Chess Masters at UT-Brownsville

An open-admissions university has become a national powerhouse in the collegiate game.

After graduating high school in 2002, Ortiz wanted to pursue a career in chess, so the following year she moved to Spain, where she lived off and on over the next several years. In Spain, she played constantly against some of the world's best. She won sometimes, but not always.

"I learned how to lose," she says, "and it really helped me mature. I also learned how to live independently from my family, which prepared me for my next step in life."

Back in Brownsville, Daniel Fernandez was playing a game of chess on a Web site called Internet Chess Club, where many top players compete against each other in real-time matches. His foe that day in October of 2006 was Ortiz, who at that point had returned to Colombia. The two began chatting on the Web site and Fernandez mentioned the team at UTB and Coach Hernandez, whom Ortiz had met when they both happened to be playing professionally in Spain at the same time. When Fernandez dangled the idea that Ortiz could qualify for a full scholarship, she decided to write a letter to Harwood expressing interest in coming to South Texas.

Nadya Ortiz got a chess scholarship to play in the U.S.
Brad Doherty
Nadya Ortiz got a chess scholarship to play in the U.S.
UTB Chess Director Russell Harwood is building a top-flight chess team one piece at a time.
Brad Doherty
UTB Chess Director Russell Harwood is building a top-flight chess team one piece at a time.

"In life," she says, "you have opportunities and you either take them or you don't. And that's it. I was really looking to play chess and study, and this was the only place. There are people in my family who cannot go to university because they don't have the money. Growing up, I never thought I'd go to university in the United States. I think it's incredible, this opportunity."

When Ortiz first arrived at UTB, her English was not strong, so she took two semesters of nothing but language classes. This spring, Ortiz will finish her first full year of degree classes. She is a straight-A student majoring in computer science.

Ortiz wants to make a career for herself combining computers and chess, though she says she's still working on ­exactly how.

"I got this opportunity because of chess, and doing my degree here will allow me to do other things with my life. It's not my dream to make a lot of money because I grew up without much money, but I can use my education to do what I really love."

For the moment, that's continuing to study, play chess and always attack.

Ivy Leaguers and others, beware.

chris.vogel@houstonpress.com

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