Tuesday, January 12, 2021
  Awards and Recognitions

By Letty Fernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The new year is off to a winning start for the UTRGV Chess Team.  

Two-time national champions, UTRGV is again one of the four universities who have qualified to compete in the President’s Cup – informally known as the Final Four of College Chess – which determines the U.S. collegiate chess champion.

The UTRGV team won the Final Four in 2018 and 2019, and both years were named Chess College of the Year by the US Chess Federation. There was no Final Four in 2020 because of the uncertainty of the pandemic.  

UTRGV qualified again this year after a successful run at the virtual Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship held Jan. 4-6, with 59 teams competing for the top four spots.  

“Everyone is happy and exhausted. The main goal was to be among the top four to qualify. It was a difficult task, and our students took it very seriously,” said Grandmaster Bartek Macieja, coach of the UTRGV team. 

UTRGV’s “Team A” will represent the university at the Final Four. The team members are:  

  • GM Mateusz Bartel, a senior from Warsaw, Poland. 
  • GM Vladimir Belous, graduate student, from Moscow, Russia. 
  • GM Kamil Dragun, a senior from Gorzow Wielkopolski, Poland. 
  • GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, a sophomore from Yerevan, Armenia.

Gabuzyan said he had faith from the start that the team would do well.  

“Our team has prepared and practiced. We have played several times successfully, so competing at this level isn’t new to us,” he said. “It was a little difficult to play after a long break, but we felt confident. We are excited to be in the Final Four.”  

Macieja said the competition at the Pan American Games was intense. Over three days, the students would play, get a little rest, and then play a new game.  Evenings were spent preparing for the next day. 

One student player who was having problems with the internet at home was worried about being able to stay online, so he went to a hotel to ensure a stable connection for the competition. 

“That shows dedication. All our players were motivated and would prepare very seriously for their matches,” Macieja said. “They wanted to do their best. They really wanted to qualify, and I am very proud of them.”   

The 2021 Final Four of College Chess will take place in early April, and all matches will be online. In addition to UTRGV, the other universities that qualified are Saint Louis University, Texas Tech University and Webster University. 

Macieja said he looks forward to the day when chess tournaments will be in person again. 

“Everyone looks forward to that. Playing online is different. You want to see your opponents, you want to see the action,” he said. “But I cannot complain. If you compare chess to other sports that are unable to compete, we have that option. Chess is very popular right now.” 

This will be UTRGV’s seventh appearance in the Final Four, including three as UTRGV legacy institution UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. 



Since 2016, UTRGV also has earned top honors at the Texas Collegiate Super Finals and was a co-champion in 2017.

In addition, the UTRGV chess team is celebrating another major recent win. On Saturday, Jan. 9, the UTRGV men’s and women’s chess teams completed in a three-hour virtual Clash of Collegiate Chess Champions between the United States and Russia. 

The Russian men’s team has won the past nine Russian University Student Championships and the past three European University Championships, and the Russian women’s team is considered one of the strongest women’s collegiate teams in the world. But this year, the UTRGV men’s team won its challenge match and defeated the Russian team. However, there was no trophy for the fledgling women’s team. 

“No words can describe my happiness and pride. This is the first year for the women’s team to compete and they did well against a very strong Russian team,” Maceija said. “We feel privileged that the strongest women’s collegiate team in the world accepted our challenge to compete.”  

The virtual Clash of Collegiate Chess Champions between the USA and Russia can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/LI1Eu2CWnrA . The event already has drawn more than 12,000 views. 

 Julia Antolak, a member of the UTRGV Chess Team Women
Julia Antolak, a member of the UTRGV Chess Team Women, competes in round eight of the 2020-2021 Pan American Intercollegiate Championship Online on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.