- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

CATONSVILLE, Md. — Most college coaches build winning teams by recruiting the top prospects in the country. Alan Sherman casts a much wider net.

Mr. Sherman, the chess program director at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is shaping a dynasty with players from around the world.

The team this week won its third straight national championship at the President’s Cup — known as the Final Four of chess competition. It has also won six of the past eight Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, which is considered the Super Bowl of college chess.

The team has players from Canada, Cuba, Poland and the Ukraine. And the university routinely receives calls from prospective recruits from as far away as China, Russia and Nigeria, said Mr. Sherman, also a computer science professor at the university.

?I very aggressively recruit from all over the world,? he said.

However, the success did not come fast, or easy.

?In the early 1990s, it was very difficult to get any strong players to come,? Mr. Sherman said. ?Now, after six national championships, my phone rings [about recruits] six times a week. The majority of the calls are not initiated by me.?

The university also attracts players with a generous scholarship program — including the UMBC-Coca-Cola Chess Fellow, which is full tuition and a $15,000 stipend.

Still, not every international player there does well.

?We’ve had mostly successes, but some failures,? Mr. Sherman said. ?It’s a challenge for anybody, especially for somebody from a foreign culture.?

Top players this year include Pawel ?the Polish Magician? Blehm from Poland, Pascal ?the Frenchman? Charbonneau from Canada and Bruci ?the Cuban Cyclone? Lopez from Miami. They led the university to Sunday’s win at the President’s Cup match, held at the Karpov School of Chess in Lindsborg, Kan.

The team defeated Stanford University, Miami-Dade College in Florida and the University of Texas at Dallas.

?We just had a stronger team,? said Mr. Lopez, 20, a nationally ranked chess master who came to the United States from Cuba and has been playing since he was 8.

Mr. Sherman said the game is ?very big? on campus and that Sunday’s victory is ?emblematic? of the school’s emphasis on intellectual achievement.

?It’s popular to be a nerd here,? he said.

The players are also well known among classmates, and the team returns to campus after big matches to cheerleaders, pep bands and adoring fans, Mr. Sherman said.

?They’ve even got team jackets,? he said.

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