SPICE attracts international talent



Vitaly Neimer started playing chess when he was five. As a child, Neimer said there were few opportunities in Russia for kids to play sports. He said chess was the obvious choice.

“My mom pushed me into it,” Neimer said.

Neimer quickly realized he was good at the game and went to a chess academy in Russia. A year after he started at the chess academy, he and his mother moved to Israel where he began playing under a Russian coach.

“I started to play at a club and did club tournaments. I became the champion for my age group and started to travel around,” Neimer said.

Now Neimer is a chess grandmaster, studies at Webster University and plays for its chess team.

Manuel Hoyos, one of Neimer’s teammates, was also introduced to chess at a young age.

Hoyos traveled the world playing chess after he left traditional school at 15. He joined the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) when it moved to Webster last year.

SPICE came to Webster University in 2012. Its new facility is in Webster’s Sverdrup Building.

“I think it’s good. It could be bigger, but it’s enough for now,” Neimer said about SPICE’s current facility in the Sverdrup Building.  “We are chess players, so for us the most important thing is to practice. We don’t need a football field, you know?”

Webster would like to move the SPICE facility to one of the buildings Webster bought from Eden Theological Seminary in 2010. The university has not been allowed to create a new facility for SPICE at Eden because it has not been able to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) from the City of Webster Groves for the property.

Neimer said a larger facility would allow SPICE to host tournaments, like the SPICE Cup Open on Oct. 15-19. The SPICE Cup Open will bring in competitors from around the world. But since the current facility won’t suffice, the cup will not take place at Webster, but at a hotel.

For now, the city has halted all university expansion. Webster University and Eden have filed a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to gain a CUP.

Neimer said his team does not have time to worry about the expansion. They play the game they love, and practice in the facility provided for them. Neimer said his biggest concern this year is keeping up with all his responsibilities as a junior.

“It was much easier for me in the past two years. This year I am a junior already and because

Grandmaster Manuel Hoyos traveled the world as a professional chess player before joining the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Webster University.
Grandmaster Manuel Hoyos traveled the world as a professional chess player before joining the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Webster University.

he came to Webster.

Neimer began traveling with his team for chess tournaments when he was ten years old. He played all over the world, including the Czech Republic, Vienna and Spain.

When it was time for Neimer to start looking at colleges, he turned to one of his closest friends who was attending Texas Tech University.

“One of my friends from Israel came here (the United States) before me, and kind of told me how it was,” Neimer said. “He was also a chess player, he was also competing at the time, we are the same age and he was also born in Russia. We almost have the same history. We even served in the same kind of unit in the military (in Israel).”

Neimer’s friend encouraged him to come to the United States and join SPICE. SPICE has brought players from around the world to study and play under the world renowned Chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar.

“I heard a lot of good things about Susan Polgar and the team, so I decided it was the right one for me,” Neimer said.

SPICE won the 2011 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships during Neimer’s freshman year at Texas Tech. The night they won, Polgar told her players that SPICE would be moving to Webster University. Polgar offered each of the players the option to join in on the move.

Neimer said he was happy to move to Webster with Polgar.

“We could stay in Texas or we could move with her (Polgar). Of course for me, it was a very easy choice, I wanted to be with her,” Neimer said.

He left his life of travel and professional chess to continue his education and play chess in St. Louis, which he said was one of the best cities for chess in the world.

“I’m still learning new things, not just chess, but new things,” Hoyos said.

Both Neimer and Hoyos said they plan on entering a traditional work force when they graduate from Webster, instead of pursuing a career in professional chess.


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