November 18, 2017

SPICE Cup previews growing rivalry

The Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) will host its eleventh annual SPICE Cup during fall break. While players from Webster University have dominated in recent years, they will face a challenge from the emerging St. Louis University (SLU) Chess Club.

SPICE coach Paul Truong said SLU is a very serious threat to Webster University. He said his team has been training hard because they also feel the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UT-RGV) and University of Texas-Dallas (UT-D) have become stronger teams.

“Their one through four is as good as our one through four,” Truong said. “Webster has never lost a match in the final four, but this year SLU can beat us, so can UT-RGV and UT-D.”

The SLU chess club was founded by political donor Rex Sinquefield in 2015. While Webster won its fifth straight national title last season, SLU finished third overall.

SLU chess club coach Alejandro Ramirez said the amount of money spent on chess does not compare to other collegiate athletics, such as football or basketball. Ramirez also said he feels his team is ready to challenge Webster for the national title.

“Financial backing is imperative for any chess program, but these programs are not created from a vacuum,” Ramirez said. “The benefit that the university receives is also tremendous, as both Webster and SLU have gained an incredible reputation because of their chess team. They have been able to attract brilliant minds to their academic programs.”

St. Louis University chess club coach Alejandro Ramirez said two of his players will be competing, Dariusz Swiercz and Francesco Rambaldi.

“Competing against the SPICE team is not a new experience for me,” Ramirez said. “Besides last year’s tough battles, I used to be a player back when Susan and Paul were at Texas Tech. Chess players live and breathe competition, and it doesn’t really matter who you are playing against. At this level, you have to be ready to beat just about anyone.”

The event will be held at the Clayton Plaza Hotel from Oct. 21-26. $16,500 worth of cash prizes will be awarded at the SPICE Cup, including $5,000 for the first place winner.

According to Truong, 20 grandmasters will be competing in the SPICE Cup.

“I think it is a wonderful opportunity for Webster University because that’s how we have got a lot of our players who currently come to Webster,” Truong said. “To come to a tournament like this, they get to see what we do and see our players. Maybe get to see the campus more, so that is the best way to recruit.”

Past winners of the SPICE Cup include Webster chess players Le Liem, Illia Nyzhnyk and Ray Robson.

Robson won the SPICE Cup in 2012 and tied for first last year. After winning the SPICE Cup in 2012, Truong recruited Robson to Webster.

“The first year I played, I also had to play many of my new teammates for the first time,” Robson said. “Which was an interesting dynamic, but fortunately I don’t think it bothered me much. The last few years, the tournament has been especially strong, so tying for first was definitely a good result.”

Truong said there will be several Webster students competing and thinks this year’s SPICE Cup will be the most competitive field it has ever had.

“It’s a big challenge because there is going to be a lot of strong players coming,” Truong said. “A lot of them are from outside the St. Louis area.”

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