When four inexperienced Ryerson students walked into the Canadian University Chess Championships in Ottawa, no one expected them to win. Not only was this the first time Ryerson had a team enter the national championship, it was also the first time any of the students had competed in a tournament.
“We were definitely the underdogs because no one even knew who we were,” said chess club president Ehab Shehata, a fourth-year civil engineering student who started the club in September 2012.
“Some schools go into this with arrogance,” Shehata said. “We were just ready to play.”
Shehata set up a qualification tournament at Ryerson in December and brought the top four players with him to compete in Ottawa at CUCC, the largest university-based chess tournament in Canada. The team arrived looking for experience and left as the champions of the U1800 section, also known as the intermediate division.
“This win and this club adds prestige to our school,” Shehata said. “We want to keep improving.”
McGill University won the championship section of the tournament for the second straight year. Ryerson wasn’t able to compete in the championship section because the players had no previous rating by the CUCC. However, they were allowed to enter the U1800 section. Clubs from eight other universities, including Ryerson, were also competing for the title.
“No one really took us seriously,” said Kabeer Sethi, a third-year journalism student, “but we had each other’s backs.”
Sethi never heard of Ryerson’s chess club until he stumbled across their Facebook page. Having played for fun before, he immediately signed up for the qualifying tournament. After winning almost all of his games, Sethi was off to Ottawa with Shehata and his new teammates Ayokunnu Ogunlana, Maxim Iltchenko and Vinworth Vigneswaramoorthy . Sethi and Ogunlana went undefeated in CUCC.
Next year’s tournament will be held close to home at the University of Toronto. Ryerson’s team would like to compete in the championship section and will practice weekly until then to gain more experience. Ryerson has one of the newest Canadian university chess clubs that has been running for a year and a half with about ten members. They are competing against clubs such as U of T’s Hart House, the longest continuous chess club in Canada, which has been running for 118 years and has about 75 members. While Hart House and other long running university chess clubs compete regularly, Ryerson’s club is working hard to get more team members and start doing the same.
“The club is important because chess sharpens your mind and teaches you a lot of valuable life lessons,” said Sethi. “We want to keep winning.”