Webster University S.P.I.C.E chess team advances to Final Four


This April, Susan Polgar’s Institute for Chess Excellence (S.P.I.C.E.) team will head to New York City and compete in The President’s Cup, also referred to as the Final Four. The team advance to the Final Four after taking first place at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.

The Final Four tournament is a national championship where the four top-ranked college chess teams face off for the national title and trophy.

S.P.I.C.E. will compete against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, University of Illinois and Texas Tech University.

Director of marketing relations and coach for S.P.I.C.E. Paul Truong described the team as unique.

“I don’t know if we can ever have a team this strong ever again,” Truong said. “It happened that everything just clicked at the same time. Sometimes you may see some potential talent and sometimes you have a top-notch student who wants to come, but to have a bunch of them come at the same time is just very, very rare.”

Currently, there are 15 members of the S.P.I.C.E., including nine chess grandmasters. The team is coached by Grandmaster Susan Polgar, five time gold-metal Olympiad, former world champion and director of S.P.I.C.E. at Webster.

Grandmaster Ray Robson, Webster sophomore will compete in the Final Four with S.P.I.C.E. He said it is important for teammates to pay close attention to each others’ moves during team events.

“Team events are definitely much different from individual events where you only have to focus on your own game. All of your teammates’ games and positions can affect what you should do. The good thing is everyone at Webster is really nice, and I think we connect well,” Robson said. “All of us are almost professional chess players, so we know how to play in team events. As long as the chemistry is good, our players are good enough to win anything, basically.”

Polgar said the main rival for Webster at the Final Four will be Texas Tech University, the former home of S.P.I.C.E. Polgar brought the team to Webster in 2012.

Polgar said the team will not underestimate any of the competing teams at the Final Four.

“We will study other opponents’ games just like in other sports where you look at previous games and try to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. You try to pound on their weaknesses,” Polgar said.

Polgar said she will also study her team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis communications specialist Mike Wilmering said there is also a growing theme with larger tournaments and bigger prize funds. This provides another source of income for top individual players. He said the U.S. Chess Championships will be held in St. Louis for the sixth year in a row this May. This year’s prize fund is $171,000 split between 12 players.

The Final Four tournament will be held in New York City in April.

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