Set against the thumping beat of techno and house music, a battle unfolded at Latitude 55 Wednesday evening. It was a battle of kings, queens, castles and pawns that decided who would be UCR’s unequivocal chess champion. Out of 12 players, only one could win, taking home bragging rights and a $25 Target gift card.

The tournament used Swiss brackets to expedite the process, with the winners of each round playing one another as points added up. Chess club vice president Aaron Morefield and event coordinator Alexandra “Alex” Villamor worked double duty, setting up the boards, synchronizing the game timers and announcing the winners of each round after each victory. Aaron also served as an ambassador to myself and the small crowd of onlookers, elucidating the finer points of the game and scoring system to my plebian mind.

The first two rounds were truly anyone’s game, though the frontrunners soon revealed themselves as the games continued. There was Austin Hughes, the calm and quiet player who beat his competitors with quick efficiency, his game timer rarely going below 10 minutes out of the 15-minute games; Ashkan Dehghani Zahedani took a hard win in a nail biting first round but quickly capitalized on his early lead, with a 3-0 record after round three; The ever-present dark horse candidate was Ivan Cahuana Oropeza, a non-member of chess club who took a few early victories with his unknown strategy.

Though it took a while for some to admit, the favorite to win was Austin, who defeated a slew of players in the initial rounds. He made his way to the final heat with a win over veteran player Isaac Lino. Austin made his moves behind a mask of pure contemplation, capturing a piece on almost every single turn. Ashkan managed a win over Ivan in round four, with each player losing their queens and a large number of high-value pieces within the first few moves in a tense war of attrition.

After his fourth victory round, Ashkan was kind enough to let me in on his key strategy. “I try to control the middle,” he explained, motioning towards a square of spaces on the board. His defense primarily consisted of “castling” his king into a defendable corner, while his offensive danced around the enemy, trying to find small holes in the sea of pawns, rooks, bishops and knights.

Tim Baca/Highlander

With heat four over, the final battle came down to the undefeated Ashkan and Austin. Since Austin had a “buy” in the first round after one of the players dropped out, he was at a slight point disadvantage. Ashkan could win either through a checkmate or by forcing a draw, though he conceded, laughing “90 percent chance I lose.”

The two tabletop titans took the largest board, their game timers facing the players who had gathered around to watch the final battle. Ashkan was on black, which meant he went after Austin’s opening move. Ashkan matched Austin’s opening moves in a popular strategy that Aaron identified as the “French Defense.” As the board opened, the two moved their kings into corners opposite of each other, both separated by only a scant few squares. As the mid-game progressed, the two went piece for piece, with Ashkan eliminating Austin’s knights at the expense of his bishops while their rooks danced around the width of the board.

Though he had an early time lead, Ashkan quickly fell behind in his time management, occasionally taking almost an entire minute to react to Austin’s moves. While you would think things were calm by the contemplative stares on each of their faces, the two tapped their feet in a frenetic rhythm while they examined the other’s defenses. After what felt like an eternity, Ashkan’s timer dipped below three minutes and he lost a few key pieces to Austin’s wall of defense, taking longer and longer to decide each move. Though he tried valiantly, Austin’s encircled king proved uncheckable, and Ashkan surrendered as his timer dipped below one minute. After a gentlemanly handshake and a brief smile from both players, the war was over. Austin had won.

Though all eyes were on the competing victors, the battle for the runner-up positions were just as hectic, with Ivan taking third place in a three-way battle for points. In the end, there could only be one victor, with Austin earning the respect of his competitors and the aforementioned Target gift card, which he admitted he would use to buy a few necessities.