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Chess coach dominates in sport ruled by men
For the last seven years, Webster University Chess Head Coach Susan Polgar has coached the No. 1 ranked Division I men’s chess program in all of college. Despite the numerous trophies and accolades, the four-time world champion made it clear what her ultimate goal was.
“Changing the culture. I hope that my success will open the doors for female coaches in chess, as well as other sports,” Polgar said. “It is important to show that women can do as good of a job as men if given the right opportunities and being in the right environment.”
Polgar, the founder of the Susan Polgar Institute of Chess Excellence (SPICE), said she still does not receive the same respect as other male collegiate chess coaches simply because she is a woman, despite having more success. She says that she uses that as fuel to get better.
“If you mention John Wooden, Nick Saban, or Mike Krzyzewski, it is instant respect,” Polgar said, before listing her own accolades. “I do not get the same respect as some male coaches who won nothing. Because of this lack of respect, some male coaches behave obnoxiously to try to disrupt our routine, but we are used to it and we use this to motivate ourselves to fight harder.”
Polgar led Webster’s chess team to its seventh straight Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship victory on Dec. 30. That win qualified Webster for the Final Four of College Chess, the President’s Cup, despite the distractions that have come with it.
SPICE will make its ninth straight trip to the President’s Cup in April. Polgar won seven straight national championships from 2011 to 2017. SPICE came in second place in last year’s President’s Cup.
Polgar broke chess barriers when she became the first woman to achieve the rank of Grandmaster in 1991. Today, she holds more collegiate chess national championships than any other coach in history.
Polgar will go up against three male coaches in this year’s championship, something she has dealt with since she began coaching collegiate chess at Texas Tech University (TTU) in 2007.
Polgar and her husband, Paul Truong, started the chess program at TTU from the ground up. Truong said after SPICE won the national championship in 2012, its second straight final four victory, the chess world began to realize SPICE was a legitimate contender in collegiate chess. Truong said SPICE has had more success than other programs because of the amount of work the team puts in practicing. Truong claimed he and his wife work up to 16 hours a day, and sometimes more during tournaments. In a 10-year span, Polgar and Truong went from creating a team from scratch to the winningest team in collegiate chess. Truong said their coaching styles go together well. Truong spots weaknesses in other teams, he said, while Polgar handles the technical and informational side of the game.
Polgar attempts to close the gap between men and women in chess through the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational. Polgar’s program, which began in 2003, has awarded more than $5 million in scholarships to girls according to the SPICE website.
Tom Shutzman, Polgar’s son and Webster men’s tennis player, said Polgar has told him how she made a name for herself in a game controlled by men.
“[Polgar] was motivated to become great because a lot of outsiders believed women couldn’t play chess as well as men,” Shutzman said.
Shutzman said he uses Polgar’s attitude toward chess to motivate him in tennis.
The President’s Cup will be held at the Marshall Chess Club in New York in April. SPICE will compete against The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Harvard University.