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March sadness for MIT chess team

No hoopla. No cheerleaders with painted faces. No highlights on Sports Center.

The MIT-Caltech match on the Internet Chess Club Sunday night was a quiet beginning to March madness. But the first-ever Beavers vs. Beavers online chess competition was a big deal to the participants and enthusiastic spectators 3,000 miles apart.

Prior to the match, players on both teams studied their opponents' previous games and devised opening strategies. MIT graduate student Sanne de Boer cut short a visit to his home in The Netherlands to compete, arriving just an hour before play commenced.

Caltech was led by former national high school champion Patrick Hummel and Dutch superstar Wei Ji Ma. MIT countered with former Turkish national champion Tamer Karatekin, former U.S. women's co-champion Elina Groberman (both juniors), and Yelena Gorlina, a freshman who has participated in the U.S. women's championships.

Eight competitors on each team had 60 minutes to complete their moves. The battle was evenly matched until the final moments.

Karetekin and Hummel were engaged in a tense match. After 43 moves, only queens and pawns remained on the board. From that point, Karetekin outplayed his opponent and emerged with a spectacular victory on the 110th move, with less than 30 seconds left on each player's clock.

Caltech won the match, 5-3. MIT's other victors were Groberman and freshman Sheel Dandekar. Freshman Grady Cantrell, graduate student David Gratton and junior Alexandr Skorokhod also represented MIT.

"A rematch should follow soon," said Groberman.

Over President's Day weekend, MIT earned the Top College award in the U.S. Amateur Team East Championship in Parsippanny, N.J., which attracted more than 1,000 teams. On the same weekend, Caltech won the U.S. Amateur Team West Chess championship, the first college team to win the event in recent history.

In December, MIT competed in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship in Miami, finishing in the top 15 in a strong field. MIT tied for third place in the Pan-Am tournament in 2001.

The MIT Chess Club, which meets weekly, is coached by former U.S. chess champion Larry Christiansen. For information, e-mail Elina Groberman or visit the club's web site at

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 2003.

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