From recruiter to chief science officer and from player to self-founded academy president, UTD’s chess program has taken Comets to places they never imagined possible. In commemoration of the program, on Oct. 7, staff and student alumni gathered to recount how UTD chess has led them to personal and professional highs.
At the Chess Alumni event, CS master’s alumnus Magesh Panchanathan, PhD of mathematics alumnus Artur Safin and physics alumnus John Enderle met with the current chess team and came together to play a chess match one-on-one after introductions. Other notable attendees included chess program founder Tim Redman, professor of chess Alexey Root and former coach Rade Milovanovic, who served the team for 17 years and trained all three of the attending alumni. Through their time in the program, the alumni said they made solid social connections and improved their rating, and some of them continued to higher achievements in professional chess.
Grandmaster (GM) Panchanathan attended UTD from 2003 to 2008, completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s in computer science; he was originally recruited by Root as an undergraduate and now holds a FIDE rating of 2466. One of his favorite career moments at UTD was when he defeated GM Alexander Onischuk at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in 2004. Panchanathan is now the president of Kings and Queens Chess Academy and serves as a coach along with other grandmasters, raising kids’ ratings and encouraging them to play in official tournaments.
“I credit everything that I have in my life to chess, obviously, UT Dallas plays a big role in that … everyone in this table made me who I am today. So I’m extremely grateful for all of that,” Panchanathan said.
National master (NM) Safin holds a FIDE rating of 2229 and attended UTD from 2014 to 2018. One of his peak moments throughout his chess career was when he made third place in the Texas State Championship in 2007. Safin played chess even before enrolling in UTD and found that his play improved significantly through his time on the team. He claims that the chess program helped him to become more organized, which made him more confident and prepared in tournaments.
“When you have to prepare for a tournament, you have to be organized and think concretely,” Safin said.
Enderele was on the reserve team for UTD and played in several big tournaments from 2008 to 2011. One of his favorite moments on the team was his draw against candidate master Aleksandar Vrbljanac from University of Belgrade in 2010. Several years after graduation, Enderele became a data scientist, but still holds a fondness for the chess program thanks to his bonds with other players.
“I’m sure I got stronger at chess, just sitting there listening to grandmasters talk … so that was a good experience and nice to be able to talk about just whatever chess comes up,” Enderele said.
Milovanovic, who holds a FIDE rating of 2350, served as program coach from 2001 to 2018 and trained all three alumni at the event, specifically helping Safin prepare for tournaments during his last two years at UTD.
“I think the most important [thing] to have is good team spirit, you know, that we are playing together to have fun and then playing for school,” Milovanovic said.
Root, the 1989 US Women’s Chess Champion, was recruited by the founder of the Chess Program — Tim Redman — in 1999. Root currently teaches ED 4358 and ED 4359, which train UTD students on how to teach chess to others. She impacted many of the chess players that she recruited and was later rewarded when a former student offered her a job as a Chessable officer.
“I’ve always been halftime with UT Dallas. And now I have another addition of 10 hours a week as Chessable chief science officer so like … for your own student to later on, give you a job … it’s really touching,” Root said.
Redman founded UTD’s chess program in 1996; he brought the school the idea of granting chess scholarships to players once they were enrolled, which helped contribute to the school’s academic requirements and increased publicity. Former president Franklyn Jennifer and former undergraduate dean Michael Coleman helped Redman in this effort, giving him the credibility needed to increase the program’s budget. When the program had its very first Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Team Championship, they came in ninth place, and in recent years they have made it to the top three.
“We did start to get a lot of publicity, and we started to get a lot of applications from highly qualified students,” Redman said, “Starting the chess program … and it just grew and grew and grew.”
Both Root and Redman said they are proud of their students and glad they could reunite for one last match before the alumni continue with their careers, whether it be in the sport or outside it. The former coaches and alumni all look forward to future growth in the UTD Chess program.
“They feel such a connection that they came back to reunite with each other and with us, and so I think that says something because they had to do it at their own expense and just shows that it was a meaningful experience for them,” Root said.