiers last year, so it was a joy to even out the score. The match ended in favor of us 2.5-1.5.

Ethan Moon vs Dai Wenzhi (Photo: Bowen Zhang)
There are 2 winning moves for white that I missed after 25. ..Bxf5, can you spot both? 

The game of the tournament was also played during this round between FM Aydin Turgot and FM Wesley Wang , which I have lightly annotated here.

After the really stressful match against UofT A, despite my better judgment I decided to play in the blitz tournament. With many of the masters from the Ivy league challenge playing, It was going to be a difficult field. In round 2 I faced off against GM Andrew Tang, who I defeated in a clinical endgame grind.

Ethan, in fact did not beat Andrew and went on to get dismantled in the opening and resigned before move 20

The full recap of the blitz can be found here

Since many strong players were recruited for Team B, I was to be subbed out for the rest of the tournament, and I planned to play in the Aurora Open. However, a poor performance of 0/3 in the first 3 rounds prompted me to withdraw. I would later replace Victor on Sunday

Round 3

On Saturday, the UofT B was matched up with the University of Chicago, and unfortunately despite having a very strong lineup (FM Mike Ivanov, CM Koosha Jaferian, FM Eilia Zomorrodian, and Matthew Shih) they lost 3 to 1.

CM Koosha Jafaerian vs GM Praveen Balakrishnan (foreground) and FM Mike Ivanov vs GM Awonder Liang (background). Unfortunately, they would both lose their games. (Photo: Michael Hsu)

This round also featured UofT A vs Waterloo. This was nearly the identical to their match at CUCC with Dai Wenzhi replacing FM Eilia Zomorrodian. UofT A also played some switcheroo with Yunshan and Nicholas flipping board orders! This time around, UofT A managed to get the better of Waterloo 2.5-1.5, with IM Nicholas Vettesse giving the only decisive result against FM Ian Zhao.

UofT A gets revenge on Waterloo after their loss at the Canadian University Chess Championships (Photo: Michael Hsu)

Round 4

This was a very unfortunate round for both UofT teams.

UofT A vs Princeton was the only match in the tournament that resulted in a clean sweep (Princeton won 4-0). UofT B was paired against Harvard and almost met the same fate, however Matthew Shih again saved the B team from getting swept for the second time that day.

Matthew Shih was the hero of Team B saving them from getting swept twice on Saturday! (Photo: Michael Hsu)

Round 5

I returned on Sunday to play the last round of the Ivy League challenge, against my good friend CM William Li.

Me and William have known each other for 5 years, meeting for the first time at a Hart House Tournament. Since then we have played thousands of games online and over the board, but never a classical game. To my surprise, in this game he decided to deviate from opening theory very quickly.

William Li (White) vs Ethan Moon (Black)
In this position I missed Nc5! which would trap the queen after Qxa8 Nb6!

Unfortunately, after a series of miscalculations I lost, despite holding for most of the game. CM Koosha Jafarian took a quick draw is IM Yuanchen Zhang, and FM Eilia Zomorrodian drew with Ian Zhao. This resulted in our team losing the match 3-1. This result would propel Waterloo to a 3rd place finish over Harvard.

The final round also determined which team would win the tournament with both Princeton (3.5/4) and Chicago (3/4) facing off.

The match that determined who won the Ivy League Challenge! (Photo: Bowen Zhang)

In the end it was University of Chicago that would prevail beating Princeton 2.5-1.5. GM Awonder Liang (FIDE 2643), outclassed GM Andrew Tang (FIDE 2522). Awonder would finish with the only perfect score of 5/5 and enter the FIDE top-100 rating list for the very first time following the tournament.

Closing Ceremony

After round 5, awards were handed out beginning with the best individual performance on each board. Congratulations to these players! A GM-IM-FM-CM parade on the top boards!

Board 1:
GM Awonder Liang
Board 2:
IM Daniel Gurevich
Board 3:
FM Wesley Wang
Board 4:
 CM William Li

Then, the top 3 teams were called on. Waterloo finished 3rd, Princeton 2nd, and Chicago finished first. Although it wasn’t too surprising as they were the top seed, I think any team could have held that trophy.

Coming in third place was the University of Waterloo! FLTR: Ian Zhao, Richard Chen, William Li, Yuanchen Zhang (Photo: Michael Hsu)
Princeton University took second! FLTR: Tanner McNamara (TD), Aydin Turgut, Sam Massick, Andrew Tang, Daniel Gurevich (Photo: Michael Hsu)
Finally, in first place, the University of Chicago! FLTR: Tanner McNamara (TD), Kapil Chandran, Kole Moses, Praveen Balakrishnan, Awonder Liang,. Victor Zheng (TD) (Photo: Michael Hsu)

Closing Thoughts

First off, I would like to thank Tanner McMamara, Victor Zheng, and Alex Ferreira for organizing the event. It takes a lot of effort to keep the tournament running smoothly and they did a terrific job! Also a props goes out to the rest of the 2023/24 Executive Board consisting of Crystal Cao, Bowen Zhang, and Ahmed Khalf. I would also like to thank Hart House for their sustained support of the Chess Club throughout my time at UofT.

Victor Zheng (Left) and Tanner McNamara (Right)
Alex Ferreira

Overall, I had a lot of fun playing and getting to be a part of a tournament with such strong players. I hope to be back next year and help our team place higher.

I look back when I took my first steps in the Reading Room, and see how chess has changed my life. As I start my four more years at UofT, I look forward to see where it takes me!

Click on the following links to view:

Ethan Moon (me), Derek Ma, Cindy Qiao before Round 1.