September 19, 2019

Webster chess team places second in national championship

Grand Master Polgar says next year the team will come back stronger. 

Webster’s chess team placed second at the Chess Final Four on April 7 for the second year in a row.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) defeated Webster’s team, the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE.) Head coach Susan Polgar said she felt the sting of this year’s loss.

“It’s disappointing, but overall, second place is not that bad,” Polgar said. “We’ll work harder next year to try to regain our title.”

Susan Polgar poses with SPICE athletes at the Marshall Club in New York, N.Y.

This is the second consecutive year UTRGV won the final four. At last year’s tournament, UTRGV’s win ended Webster’s five-year winning streak. UTRGV’s coach Bartek Macieja said his team aimed to defend last year’s title.

“I was very proud of my students,” Macieja said. “We tried everything possible to defend that championship title. We made it, it was a fantastic feeling.”

The Chess Final Four, or President’s Cup, determines the top collegiate chess team. Four colleges competed for the cup: Webster, UTRGV, Harvard University and the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD).

The tournament was divided into three rounds. Webster beat Harvard 3-1 in the first round and tied with UTD in the second. Macieja didn’t expect to have such a big lead on Webster by the final round.

“I thought UTRGV had the chance to defend the championship, but thought if we were to win the championship, it would be by half a point, maximum one point,” Macieja said. “So, the match of two and a half points really surprised me in a positive sense, of course.”

UTRGV needed one and a half points to clinch in the final round, but Webster needed three.

Players earn one point if they win a game, Polgar said. Each player gets half a point after draws but no points if they lose.

UTRGV got lucky at last year’s final four because of the scoring system according to Polgar. Paul Truong, SPICE’s assistant coach and Polgar’s husband, said UTRGV won with sheer skill.

“This year, my students were motivated to show, no, last year’s win wasn’t accidental,” Macieja said. “We worked very hard the whole semester to achieve our goal which was to defend the championship title.”

Truong said SPICE players work harder than most teams. However, UTRGV brought new moves and put in a little extra this year.  

“Our guys now finally see that somebody else actually works harder than us and try harder,” Truong said.

SPICE player Illia Nyzhnyk said Webster had the opportunity to do better, but felt happy for the other team.

“They beat us this time, but next time we’re going to come back stronger,” Nyzhnyk said.

SPICE will put up a better fight next year to defeat UTRGV according to Nyzhnyk.

“They have won two times in a row, it’s hard to not consider them as a serious rival,” Nyzhnyk said. “They have a lot of strong players. We definitely need to spend more time preparing.”

Polgar said she follows the motto “win with grace, lose with dignity.” SPICE congratulated their opponents for their win, Polgar said.

Polgar said the good sportsmanship isn’t always reciprocated.

“Even as of today, after all those years of success, some are just too jealous or too disappointed when they lose,” Polgar said. “Most congratulate the winning team, but some still don’t have the best sportsmanship.”

Polgar became the first woman inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame this year.

Polgar said the team started training for the final four since the beginning of the spring semester. The team will continue to work hard for next year’s tournament according to Truong.  

“I’m very grateful to our students for all the effort that they have been putting in and continue putting in,” Polgar said. “It’s a teamwork. Without all of that we wouldn’t have had all the success in the past seven years here at Webster as we did.”

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