Congratulations to Saint Louis University (SLU) for winning the fifth season of the Collegiate Chess League (CCL). SLU fielded a strong roster of talented chess players, including GM Benjamin Bok, GM Nikolas Theodorou, GM Robby Kevlishvili, IM Stavroula Tsolakidou, FM Thalia Cervantes Landeiro, and FM Gabriela Antova.
SLU survived a gauntlet of the top college chess teams in the United States to bank the $5,000 top prize. In the quarterfinals, SLU routed dark horse contender Yale. SLU followed this dominating performance by crushing defending CCL champions The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).
In the finals, SLU got sweet revenge for a regular season loss to MIzzou to raise the hardware. With this victory, SLU becomes the first school in CCL history to win two championships.
We break down all of the exciting playoff action below:
UT Dallas had an exciting win over UChicago, who was last season’s runner-up. Facing a 6-8 deficit in the decisive round, UTD won back-to-back games to force overtime. This clutch performance included a crazy swindle by IM David Brodsky against FM Kapil Chandran. Unfortunately, Chandran squandered a completely winning position, which would have won the match for UChicago.
UTD rode their strong initiative and swept UChicago 4-0 in the overtime round to win 12-8. UChicago had victory within its grasp, so this will be a tough pill to swallow. Look for them to bounce back next season.
Meanwhile, SLU routed Yale and their leader GM Nicolas Checa in a lopsided match. With the win, SLU advanced to the semifinals for the first time since the inaugural 2020 season.
It was chess deja vu for UTD. Once again they faced a 6-8 deficit and needed back-to-back wins to force overtime. However, Mizzou kept their composure and converted their two-point lead to win 8.5-7.5. This result knocked former President’s Cup champion UTD (a front-runner for much of the season) out of the playoffs. Mizzou advanced to the finals and eagerly awaited the result between SLU and UTRGV.
UTRGV entered the finals as defending champions from last season and as the odds-on favorite to play Mizzou for the championship. After the first two rounds, SLU and UTRGV were deadlocked at 4-4. Then the tides changed as the defending champions went on massive tilt during the rest of the match. SLU was lights out winning 7.5/8 games and advanced to the finals by a margin of 11.5-4.5.
CCL Season 5 came down to an epic duel between Mizzou and SLU for the title. The finals matchup was a rematch from CCL’s inaugural season when SLU won 9.5-6.5 to become the first champion.
In the regular season, Mizzou defeated SLU 8.5-7.5—a feat they accomplished without their best player, GM Grigoriy Oparin. However, Oparin was available to play in the finals for Mizzou, which gave them a definite advantage over SLU compared to their prior encounter.
Here’s a round-by-round breakdown of the finals match:
- Round 1: Bok held a huge draw after being down a piece to underdog IM Josiah Stearman. (SLU leads 2.5-1.5.)
- Round 2: Mizzou played well and managed to equalize the match. (Match tied 4-4.)
- Round 3: SLU took one-point lead back. (SLU leads 6.5-5.5.)
- Round 4: SLU won the decisive round 2.5-1.5 and the match 9-7.
- Finals MVP: SLU’s board three GM Robby Kevlishvili led the way with an impressive 3.5/4 match score.
CCL marks the end of a tumultuous season for SLU. On February 16, 2023, Chess.com reported that GM Alejandro Ramirez—who has served as SLU’s chess coach since the team’s inception in 2016—was under investigation for sexual misconduct by U.S. Chess and the Saint Louis Chess Club. On March 6, 2023, Chess.com reported that Ramirez would no longer serve as SLU’s chess coach amid the allegations.
SLU overcame tremendous adversity, including a change in leadership during a critical point in the season. The team’s victory is a true testament to its resilience and character both on and off the chessboard.
Divisional Winners and Prizes
Congratulations to CCL Season 5 divisional winners! Please click here for a complete breakdown of the prize distribution.
- Division 1: SLU
- Division 2: UTRGV
- Division 3: UMass
- Division 4: UHouston
- Division 5: Duke
- Division 6: Brown
- Division 7: IIT BHU
- Division 8: UCT
- Division 9: NUS
- Division 10: MNNIT
- Division 11: CSUMB
- Division 12: Baylor
- Division 13: UTD
- Division 14: WLU
CCL applauds all the schools and players who competed in the best season yet. Next year promises to be even bigger and better, so stay tuned for further details.
The Collegiate Chess League (CCL) returned for the 2022-2023 academic year in partnership with NACE Starleague, the largest collegiate esports league in North America. The Spring 2023 season features a $30,000 prize pool and gives college students of all skill levels the opportunity to participate and represent their schools in the ultimate chess competition for them.
Visit NACE’s official website for the complete list of teams, pairings, results, and standings.