On a recent Sunday, Danyul Lawrence spent 11 hours focusing intently on a chess board. Split between two matches – one lasting five hours and the other six – his discipline paid off. He managed to beat one of his opponents and secure a draw with the other.
Lawrence was competing as a member of the team simply named “USC” in the U.S. Amateur Team Championship West chess tournament. The annual competition, organized by the United States Chess Federation, pits the region’s top players against each other during three days of matches.
His efforts, along with those of his USC Chess Club teammates, were worth it. They walked away with a perfect score, securing first place in the tournament while besting 53 other teams.
“I love the fact that a chess game is competition in its purest form,” Lawrence said. “You’re matching wits with anything your opponent can offer, and there are no external forces that come into play. It’s just a pure one-on-one battle and that’s what I thrive on.”
The win was a bit of a vindication, said Lawrence, a graduate student in mathematical finance. He has participated in tournament chess for the past decade. He served as Chess Club president from 2002 to 2004 while he was an undergraduate at USC College studying math and psychology. He rejoined the Chess Club when he began his graduate studies in 2009.
“I felt as though we had the strongest team we’d ever had so I expected us to have a shot at winning it all,” Lawrence said.
Members of the USC team included students Blake Philips, Sriram Balasubramanian and Nathan Heussenstamm. Jack Peters, an international chess master who advises the USC Chess Club, also competed as a member of the team.
Peters teaches chess and critical thinking through the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at USC College. The course is open to novices and seasoned players.
“I discuss the great chess players of the past and the contributions they made to the understanding of chess,” said Peters, who was also the Los Angeles Times chess columnist for 28 years. “I try to show the students how to develop good judgment when playing and how to ask themselves questions during a game that will help them think more clearly.
“The hope is that some of the ideas that they use while they’re trying to figure out a chess move could be applied in real life.”
Team USC’s next move is to face the winners from the U.S. Amateur Team Championship’s other regions — east, north and south. The national tournament will take place online March 26.
“We’ve found out who some of our opponents are and some of them look intimidating,” Lawrence said.
“I want to make sure that we play to our potential. I think our team is very strong, but it’s going to require some preparation on our part.”
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