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Vol. 24, No. 19 April 2,1999

Two Alumni Who Are Senior Chess Masters Attract Crowds and Challengers on Low Plaza


More than sixty students turned out to play against two Columbia alumni powerhouse chess players in an exhibition on Low Plaza that drew crowds of spectators all day.

On Friday, March 26, members of the Columbia community flocked around the nine chess boards from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.- three hours longer than the games were scheduled to last.

The event was in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first tandem simultaneous chess exhibition given by Columbia Psychology Professor Eliot Hearst and international corporate lawyer James Sherwin. They played more than 60 games in eight hours without interruption-not even for meals-and won 57 of those games, losing only two to students and ending one in a draw.

In the spring of 1949, when Hearst and Sherwin were freshman at Columbia College, they founded the Chess Club and established a tradition of playing tandem simultaneous chess exhibitions, in which they play a tag-team game, where both men play against 5 to 10 players simultaneously, alternating turns at the boards.

"Playing in tandem like this is much harder than playing a normal simultaneous match against lots of people because you don't make every move," said Sherwin, after admitting defeat to Columbia Chess Club member Vadim Lyubashevsky, SEAS'02. "In addition to recreating our tradition, we are also hoping to promote the chess club and get students excited about playing," said Hearst, who is writing a book on memory and cognition in chess matches where players play blindfolded.

Fifty years ago, as leaders in the Chess Club at Columbia, Hearst and Sherwin led the team to win four consecutive national championships. Hearst and Sherwin continued playing chess competitively after they received their bachelor's degrees in 1953, and became Senior Chess Masters, an honor that is awarded to only the top 1 percent of chess players in the country. Ultimately, however, they chose academic paths to Columbia graduate schools in psychology and law, though they never truly retired their chess pieces.

"I still consider myself a chess player at heart," Sherwin said. "It's a lifetime obsession." Current chess team member David Koenig, CC'99, who coordinated Friday's chess exhibition, revived the Columbia Chess Club in 1996 and served as its president for two years. After only a month of team practice, he rallied the club to win the top college team prize at the U.S. Amateur Team East Championship in Feb. 1996, and repeated the victory again in 1997.

Koenig was undefeated at this year's U.S. Amateur Team East Championship and won his Chess Master rating there.

The Chess Club meets every Monday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. in IAB 501 for impromptu games and strategy coaching. All are welcome.