A few days ago, I wrote about Illia Nyzhnyk and his heroic performance at the PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships which ended on December 30, 2017. But Illia was not the only hero. Today I want to talk about another hero, grandmaster Manuel Leon Hoyos.

I knew Manuel when he was barely a teenager. He was a young talented player from Mexico. In 2007, I invited him to the first ever SPICE Cup as he was chasing his GM norm. Shortly after this event, he got an unexpected offer from a longtime friend of mine, Vassily Ivanchuk, to be his second. So for the next few years, Manuel traveled the world with Ivanchuk.

One day, he contacted me in early 2012 about wanting to come to SPICE when I was making a move from Texas to Webster University in St. Louis. Together with Ray Robson and Wesley So, the three of them were my first three recruits at Webster. At that time, our brand new A team at Webster consisted of GMs Georg Meier (2656 FIDE) - Sophomore, Wesley So (2652 FIDE) - Freshman, and Ray Robson (2599 FIDE) - Freshman. Number four on the A team would have been Manuel at nearly 2600 FIDE.

But instead of thinking about himself, he asked me if I would also consider a good friend of his to come to Webster. I asked him who is this friend. He said grandmaster Fidel Corrales Jimenez of Cuba. Fidel was over 2600 FIDE at that time, and on the Cuban Olympiad team. I asked Manuel if he was sure about this since this would knock him off the A team. Without thinking, he said yes, he was sure, and he can say with absolute certainty that Fidel is a nice guy and would be a valuable addition to the team. So I said yes.

Fidel did indeed become a very valuable member of the SPICE family. He graduated two years ago after helping our team to many national championships. At Webster, he also met his future wife and now has 2 children (1 daughter and 1 son). They are living near Webster. Manuel also graduated Webster 2 years ago, then pursued his grad degree at Webster. He just graduated a few weeks ago with his second degree. He too is married with a daughter.

When Manuel started at Webster University in 2012, the first tournament he represented Webster was the 2012 US Open Championship. He won! This was the team's first ever national title, and it was a big one. He also won the Mexican Championship, and represented Mexico in numerous Chess Olympiads, as well as becoming the first Mexican player to break 2600!

The 2017 PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships was Manuel's last ever championship with his Webster - SPICE family. He trained very hard for this event. Unfortunately, just as Illia, Manuel was very sick in Columbus. Even though he was medicated throughout the event, he helped his B team to a 2nd place tie. Without the A team, they would have also made the Final Four (the rule is only 1 team per university can qualify).

After the PanAm, Manuel flew to the West Coast to be with his wife and daughter, and soon pursue a professional career. This is a young man who truly represents what SPICE is all about. He is an incredibly nice and honorable person, a true team player, a great teammate, and someone who always does what is best for the team, the University, and the SPICE program.

Thank you, Manuel, for being a wonderful team member for 6 years, and for being a role model. On behalf of Webster University, the SPICE program, and all your teammates, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you again for everything you have done for this team!