Conn wins Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess division championship
It was a nail-biter that ended in a checkmate. Connecticut College competed in the prestigious Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship Jan. 5-8 in Seattle, Washington, and took first place in the Top Four-Year Small College category, which includes schools with fewer than 5,000 students.
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 Pan-Am competition was founded in 1946 and is governed by the College Chess Committee of the United States Chess Federation. It features participants from colleges and universities in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This is the third year a team from Conn has attended.
The competition format was six rounds over four days, with one round on the first and last day and two rounds on days two and three. Heading into the final round, Conn was tied with the United States Air Force Academy out of Colorado 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.
Fresh off the victory—and the airplane—Griffin said late Monday night, “We’ve actually been trying to win this award as a college for the past three years. In the past, we’ve had a strong team, but lost on tiebreaks with Caltech, the overall winner, 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 overall 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 playing and 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 and have the work put in rewarded.”
Computer Science Professor Ozgur Izmirli, the club’s faculty adviser, said he is really proud of the students. “The team played very well against strong players from teams representing large schools. They put Connecticut College on the map with this success,” he said.
The team got to explore Seattle a bit and revel in the presence of the great chess players at the tournament, including the 2022 U.S. Women’s Champion, Jennifer Yu, and Vietnamese grandmaster Lê Quang Liêm, ranked No. 22 in the world.
“Liêm is a good man and I was honored to provide him with the best conversation he’s ever had in an elevator,” Mears quipped.
The team hopes to ride the championship momentum into more tournaments, including the Connecticut Collegiate Championship, the 15th Annual Open at Foxwoods and the Connecticut Chess960 Championships.
“We are very thankful for the support Conn gave us to travel to Seattle and compete in this event,” Griffin said.