DeKALB – The NIU Chess Club edged the top-seeded Baylor University Bears Chess Club to take first place in division seven of the Collegiate Chess League tournament.
The nail biting championship match took place on Nov. 21, after 160 teams from around the world entered for their chance to battle their way to the top of the collegiate chess mountain.
The tournament was full of surprises and thrilling matches and the championship game certainly lived up to its name.
“There’s 16 points up for grabs and it came down to the last round and we were tied 6-to-6,” said Vice President Ace Frieders. “And we ended up winning the whole thing in the last round 8 1/2 to 7 1/2, so we were pretty ecstatic to get that win over a very good Baylor team,”
The Bears, who were undefeated throughout the entire regular season earned the number one overall seed in the bracket as well as a first-round bye. After beating University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in round two, the Bears narrowly dodged an upset bid by this year’s “Cinderella” team in UNLV by winning 8-to-7 in the semifinals to advance to the championship game.
The Huskies, likewise, were one of the division’s top teams earning a 3 seed and first-round bye. The dogs were left unchained as they came out ferociously in the first two rounds taking down in-state rival UIUC 9-to-6, and routing UCSB 11-to-5 in the semifinals.
“A lot of us were former high school players so we kind of had that tournament mentality already,” Freiders said. “Everything is ordered in order of strength. So we want to get our best players on the team, so our best players are playing other universities’ best players.”
The club earned a $300 prize for taking the division seven crown, according to the tournament website.
Despite the club having minimal time to practice and strategize with each other at practice, they rose to the occasion and trusted their instincts to come together and etch their name into history.
“As for practice, everything we did was on our own or our own free time,” Freiders said. “We never got to, as a team, get together and practice. We meet every week but that’s more of a casual thing. so it was really just us studying our own opening and trying to find ways to get an advantage in the start and just keep it until we won.”
The bar has been set for this next year, and the culture of winning and togetherness has been cemented with the club. Since the championship, the number of new members has skyrocketed.
“We’re coming up on a year of being a club, and about a year ago there were only six or seven of us and now there’s about 60, it’s really nice to see how big it’s grown,” Freiders said.
“I definitely look forward to every Monday when we meet,” senior chess club member Sean Quirke said. “They’re really nice people and very welcoming to everyone to get involved into the tournaments and playing chess in general.”
Looking forward, the Huskies are ready to take the program to the next level.
“We’ve got the same league, it starts Feb. 12 and 13 and it’s going to be every Saturday from noon to 1 pm And then on Feb. 5 and 6, we have another tournament that’s online for college students, so looking to do well on both of those,” Frieders said.