Susan Polgar, head coach of the Knight Raiders and director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, led the Texas Tech chess team to a second win at the Final Four national competition in Washington D.C.
Polgar is the first woman in history to lead a men’s Division I team to two straight national championships.
“It feels really good,” Polgar said. “We proved ourselves that last year was not an accident.”
The competition began Friday and concluded Sunday, with the Knight Raiders claiming the title of the country’s top intercollegiate team at the President’s Cup, the main Final Four of College Chess event.
“It was a really close competition between UT Dallas and UMBC,” Polgar said. “We scored eight points and UT and UMBC tied second with seven-and-a-half. We just won by half a point.”
Anatoly Bykhovsky, a sophomore finance major from Israel, said UT Dallas and UMBC were tough competitors, but it felt great to have finished in first place, despite the closeness of the competition.
Andre Diamant, a sophomore economics major from Brazil, competed at nationals with the team last year, as well.
“This year was harder,” he said. “I played the last game and I had a worse position. I needed to draw this game so the team gets to be a champion.”
Bykhovsky, Diamant, Georg Meier, a freshman finance major from Germany, and Elshan Mordiabadi, a business graduate student from Iran, participated in the tournament. Denes Boros, a sophomore psychology major from Hungary, and Vitaly Neimer, a freshman finance major from Israel, were two alternates who also attended.
After this year, all eight members of the “A” team, including Diamant and Bykhovsky, will be transferring with Polgar to Webster University in St. Louis this fall.
“The SPICE team, as you know, many of them are transferring to Webster University, along with the SPICE program,” Polgar said, “but the SPICE team is trying to win, of course, in the future as well. I know we have many competitors in the future.”
According to the Webster University Chess website, the university previously has never had a chess team on campus. Better funding provides opportunities to maintain the high level of the SPICE program and recruitment of student players.
“For the first four years of the program, we basically relied on a large donation from one generous donor to fund a little bit more than four full scholarships which is equivalent to $80,000 per year,” Polgar said.
The money was divided between 21 students currently in the SPICE program, she said. The donation was running out, which would prevent many of the Division I National Championship team from graduating.
“My family and I are very fond of Lubbock and Texas Tech and we would have loved to have the opportunity to remain with Tech for years to come,” Polgar said. “But the welfare of my students comes first and that is why I had to look for various alternatives for them. They played their hearts out for me and I had to make sure that they all can graduate from school.”
SPICE would have preferred to stay at Tech, Polgar said.
“Only after SPICE and the entire Division I national championship team made a commitment to move to Webster University, we got the news that the donor agreed to continue the funding,” she said. “In addition, Texas Tech also decided to allocate a substantial amount of money for annual chess scholarships. If this would have happened timely, the entire team and the SPICE program would have remained at Texas Tech.”
Polgar said the Knight Raiders would have no trouble securing funding after her leave. She said she currently does not know who will take her place.
“The new director of the Texas Tech chess program and the new head coach will have more institutional scholarship dollars next year than what I had in the entire first four years,” she said. “I hope that with the abundant scholarship budget starting next year, the Knight Raiders will continue to thrive and make the Final Four next year to defend its title and for many more years after that.”
Webster University is located in St. Louis, home to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the World Chess Hall of Fame and U.S. Championship Chess. St. Louis is an area rich in chess history, which will provide a welcoming atmosphere for the SPICE program.
Under the coaching of Polgar, the chess team won a total of 15 national, two state and two regional titles in four years, qualifying for the Final Four each year when competing in Division I and winning back-to-back Final Four titles.
“Texas Tech now has a serious reputation of excellence in the chess community,” Polgar said. “This should make the recruiting process of chess stars and superstars much easier than when we began from scratch in the fall of 2007. I am very thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful institution in the past five years. It has been an incredible experience and we made a lot of history together.”