SPICE team members embraces role as “hometown heroes”


SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence) came within a half a point of winning their sixth consecutive national championship, falling short to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The victory would have also given Susan Polgar the record for most collegiate championships in the United States.

Though even with success SPICE has enjoyed historically in United States, they have also received positive notoriety from their native countries. Vasif Durarbayli is among SPICE teammates to be recognized among the best chess players his native country has to offer.

“Chess is like a national sport in my country,” Durarbayli said. “Even though my country has just 9 million people, we are ranked #6 in the world, people respect chess players and we get a lot of attention. I really enjoy being in my country and representing it.”

Durarbayli, a native of Sumqayit, Azerbaijan, helped contribute to SPICE winning three consecutive President’s Cups since joining the team in 2014. In order to receive such standing in his native country and then at Webster University, Durarbayli called the process of becoming a Grandmaster a “psychological barrier.”

In order to become a Grandmaster and raise standing, Durarbayli discussed some of the requirements, which includes three Grandmaster norms and crossing the 2500 “rating barrier.”

“Every time I was close, some bad tournament occurred,” Durarbayli said. “Finally, I crossed in May in 2010 in Bosnia. It was a huge relief and proudness.”

Fellow teammate Illia Nyzhnyk experienced similar success and attention in his country. At one point prior to joining Webster University, Nyzhnyk said he was surprised to have even received an offer to Susan Polgar’s Institute, but he has since been able to have four different trips to the President’s Cup.

Nyzhnyk ranks as a Top 200 player in the world among active players, and top 20 nationally according to his updated Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) Rating, a system used to calculate a chess player’s skills. His teammate, Durarbayli, also ranks Top 200 (161st among active players), and sits as 7th in the entire nation.

Nyzhnyk, a Vinnytsia, Ukraine native does not see his successes as unsurpassable, though.

Five of the six President's Cup players reside outside of the United States.
Five of the six President’s Cup players reside outside of the United States.

“Ukraine has a lot of strong and talented chess players these days,” Nyzhnyk said. “I am sure that will surpass my successes very soon.”

A strong majority of the team members also have their own exclusive Wikipedia pages, where they are frequently updated to show their standard. Durarbayli did not see this aspect of his worldwide popularity as extremely impressive aside from the convenience it gives people, should they want information on him.

In terms of the rest of the team that performed to a second-place finish at the 2018 President’s Cup, they rank among the elites both nationally and globally.

Jorge Cori, a Peru native ranks 97th in the world, but FIDE ranks him as the #1-player in his native country of Peru. Teammate Aleksandr Shimanov sits at 149th all-time among active players, and sits right outside the top-30 (31st among active players) nationally. Rankings for Hungarian player Peter Prohaszka have yet to be updated.

Team captain Ray Robson is ranked 89th in the entire world, and ranks as the 8th best player in the United States. In 2012, Robson was able to elevate his reputation by becoming the youngest grandmaster in United States history.

Robson has also participated in the “blindfold blitz,” a SPICE Cup Invitational event in which players face away from the board, and maintain a mental visualization of the board, as opposed to physically making moves themselves.

Over the weekend, Robson had the opportunity to win every one of his Pan-Am Championships and President’s Cups over the course of career, and it described it as an achievement that would have been “unsurpassable by anyone else.” Given the 6-year college limit, it would have reflected a perfect collegiate chess career.

Though even as Robson and Webster University fell shy of the ultimate goal of another President’s Cup, both their previous success and their rankings among both their respective countries and among the world will remain in the history books for years to come.

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