When did UMBC become a national college chess powerhouse?
—Valerie Kilgallon ’87, English

According to a number of sources, including The Weekly Retriever and UMBC’s yearbook, Skipjack, the university has had a varsity chess squad – and a good one – since its earliest days.

But the rise of chess as a symbol of UMBC’s aspirations as an honors university and the most prominent and public demonstration of the campus’ much-heralded blend of academic excellence and competitive spirit, coincided with the appointment of UMBC professor of computer science Alan Sherman as the faculty advisor of the UMBC chess club in 1991.

Sherman merged his own renewed interest in the game after arriving at UMBC with a deep dedication to renovating the university’s chess identity to forge a chess program that steadily shot up the national rankings between 1991 and 1996. Sherman helped pioneer innovations that are now considered key elements in the world of college chess: scholarships, use of technology, and a recruitment of young chess superstars (including a number from Central and Eastern Europe) to the program.

As Sherman wrote himself in an essay on the history of his tenure, “Eventually, I realized that I was the right person, at the right place, at the right time, to make some significant contributions to college chess, while helping students, the community, and UMBC along the way.”

Sherman, the coaches and the players work hard to maintain their elite status in the college chess world, regularly placing in the top four programs in the country. (They did so once again in 2015.) UMBC has won six national championships, also known as “The President’s Cup.”

But more than the silverware, and the glory for the amazing scholar athletes that have played chess at UMBC, the university’s success in this most intellectual of competitions was (and is) a tangible sign that UMBC’s desire to rank itself among the nation’s elite institutions is not at all misplaced.

– Richard Byrne ’86

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