Skokie chess wizard leads Illini to the big dance — again
By: Mike Isaacs
January 10, 2014 2:04 p.m.
When it came to chess in Skokie, the continuing accomplishments of Eric Rosen was a story that kept on giving.
He was only 9 years old when he went up against the No. 1 chess player in the state. The Middleton School third-grader defeated his tough junior chess opponent. Against 340 children in his age group, he took home a first-place trophy from the Scholastic State Tournament for Primary Division.
That was the beginning, though — not the end.
As a Niles North High School junior, he became the United States Chess Federation K12 national champion at a tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Skokie named a day after him.
He then helped lead Niles North to an Illinois High School Association state chess championship.
His story of triumph did not end when Rosen went away to college at the University of Illinois.
The university’s chess team is going to the 2013 Pan Am Collegiate Chess Championships by qualifying for the President’s Cup, also known as the Final Four of chess.
It marks the second consecutive year the team unexpectedly made it this far and the second year Rosen has been on the team.
The Illini chessmen stunned experts both years by outperforming many of the top chess programs in the country. Initially seeded 13th, the team scored three upsets of higher-ranked teams to finish in third place and again earn a spot in the Final Four, to be held in April in New York.
The Pan Am chess competition is generally dominated by schools that recruit internationally and have a significant budget for chess.
“We weren’t expecting to upset so many good teams,” said Rosen, now a sophomore and the team’s No. 1 player.
Club president and Illini junior Michael Auger, the team’s No. 2 player, befriended Rosen when he was 8. When it came time to attend college, Auger convinced Rosen to stay in Illinois rather than to head off to Dallas, where he was being recruited.
The two revived the Illini Chess Club and marketed it across campus. On Quad Day, they offered Amazon gift cards to anyone who could beat them.
One player who stopped by was Xin “Leo” Luo, now a sophomore, who had been a top scholastic player in China before he stopped playing at age 11. His skills quickly came back to him and he became the team’s No. 3 player and instrumental in the team’s success.
In the past two December Pan Am tournaments, he has yet to lose a game.
Rosen calls him the team’s MVP.
Rounding out the four-player A team is sophomore Akshay Indusekar, who didn’t learn chess until high school.
The Illini also fielded a B team at the Pan Ams, made up of sophomore Aakaash Meduri, and freshmen David Korobov, Mark Waechter and Roger Xiao.
En route to its third-place finish, the Illini A-team notched major upsets against Columbia University, Lindenwood University A and Texas Tech B.
During April’s Final Four, the Illini will be considered underdogs when it competes against the Webster University A team, the University of Maryland Baltimore County A team and the Texas Tech A team. All three of school teams have players who have earned the title of grandmaster.
The Webster University A team has two players who are ranked in the top 50 in the world.
But for anyone who has followed the plight of this Illini team, and moreover, the many chess accomplishments of its leader from Skokie, they should know better than to count them out. Checkmate is still a long way away.