Cuban grandmasters upstage rivals at SPICE Cup


The rivalry between Webster University and St. Louis University (SLU) was front and center during the eleventh annual SPICE Cup, but two Cuban national chess players stole the show.

Cuban grandmaster (GM) Lazaro Bruton Batista bested fellow Cuban GM Yunieski Quesada and SLU GM Darius Swiercz to take home the first place trophy. All three players were tied with four wins and five draws, so a tiebreaker was used to determine the champion.

Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) coach Paul Truong said when three or more players are tied for first, the SPICE Cup goes strictly by tiebreakers.

“The tiebreaks are based on the guidelines of the International Chess Federation,” Truong said. “For example, what is the average strength of your opponent, how well did they do? We have nothing to do with it.”

Swiercz said the two Cuban grandmasters are well known for their skills at chess. Both of his games against the two Cubans ended in draws.

“The level of competition was high and pretty even,” Swiercz said. “There were lots of grandmasters, and everyone was fighting for the best result. I am happy that I was undefeated in such a strong field.”

Webster GM Vasif Durarbayli said Swiercz is a very good player and friend of his. He competed against Swiercz in both the Pan-American Chess Championships and President’s Cup last season.

“SLU has strong players and definitely is looking to challenge us, although our team is still number one,” Durarbayli said. “The competition will be interesting and we are looking forward to that.”

Swiercz said it is always a challenge to play Webster since they are well coached and have strong players. However, he feels that SLU is ready to give Webster a run for the national championship.

“We worked hard on improving our chess as well,” Swiercz said. “I scored very well against the grandmasters from Webster at the 2017 SPICE Cup. It will be a very interesting competition in the Pan-Ams.”

Sixty-one chess players from 19 different countries competed in the SPICE Cup, which lasted from Oct. 21-26 at the Clayton Plaza Hotel. In all, 21 grandmasters competed in the tournament.

According to Truong, 16 of his players competed in the tournament, from the A, B, C and D teams. He said the SPICE Cup is a good way for his players to practice for the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships.

“For our lower rated players, this is an incredible opportunity for them to play strong competition,” Truong said. “Imagine you are a D-III tennis team and you get to play in Wimbledon. It’s a great experience for them. For our A and B team members, this is what they are training and practicing for.”

This is only the second time since the SPICE Cup came to Webster University that a Webster chess player did not win or tie for first place.

Ray Robson finished in fifth place, which was the highest among chess players from Webster University. Robson had previously won the SPICE Cup in 2012 and tied for first place last year. Webster chess players Alexsandr Shimanov and Illia Nyzhnyk also finished in the top ten of the 2017 SPICE Cup.

Truong said that Susan Polgar and him started using analytics in their chess program after seeing it in other sports. He said he was friends with Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and admired Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who both pioneered analytics in their respective sports.

“We rely a lot on analytics to show precisely pinpoint the problem,” Truong said. “It is completely objective, so that’s basically what we have done since the SPICE Cup finished. We went through all of this to try to figure out exactly where the problems are, so we can try to fix the problems we have.”

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