2023 Collegiate Chess League Playoffs Preview

2023 Collegiate Chess League Playoffs Preview


The Cinderella basketball teams busted your March Madness bracket to smithereens. Fortunately, the Collegiate Chess League (CCL) Playoffs are just in time to give you another shot at office pool glory. 

The playoffs begin with wild card weekend on Saturday, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. Pacific/2:00 p.m and has a $10,000 prize pool. Eastern. Here’s everything you need to know. 

How To Watch

GM Benjamin Bok will serve as the special guest commentator. If you don’t already follow him on Twitch, Bok is a 3-time Dutch Online Chess Champion, member of the Dutch Olympic team, and World Blitz Top 50. Chess.com also immortalized him as a top-player bot:

First Round Byes

Congratulations to Division 1 teams Mizzou, Saint Louis, UTD, and UTRGV for incredible seasons. All four teams compiled an impressive 6-1 record and finished in the top two of their respective groups. These teams earn a first-round bye and a trip to the quarterfinals and will meet the winners of wild card weekend. We break down these exciting match-ups below.

Michigan Vs. UCLA

Your pre-season CCL dream came true—we have a 40th-anniversary rematch of the 1983 Rose Bowl Game. Michigan will try to exact sweet revenge against UCLA over the board. UCLA squeaked into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record of 3-4, but it’s a new season and each team has a clean slate. Let’s see if the Bruins can find their form and upset the favored Wolverines. 

Player to watch: IM Ben Li (Michigan). Li is an international master from Michigan. He was the Co-Champion of the 2017 U.S. Cadet Championship and the 2019 U.S. Denker High School Championship. A fun fact is that Li’s Chess.com username is papapizza. His chess slogan should be: “Better Tactics, Better Strategy, Papa Pizza.”

Unfortunately, the chess game won’t be played in Pasadena. Photo: Steven Kallin/Wikimedia, CC

Arizona State Vs. Georgia Tech

Arizona State and Georgia Tech may well be the most hotly contested match-up. After slow starts to the season, both teams are riding a three-match winning streak. Playoff games are usually won by the hotter team. Will dry or humid heat prevail?

Player to watch: NM Saigautam Bonam (Georgia Tech). Chances are you never heard of this player, but yours truly battled him back in the day at the Arlington Chess Club in the Washington DC Metro Area. Bonam is a very strong chess player and has the talent to earn an international chess title. However, he is too busy concentrating on: intelligence, systems and architecture; deep reinforcement learning; web, mobile, and game development. Bonam is a great example of how accomplished CCL’s competitors are on the chess board and in the classroom.

UChicago Vs. Virginia

Apparently, this is a battle between a “Hidden Ivy” and a “Public Ivy.” (In reference to the Ivy League institutions.) All you need to know is that these are two of the finest academic institutions in the world with extremely talented chess players. We shouldn’t measure their merit against mosquito-harboring, invasive weeds. UChicago had a very successful 6-1 season but just missed a first-round bye on tiebreakers. They are heavily favored to advance to the quarterfinals over Virginia.

Player to watch: GM Awonder Liang (UChicago). Liang is an American grandmaster and former World Youth Champion. He is also the second-youngest grandmaster in American history and won the US Junior Chess Championship in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Liang playing Levon Aronian in the 2022 US Chess Championship. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Yale Vs. UCSD

This match-up will likely be a bloodbath and viewer discretion is strongly advised. Yale finished the regular season 6-1 and narrowly missed a first-round bye on tiebreakers. Meanwhile, UCSD barely managed to earn a wild card spot with a 2-5 campaign. Never say never though! Look no further than 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson upsetting 1-seed Purdue last week.

Player to watch: GM Nicolas Checa (Yale). Checa is a grandmaster from New York. He is the recipient of the 2020 and 2021 Samford Fellowships, a prestigious award granted to the top American chess players under 25 years old. Nicholas is also the 2021 and 2022 Connecticut State Champion. All that’s missing from his stellar resume is membership in the secret society Skull and Bones. (Or is it?)

Quarterfinals And Beyond

Last year, UTRGV went undefeated en route to their first CCL Championship, and are the favorites to cut down the nets again this year. In the last round of the regular season, UTRGV crushed rival UTD 10.5-5.5. This result put all teams on notice that UTRGV is in top form and plans to repeat. However, never count out those Yalies, a dark horse pick to win it all. The Bulldogs handed UTRGV their sole defeat in CCL play, so perhaps these overachievers can pull off a huge upset again.

Visit CCL’s site for the complete playoff bracket. Who do you have going all the way? What upsets do you think there will be? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.


There is $10,000 up for grabs in the Division 1 Playoffs. That’s a lot of pizza! Check out CCL’s event page for a complete breakdown of the $30,000 prize pool for each division.

The Collegiate Chess League (CCL) returned for the 2022-2023 academic year in partnership with NACE Starleague, the largest collegiate esports league in North America. The Spring 2023 season features a $30,000 prize pool and gives college students of all skill levels the opportunity to participate and represent their schools in the ultimate chess competition for college students.

Visit NACE’s official website for the complete list of teams, pairings, results, and standings.

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