Chess grandmaster plays ‘simul’ match at Winter Haven

BROWNSVILLE — Winter Haven Resort in Brownsville yesterday hosted chess grandmaster Kamil Dragun, head of the chess team at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in a match pitting him against some two dozen local players simultaneously.

The 21-year-old Dragun, who is from Poland, is ranked in the top 200 among the world’s 1,500-plus grandmasters, said Howard Slackman, Winter Haven Chess Club leader and a longtime Winter Haven resident.

“We have a nice chess club at about 15 to 20 people,” he said.

As of Thursday, at least 25 players from Winter Haven and the Medieval Knights Brownsville Chess Club were planning to compete in a “simul” match against Dragun, Slackman said.

“Gustavo Falcone is the president of the Medieval Knights, and our two clubs are great competitors and good friends,” he said. “When I knew the grandmaster was coming, I went to Gus and his group and said come on over.”

Playing a grandmaster is a thrilling opportunity for the local clubs, Slackman said. Winter Haven hosted such an event two years ago, when Russian grandmaster and UTRGV chess team member Andrey Stukopin faced off in a simul match against 14 Winter Haven players, beating them all.

After Saturday’s match, grandmaster Dragun stayed for photos and a question-and-answer session that included UTRGV’s chess coach, Bartek Macieja, who recently recruited Dragun to the team. Macieja spends much of his time trying to recruit the world’s top players, Slackman said, adding that Dragun was “a home run.”

The UTRGV chess team took second place among 75 teams in the 2014 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, and last year took eighth place in the same competition, Slackman noted.

“Coach Macieja has had outstanding success with the UTRGV chess team,” he said.