It was a nail-biter that ended in a checkmate. Conn competed in the prestigious Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in Seattle, Washington, in January and took first place in the Top Four-Year Small College category.
Miles Griffin ’23, Jaron Bernard ’23, Adithya Saranathan ’26 and Will Mears ’24 formed the competitive team that represented Conn’s chess club, which has more than 30 members. The competition format was six rounds over four days. Heading into the final round, Conn was tied with the United States Air Force Academy on every metric, but won by half a point to take the match and the overall prize for the category.
“This is the only time we will ever want the U.S. Air Force to lose,” Mears joked.
Griffin added, “We’ve actually been trying to win this award in this competition for the past three years. In the past, we’ve had a strong team, but lost on tiebreaks with Caltech, so as a senior there was a sense of relief to finally get the job done before my graduation.”
The club’s vice president, Griffin hails from Califon, New Jersey, and is double majoring in physics and music technology. He learned chess when he was 7, but didn’t start playing competitively until high school.
Bernard, the club president, learned the game from his father when he was 5. The quantitative economics major from Montclair, New Jersey, credits Mears for his own win in Seattle, which was key to Conn’s team winning their category.
“In the first round we played the University of Vermont,” he recalled. “I found myself constantly checking on Will to see how he was handling the pressure of his first-ever chess tournament. He played a brilliant game and crushed his highly rated opponent in a very mature manner, which gave me motivation in my own game. I ended up winning due to a tactical blow that won my opponent’s queen.”
Bernard was the highest scoring individual on board two in the entire event with a 5.5/6, or five wins, one draw, no losses.
Mears, a double major in math and computer science from Andover, Massachusetts, said, “Jaron reminded me how much I love the game. I played a tiny amount as a kid in fourth grade. For the past 10 months I’ve been playing pretty consistently every day.”
Saranathan, a first-year student from Los Angeles who plans to double major in government and statistics/data science, competed in his first tournament when he was 6 and played through middle school. When he started at Conn and heard about the chess club, he picked the game up again.
“I was glad that our team pulled off the win,” he said. “It was a mentally taxing tournament, so it felt great to finally pull it off.”