Chess journey to the center of the Earth in New Mexico

by Susan Polgar

On Sunday October 18, 2009, members of SPICE and the Texas Tech Knight Raiders Chess Team took part in an officially rated chess tournament nearly 800 feet below ground at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

After extensive research by numerous people in the past month, I am told that this is a world record for a chess tournament.

The event was officially approved by the National Park Service. NPS also provided all members of SPICE and the Knight Raiders complimentary entrance to the Caverns.

carlsbad

We departed from the Texas Tech Student Union Building at 9 a.m. and arrived at Carlsbad Caverns a little more than three hours later. Once we arrived, members of SPICE and the Knight Raiders descended nearly 800 feet below ground and it took about an hour to get to the playing location. However, everyone enjoyed the breath-taking sight of spectacular stalactites and stalagmites along the way.

The weather in the cave is a mild and comfortable 56 degrees year-round. The tournament started at 2 p.m.

After five hard-fought rounds, International Master Gergely Antal and International Master Gabor Papp, two of the Knight Raiders A team members, tied for first with the score of 4.5 points. The only half point they each yielded came from the draw against each other in a bitterly hard-fought game.

Murfee Elementary fifth-grader Tommy Polgar and Tech freshman Rebecca Lelko tied for third and fourth with three points. The Knight Raiders student adviser Hal Karlsson and another Tech freshman Brett James tied for fifth and sixth with two points. Eight players took part in this rated chess event.

After the tournament, everyone continued to explore the incredible “Big Room.” Facts from the NPS: “The Atlas of Great Caves of the World” by Courbon, Chabert, Bosted & Lindsley published in 1989 states that the floor area of the Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern is 33,210 square meters, which equals approximately 357,480 square feet. A football field is 360 feet long (including the end zones) by 160 feet wide or equal to 57,600 square feet. By dividing 57,600 quare feet into 357,480 square feet, you roughly get that 6.2 football fields would fit into the Big Room. In acres, one acre is equal to 4,840 square yards or 43,560 square feet. Divide 43,560 square feet into 357,480 square feet and we find that the Big Room is 8.2 acres in size (more or less).”

carlsbad

In addition, according to the official Web site, “Carlsbad Caverns is one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. Twelve to 14 thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park.”

After the tour of the Big Room, our group got back to ground level, just in time to witness the fascinating bat flight. Approximately 500,000 Brazilian (commonly called Mexican) free-tail bats call Carlsbad Caverns home during the summer. At 5:25 p.m, the bats came out of the caverns in circular formation then headed off to find food. The bats eat several tons of insects each night. We were told by the park rangers that this may be the last or one of the last bat flights of the season as they migrate to Mexico for the winter.

It was a fantastic chess experience for everyone involved. We are now searching for the next exciting chess place to explore. If you know of one, please feel free to e-mail me your suggestion.

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Big thanks to the U.S. National Park Service for making this possible and for their wonderful hospitality, Texas Tech University, and Peggy Flores for making all the arrangements for SPICE and the Knight Raiders. More information about SPICE and future events can be found at www.SPICE.ttu.edu