By Alejandro Ramirez
The explosion of chess in St. Louis goes beyond the Chess Campus that sits on the corner of Euclid and Maryland in the Central West End. The great achievements of the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis are numerous, but with the increasing demand around the country for collegiate chess, Saint Louis University has stepped up to the plate.
The newly minted program at SLU seeks to become the best in the country, a title already held by another St. Louis college: Webster University. Only four players are currently on scholarship on the SLU roster, but their achievements are impressive.
The two youngest players on the team are freshman. Cemil Can Ali Marandi who hails from Turkey has the unique distinction of winning his age category at the European Youth Chess Championship on five different occasions, an impressive feat considering Europe is still the center of the chess world, especially in the age-category tournaments. Cemil is majoring in computer science and holds the International Master title; his rating is closing in on the next step: grandmaster.
Francesco Rambaldi is SLU's third board. Representing the Italian Federation, Rambaldi is already one of the top players in his country, ranking sixth overall, and is one of the youngest grandmasters in Italy and Europe as a whole. At only 17, Francesco is taking his studies very seriously, even declining participation in this year's Baku World Chess Olympiad to have more time for school.
Yaroslav Zherebukh is SLU chess team's only grad student. He finished his studies at another strong chess university, Texas Tech and joined the SLU program in applied financial economics. His chess talent is outstanding, and he has been a sensation in the chess world since 2011 when he knocked out both Pavel Eljanov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, two super grandmasters, in the World Cup. Originally from Ukraine, Yaro represents the USA now and is inching closer to qualifying for the U.S. Championship to be held next year at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
SLU's most accomplished player and first board is Dariusz Swiercz, from Poland. A transfer junior, Swiercz has an amazing number of titles under his belt. Some of the most impressive include obtaining the grandmaster title when he was only 14 years old and going on to win the World Junior Championship in 2011. He is currently a member of the Polish Olympic team. His most recent success is winning the strong Millionaire Chess Open held in Atlantic City only a couple weeks ago.
Overall, being a collegiate chess player is not easy. Players have to balance being full time students, keeping high grades, and the responsibility of being a professional chess player. SLU's first big team tournament will be the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championships in New Orleans, Dec. 26-29. The competition will be stiff, with Webster University being the top ranked team. The strong squads of Texas Tech, University of Texas at Dallas, University of Maryland at Baltimore County, University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, and Stanford all boast numerous grandmasters and will provide stiff competition. The goal will be to finish in the top four and qualify for the Final Four chess tournament in April.