Pritzker Students Win National Chess Tournament

Eight students from the Pritzker School of Medicine kept the challenges of medical school in check for at least one weekend, instead taking on the ‘game of kings’ and bringing home a win to show for it.

A team of Pritzker students captured first place in a national inter-medical school chess tournament held the first weekend in March, narrowly defeating the host school Drexel University College of Medicine in the final contest.

First-year Pritzker student Jared Lassner organized the effort that fielded two teams to join a field of 24 representing 18 medical schools from across the country. The virtual tournament held via the website spanned two days and featured a double-elimination bracket format. The team of Lassner, Ibraheem Hamzat, Liam Spurr and Anthony Hung took the top spot while Joseph Cozzi, Brendan Berg, Mahmoud Yousef, and Murrie Affini also represented Pritzker.

While the victory was sweet, Lassner said the chance to connect with fellow medical students and chess enthusiasts from Pritzker and around the nation was the highlight of the tournament.

“Someone—I think it was Ibraheem—said that it was some of the most fun he’s had with his classmates in med school so far, and I totally agree,” Lassner said. “It was great getting to interact with people I don't normally cross paths with and bond over our shared love of the game, and of course the competition of trying to beat other med schools.”

The tournament, dubbed the “Dragon’s Cup” according to a report out of Philadelphia, started coming together when the Drexel Chess Club reached out to medical schools across the country to gauge interest. A Pritzker student who does not play chess shared the opportunity with classmates, and Lassner seized on it, eventually rounding up a mix of longtime chess players like himself, Spurr, and Hung, as well several who had learned the game long ago but more recently sharpened their skills while staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A challenging game that requires planning and strategy as much as it does quick thinking and poise, chess has provided a welcome outlet alongside the rigors of medical school. Spurr often plays chess on his phone between classes. Lassner plays speed chess online to break up long study sessions and recharge his mental state, preferring to keep his brain active rather than giving in to the temptation of a Netflix binge.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say that chess is a great hobby that serves as the perfect distraction from school,” Lassner said. “For me personally it's incredibly important to have hobbies outside of medicine to help me stay sane.”

Lassner said the group now hopes to start an official chess club at Pritzker, which could provide a regular arena in which to prepare for a title defense next year.