UNITED STATES NEWS

A bold move in the small world of college chess

Apr 5, 2012, 7:33 PM

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – It was one of the most brazen moves in the chess world since the Najdorf Sicilian Defense, perhaps even the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.

Fresh off her second straight national championship, the legendary chess coach at Texas Tech is jumping to another school and taking all the top members of the team with her. No one has ever seen anything like it in intercollegiate competition, not even among powerhouse basketball and football teams that are worth many millions of dollars.

Similar deals are not uncommon in academia, where a star professor recruited by another school may bring along a cadre of researchers, lab assistants and post-docs. But in the competitive realm, the practice is virtually unheard of.

“There’s no equivalent,” said Mike Hoffpauir, a Virginia consultant who helped organize the recent President’s Cup chess tournament, the game’s version of the Final Four, which was won by Texas Tech. “If the coach from Kentucky gets hired by UCLA this summer, the whole team’s not going to go with him.”

Susan Polgar, a home-schooled prodigy from Budapest and the world’s top female player by the time she was 15, is taking her champions to private Webster University in suburban St. Louis, a city that is already home to the World Chess Hall of Fame and the U.S. national championships.

It also has a swanky new chess club and scholastic center bankrolled by a billionaire, the kind of place where students can immerse themselves in chess arcana, learning moves like the King’s Indian Defense and others with mysterious names steeped in the game’s 1,500-year history.

Webster lured the team with the promise of a greater financial investment.

“The program grew rapidly, and Texas Tech wasn’t ready to grow with the speed of the program,” said the coach, who founded the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, known as SPICE, in 2007. “St. Louis today is the center of chess in America. It just seemed like a perfect fit.”

The Webster program will be based on campus, but its top players will clearly spend plenty of time at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, a 6,000-square-foot shrine to the game where the resident rock star is Hikaru Nakamura, the top-ranked U.S. player and No. 6 in the world. He, too, is a recent transplant to St. Louis. The club was bankrolled by businessman Rex Sinquefield, a retired financial executive and avid chess player who is also active in Missouri politics.

The Knight Raiders of Lubbock won their second straight President’s Cup in Herndon, Va., last weekend, defeating chess powerhouses New York University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Texas at Dallas.

There are no hard feelings in Lubbock, said Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook. The school plans to continue its chess program despite the departure of Polgar and her all-star squad of seven chess grandmasters, the game’s highest competitive ranking.

“What these kids have done in the short time they’ve been here is amazing,” Cook said. “They’ve put us in some niches where we haven’t been before. They’ve put us in some countries where we haven’t been before.”

The championship chess team has also helped elevate the Texas Tech brand, Cook said _ though chess matches draw far less attention than Tech football under former coach Mike Leach or Red Raider basketball under the irascible Bobby Knight.

Polgar said she was recruited by a half-dozen top programs, though she declined to identify her unsuccessful suitors. In the end, she chose Webster, a former Catholic women’s college in a leafy suburb that now has more than 100 campuses worldwide, including many near U.S. military bases, as well as residential programs in Vienna, Geneva and China.

Provost Julian Schuster, a native of the former Yugoslavia who calls himself “a very strong fan and casual player,” helped broker the deal after learning of Polgar’s interest through mutual friends. He envisions a broader academic focus revolving around chess, espousing a “dream of connecting chess as not only a game but as a didactic tool, to apply in a learning setting.”

Neither Polgar nor Schuster would discuss the specifics of the financial commitment to attract the program.

The Texas Tech students transferring to Webster in the fall will receive scholarships. At Tech, the program had a $30,000 pot for the entire team, but Polgar noted that some top chess schools award individual students that amount.

The team members hail from around the world: Germany, Brazil, Iran, Hungary, Israel and Azerbaijan. In interviews, several said they had no qualms about the surprise relocation. Such is their faith in Polgar, who in 2005 set a Guinness World Record by playing 326 simultaneous games _ and winning 309 of those matches, with 14 draws and just three losses. That feat also gave her another world record, with 1,131 consecutive games played.

“It was a very easy decision,” said Georg Meier, a freshman from Trier, Germany. “When the program decided to move to St. Louis, I didn’t have to think twice.”

About 30 schools nationwide have competitive chess teams, from Yale and Princeton to Miami-Dade College and the University of West Indies. And while college chess remains a niche activity, Polgar’s unprecedented move has given the game a brief moment in the spotlight.

Hoffpauir’s consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton heavily recruits elite chess players for their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Some Wall Street firms do the same.

“These players that were here were the equivalent of Kansas and Kentucky, athletes at the top of their game,” Hoffpauir said.

___

Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at
http://twitter.com/azagier

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - Bishop Lamor Miller-Whitehead speaks with the media, May 24, 2022, in New York. The Brooklyn...

Associated Press

Brooklyn preacher goes on trial for fraud charges prosecutors say fueled lavish lifestyle

NEW YORK (AP) — A Brooklyn preacher with ties to New York City Mayor Eric Adams is set to go on trial Monday in Manhattan federal court over charges that he looted a parishioner’s retirement savings and tried to extort a businessman to fuel his lavish lifestyle. Lamor Miller-Whitehead, 47, a Rolls Royce-driving bishop, faces […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Alexander Smirnov, second from right, leaves the courthouse on Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. ...

Associated Press

Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens will appear in court as judge weighs his detention

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former FBI informant charged with fabricating a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden’s family is set to appear in a California federal court on Monday as a judge considers whether he must remain behind bars while he awaits trial. Special counsel David Weiss’ office is pressing U.S. District Judge […]

2 hours ago

Rock Creek Forest Elementary School students exit a diesel bus before attending school, Friday, Feb...

Associated Press

Demand for electric school buses finally starts to make headway

Electric school buses have been driving in California for nearly a decade but the demand for more across the country has been increasing.

5 hours ago

leap day...

Associated Press

How did leap day begin and why? A look by the numbers

How did leap year begin and why? A look at some of the numbers, history and lore behind the (not quite) every four-year phenom.

7 hours ago

Associated Press

AT&T will give $5 to customers hit by cellphone network outage

DALLAS (AP) — AT&T says it will give affected customers $5 each to compensate for last week’s cellphone network outage that left many without service for hours. The Dallas-based company said on its website that customers will get the $5 credit on their account within two billing cycles. The credit does not apply to AT&T […]

7 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 23, 2024, in Washington...

Associated Press

Biden is summoning congressional leaders to the White House to talk Ukraine and government funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will convene the top four congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday to press lawmakers on passing an emergency aid package for Ukraine and Israel, as well as averting a looming government shutdown next month, according to a White House official. The top four leaders include House Speaker […]

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

A bold move in the small world of college chess