TU/e wins international chess tournament in Bologna

On Friday the 14th of June 2024, the first edition of the Alma Mater University Chess Tournament took off. 18 universities from 10 different countries,  5 rounds, 1 grandmaster, 3 international masters, 3 fide masters. This amazing event, taking place in the ancient library of the oldest university in the world, had it all. In a surprising turn of events, team TU/e took home the first prize, ahead of prestigious universities such as Cambridge and Yale!

In this article you can read all about our adventures in the wonderful city of Bologna, both off and on the board!


The story of this tournament does not start on the 14th of July, but in mid-February. The rector of Eindhoven University had received an invitation from Bologna University, to participate in a chess tournament in Bologna. The goal of the event was to unite prestigious universities from all over Europe and beyond in an unforgettable chess tournament. By the 11th of February, the secretary of the rector had found his way to Noesis, and he had a simple mission for them: gather a strong chess team of 4 players for this event. And oh yeah, you have 4 days to do so! 

Simon Biennier, the current chairman of Noesis, did not shy away from this task despite the short notice. Based on the results of the Dutch Student Chess Championship 2023, he was able to form a team and get the paperwork done before the deadline: FM Iwo Godzwon, Jord Ypma, and myself agreed to play on the team. Simon himself, an extremely dangerous player in his own right (as you will see in the games!), filled in the final spot.

We make a jump to Thursday the 16th of June. While my teammates were smart enough to take the plane to Bologna, I decided that this was a great opportunity to test the European train network. I will save you the details regarding the delays I faced, but here are some pictures from my journey, including a pitstop in Munich. 

Munich was getting prepared for the opening match of the euros, while the Marienplatz was slowly filling itself with Scottish fans.
The train from Munich to Bologna was the most pleasant of all, with the best sights and the shortest delays.

Croissants and Tagliatelle

I have nothing but compliments to give to the organization of the event. From the moment we arrived in Bologna, we were treated with amazing hospitality. On Thursday evening, we were recommended a lovely restaurant, which had allegedly been visited by none other than Michael Jordan (or a great lookalike). Here we tried the local delicacies for the first time: obviously the pasta bolognese (known as Tagliatelle (not spaghetti!) al ragu in Bologna), as well as mortadella, a deliciously seasoned sausage.  The other days, the lunches and dinners were provided by a university restaurant. The quality did not disappoint, as we were able to recharge for the next game with pasta, lasagna, pizza, and more.

For breakfast, the university had an arrangement with a place close to our hotel. As soon as we spoke the magic words “we are from the chess”, everybody understood, and we received a lovely croissant and cappuccino. 

Vibes were great the first evening: a good omen for the rest of the event.

After a 15 minute stroll through the city, passing various tourist highlights along the way, we would arrive at the playing hall.

Statue of Neptune at the Piazza Majore, confiscated by a pigeon.
One of the two tall, crooked towers in the middle of the city. In medieval times, the city used to be filled with these.

The first rounds

You can imagine that all of this left us in good spirits and ready to play good chess. After an introductory lunch where we met participants from the other teams, we were directed to the playing hall. 

The playing hall for this event was by far the most beautiful location for a chess tournament I have ever seen. The University of Bologna, founded in 1080, has many historical buildings. We had the honor to play our games in the gorgeous ancient library, which would not look out of place in Hogwarts. Besides the chess boards, an exhibition of old chess books had been laid out, one of which had allegedly been co-written by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. When we were told that this was the first time that chess was being played in this room in 260 years, you could hear a collective gasp coming from all the participants.

Our first round opponent was John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, from the east of Poland.

Eindhoven University of Technology John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin
Iwo Godzwon 2404 Kacper Bilczewski 2139
Jord Ypma 2109 Benjamin Kardis 2014
Bas van Doren 2119 Konrad Szczygiel 1840
Simon Biennier 1951 Aniela Piech 1421

Based on the ratings, we were the favorite in this match. However, half way in, things were far from clear. While I had some luck in the opening and quickly got a good position, Simon’s opponent was performing far above her level. Jord had gained a strong passed pawn, but was facing a dangerous attack from his opponent on the other side. And on board 1, things were looking far from easy for Iwo. 

So how did this end? My opponent did not find a way to salvage his weakened dark squares, while Simon was ultimately able to crack his opponent and deliver checkmate. 2-0, so we were guaranteed at least a draw. Jord’s opponent showed outstanding attacking skills and was able to crash through on the king side before the black c-pawn could promote. 2-1. Board 1 seemed to stay quite balanced until the very end when Iwo showed that he was the better player in time trouble and secured our victory. 3-1!

Jord and Iwo carefully considering their opening moves
Our team captain Simon pondering which Sicilian to play

In the second round we were paired against Sapienza Università di Roma, a balanced team with competitive players on all boards. 

Sapienza Università di Roma Eindhoven University of Technology
Federico Casagrande 2121 Iwo Godzwon 2404
Giacomo Beccarini 2004 Jord Ypma 2109
Francesco Beccarini 1998 Bas van Doren 2119
Vincenzo Costabile 1946 Simon Biennier 1951

While I had a reasonably smooth game in the first round and the others struggled, it was the other way around in this round.  

Jord had played an interesting opening, with roughly balanced chances for both sides. When his opponent played 16. …Nf6, Jord seized the opportunity to play 17. Bh4! which threatens g4. The opponent tried to prevent it with 17. …Qb7, but after 18. Bxf6 Rxf6 19. g4! white is the first one to attack, and Jord found accurate moves until the end to score a convincing win by move 29. 

On the first board, Iwo played a beautiful positional game. He finished it off in style with the move 52. …h4! putting his opponent in zugzwang. The opponent was friendly enough to allow Iwo to demonstrate a highly unusual mating construction with 53. Kxe5 53. Re3#. 

Although Simon’s game was not registered by the liveboard, it would be a disgrace not to discuss this game. In an endgame with rook, bishop, and one pawn against rook and four pawns, many players would decide to start collecting as many enemy pawns as possible and taking it from there.  But not our captain: he immediately walked his king towards the enemy king, using the enemy pawns as a shield. The final touch happened when Simon completed the mating net, allowing his opponent to make a queen just to be checkmated on the next move. His opponent was not able to execute the move 40. …Rh3 before time ran out, but can you find the killer move that Simon was planning here?

In any case, the score was 3-0 and the match was clinched.

While all my teammates were playing brilliancies and securing the match, I was suffering in an endgame a pawn down. Amazingly, at the moment I had finally run out of tricks and was ready to resign, my opponent had a momentary lapse of reason and blundered both his pawns. He was so shocked by this that he could not adjust to the new situation, and I even managed to win this game in the end. 4-0. 

The big matches

Our results of the first day had put us in a great position: 4 out of 4 matchpoints and 7 out of 8 boardpoints. We were now among the top teams, and we had to play one of them in the next round: Maastricht University. With a strong international master on board 1 and no players below 2000, this promised to be an extremely tough opponent. We were very motivated to do well in this Dutch derby. 

Eindhoven University of Technology Maastricht University
Iwo Godzwon 2404 Christiaan Seel 2478
Jord Ypma 2109 Michal Bodicky 2205
Bas van Doren 2119 Paula Alexandra Gitu 2076
Simon Biennier 1951 Pedro Gonzalez Fernandez 2015

However, there was still plenty of time before this moment. The time control of 45+10 combined with the low number of games gave us ample time to enjoy the city. Besides some chess-wise preparation for the game, we took our time to relax with a few Aperol Spritz on the terrace,  as well as some drinks in the Irish pub, with our newly made friends from Istanbul and Yale. 

After a nice cappuccino and croissant in the morning, we were ready for the big match. Since I was the only player with a rating advantage in this match, a win on my part would be extremely welcome. You can imagine that I was not pleased to see my opponent deviate from my preparation as early as move 1. 

A complicated fight arose on all four boards. While all of us were thinking that Simon was in trouble against his opponent’s Grand Prix Attack, he had evaluated correctly that everything was under control. He showed great composure to fend off his opponent’s attack and take the full point: 1-0! 

In the meanwhile, I had built up an advantage on the clock. While the position remained objectively equal, my opponent had to find a number of accurate moves to keep the balance in a bishop against knight endgame with pawns on both flanks. After defending the endgame accurately for a long time, my opponent made a mistake under time pressure.

Fixing the pawns on light squares with 34. …g6 or 34. …h5 would result in an easy draw: there is no way for me to chase the knight away from c4, and my bishop cannot attack any of the pawns on light squares on the kingside. Instead, 34. …g5? allows me to play 35. h5! fixing pawns on dark squares, where my bishop can attack them. With active and accurate play, black can apparently still hold the balance even after this move. However, with such little time on the clock, my opponent was not able to find this narrow path, and my c-pawn soon ran towards the promotion square. 2-0!

Things were looking great at this point: only half a point was needed from the first two boards. 

Iwo played a reasonably quiet Ruy Lopez against his higher-rated opponent. After getting some small chances for an advantage, the game went into an endgame where black might be ever so slightly better, but the game soon fizzled out and a draw was agreed. 2.5-0.5: we had secured the win!

In the meanwhile, Jord was defending a tough endgame. After seemingly having equalized multiple times during the game, his opponent kept finding ways to pose small problems. In the end, Jord was able to equalize one final time and make the draw: 3-1. 

Some of our opponents came prepared with team shirts to represent their university (perhaps an idea for the TU/e team next year?).
Top: Lund, our round 4 opponent, probably had the best shirt design out of all. Bottom: Cambridge came with a delegation of two teams, but we ended up not playing against either of them.

This meant that we were doing great in the tournament and definitely fighting for first place. Our next opponent was Lund University, from Sweden. This was an extremely scary opponent, with two strong international masters on the first two boards. 

Lund University Eindhoven University of Technology
Milton Pantzar 2480 Iwo Godzwon 2404
Isak Storme 2441 Jord Ypma 2109
Anders Johnson 1982 Bas van Doren 2119
Uno Remitz 1746 Simon Biennier 1951

On the other hand, we knew that rating-wise we should stand a good chance on the lower boards. 

Before the round started, there was still some time to relax and/or prepare. This was one of many moments where Iwo had to begrudgingly pull out his laptop. Not for chess preparation, but for finishing his Bachelor Final Project! With his deadline on Monday June 17th, he performed an impressive juggling act between playing excellent chess, finishing his project and joining in with the fun off the board.

I took this break to clear my mind and visit a small museum in the university. A big part of the museum contained all kinds of objects from the collection of Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), who is seen as the father of natural history studies. 

Aldrovandi was one of the first since the ancient times to systematically study nature in a scientific way.
Apart from animals, he was also highly interested in the human body...
And even animal's bodies: take a guess what organ from what animal this is.

After this break, it was time to dive into the chess again. Jord was playing an interesting game on the second board, soon sacrificing an exchange for positional compensation. 

On the fourth board, Simon was sacrificing pawns left and right, as we were used to by now. However, he faced excellent defense and the compensation was hard to believe. 

Iwo was playing a solid positional game on the first board, which radiated some confidence to the other boards. On the third board, my opening was very successful, allowing me to get one of the best versions of the Benoni imaginable. That being said, it was still a Benoni, so the evaluation was about equal.

In any case, the match could still go in all directions. Later on, Jord was not able to prove his compensation, and after a long maneuvering phase, his opponent was able to convert his material advantage. No shame in losing to a 2440 player, especially when this player scored 5/5 in this event. Iwo in the meanwhile was finding all the most precise moves and made a very high-quality draw with black against his strong opponent. 

This meant the score was 0.5-1.5, so the onus was on the last two boards. My opponent was a bit too frivolous in pushing his pawns, allowing me to pound back on the queenside and in the center. My pieces were soon dominating the board and I was able to take the full point: 1.5-1.5. 

All eyes were on Simon’s game now. On move 37, he was down two pawns and the compensation did not seem to be sufficient. At this moment though, his opponent started allowing chances. 

37. …Qxg3 allowed Simon to activate his queen with 38. Qc7! and after 38. …Kf6 39. Qb8, he had drummed up enough counterplay for a perpetual.

So Simon gave the perpetual check and the match ended in 2-2. Right? 

No way. Our captain decided to play on, judging that his opponent was vulnerable under time pressure and he had a good chance to win, even if that meant taking huge risks objectively. And the gamble paid off: even after mate in 2 was missed on move 46, his opponent was not able to complete his move 47. …Ke5 in time, leading to a win by flag.

Even if his opponent would have played this move in time, it would be too late. While winning the black queen in this position would lead to a very tricky endgame against strong bishops and passed pawns, there is an absolutely stunning mate in 2 for white in the final position. The reader is invited to try and find it themselves.

The final round

Four matches, four victories. We were now in pole position to win the event! No other team had been able to keep up with this pace, meaning that we were 2 match points clear. In the final round we played Università degli Studi di Padova, the other team that had remained unbeaten so far. 

A draw in this match would be enough to secure victory!

Standing after round 4. If we would lose the final round, many teams could overtake us on board points.

Before that though, there was once again plenty of time to enjoy life. The weather was great all weekend, and there was also more on the program! After a guided tour of the ancient library and the chess books in it, there was a wine-tasting event. A selection of four wines from local vineyard Terre Rosse with accompanying snacks made for a great opportunity for more cultural bonding with the other teams. 

After that, it was time for dinner, and then football: Italy was playing their first game in the euros against Albania. You can imagine that the terraces were full and the atmosphere was great, especially when Italy eventually grabbed the win.

While the exhibition mostly hosted ancient Italian chess books, they tried to include a book from each participating country as well. This book shows Dutch chess results from the early 20th century.
The wine tasting was as excellently organized as all the other parts of the event.

Then the final game against Padova. Their very well-rounded team had been playing around the top of the standings for a while now, making draws against Maastricht and Lund. 

Eindhoven University of Technology Università degli Studi di Padova
Iwo Godzwon 2404 Tommaso Bergamasco 2192
Jord Ypma 2109 Giorgio Belli 2138
Bas van Doren 2119 Jacopo Gennari 2132
Simon Biennier 1951 Alessio Simonetto 2062

After the game, we learned that they had spent all night preparing for the wrong colors! This must have put them slightly on the backfoot psychologically. 

A tough fight arose on all boards. Iwo was trying to outplay his opponent in a quiet Ruy Lopez, while Jord faced the first blow of the round: his opponent found a great tactic to win two pawns. The game was far from over though, as Jord had good chances to hold thanks to his active light-squared bishop.

Simon had been slowly outplaying his opponent in an unusual line of the Benoni when disaster struck. Since he started chess online and is not a regular tournament player, he did not grow up with the rules of over-the-board chess. While he was familiar with the touch-move rule, he did not know about the extension of this rule, which states that you cannot move your piece to another square anymore once you have released it on a square.

Our captain learned this lesson the hard way, as this technicality forced him to move his bishop off the diagonal and lose his queen. Coming back from such a material loss proved too difficult a task even for our captain. Ending on a score of 4/5, he can look back on a great performance, with many of his opponents not believing that he is so low-rated. With this game, his opponent was able to complete his event with a 5/5 performance.

In the meanwhile, there was also good news: after a tough fight in the middle game, Iwo’s opponent was too eager to trade down into an endgame with rooks and bishops, where he hoped to keep a draw with the opposite-colored bishops. However, Iwo had correctly judged that his passed pawn was way too strong here, and he was soon able to grab the full point. Iwo can also look back on an amazing event, in which he beat all lower-rated opposition and made draws against strong IMs to end on the excellent score of 4/5.

On the second board, Jord had been fighting hard and eventually equalized the endgame down two pawns! However, his opponent kept being tricky and was eventually able to bring his knight to a good square and push the pawns. Jord had the toughest event of all of us, facing fierce opposition on the second board, often being at a rating disadvantage. He will not be too happy with his score of 1.5/5, but against an opposition of 2160 rating on average, including three titled players, this is still a very respectable result.

The stakes were high during this final round

The score was now 2-1 for Padova, and we needed a draw to secure the title. This meant that all the pressure was on me now to score the final point. 

After an interesting opening phase with chances for both sides, I was able to outplay my opponent and win a pawn. However, converting this was far from easy, as I allowed my opponent multiple chances to get back into the game. He did not take them, and eventually I was able to trade down into a winning rook endgame. 

I was up two pawns in this ending so this must be easy, right? 

My technique still needs some serious work, as I did not play this in the cleanest way. With precise play I could have gained a 4 vs 1 situation on the kingside, which should even for me be a simple win. In the game though, I got a 3 vs 1 situation where my king was stuck on the backrank and a black pawn on g4 was hindering my pawns. 

With precise play, black could have forced me to play an endgame with rook + e and g pawns vs rook, which is a technical win but quite difficult in this case. Fortunately, black allowed my king to escape the first rank, as can be seen in the photo. This made my task a lot easier, as I was slowly able to advance, win the g-pawn and then advance my mass of pawns to their promotion squares. I was extremely scared to blunder a stalemate trick, but finally I was able to win the game and end the tournament on 5/5. You can play through the game in the editor below.

Relief! The match ended in 2-2, which meant we were the champions! 

We were very relieved after this final game
Celebrating our victory with the rector of the University of Bologna

This was the climax of a fantastic weekend in Bologna. Afterward, we celebrated by watching the Netherlands-Poland game, enjoying drinks on the terrace, eating our final delicious Bolognese food, and finishing off with some blitz games in the hotel. 

I want to thank everyone involved from the University of Bologna (especially Mattia!) for organizing this fantastic event. It was not only a wonderful chess event, but also a great opportunity to meet staff and students from international universities and learn about the culture of Bologna. I am also very grateful to TU/e for accepting the invitation and providing us with this opportunity. I sincerely hope that the event will be repeated next year, and a new delegation of the TU/e can try to defend the title: as Simon and Iwo will start a Master’s elsewhere and I am graduating this summer, Jord will be looking for new teammates! 


Check out the Chessbase article on this event here and replay all the games here.