Princeton University chess team wins US Amateur Team East Tournament

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By Vignesh Panchanatham
Princeton University

Before 1 p.m. on Feb. 16, more than 1,000 people rushed from the lobby into the ballrooms of the Parsippany Hilton.

Minutes later, there was only silence, except for the occasional movement of chess pieces.

The first round of the U.S. Amateur Team East chess tournament had begun.

Over Presidents’ Day Weekend, the Princeton University chess club sent three teams to the U.S. Amateur Team East. Princeton’s top team finished first with a perfect score over the six rounds, including a victory against the University of Pennsylvania. 

“Performing in the clutch [was the key factor],” said Kapil Chandran, top scorer and captain for the first-place Princeton team. “This year, we had two matches where we went down 1-0 early, but managed to pull through with the win. At least, personally, I was able tune out the noise better this year and just focus on playing my game.” 

Princeton’s second team tied for second place, finishing with five-and-a-half match points.

In an amateur team chess tournament, each team has four players. To avoid unfair teams, every team’s lineup must have an average chess rating under 2,200, the threshold for the master level. The players from each team play each other in rating order. Each game’s result – win, loss or draw – is added up to determine the match result. Teams need at least two-and-a-half points to win a match and two points to tie one.

“We played on teams together, but also ate together and hung out between rounds,” said Aaron Balleisen, captain of the second place Princeton team. “This weekend experience is something we look forward to every year.” 

Every year, people from all over the East Coast travel to New Jersey to play in this tournament. Parents, coaches, children, teenagers and adults all come together to participate in the US Amateur Team East.

“It’s a chess reunion from up and down the coast,” said Steve Doyle, the tournament organizer. “We have teams here from the south and from all the way up in New England. We have dozens of colleges here. We have kid teams and adult teams with grandmasters. It’s the largest open chess tournament in the United States.”

Grandmaster Magesh Panchanathan, the founder and head coach of the Kings and Queens Chess Academy, brought 17 teams to the tournament this year. He views the tournament as an opportunity for newcomers to be exposed to chess culture.

“When [the children] leave, they are excited about chess. So when they go back, I generally hope that they do more chess because they’ve come here and seen all of this,” Panchanathan said.

Alice Dong, a Princeton High School alumnus and founder of the New Jersey All-Girls Chess Camp, returned from college to play in the tournament.

“One of the biggest attractions is that a lot of us who are in college or even further in life often come back for this tournament. So seeing people you haven’t seen for months or even years is always great,” Dong said.