While much of America spent this past weekend watching the NCAA’s Final Four, a Fairfax County-based consulting and technology giant brought nearly two dozen of the nation’s top collegiate chess players here to battle it out.
Unlike with the collegiate men’s basketball event, in the Final Four of Chess — hosted and sponsored by government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, of McLean — there were no cheers or jeers.
The only place where the championship tournament was “broadcast,” so to speak, was on a website that chess enthusiasts use to preserve recorded games.
There were few spectators, if any, beyond the players and coaches themselves. And only a few members of the media came out to cover the four college teams as they vied for the championship title by playing three rounds over eight boards in meeting rooms at an area hotel.
The Texas Tech University Red Raiders, led by Hungarian-born chess great Susan Polgar, successfully defended their team’s title, scoring eight points to best University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and University of Texas, Dallas, which tied for second with 7.5 points. New York University came in a distant fourth with one point.
While the tournament featured a decisive, nerve-wracking last-round game between Texas Tech and UTD that ended in a draw in the final seconds, perhaps the most interesting thing about the Final Four of Chess didn’t involve anything that took place over the chessboards.
Rather, one of the most noteworthy features about the event is how it served as a gateway for the chess-playing college students to potentially gain some practical work experience in an economy where such experience can be exceedingly difficult to obtain.
Officials at Booz Allen Hamilton — cognizant of the advanced analytical and reasoning skills possessed by top flight chess players— extended an offer to all participants to consider working an internship at the firm.
The prospect intrigued about a dozen of the players, including Kyle Cameron, a freshman finance major at NYU.
“It looks great for future employers,” Cameron said of being able to list an internship with Booz Allen Hamilton on his resume.
“Normally, this type of internship, especially with larger firms, it’s just cutthroat for anyone to get them,” Cameron said. “For [the firm] to be like, ‘You know, we’re interested in you guys,’ that’s very nice.”
While the majority of players hail from foreign countries — Israel to Iran to Romania and Brazil — Booz Allen Hamilton, with offices around the world, invited the foreign students to apply for internships as well.
Vitaly Neimer, 24, of Israel and a freshman finance major at Texas Tech, noted the similarities between chess and finance — one of the areas where Booz Allen Hamilton offers services — and how both require a good memory and calculation skills.
“You have to have a lot of strategies in finance,” Neimer said. “You need to evaluate things, think about future things and how [one move] will cause something else.”
That type of analytical reasoning is one of the things that Mark Herman, executive vice president at the firm and a chess enthusiast, had in mind when the company began hosting the Final Four of Chess last year.
“I’ve got a room full of the best critical thinkers that you’re going to find anywhere,” Herman said. “Why wouldn’t I want to recruit them?”