Correction: This story originally stated that this was the second year in a row that Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) has won the President’s Cup. This is the second year in a row that SPICE has won the President’s Cup at Webster. SPICE has won four President’s Cups in a row — prior to their move to Webster the team won two at Texas Tech University.
This year marks the second in a row that the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) has won the President’s Cup while at Webster University. SPICE Grandmaster Wesley So said history repeated itself this year — SPICE scored the same points they did in 2013.
The April 6 Cup, also known as the “Final Four of Chess,” featured four universities. The University of Illinois, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Texas Tech University lost to Webster University’s SPICE team.
SPICE Coach and Grandmaster Susan Polgar said she and her team went in with confidence, but had moments of doubts, much like So.
“There were no assurances,” So said. “We have to overestimate our opponents and we have to work harder to win.”
So told The Journal last April he came to Webster to play chess two years after he graduated high school at age 16. So became a professional chess player at age 10. Chess is a mental game for him.
SPICE prepares for tournaments physically as well. He said the team runs and does CrossFit three times a week. Polgar said her team also works hard academically. SPICE Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky said the event was intense, and winning was “a big achievement.”
“The President’s Cup is the most important tournament of the year, and naturally there is excitement surrounding the event,” Bykhovsky said in an email interview. “We were the top seed and the reigning champion, but it all came down to the last match.”
SPICE Grandmaster Fidel Corrales said the team played better during last year’s tournament because they did not lose any games. This year, Webster only conceded one. Corrales said the games were tough, even though Webster was “the clear favorite.”
“The whole time, our minds are on first place,” Corrales said. “You don’t want to get second or third. You want first.”
There are only two required events a year for the chess team. The Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship is in December. The winners of that event qualify for the President’s Cup.
According to Webster Today, SPICE won the championship by one full point. Polgar said last weekend’s Cup was difficult for the team.
This was the fourth year Bykhovsky and Polgar have been to the Cup. Bykhovsky is no stranger to Polgar’s coaching. He started with Polgar at Webster’s rival, Texas Tech, and said her coaching style has evolved. But he said the core of her teaching stayed the same. She said she felt for SPICE’s former home.
“I felt sorry for them (Texas Tech), but I have to root for the Webster team, of course,” Polgar said.
Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin called the Cup the “top collegiate chess tournament in the nation” and said Webster is recognized at a national level due to its chess success. Giblin said it has already been addressed by the Christian Science Monitor, KSDK, the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and twice by the Washington Post, making Webster known “in hundreds of thousands of homes.”
He said chess has been recognized more and more on a global level, which plays a part in student recruitment and helps promote current programs.
“Chess was brought here (to Webster) as part of the educational mission,” Giblin said.
Giblin said Polgar has helped attract women to the sport, which “falls into the mission of Webster itself,” referring to Webster’s origins as an all-women college.
According to SPICE’s blog, Webster walked away from the tournament with 9.5 points, surpassing the four other schools. Polgar said the team will prepare for next year like they always have, and will use this weekend as a learning experience. She hopes for a “three-peat” in 2015.
“They worked very hard since January, and made a lot of personal sacrifices, to be ready physically, mentally and chess-wise, to defend their National Championship title and make Webster proud,” Polgar told Webster Today. “No coach can be prouder of their players than me.”