Chess team captures Pan-Am Championship, qualifies for Final Four

Manuel Leon Hoyos (left) and Georg Meier (right) face off during a practice on Friday, Jan. 25 at the SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute of Chess Excellence) room in Sverdrup. Coach Susan Polgar (back, left), SPICE Director of Marketing and PR Paul Truong (back, center) and SPICE member Inna Agrest (back, right) watch the proceedings. The No. 1-ranked Webster chess team was co-champion of the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship and will compete for the President’s Cup from April 6-7. PHOTO BY DAN DUNCAN.

The Webster University chess team tied itself and four other schools for first place in the 2012 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship. In the competition, Webster’s A and B teams fought through six rounds of chess against the top college teams in the country.

Webster brought the No. 1 and No. 3-ranked teams in the country with its A and B teams, respectively. In a feat accomplished only once before in the 66-year history of the World Series of College Chess, both Webster teams tied for first. Forty-four different colleges competed in the tournament, which was held Dec. 27-30 at Princeton University (N.J.).

As co-champions with three other institutions, Webster and these schools all earned spots in the College Chess Final Four, or President’s Cup, which is held April 6-7 in Herndon, Va. Webster’s A and B teams, however, will be forced to combine into only one team of six members. College Chess rules allow for only one team per school to compete in the Final Four.

Susan Polgar, Webster chess coach and founder of SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute of Chess Excellence), said she selected the final team based on the players’ competitive performances during the past few months.

The Pan-Am Intercollegiate co-champions and Final Four competitors are Webster, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Illinois.

Polgar said Illinois is a surprise team that upset the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Tech University. Polgar won the President’s Cup in 2011 and 2012 while at Texas Tech.

Preparing for the Final Four

Polgar has selected her final team of six to compete in the Final Four, but she withheld the players’ names so that opposing teams can’t adequately prepare for Webster.

That gives her team a leg up on the strategy side, since the other Final Four teams will most likely keep the same lineup they used at the Pan-Am Championship. Georg Meier, sophomore and team co-captain, believes Webster has a mental advantage as well.

“I was a professional player for a while, and I was playing for different teams and my national team, so I do not have any problems with pressure,” Meier said. “We got where we are because most of us have been playing for 10 or 15 years, and on a very high level.”

Meier and Wesley So, freshman SPICE player, agree that Webster deserves the No. 1 ranking and can win the 2013 President’s Cup — even with a shortage of experience in collegiate chess competition.

Webster is a young team, as four of the five players on the A team are freshmen. Polgar said she hasn’t seen the youth hurt the team at all.

“It was their first experience of the kind (in the Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship),” Polgar said. “Even though they are very accomplished chess players individually, this collegiate style is their first. I help them in any way I can. A lot of them are not from the U.S., so I give 100 percent of myself to them and they are trying to do their best for me.”

Resumes of individuals on Webster’s team demonstrate why Webster is regarded as the best squad in the country.

—Freshman Wesley So is the No. 1-ranked Philippine player, No. 3-ranked player under 21 years old in the world and No. 66-ranked overall player in the world.

—Freshman Ray Robson is the No. 10-ranked under-21 player in the world and the No. 8-ranked player in the U.S.

—Freshman Manuel Leon Hoyos is the No. 1 player in Mexico and the reigning U.S. Open Champion — the first Mexican-born player to earn the title.

Wesley So and six of his teammates have represented their respective countries in the Olympic Games. Five players competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Polgar has no shortage of experience at the collegiate level. In the past two years as the coach at Texas Tech, Polgar led her team to victories in the 2010 and 2011 President’s Cup. Meier, who was on that team, said Polgar’s success stems from her being more than a coach.

“She is very good at keeping the team together and (having) an idea of what is going on,” Meier said. “It’s not so much about individual training but going for the good of the team, and Susan has been doing a very good job.”

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