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First Place? Check.

USC chess team takes first place in U.S. Amateur Team Championship West chess tournament.

From left: Jack Peters, Danyul Lawrence, Blake Phillips and Sriram Balasubramanian celebrate their first place win at the U.S. Amateur Team Championship West chess tournament. Team member Nathan Huessenstamm not pictured. Photo credit Chris Roberts.
From left: Jack Peters, Danyul Lawrence, Blake Phillips and Sriram Balasubramanian celebrate their first place win at the U.S. Amateur Team Championship West chess tournament. Team member Nathan Huessenstamm not pictured. Photo credit Chris Roberts.

One recent Sunday, while most people were blissfully soaking in the remainder of their weekends, Danyul Lawrence spent 11 hours focusing his concentration on a chess board. Split between two matches — one five hours long and the other lasting six hours — his discipline paid off. He managed to beat one of his opponents and secure a draw with the other.

Lawrence was competing as a member of the team simply named “USC” in the U.S. Amateur Team Championship West chess tournament. The annual competition, organized by the United States Chess Federation, pits the region’s top players against each other for three days of chess matches.  

His efforts, along with those of his USC Chess Club teammates, were well worth it. They walked away with a perfect score, securing the first place spot in the tournament, besting the 53 other teams.

“I love the fact that a chess game is competition in its purest form,” Lawrence said. “You’re matching wits with anything your opponent can offer and there are no external forces that come into play. It’s just a pure, one-on-one battle and that’s what I thrive on.”

 


Concentration is key. Danyul Lawrence (left) and Jack Peters contemplate their next moves. Photo credit Chris Roberts.

The win was a bit of a vindication according to Lawrence, who is a graduate student in mathematical finance. He has participated in tournament chess for the past decade, often representing USC’s Chess Club. He served as Chess Club president from 2002 to 2004 while he was an undergraduate in USC College studying math and psychology. He rejoined the Chess Club when he began his graduate studies in 2009.

“I felt as though we had the strongest team we’d ever had so I expected us to be in top with a shot at winning it all,” Lawrence said.

Members of the USC team also included students Blake Philips, Sriram Balasubramanian and Nathan Heussenstamm. Jack Peters, an International Chess Master who advises the USC Chess Club, also competed as a member of the team.

Peters teaches Chess and Critical Thinking offered through the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in the College. The course is open to novices and seasoned players, alike.

“I discuss the great chess players of the past and the contributions they made to the understanding of chess,” said Peters, who was also the Los Angeles Times chess columnist for 28 years. “I try to show the students how to develop good judgment when playing, and how to ask themselves questions during a game that will help them think more clearly.

“The hope is that some of the ideas that they use while they’re trying to figure out a chess move could be applied in real life.”

Team USC’s next move is to match wits at the chess board with the winners from the U.S. Amateur Team Championship’s other regions — east, north and south. The national tournament will take place online March 26.

Peters anticipates that the event will be pretty quiet overall. A few spectators will be present, as well as a tournament director to ensure that the team plays according to the rules.

“We’ve found out who some of our opponents are, and some of them look intimidating,” Lawrence said.

“I want to make sure that we play to our maximum potential. I think our team is very strong, but it’s going to require some preparation on our part.”

In addition to the USC team, two other teams from the university’s Chess Club participated in the U.S. Amateur Team Championship West tournament. D8 B4 UMate took 35th place and How to Train Your Sicilian Dragon came in at 37th.

To learn more, visit the USC Chess Club Web site.