June 26, 2017

Webster University chess team wins Final Four championship

During the Webster University chess team’s last match of the Final Four chess competition, chess grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky said his opponent made an unexpected move.

“It is not a rare occasion that the opponent might choose a different opening than what was prepared,” Bykhovsky said in an email. “In such a situation, the best thing is just to move on and not to think about anything besides the actual position.”

Six Webster students advanced to the Final Four of chess competition on April 6-7 in Rockville, Md. Those students were grandmasters Wesley So, Ray Robson, Georg Meier, Fidel Corrales Jimenez, Manuel Leon Hoyos and Bykhovsky.

“A lot of people think — like a fun game — you sit down, you play chess,” Webster chess coach Paul Truong said. “No, there’s a lot more work we have to put in.”

The Webster chess team is coached by Truong and Susan Polgar, chess grandmaster and founder of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE).

Polgar and Truong said they spent hundreds of hours researching through databases for potential opponents and making scenarios in order to evaluate the best matchups for specific players.

During the Final Four, once the players sat in their individual chess games, they were not able to talk to their coaches.

“Let’s say, in basketball, you can have a certain game plan,” Truong said. “If it doesn’t work, at halftime, you can change. Here, you don’t have that option because once the player sits down at a table and they start playing, we cannot say anything to them. … They are on their own once they sit down.”

In a chess tournament, each match has four games.

Before a tournament begins, the teams draw lots, which determine the color chessboard they will have from the first board to the fourth. During the first game of Webster’s final match at the competition, its first board was white.

However, Webster’s drawing  resulted in it playing University of Texas at Dallas and University of

Maryland-Baltimore on black boards.

Beginning on black boards in chess can be a major disadvantage to the game, said Truong.

“You can make the first move when starting on a white board,” Truong said. “You can dictate what you want to play and how you want to play. How positional, sharp dictates the pace of the game.”

Despite this challenge, Webster prevailed during its last match in the Final Four to earn it the championship. The team defeated University of Texas at Dallas 3-1.

“Between 4 to 5 minutes, in a moment where I was watching the games online, one of our teammates won and the other drew,” grandmaster Fidel Corrales Jimenez said. “It was a great moment, because we were ahead.”

On, Monday, April 8, Webster University held a celebration for The Final Four champions in Marletto’s Marketplace. Approximately 50 people were in attendance as the players, students, faculty and friends celebrated the chess team’s victory.

“It was really good to see how these six guys work together,” Truong said. “And the most important thing is — these six guys, six different countries, six different cultures, six different languages — and yet when we went to this competition, we fight. They’re like brothers.”

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