Chess, Debate Teams Reflect on Spring Highlights, Look Forward to Fall

Despite the cancellation of national tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, team members and staff of The University of Texas at Dallas chess and debate teams said there were a number of positive moments this spring that make them optimistic about next season.

“Given what happened at the end of the season, it’s nice to have some good news from the spring semester,” said Scott Herndon, debate team director.

Computer science senior Razvan Preotu is a member of the UT Dallas chess team, which qualified for the President’s Cup last season.

Last December, the UT Dallas chess team qualified to compete in the 2020 President’s Cup, also known as the Final Four of College Chess, by placing fourth in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.

To prepare for the Final Four tournament, the team participated in the 2020 Southwest Collegiate Teams Championship in Lubbock, Texas, held Feb. 29, where UT Dallas squads placed first and second.

“We were in a positive frame of mind, because we won the top spots at the Lubbock tournament,” said Julio Catalino Sadorra BS’13, chess team coach. “We were doing our training, had already determined our lineups and were looking forward to the Final Four.”

The Final Four tournament traditionally is held in early April in New York City. As the pandemic grew and more precautions were being taken by UT Dallas and other universities, it became clear that the Final Four event could not be held in 2020. Other spring tournaments also were canceled.

Chess team member Eylon Nakar BS’20 earned his degree in actuarial science this spring and was disappointed in how the season concluded.

“COVID-19 was a difficult ending to my collegiate chess experience,” he said. “Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that next year the team will be able to show its competitive culture once again.”

The chess team was able to participate in a major online tournament in April. Out of 63 teams at the 2020 Online Collegiate Team Championships, one UT Dallas squad placed second and another placed fifth.

After a promising start to the spring semester, the UT Dallas debate team also experienced a sudden end to its season. The two major debate tournaments, the National Debate Tournament (NDT) and the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) National Championship Tournament were canceled.

“The second half of the season was very strong. Our top team, [international political economy senior] Ragya Kaul and [computer science junior] Dustyn Beutelspacher, regularly advanced to elimination rounds and were positioned to make a run at both CEDA and the NDT,” Herndon said. “The cancellation of the national tournaments was a blow to everyone, but we took it in stride, finished the academic semester and got back to work on making next season the best it could be.”

Herndon said the bright spots of the semester were the awards won by Kaul, who was named a CEDA National Debate Scholar, recognizing her academic and competitive success, and she was selected for the CEDA All-American Debate Team.

“All the kids who debate are smart, and most of them are very good students,” Herndon said. “For Ragya to be such a competitive success, with a great GPA and clear citizenship skills, says so much about her. I’m really proud of Ragya because those are hard things to do.”

Kaul said one of the best parts of participating in debate is that it is much more than just competitions.

“It’s always exciting to see how much the debate community cares about our academic and personal successes,” she said. “It’s an all-around supportive environment.”

Both the debate and chess teams are working with their respective national competitive organizations to develop a schedule of online events for the fall semester. But because available online chess programs can be hidden, giving a player an unfair advantage, the obstacles of moving chess events online and avoiding cheating are particularly challenging.

“That’s being highly debated right now,” said James Stallings, director of the Chess Program. “We are talking with other top-rated schools and with the chair of the college chess committee because we want to develop a strong plan for this fall.”

Stallings said it is likely that the obstacles will be overcome and that UT Dallas will host online tournaments in September and October.

“We want to be at the forefront,” he said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].