Chess team sweeps national championship


Webster’s chess team has won more titles than any other chess program in the U.S. Two Webster athletes won first and second place at the recent U.S. Chess Federation’s 2019 U.S. Open Championship. 

By Jenna Jones

Illia Nyzhnyk and his teammate Lazaro Bruzon took first and second place at The U.S. Chess Federation’s 2019 U.S. Open Championship. The team traveled to compete in the U.S. Open in Orlando, Fla. this year on August 11th. 

“It feels really great,” Bruzon said. “It’s a very important tournament. I’m very happy with the place that I got.” 

Nzyhnyk said he felt great about his first place win, but he tries to focus more on the game instead of wins and losses. 

“It’s great,” Nzyhnyk said, “But, the focus of me playing is not to get noticed. It’s not why I love chess and competing. It’s for the sake of playing and becoming the best.”

The team itself holds 58 titles, more than all the other chess programs in the U.S. Webster also holds a  record-breaking 360+ weeks at the number one spot in the country.

“I feel like we have a great potential,” Nzyhnyk said.  “We are here for a reason.” 

Illia Nyzhynk practices chess at the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE). Photo by Vanessa Jones.

Paul Truong, fellow coach to Grandmaster Susan Polgar, said  the wins are expected. Webster’s reputation attracts the best of the best. 

“New recruits could go anywhere, but they chose to come here because they want to be a part of the winning tradition,” Truong said.

Nyzhnyk said he loves competition.Ultimately, he attributes his wins to strategizing, along with confidence and plenty of practice. 

Truong also stresses practice to his players. 

“The only thing that we can control is how hard we work,” Truong said, “The competition is trying to catch up with us and unless we stay one step ahead of everybody, it’s going to happen.”

“Work harder, train harder, the winning tradition continues,” he tells them. 

Bruzon said hard work and discipline is essential in both chess and in real life.

“Hard work is key in everything,” Bruzon said. “Every day, do your best and try hard, and you can achieve anything.”

Going into the competition, Nyzhnyk said he felt a bit rusty. He practiced less than he has for prior competitions. 

Bruzon said his biggest challenge was Nzyhnyk, his own teammate. He played against him in the championship and the match ended in a draw.

In chess tournaments, the ranking is based off of a point system. Each draw is half a point, with a win being a full point. 

Nyzhnyk said he felt surprised that his first four games went so quickly. The final competitor was the previous year’s champion, Timur Gareyev, who Nzyhnyk beat in March.

“I feel like it was supposed to happen,” Nzhynyk said.

The fall starts a whole new schedule for the chess team. The team has more room to plan practices and focus on the SPICE Cup – a tournament hosted by Webster and the Susan Polgar Foundation – in October.

Truong said he wishes for other athletes to see what the Webster chess players do, to understand what level they must work at to retain their titles.

“You don’t maintain this level of excellence by taking it easy,” Truong said. 

Nzyhnyk said he learned one lesson from chess that he always follows never surrender.

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