College rivalries are all about the competition. More traditional football or basketball rivalries are celebrated events attracting huge national audiences. Other rivalries might be less visible, but are competed with just as much intensity.
One such rivalry, while not as long-standing as The Game between Harvard and Yale, is the ongoing chess duel between the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Texas—Dallas (UTD).
This year, the rivalry ended in a dead heat as four major chess powerhouses tied for first place at the 2012 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.
Headed into the competition with a record of nine titles, the UMBC Retrievers tied with three other universities including UTD, Webster University (with 2 teams), and the University of Illinois.
“This was the strongest Pan-Am in the history of the event,” said Alan Sherman, Director of the UMBC chess program. “Twenty-three grandmasters as well as five teams rated over 2500 competed.”
The points-based tournament, held at Princeton, fielded 44 teams and concluded in a dramatic fashion with UMBC and UTD maintaining records for most top finishes in the history of the international event.
But not all the attention was on UMBC and UTD. Playing against some of the biggest names in chess, Webster University was the odds-on favorite to win the competition thanks to increased funding and heavy recruiting for the program, which snared the 2011 collegiate championship team and coach from Texas Tech.
"Everybody expected Webster was going to dominate and win the tournament, but University of Texas at Dallas stopped them in the last round," Sherman said.
The Retrievers last won the Pan-Am in 2009 and took second last year. This year’s team will go on to compete in the 2013 President’s Cup, the “Final Four of College Chess,” to be held April 6-7, in Herndon, Virginia, where no ties are allowed.
The UMBC team, all on chess scholarships, is composed of students with exceptional chess skills and strong academic records, Sherman says. UMBC requires students to maintain a 3.0 GPA to retain chess scholarships.
In 2008, UMBC swept into its first-ever run to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But that’s nothing compared to the long-standing chess rivalry with UTD, at a school where “Chess is King” and "Retrievers are Believers."