Final Four of Chess

HERNDON, Va. — If you ask the average sports fan about the Final Four that took place over the past few days, what you’re likely to get is a conversation about the annual springtime competition in which the outcome is determined by steals and slam dunks.

But in a small hotel conference room here over the weekend, a Final Four of a different sort hinged on sacrifices and stalemates.

Such is the Final Four of Chess, the pre-eminent collegiate chess tournament that annually draws American college chess teams to compete by moving a 16-piece miniature army on a small battlefield that is less than one thousandth the size of a basketball court.

However, in this year’s Final Four of Chess, the event’s corporate host and sponsor saw to it that participants would have opportunities to gain experience on a chessboard that is on a much grander in scale.

Specifically, the firm — government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology and consulting giant based in Fairfax County — invited all of this year’s Final Four competitors to apply for internships at the company, including in its offices abroad.

That’s what Faik Aleskerov, 26, an MBA student at Texas Tech University, did last year after his team won the Final Four of Chess.

Aleskerov worked a Booz Allen Hamilton internship in Baku — the capital city of his native Azerbaijan — and has been invited to work another internship this year.

“It was a great experience,” said Aleskerov, who returned to the Final Four this year with his championship team as a team assistant. (For those who care, the Texas Tech Knight Raiders — led by their coach, Hungarian-born chess great Susan Polgar — defended their title this year by outscoring opponents UMBC, UTD and NYU).

Among other things, Aleskerov said he helped develop a company handbook and worked on monitoring and evaluating various projects in his native country.

“It’s teamwork and diversity,” Aleskerov said. “Every day we were on a phone conference overseas.”

Last year, only the winners of the Final Four of Chess were invited to apply. But this year, Booz Allen Hamilton has extended the offer to the members of all four teams, irrespective of who wins.

Opportunities include internships in the emergent field of cloud analytics in the firm’s Washington, D.C. area offices.

Mark Herman, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as a war game expert and chess enthusiast, says his primary interest in hosting the Final Four of Chess is to make chess more prominent in American culture because of its emphasis on critical thinking. At the same time, Herman said, his company values the intellectual prowess possessed by top-level collegiate chess players.

Most of the competitors in the Final Four of Chess are grandmasters, or players who’ve reached a certain rating threshold that represents superior play.

“All I’m looking for is for Booz Allen, going into the 21st century, having another source of world class minds,” Herman told Diverse.

“I’ve got a room full of the best critical thinkers that you’re going to find anywhere,” Herman said at the event. “Why wouldn’t I want to recruit them?”

The internship opportunity appealed to roughly half of the nearly two dozen players in the Final Four of Chess.

Prospective interns included students both from the United States as well as abroad.

Kyle Cameron, a freshman finance major at NYU, said he appreciated the chance to apply for an internship at Booz Allen Hamilton, a firm he said would look “great for future employers” if he is able to list it on his resume.

“Normally, this type of internship, especially with larger firms, it’s just cutthroat for anyone to get them,” Cameron said. “It’s great they’re offering it especially to chess players.”

Vitaly Neimer, 24, a freshman finance major at Texas Tech who hails from Israel, noted the similarities between the skills required to excel in the game of chess and those necessary to do well in finance.

“You need to evaluate things, think about future things and how (one move) will cause something else,” said Neimer, who said he is interested in exploring an internship with the firm. “Every single move matters.”