Check Mates

The state's best chess team opens up—sort of.

Last year, after UT-Dallas lured grand master Yuri Shulman to campus by offering him a hefty chess scholarship, the team began to win major tournaments. In fact, the school, which doesn’t field a football team, has had its image as Nerd-U boosted by a chess team with a national reputation. This month, the squad will even start the school year with the U.S. Chess Federation title as the best college chess team in the country. Yet when the modest, quiet members of this elite group gather to answer questions about their game, the responses do not come. Have they ever sweated onto a chessboard? Some big laughs. Then no answer. What do they think of the professors here? The clock ticks. A few blink. Many smile. Do they use psychological tricks on an opponent? “Sometimes you need some special feelings to crush somebody,” the 26-year-old Shulman explains in a thick Belarusian accent, “but usually it is better to remain calm.” Nobody laughs.

When the questions stop, Shulman sits across the table from one of the best young players in the country, nineteen-year-old Andrei Zaremba, and asks him quietly, with a grin, “Would you like to see how my game went with Korchnoi last week in Macedonia?” (Notice, he didn’t say, “… how I beat the legendary Viktor Korchnoi.”) Zaremba smiles. Shulman quickly moves a few pieces around on the board, demonstrating as he recalls, “Korchnoi did this really strange move that was this, then this, and I brought my bishop here then here, and he made a strange move. A blunder. Bishop to B5.” Zaremba nods, his face expressionless. “And I do not have a free move, so I retreat. He designed this position, and he played this, then this. So.” End of the game. The silence takes on an amused quality. They’re looking forward to another quiet year.

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