Webster University will advance into a new competitive field next year with the help of a game-changing legend.
In June, chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar will transfer her collegiate program, the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) and all members of her Division I team from Texas Tech University to Webster.
“We started the SPICE program at Texas Tech five years ago, and the program grew very rapidly,” Polgar said. “We felt it would be a good match to expand and grow our program better at Webster for several reasons.”
Polgar was the first woman in history to qualify for the Men’s World Chess Championship, eventually leading the World Chess Federation to change the tournament’s name. She won a gold medal in the 2004 Chess Olympiad, and is the only chess player to have won a Triple Crown — besting competitors at rapid, blitz and classical chess world championships.
In a press release, President Elizabeth Stroble said Polgar’s move to Webster would improve the university’s global reputation and academic standards, as chess is being recognized worldwide for its benefits. Chess can teach important values like strategic problem solving and the consequences of actions.
“I believe chess is an exciting educational tool,” Polgar said. “That’s probably the most important for me. It is growing by the day around the country, around the world. More and more superintendents, school districts or governments recognize the value chess can give to young people in the skills they develop.”
St. Louis has become a chess center in the United States in recent years. In 2007, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL) was established in the Central West End. The club, now recognized as one of the premier chess facilities in America, boasts two grandmasters and hosts the U.S. Championship Chess tournament. Its efforts in school programs and national competitions have earned St. Louis a ranking of “Chess City of the Year” by the United States Chess Federation for two consecutive years.
Mike Wilmering, CCSCSL communications specialist, said he’s excited that St. Louis is starting to draw major attention from the chess world.
“We’ve demonstrated a real commitment to promote chess at a national level by hosting tournaments each year,” Wilmering said. “When (players) look around the country and see who’s putting focus and energy into promoting chess, St. Louis is the first thing that comes to mind. We’re working really hard to foster great chess culture all across the greater St. Louis area, and it’s really resonating with other chess communities.”
Wilmering said CCSCSL was not involved in Polgar and Webster’s collaboration. The club has recently worked with Lindenwood University to launch a collegiate chess program. Wilmering said the school came to them last year looking for a chess table, and the beginnings of a team took off from there.
“They (Lindenwood) kind of approached us; we said there is a collegiate chess scene, and we think St. Louis is a fit for it,” Wilmering said. “We’re glad other universities recognize that as well. I hope it creates a positive competitive environment.”
Admissions counselor for Lindenwood, Lauren Nystrom, said the team is only starting to come together.
“We’re just in our recruitment stages right now for chess players,” Nystrom said. “We’ve launched a news release and gotten really positive feedback. We have hired (CCSCSL’s grandmaster-in-residence) Ben Finegold to start a chess team here. We’re excited about this new opportunity. We’re still kind of in the works.”
Polgar is bringing her “A” team from Texas Tech with her to Webster. Chris Cook, managing director of Texas Tech’s office of communications and marketing, said the school will continue having a chess pro.