Checking out chess Cuppers

chessA dominant Wadham team conceded only two points in all games as they defeated a field of 13 teams in the one-day extravaganza that was Chess Cuppers. Over 50 players from 11 different colleges braved an early Saturday morning to travel to St Hugh’s to compete in the annual competition, held by the Oxford Students’ Chess Club. Despite the bleak weather, there was an excited buzz around the room, which soon turned to silence as the beginning of play was announced.

Wadham dominated their league, carrying 10 out of a maximum 12 points. A juicy finals round was in prospect when Mansfield 1 bettered that performance by scoring 11/12  in their league. In a tough league, Blackfriars Hall won through despite being held to a draw by the hosts. The fourth semi-final slot went to a deserving St Edmund Hall, who, despite losing to Mansfield 1, managed to whitewash every other team in their league (9/12), pipping the reigning champions Trinity and new entrants Balliol.

Wadham’s form improved from incredible to imperious as they won every board against Teddy Hall, despite the valiant efforts of Chess Society President David Hewitt. But Mansfield 1 were unable to carry their morning form to the semis; a close game against Blackfriars led to a second drawn match of the tournament. In the high-pressure  rematch, though, Mansfield overcame the more contemplative Blackfriars team to progress to the final.

In the third-place play-off, Hall recovered their form to beat Blackfriars 3 points to 1. But eyes were already turning to the much-anticipated final. It was the final everyone had been waiting for, between two teams who had exhibited almost total dominance at the league stage. But the final score did not reflect the quality of the chess. Wadham won every board, exhibiting tremendous composure under pressure.

Wadham emerged the deserved victors in a tournament that included several players with internationally-recognised rankings. The growing popularity of Cuppers suggests an increasing depth in Oxford’s chess playing talent, which bodes well for March’s Varsity match.

PHOTO/Tristan Martin