Two Webster University chess players helped the U.S. national chess team bring home the gold for the first time in 40 years at the forty-second Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The U.S. team defeated Canada in the eleventh round to tie for first with the Ukraine team. After tiebreakers, the U.S. team finished in sole possession of first place and won gold.
Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Education (SPICE) assistant coach Paul Truong said the U.S. team won by the slimmest of margins and the Ukrainian National Team expected to win after tiebreakers.
The victory represents the first gold medal for the U.S. chess team since 1976. That year, the Soviet Union along with several Arab nations did not compete because of a boycott of the location in Haifa, Israel. Before ‘76, the last gold medal by a U.S. Olympic team was 1937. The U.S. finished eleventh in the forty-first Olympiad in 2014, according to chess-results.com.
“This is the best that the U.S. have had as far as I can remember,” Truong said. “The U.S. has never had this many top talents ever. I think it is a very big deal. And not only that they won, but the nucleus of the team, none of the team members are 30. They have a very young team. This is a nucleus of a team that can go for another four, six, eight years, easily.”
Truong also said there is a new crop of young players looking to compete for spots on the national team coming in 2018, so the team could get even better.
Grand Master (GM) Ray Robson was one of the members of the U.S. Olympic team. He currently plays for SPICE at Webster University and was part of the team that won the 2015 National Championship. It was the fourth consecutive National Championship for SPICE.
Former SPICE member GM Wesley So was also a member on the team. So played for SPICE for two years, each year making it to the Chess Final Four Championship. In 2014, So left Webster University to pursue a professional chess career for the United States Chess Federation.
Truong said So will always be a member of SPICE and celebrates his gold medal victory just as much as he does Robson’s.
“[So] became a top ten in the world because of SPICE, because of Webster,” Truong said. “This is what the model we tell all of [our players]. No matter what, you’re a part of [SPICE], just like you’re an alum of the university.”
Along with the team medal, So won an individual gold for his performance on board three.
International Master John Donaldson captained the team in 2016. Donaldson captained the U.S. team in six chess Olympiads, spanning 1986-1996.
“He’s as good as he can get when it comes to this situation because this is the first time that the U.S. have, literally, five superstars,” Truong said. “It’s tough to deal with a lot of egos and John was able to do that and all credits to him. It’s not easy.”
Current SPICE members GM Liem Le of Vietnam and GM Vasif Durarbayli of Azerbaijan played for their respective countries at the Olympiad. Former SPICE members Katerina Nemcova, Georg Meier, Inna Agrest and Gabor Papp all competed in Baku as well.