Junior chess grandmaster Illia Nyzhnyk was among six players representing Webster University’s chess team in the President’s Cup tournament in New York.
At a young age, Nyzhnyk started playing chess. He became interested in the sport at four years old and became a grandmaster at the age of 14.
Nyzhnyk played two games during the Chess Final Four and drew black pieces for both games. The player with the black piece is at a disadvantage because they move last.
“My goal was to hold the board, meaning either to draw or win,” Nyzhnyk said. “However, both of my opponents were decent grandmasters, so both of the games ended in a relatively quick draw.”
The Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) has never lost a match in tournament play. Nyzhnyk said any moves that can potentially put a player at risk of losing are not to be taken.
“Our playing strategy is to play for two results,” Nyzhnyk said. “Meaning every game should be played as safe as possible.”
Chess assistant coach Paul Truong said Nyzhnyk does what is best for the team. He also said Nyzhnyk and teammate Alexsandr Shimanov were both able to overcome drawing black pieces.
“Their job was basically to hold with the black pieces and Illia did his job,” Truong said. “It was a very important step for us. Illia is rock solid, so when we need him to hold, he does his job.”
Nyzhnyk grew up in Ukraine and is a National Champion there as well as as European Champion.
Nyzhnyk said his biggest influence was his Ukrainian chess school coach Bodnar Nikolay. He also said he felt like he had more opportunities to play chess in Ukraine because he was not studying for classes at a university.
“At some point, I felt like I knew all the people of my level,” Nyzhnyk said. “Here, it is pretty much the same now.”
According to Nyzhnyk, head coach Susan Polgar and Truong have helped improve his game since he came to Webster University.
“They try to help in the best way possible,” Nyzhnyk said. “To become stronger, I will need to play more tournaments, which is hard to do with school.”
Teammate Ashwin Jayaram said Nyzhnyk is a chess prodigy.
“In my opinion, he didn’t get enough opportunities to further develop his talent,” Jayaram said. “He has an all-around style where he can play very solid chess, but can also out-calculate his opponent in complicated positions.”
As Nyzhnyk enters his senior season, he has two main goals.
“Ideally, I would like to get my rating to 2650, which is good enough to be in the top 100 in the world,” Nyzhnyk said. “Also keep my academics on a decent level.”