Penn Chess gets its ‘swag on’
Newly crowned Ivy League champion chess players reveal method to their madness
February 2, 2011, 4:58 am · Updated February 2, 2011, 12:00 am·
Football championship, check. Soccer championship, check. Volleyball championship, check.
Chess championship? Checkmate.
Last weekend, the chess team traveled to Columbia and became Penn’s newest Ivy League titleholders, defeating Harvard, Yale and Cornell as ferociously as a bunch of linemen.
“We won by a sizeable margin,” said College junior Daniel Rockower, the man in charge of organizing the Chess Club’s Sunday practices. Of the ten-man team, Engineering freshman Kasun Waidyaratne, College freshman Zach Weiner, Wharton sophomore Troy Daly and College junior Alex Glass ranked the highest individually for the Quakers.
The four — classified by the Harkness Rating System as Master, Master, Expert, and Class B, respectively — learned the game when they were in preschool and have been playing competitively ever since. Both Daly and Waidyarante won national championships in their youth, and Glass' high school team was crowned Washington State champion twice in his four years.
“You play against kids in your own grade,” Daly explained. “When I was in third grade, I could beat every other third-grader in the country. Obviously now saying you can beat every other third-grader in the country doesn’t really mean anything.”
Now that they are in college, the guys don’t have as much time to fine-tune their skills as they did when they were younger, but their aptitude for victory doesn’t seem to have diminished.
“For years and years, I did problems and studied openings and stuff,” Daly said. “Now I’m like, ‘Whatever, I’m good enough that I can just go to tournaments and go on instinct.’”
Though the Penn players all agreed that they were slated to take home the trophy, they acknowledged that stiff competition awaited them upon their arrival at Columbia.
“There’s a guy at Yale who’s an International Master,” Weiner said. “That’s pretty legit.”
Still, it seems that Grand-Master-bearing or not, the Bulldogs were more bark than bite, beating Columbia and Cornell but falling to Harvard and, of course, Penn.
So what is it, then, that makes the Quakers so formidable when it comes down to the board? It’s all about the style, at least according to Weiner.
“I get my swag on when I walk around,” he said.
Apparently, this mobility is part of the game.
“Walking around can intimidate the other person,” Rockower explained. And if nothing else, it’s a good way to stretch your legs during a game that could take up to six hours.
But making moves — off the chessboard, at least — is not for everyone, with other ways to get into an opponent’s head.
“I always text to make my opponent think I don’t care,” Daly said.
Daly, whose enthusiasm for the game has evolved into an online-gaming hobby, even has his own signature move.
“I’m sure it’s been used before,” Daly said, “but I invented it on my own. It’s a surprise move, a sneak attack. You can call it that.”
After the opening of the match — which in an advanced chess game follows a memorized pattern — Daly uses the surprise move to gain an advantage on his opponents.
While he acknowledged that he might not be able to use the move against players whose ratings far exceed his own, he says the ploy has worked about 70 percent of the time.
“It’s become famous,” Daly explained, provoking laughter from his teammates.
“You should give it a name,” suggested Glass, throwing out the idea of the “Troy-jan Horse.”
“Just give me credit!” Daly said. “I came up with the sneak attack!”
Note: This article was updated from its original version to reflect that Alex Glass' high school team was best in Washington State, not that he was ranked in the top five nationally.