Saturday Feb 14, 2009
In a battle that made David and Goliath seem like a fair fight, tiny University High School in Urbana with an enrollment of 245 faced off against the top ranked Lincolnshire Stevenson whose enrollment is 4545 at the IHSA State High School Chess championship. (IHSA website enrollment figures http://www.ihsa.org/school/enrolla.htm) University High School not only won this battle but proceeded to march through 4 of the top 5 seeds in route to the state chess championship at the Peoria civic center in Peoria Illinois.(IHSA website Chess Activity http://www.ihsa.org/activity/ct/2008-09/1result1.htm) The University High school team is used to long odds and matching schools whose enrollment is many times their own but few including the coach believed that the ninth seeded team had a real chance to win the state championship this year. “Our team graduated two of the top three players from the team that finished only 11th last year. I honestly did not think we had much of a chance.”, stated Chris Merli.
Once a year the Illinois High School Association holds the State Chess Championship inviting teams from all over the state to meet in what is likely to be the largest team chess tournament of its type in the country. This year 128 teams came to Peoria in search of the state championship. Chess is officially an activity and not a sport and as a result there are no separate tournaments based on school size. Any school no matter how small the enrollment is thrown together with those as massive as Lincolnshire. (IHSA enrollment by size http://www.ihsa.org/school/enrolln.htm) The tournament is played in seven rounds over two days from Feb 13-14. The matches involve the top 8 players from each team matched by ability against the top eight from the opposing team. So the top player from University High School played the top player from the opposing team and the second strongest played the second strongest down to the eighth board. The result of the match is determined by a weighted scoring system that gives 12 points for a win on first board down to 5 points for the game on eighth for a total of 68 points in a match. In the critical 6th round match University high school not only beat Lincolcshire but scored an impressive 50.5-17.5 point win.
The University team is led by first board Gordon Ruan. The senior is one of the top players in the state but this year took on the role of team captain and made a special effort to help train the rest of the team. His efforts were richly rewarded at the state tournament when senior Brian Wang board 5, junior Daniel Cheng boards 6, and senior Richard Wang board 8 went undefeated in the event. “Everyone looks to the top boards to try and figure out who the best teams are but it is usually the lower boards where the matches are won and lost.”, pointed out Merli. This was particularly evident in the 5th round match against Chicago Whitney Young, when the two best players Ruan and senior Greg Atherton were defeated and yet the team rallied for a 39 to 29 win. One coach from Whitney Young was heard to say that he thought they would beat the tiny school because they did not seem to have anyone beyond the top board. However in addition to boards 5, 6 and 8, senior and third board Alan Liang won his match along with freshman Kathy Qiu on 4th board. In any competition when lower ranked teams win a title the road is usually cleared by other teams upsetting the top seeds but the University team’s run to the title was particularly impressive considering the seeds of the teams they defeated. In rounds 4-7 they faced the teams ranked 2nd, 4th 1st and 5th. The team was rounded out by junior Danny Ge on seventh board and alternate, freshman Micheal Meyers.