The Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) took a first place tie at the Pan-American Championships in New Orleans Dec. 30. The tie for first place was between Webster’s A team and B team, with the C team finishing third.
It was the fifth year in a row that the chess team either finished first or tied for first in the championships.
Grandmaster Manuel Leon Hoyos was moved from Team A to Team B for the Pan-Am Championship. Hoyos was one of three players to score 5.5/6 in the tournament.
Hoyos said the competition was very tough at the Pan-Ams. He said having a world-class coach and great team players were keys to success in the tournament.
“Before the Pan-Ams, we had three weeks of intense training,” Hoyos said. “As soon as everyone was done with their finals, we started to train eight hours a day.”
Head coach Susan Polgar said it took a lot of hard work and dedication for the team to succeed. The chess team practices all year to stay on top of their game.
“We try to create a family atmosphere, and emphasize team spirit and teamwork,” Polgar said. “At the same time, we have high expectations to be professional during preparation as well as during the event.”
With Webster’s win at the Pan-Am Championship, they move on to the College Chess Final Four in New York this March. A win in the Final Four would give Webster its fifth National Chess Championship in a row.
Assistant Coach Paul Truong compared Polgar’s record to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who won seven national titles in a row. Polgar also won two National Chess Titles at Texas Tech before coming to Webster in 2012.
“There is a challenge in college sports,” Truong said. “You have to deal with turnover and rebuild. We are very proud of our students. For us personally, there is no time to celebrate. Rebuilding the roster year after year… it is hard work year around.”
Truong said the team tries to save every penny and they decided to take a bus to New Orleans for the Pan-Am championships.
“We make up the difference by putting in more work,” Truong said. “In fact, when the other programs heard we were taking a bus, they were laughing at us. We have to take a bus, when other teams fly.”
Truong said Polgar has convinced the players to play as a team and to check their egos for the good of the team. Truong added most of the players on the team are stars where they are from.
“They all accepted it without whining,” Truong said. “They play where the coaches put them and do their best to fight for the team. That is so important for the event and a team program like this.”
Polgar said the individual rankings are practically irrelevant because each player is capable of beating a higher ranked opponent in a single game. She also said the coaches align their teams based on matchups.
“We have been very successful in convincing our students to do that,” Polgar said. “For example, Russia is a number-one ranked team, but they have not won since 2002. They don’t work as a team.”
Polgar said the coaching staff helped build a solid foundation for the chess team to be successful since players come and go.
“We are obviously very proud of our students,” Polgar said. “We are very appreciative of their dedication to the university. I think it is important to point out not a single year is it the same makeup of the team.”