Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badger setting chess standards

In less than two weeks, hundreds of local chess aficionados
will gather in Wisconsin Dells with hopes of winning Wisconsin?s most
prestigious chess tournament.

For some, the absence of reigning champion and University of
Wisconsin alumnus Alexander Betaneli, 32, clears one spot for victory in this
year?s Arpad Elo Open. Others simply come to challenge other Wisconsin Chess
Association members in their favorite game.

?I?d say the most intriguing part about chess is the
complexity of it all,? said Betaneli, who is currently ranked first among
Wisconsin?s active players. ?There are so many directions and principles that
go into maximizing your performance. Sometimes at the end of the day you just
look at the board and think, ?Wow, I really don?t understand this game at


The statement seems unusual coming from Betaneli, who leads
the Wisconsin Chess Association?s 2007 tour with 618 points and an average
rating of 2,286.63.

According to WSA President Mike Neitman, adult scores
typically range from 1,600 to 1,650, earning or losing points with each game. A
player can get about 40 points for beating a higher-ranked player, whereas
equally matched opponents usually gain a point or two with a win, he added.

Although Betaneli won?t compete in this year?s Arpad Elo tournament,
which is named after a UW physics professor who developed the U.S. and World chess
federations? rating systems, he said
his 1994 Arpad Elo victory was his most memorable. A Russian immigrant, Betaneli
learned the game in his homeland from his father and brother, so winning his
first tournament in the Unites States was a milestone.

?I was 18 years old, right out of high school,? Betaneli
said. ?That prize was $400; it was huge back then.?

Betaneli estimates he?s played about 2,000 tournament games
and hopes to improve his technique with every match. The total number of move
combinations between black and white pieces is more than 300 million, he said,
so he tries to keep up with each game?s exponential growth.

?That?s the thing about chess, you learn at a young age and
play until you?re a senior citizen,? Neitman said. ?There are tournaments where
a nine- or 10-year-old is playing against a grandmother-type. When I?m teaching
kids, though, the last thing I tell them is that they can know all the rules,
but it takes a lifetime to get good at the game.?

Betaneli has learned Neitman?s motto firsthand: Out of their
six matches, the older Neitman beat Betaneli twice.

?It?s important to learn from your losses and move on; I?m
sure it?s a far more memorable event for [Neitman] than it is for me,? Betaneli

But according to Betaneli, the best thing about chess is its
appeal to players of diverse nationalities and economic backgrounds.

The Madison area hosts three open clubs in addition to several
scholastic organizations. Parents enroll their children in chess clubs because
the game teaches kids to accept loss and to remain graceful with opponents
after matches, Betaneli said. School grades also improve with the chess study,
he added.

With the local appreciation for chess in mind, Betaneli
founded the Wisconsin Chess Academy, where players can enroll in private
lessons, classes and a summer chess camp. As Betaneli watches his students
improve, he can also pinpoint and learn from areas in which they struggle.

?It?s not enough to say, ?Don?t do that,?? Betaneli said. ?You
have to explain why that problem occurred and what you can do to fix it. It?s a
combination of psychological, mathematical and scientific nature, and you
really just appreciate the game for what it is when you create moves from those
elements yourself.?

Betaneli has coached state and national winners, and his
student team recently won its sixth consecutive Wisconsin Scholastic
championship. Betaneli?s priorities are with his students as he prepares them
to compete in a Cincinnati scholastic tournament that will take place the same
weekend as the Arpad Elo.

?Every chess board is critical because it
allows you to look at life situations from your opponent?s point of view,?
Betaneli said. ?Hopefully that leads to more complete understanding of the
human being. Some of my students write back to me and explain how the game
relates to their lives as well, and I?m a better person because of it. It?s a
great moment for me.?

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