In the past week, there were many articles written about the Webster University Chess Team winning its record 7 straight PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships. I am grateful that there are a good amount of interests in College Chess.
However, I am sad that not even one article mentioned about the tremendous hard work and sacrifices our team members made. This is the trademark of the SPICE program: Hard work, discipline, team work, etc. Our students trained on weekdays, weekends, and during their breaks, etc. They trained and trained and trained. There was no taking it easy with our students.
And in addition to hard work on the chess board, our students must maintain a 3.0+ GPA in order to keep their chess scholarships. While College Chess only requires a 2.0 GPA, our students have maintained an average GPA of 3.5-3.7 year after year. Many of them have perfect 4.0 or close to it.
Instead, just about every article basically implied that our team won just because we have strong players. Some made the incorrect assumption that we are a deep pocket team. So let me set the record straight, again!
No, we are by far not the deepest pocket team. We have no billionaire financially backing our team. We also do not have a gazillion scholarships to give out. As the Director of the Chess Program, I have a STRICT budget I have to adhere to, both in scholarship and in dollars. This is why our team took the bus to the 2016 and 2017 PanAm InterCollegiate Championships in New Orleans and Columbus while other teams traveled by plane. I did not have the budget to fly all team members. To raise additional funds, we had to do extra fundraising activities on our own. We most likely have to take the bus again next December to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Because of the shortage of scholarship, I have to turn down applications from strong grandmasters every year because I simply do not have enough. Many have to be on the waiting list until someone graduates. One grandmaster waited for more than 4 years for a spot to open up. I also recommend some applicants to try to apply with rival universities.
To give you a few examples of how scholarships work at SPICE, when grandmasters Manuel Leon Hoyos and Le Quang Liem graduated, grandmasters Emilio Cordova and Jorge Cori got their spots. And when grandmasters Ray Robson and PD Kannappan graduated, grandmasters Lazaro Bruzon and Yuniesky Quesada got their spots. I have not even one extra scholarship to spare. Grandmasters Alex Shimanov and Vasif Durarbayli will graduate in May 2019 and I already have many candidates for these two spots.
Every major college chess program recruits from the same exact pool of students. So why do strong players choose Webster University - SPICE? There is only one answer: Our training system. It works and the players improved! As I said many times before, if players want to have a good time and party a lot, we are definitely the wrong program for them. We train hard on and off the chess board, in addition to maintaining academic excellence. I demanded a lot from our students and they delivered.
Winning does not come by being lazy or doing nothing. I believe in hard work. I believe in consistency. Since 2012 when we arrived at Webster University, our teams competed in 7 PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships. We won all 7 times. Since 2011, the SPICE teams won 7/8 Final Four Championships while never losing a match. Sorry but even Nick Saban and Mike Krzyzewski do not have this winning record in division I.
That is the same consistency I expect from myself when I was a professional player. I competed in 4 World Championships and won all 4. I won at least 2 medals (individual and team) in each Olympiad I participated in, totaling 10 (5 Gold, 4 Silver, 1 Bronze) while maintaining a record scoring streak of 56 consecutive games on board 1 without ever taking a rest or losing a game. I became the #1 ranked female player when I was 15 years old and stayed in the top 3 for around 25 consecutive years.
In the past 10+ years, I have received numerous lucrative offers to play in major tournaments and work on well paid interesting projects. I turned them down because I am fully committed to chess excellence at the SPICE program. Paul and I work a minimum of 12 hours per day, 7 days a week. Yes, that is the MINIMUM! Each of us normally put in 14-16 hours per day, and up to 20 hours per day during competition.
If people think that winning is throwing together a team with a bunch of grandmasters, they are sadly mistaken. If that is the case, then why the Russian National Team, the strong in the world, has not won a Chess Olympiad since 2002? And if people think that deep pocket teams win then why do other schools with much bigger scholarship and operating budget not win the last 7 PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships or 7 of the last 8 Final Four Championships? Some do not even make the Final Four.
Winning consists of hard work, discipline, team work and team chemistry, etc.
Some “fans” went out of their way to insult our players. One called GM Nyzhnyk a big disappointment just because he chose to focus on his studies to have a professional career in Cyber Security. For a disappointment, he won the World Open, one of the hardest events to win, 4 times in the past 5 years! Other “fans” tried to insult various players from our team.
In a way, I have to thank these “fans” for their insults. Each time when they insulted us, or each time when we are being treated unfairly, it only motivates all of us to work harder! So in a way, thank you!
Here is what our team has done since August 2012 (Webster #1 Ranked Team has won 2 World Championships, 5 World Open Championships, 54 National Titles):