At HEC Paris, The MBA Games Begin!


MBA students from all over the world arrived today at HEC Paris to play in the MBA Tournament

Let the games begin.

On HEC Paris’ sprawling 341-acre campus, some 1,300 MBA students and their partners from all over the world are gathered in a unique Olympics called the MBA Tournament, or MBAT for short. They arrived today on planes, buses and trains from 16 business schools to compete in 34 different events.

“This is the largest MBA networking event in the world,” explains Patti Brown, senior executive director of academic affairs for MBA programs at HEC. Brown makes no effort to hide her support for the 234 HEC students who are in the hunt at the three-day event. “I told them if we don’t win that trophy will go missing.”


The 2023 MBAT is the 32nd edition of the event. Last year, the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford took away the trophy. And this year, Oxford may very well be the team to beat again. HEC students are determined to send Oxford back to the United Kingdom losers, along with teams from all of the best European business schools as well as the National University of Singapore and New York University’s Stern School of Business.

While many say the competition is more about fun and games than it is about winning, the play in everything from poker and dodgeball to table tennis and basketball can be and often turns fiercely competitive. London Business School, it is said, is among the most aggressive teams, particularly in what might well be the most hard-fought event, European football. One Oxford MBA student says the team has been practicing for months, even video-taping athletes to prep for the forthcoming tug-of-war competition.

MBAT is organized entirely by HEC students, with a core team of 31 members and more than 100 volunteers. The core group breaks down into four teams in strategy, marketing, finance, and operations. They manage a $500,000 budget and the incredible logistics of setting up transportation, hotels, food trucks, water bottles, porta-potties, and enough recyclable toilet paper for 1,300 20- and 30-something young professionals over the three days.


They book students in six hotels, brought to campus eight food trucks, and arranged for what will be more than 150 bus rides on and off campus to get students to the games. “If an employer wants to hire a logistics person, this is where they should come,” laughs Brown.

There’s plenty of fun, too. After the first day of games, there’s a dance contest that runs late into the evening. At the end of day two, there will be a Battle of the Bands. And finally, on day three, MBA students will gather in the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris for a black-tie gala with a Casino Royale theme when the winner of the event will be announced. The final party isn’t expected to end until 4 a.m.

Until then, however, it’s all about the games—and the points each team can rack up with every win. The winner of each competition, either individually or as a team typically gets 20 points; second place is awarded 15 points; third place, 10 points. If a school fails to place in the top three but still plays it earns 2 points. So the more competitions a school enters, the more likely his chances of winning the big trophy.

In one of the first games on day one, Matthias Boehm, an HEC MBA from Germany who is on the core leadership team for the tournament, faced off against Rémy Tran, an MBA from the National University of Singapore in a match of table tennis.

Unbeknownst to Boehm, his opponent has been playing the game for more than a dozen years, extensively in middle school, though he still dabbles in it as a club sport. There are up to three games in a match, with 11 points the winning score and 47 players in all.

The HEC vs. NUS game turned out to be a blowout. Tran won the first game 11-2 and the second by a score of 11-4.


“Imagine my luck,” laughs Boehm after the loss. “It’s still great fun, and I have to give it to the guy. When you lose, it’s a knockout. It’s ruthless.”

But Boehm says HEC’s hope in table tennis was a classmate from India, Vatsal Tolasaria, who came to the school after being an associate product manager at InMobi in Bengaluru, Karnataka. He has been playing ping pong for 12 of his 28 years, competitively in school and college.


Jagtej Singh, known as Jag, from ESADE Business School played a fierce game of table tennis

Tolasaria had been captain of the tennis team at Birla Institute of Technology and Science where he earned a master’s in chemistry and a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. His tennis team had won the national inter-college competition for the first time ever in 2016, only to follow up with a repeat win the next year.

But in the first game of his match, he was beaten by an intense player from ESADE Business School, Jagtej Singh. Before the first volley, Singh stretched his body at one end of the table and with each serve would loudly stomp a foot on the floor of the gym.

Singh, a former sales manager for the Hilti Group in India and president of ESADE’s consulting club, took the first game easily on an 11-7 score, flabbergasting his opponent with an incredibly quirky serve. But HEC came back in the second game, 11-8, with some fierce back-and-forth volleys that were sometimes so fast they were hard to follow.


“We are feeling pressure, for sure,” admitted Aman Sharma, an ESADE classmate watching the game. Singh, he added, was their best table tennis player. “We need ESADE to win.”

With the match tied, the pair fought with a new and higher intensity in the third and final game. Ultimately, Tolasaria won with a commanding smash from the left side of the table, 11-7.

In these games, it is not unusual for a school to bring a ringer or two. In the past, Oxford has been known to bring Olympic rowers into the rowing competition. And this year, HEC brought a former professional player into the basketball tournament.


At six-foot-nine, HEC Paris MBA student Mouphtaou Yarou towered over everyone on the basketball court. He played professionally for ten years


Mouphtaou Yarou is a six-foot-nine MBA student who had played professionally for ten years in France. He towered over every one of his teammates as well as every member of the opposing team, a medley of players wearing bright orange vests from three schools: IMD, Rotterdam, and Strathclyde. In fact, Yarou was a full seven inches taller than the opposition’s tallest player, Nantwin Apffelstaedt, an MBA from IMD who is originally from Cape Town.

After the first 12-minute half, HEC already built a commanding 28-8 lead. Despite his formidable talent on the court, Yarou turned out to be the quintessential team player, passing the ball as often as he would shoot it and sitting out in both halves to allow teammates more playtime.

The medley squad often failed to cover HEC’s players and gave up far too many turnovers to be truly competitive. The game ended with a lopsided 60-28 score, refereed by HEC’s former basketball coach who has watched over the MBAT games for 23 years.

Apffelstaedt, who tried to rally the team during the half-break, did not seem disappointed. He came, he said, for the fun and enjoyed the game despite its outcome.


The Rotterdam School of Management beat Oxford and ESADE In dodge ball and posed for a winning photo after both matches


One of the day’s fiercest competitions was in dodgeball. After Rotterdam School of Management beat Oxford in a sudden death match, the team readied to play ESADE Business School. “We figured out a couple of techniques that we used in the game,” explains Zaeem Karman, an MBA from RSM. “We try to hold the ball as long as possible and target one player to get out.”

The Rotterdam team, 60 students in total, boarded a bus at 12:15 a.m., arriving at HEC’s campus at 5:45 a.m. to play in the games. No one on the squad showed any evidence of having a bad night’s sleep.

ESADE didn’t seem impressed. “I didn’t bring enough tissues for you guys,” touted one ESADE player.

He would end up eating his words. In the first game, RSM won handily, with four out of their six players left. Rotterdam also won the second round, with two players standing.

The playing was red-blooded and impassioned, with sweat dripping from many of the players. At one point, an ESADE player was spiked in the head and fell flat on the ground in the final game. He had to be helped off the field of play. He was stung by a ringer of sorts in the boyfriend of one of Rotterdam’s MBA students who could throw one of the red rubber balls as if he were a Major League pitcher. Isaac Johnson, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was so formidable that ESADE players began to openly target him. When they finally managed to get him out of a game, the ESADE team cheered loudly.

ESADE came back to win the third round but finally lost the fourth game and the tournament.


Serious faces at a poker table at HEC Paris. Seven players from Cambridge, Oxford, IMD, IE, ESMT Berlin, HEC, and Rotterdam gathered at one table


The Texas Hold’em poker tournament started with 29 players at three tables. By the end of the first day, only 12 remained on a pair of tables, with two Oxford MBA students at the very top of the dozen left.

Ayush Lalchandani, who had founded his own consulting group for new and established restaurants in New Delhi, India, grew his 400 point pot into 2,280. One of his classmates, James Naisbitt, who had won the Rewley Scholarship with a 750 GMAT, ended the day at 1,702.

At Naisbitt’s table, the seven players from IMD, HEC, IE, ESMT Berlin, Cambridge, Oxford and Rotterdam, rarely cracked a smile. The conversation was minimal over three solid hours of game time. Each MBA student played with a surprising intensity in a room warmed by the sun, placing down chips on a green felt table.

At one point in the game, Naisbitt, who has played poker for the past ten years including at tables in Vegas, pushed every last chip he had into the middle in a final gambit to survive the game. He had run into a string of bad luck, his cache of chips increasingly diminished hand after hand.

Yet, he won with a full house, three sevens, and a pair of sixes. From then on, he seemed golden, bluffing his way through several wins. Every now and then, Oxford classmates would stand at the doorway of the room to cheer him on.

Also at the oval table was the only surviving woman among the 12: Ganisha Bhawsar, an HEC MBA student and former banker, who only began playing poker for the first time just six months ago. Bhawsar conceded that she was shaking at times because the playing was so intense.

That is MBAT at its best.

DON’T MISS: The MBA Olympics: Organizing The Largest Global Gathering Of MBAs

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