Grandmasters in Guayaberas

Little Havana's chess connection vies for the national crown

Rodelay's match ends minutes later — it's also a draw. This means team competition is a draw too — one win and one draw apiece. Rene, ever the optimist, gives it a positive spin. "A draw against that Dallas team. A team that has so many points on us. That's great."

But none of the players is pleased. A stunning victory slipped away. The national championship is no longer a possibility. Baltimore won its first two matches. So even if Miami wins tomorrow and Baltimore loses, MDC can do no better than tie for second.

Walking away from the tables as midnight approaches, Alberto becomes almost apologetic. "The last move. I couldn't see the board," he says. "I was too tired." Almost wistfully he adds that, in the old days, when he was serious about chess, "I would have beaten him."

Rodelay Medina, founder and captain of Miami Dade College's chess team
Photo by Steve Satterwhite
Rodelay Medina, founder and captain of Miami Dade College's chess team
Miami's chessmen (clockwise from left): Alberto Hernandez, Rodelay Medina, Charles Galofre, and Renier Gonzalez
Steve Satterwhite
Miami's chessmen (clockwise from left): Alberto Hernandez, Rodelay Medina, Charles Galofre, and Renier Gonzalez


The final day of the Final Four is glorious for Miami. Unfortunately the glory doesn't involve Miami Dade College. The Sharks take third place for the fourth consecutive year. Their victory over Duke is sullied by the fact that the Blue Devils arrived to the match half an hour late (excuse: They forgot about the change to daylight-saving time).

But the day's highlight centers around Miamian Bruci Lopez. In dramatic fashion, Bruci beats UTD's Dmitry Schneider in overtime to win the championship for Baltimore.

Lopez is, of course, the former MDC player who Rodelay jokingly calls "The Traitor." He's also the one player who may have changed the weekend for MDC.

"[MDC is] one player away," says Tim Redman, director of the UTD chess program.

"They're very close," admits UMBC coach Epshteyn.

UTD's coach Milovanovic is more specific. "If they had Bruci Lopez," he says, "It might be different story."

Two weeks later, back in Miami, Rodelay says MDC's national championship hopes are not over. He's coming back again for one more year.

And he might have the missing link.

"Marcel Martinez," says Rodelay, eyes widening, as he sits in front of the 12th Street volleyball courts. "He'll be with us." Martinez, another Cuban exile and another Calle Ocho fixture, is nearing grandmaster status, and would be first or second board.

As for his motivation, Rodelay is brutally honest. "This isn't about winning for the school," he says, pausing. "It's personal."

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