Harvard Loses Chess Title to Yale

The Harvard football team may have proven its superiority this weekend, but the Chess Club turned the Wolff Cup over to Yale this weekend after an extremely close match.

The chess match, which is held annually on the morning just before The Game, dates back to 1906. Harvard has won the Cup seven of the last nine years, last losing in 1999.

The cup is named for Patrick Wolff, a grandmaster who played on both sides of the Harvard-Yale chess tournament. He spent two years as an undergraduate at Harvard and two years as an undergraduate at Yale.

This year, Harvard’s team included Daniel H. Thomas ’05, Marc R. Esserman ’05, Victor M. Lee ’05, Yue Wu ’03 (vice president), Lu Yin ’02 (president), and Jason Rihel (GSAS). The Harvard faculty adviser was Noam Elkies, professor of mathematics, who faced Aniruddha Deshpande, the faculty representative from Yale.

Out of 14 total games, Yale won seven and drew one. The overall score, including the faculty component, was 7.5 to 6.5.


Each player was given 30 minutes per game, and each played two consecutive matches. This year, no one on the Harvard team won both matches except Elkies.

“We had a minor setback this year,” said Yin, who has been associated with the club since he was a first-year.

Other members agreed with Yin.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to lose the match,” Esserman said. “We just had a bit of bad luck. One move in one game changes everything.”

Players from Harvard cited fatigue and time constraints as factors that impacted the team’s performance.

“The first thing that was interesting that came to my mind was that we showed up really late [on Friday night] and weren’t even sure where we could sleep,” said Lee, the only club representative who did not play on the national level in high school. “We didn’t play quite up to par.”

“We weren’t used to playing so quickly, and that took its toll,” Lee said. “A typical game has 40 moves in about two hours, and when you think for just five minutes [in this game], it goes by so quickly since that’s already a sixth of your time.”

The 30-minute rule has been in effect since 1990, Yin estimates, so that the matches will be over before the football game.

Despite the loss to Yale, members of the club were optimistic about their prospects for next year, espeically since the club has three new first-years this year.

“I enjoyed playing in the match, but not the results,” Esserman said. “Next year we can definitely take them on.”

The club will play MIT on Dec. 2, and it will also take part in the Pan-American intercollegiate championship tournament in Providence, R.I. on Dec. 16.