UMBC’s fascination with chess began early in the campus history. A query was sent to The Retriever in October 1967 asking "What can be done about organizing a chess club at UMBC?" By 1968, an intramural chess tournament was hosted by the Chess Club with three divisions resulting in a playoff of the three divisional winners. The tournament was expected to take about five weeks to conclude. In 1972, the Chess Club invited chess master Larry Kaufman, an MIT graduate who was ranked 16th in the nation, to play simultaneous games against UMBC Chess Club members and any others who wished to participate. Twenty-two contestants played against Kaufman on Wednesday, September 20, 1972 in simultaneous matches. Kaufman won all games except one draw against graduate student Mike Woodward, M.S. ’75, biological sciences. Skip Boyd’s photograph captures the intensity of the moment.
In 1996, the UMBC Chess Team won the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship and nine more times between 1998 and 2012. The team also has the distinction of qualifying for The President’s Cup (also known as the Final Four of College Chess) every year since the competition was founded in 2001, and the university has won the championship six times between 2003 and 2010.