Earlier this summer, senior Gabe Ewing traveled to Arlington, Va., for the 2014 World Open chess tournament. Though he arrived with low expectations for success, he emerged from the seven-day competition a National Chess Master.
Competing in the U-2200 rating section (the master level; the higher the number, the better), Ewing won seven games, drew one and lost one en route to a three-way tie for first place out of almost 200 competitors. His impressive performance earned him enough points to surpass the 2200-point mark—and secure the lifelong honor of National Chess Master.
As of right now, Ewing ranks as the second-best player in the state of New Mexico and in the top 2 percent of competitive players in the United States.
“At my age, it’s actually kind of rare to make it as a National Chess Master,” said Ewing, a computer science major. “Many people stop playing chess after high school because of college commitments.”
Ewing’s tabletop talents have come a long way since first being introduced to the game at the age of 5 by his grandfather. Soon thereafter, his mother arranged for him and his brothers to play in a local club and, by age 11, he was playing competitively. But growing up in New Mexico, Ewing found it difficult to improve his ranking and skills due to the lack of large tournaments in the state.
After moving to Cleveland to attend Case Western Reserve University, Ewing faced another challenge in climbing to the upper echelon of the chess world: schoolwork conflicted with his practice and tournament schedule. Still, he continued pursuing chess and resumed competing in tournaments in 2013.
“Last year, I finally had a car on campus so I was able to travel to a few fall tournaments in Detroit and Cincinnati.” he said. “In the spring, I was on a co-op and was able to play on my free weekends. I’ve played in about 12 to 15 tournaments since last January.”
In addition to playing tournaments, Ewing tries to improve his game with help on campus and abroad. He’s a member of the university’s Chess Club (the club meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. near the Guilford Hall lobby) and takes lessons twice a week from a Grand Master in the Ukraine via Skype.
In the short term, Ewing plans to play in a few tournaments this fall, including the Cleveland Classic, the Cleveland Scholastic Open and the Kings Island Open.
“I’ve had to dial it down now that school has started, but I’d like to keep playing throughout the semester,” he said.
After he graduates in 2016, Ewing wants to continue playing chess competitively, but to what end, he isn’t sure.
“I definitely plan to play for the foreseeable future,” he said. “I have an idea in the back of my mind that I might want to be a grandmaster (2550 points and above), but that would take a huge amount of effort and would probably mean me moving to California or New York.”
Read more about Ewing in this week’s five questions.
1. What is your preferred mode of transportation and why? I have to go with driving because I live in the U.S. I enjoy it because I like having some control of the situation. I used to love flying, but trying to get home from CWRU for holidays has soured me on it.
2. What’s next on your reading list? I read chess books fairly regularly. Aside from chess and school-related books, I’d like to finish Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
3. What has been the most rewarding moment for you while at Case Western Reserve University? Seeing how much my grade point average increased after the first semester of my sophomore year. The hard work I’ve put in is paying off.
4. If you had a day to do whatever you wanted, how would you spend it? I would walk around San Francisco. I was born in the area and lived around there until I was 8 or 9.
5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve? The CWRU internet. You can’t buy this. I can download TV shows in 30 seconds.