SPICE loses first national championship in six years



Webster University’s chess team lost their first national championship since 2013 at this year’s President Cup.

Program director Mark Herman walked over to Susan Polgar to ask her for a hug in the moments after the loss.

“Next year,” Herman said as the two hugged.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) beat Webster by half a point in the tournament. Webster’s assistant coach Paul Truong said UTRGV deserved the first place trophy.

Senior Ray Robson knew only a win would keep Webster’s five-year championship streak alive. Polgar said the game was in his hands, but Robson made a mistake around the 160th move of the match. His teammates watched on their computer screens as Robson ended with a draw.

Ray Robson plays Dariusz Swiercz in round three at President's Cup
Ray Robson (right) plays Dariusz Swiercz in round three at the President’s Cup

Robson, who is ranked 89th highest chess player in the country, played on every Webster chess team during their five-year undefeated run. This year is Robson’s last at Webster. It was the only championship Robson did not win the first place trophy.

“We definitely had chances in the match,” Robson said. “All the games were hard fought.”

Robson thought the team made just a few too many mistakes to win over UTRGV. Robson ended his final tournament with two wins and one draw.

Freshman Peter Prohaszka thought he started his game off well. A loss from Prohaszka would not have given Robson the chance to save the team. Prohaszka lost his position toward the end of the game but still ended with a draw.

“When the game ended, I was happy I was able to save the game,” Prohaszka said. “But it didn’t prove enough.”

Illia Nyzhnyk watches his teammates play live on his computer
Illia Nyzhnyk watches his teammates play live on his computer

Prohaszka’s draw gave Webster a chance to tie for first place under the final four’s new co-championship rule. Polgar and Truong called out which move Robson needed to make as they watched the live feed on their screens, hoping for the game to end in a win. Robson made every move the coaches expected him to until the final moves of the game.

The Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) won the President’s Cup every year from 2011-2017. Webster’s loss this year leaves them one behind the record for most President’s Cup victories. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County holds the record with six.

Polgar said SPICE is looking for recruits potentially as highly ranked as Robson now that his time with Webster chess career is over.

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