North Texas Daily

Owning the Board

Owning the Board

August 15
10:37 2013

Whether it’s in chess or biology, Professor Douglas Root always takes his students to school.

By Obed Manuel/Contributing Writer

Associate professor of biology Douglas Root looks down at the chessboard in front of him with his left hand resting near his hip. Opposite him sits a jittery student. The sun beats down on both of them on a warm January day, but only the student breaks a sweat. After just five seconds of contemplation, Root moves his white knight into a lethal position. Checkmate. The student smirks, shakes his head and concedes his seat to the next player.

Root neither smiles nor commends the player on a game well played. He simply sidesteps to the next table of this simultaneous exhibition at the Library Mall where another student suffers the same fate. One by one, the remaining eight students either stand up or express frustration. They were all schooled by UNT’s own international chess master.

Root has been teaching courses in biology and biochemistry at UNT since 1996. His scientific research focuses on muscle contract proteins and mutations in these proteins that can lead to heart disease or sudden cardiac arrest.

“If you read about high school student athletes that have a sudden cardiac arrest on the football field, most of those are caused by this,” Root said.

Root’s research could eventually lead to the development of drugs to treat these medical conditions.

Prior to arriving at UNT, Root completed his postdoctoral studies at the University of Texas  at Austin in biochemistry from 1993 to 1995. He completed both his Bachelor of Science and Ph.D. at the University of California at Irvine, in 1985 and 1992, respectively.

The game of chess has been present throughout most of Root’s life. It was during a visit to his 17-year-old cousin Richard’s house that 9-year-old Root first learned the moves of each chess piece.

“He taught me the moves and then beat me,” Root said while laughing. “I decided that next time I visited him, I wanted to beat him.”

Root would go on to compete in chess clubs and small competitions and eventually earned the title of chess master when he was 15 years old. At 25 years old, he received the title of International Master from the Federation Internationale Des Echecs, or the world chess federation.

Root said back then, the title of IM was much more difficult to obtain than it is now.

“For one thing, there weren’t as many qualifying tournaments available,” Root said. “You pretty much had to go to Europe to get a title.”

A year after earning his title, Root married his wife, Alexey Root, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas and the winner of the 1989 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship. According to the World Chess Federation’s website, Alexey holds the title of Woman International Master.

“We don’t usually play against each other, but we’ll look at chess together,” Root said.

Root is the faculty advisor for the UNT Chess Club. The club hosted the January exhibition in an effort to raise awareness of the club’s activities.

Mark Fincher, chess club president and math and mechanical engineering junior, said having Root as the club’s advisor is a unique situation because not many chess clubs at other colleges have an advisor as skilled as Root.

“He makes chess less mystical,” Fincher said. “He can kind of come in and deconstruct and explain a move to us.”

 Along the same lines, music theory graduate student Bryan Stevens said he appreciates how available Root makes himself to the chess club.

“He thinks so quickly at such a high level,” Stevens said.

Root said his main focus is his work at the university and that he does not have any plans to re-enter the competitive realm of chess. The last time he competed was in 2008 when the U.S. Chess Open was held in Dallas. After many years of being away from the competitive circuits, Root placed fourth out of a field of around 400 players, which included other international masters and grandmasters.

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