/UM professor wins state chess championship

UM professor wins state chess championship

Varagona has been at UM for approximately six years, but is a lifelong chess player. Photo by Adam McCain

The Alabama State Chess Championship came to a close this year with the University of Montevallo’s own Dr. Scott Varagona rising to the top as first place, with Tyler Freeman following behind in second.  

The series of games lasted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, and ended with Varagona defeating four of his six competitors. After the conclusion of the championship, Varagona won with a player rating higher than many of his fellow competitors. 

As a winner of eight state championships and one high school championship, Varagona is no stranger to the game of chess. In an interview, he said, “I am a lifelong chess player, I’ve played ever since I was in fourth grade. I started tournament play as a freshman in high school, and I’ve been playing in tournaments ever since. I’ve been playing for 20 years.” 

Before Varagona even knew of chess, he played many other types of board and video games. But he was not introduced to the game of chess until he was gifted a chessboard by his grandparents. After that, his chess career began.  

Years later, Varagona realized he studied enough of the game to compete on his high school chess team and soon became a member. According to the United States Chess Federation, Varagona has competed in 152 tournaments since late 1991. 

Along with being an avid chess player, Varagona is an associate professor of mathematics at UM, is the faculty advisor for the chess club and the only three-time winner of UM’s famous Life Raft Debate. 

Varagona originally started teaching at UM in 2012, and, when asked about his teaching history, he explained that he decided to pursue teaching in graduate school.  

“Eventually, I entered grad school for mathematics at Auburn University, and there, as part of my graduate teaching assistantship duties, I got to actually teach a college level class. I got to teach calculus classes. And I just loved it,” Varagona said about the experience. “I felt like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”  

Varagona has found a way to merge his two passions, though, by offering a mathematics of chess course at UM every so often, teaching beginners and experts alike the intricacies of the game.  

Varagona had simple advice for new chess players: “Some people think you have to be really smart to play chess, like you have to be some kind of intellectual or something. That’s simply not true. All that it takes to become a competent chess player is spending time with the game, reading books and learning from people who know chess strategy.” 

Varagona stressed the importance of putting time into the game, saying that time and practice were both important to becoming a competent player. Though Varagona believes that anyone can become good, he does not entirely believe anyone could become a master, primarily due to the talent, rigorous practice and study it takes to become one.  

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