If you build it, they will come!
by Paul Truong
If one Chess Institute can produce 2 World Champions, 2 Olympiad Gold Medalists, 4 World Open winners, 5 home grown Grandmasters, world #2 player, and captured 43 National Championships in a very short period of time, it means that things were done right.
So what is the secret?
Let’s back track in history and go back to the beginning. SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence), one of the greatest Chess Institutes in chess, was created not long ago by Susan Polgar, the first woman who earned the Grandmaster title (over the board play), and world’s first ever Triple-Crown winner (World Classical, Rapid, and Blitz Championships). After retiring from competitive chess in 1996, Susan decided to pass on her extensive and unique chess knowledge to the next generation by opening the Polgar Chess Center (the club was opened 7 days a week for about 13 years until she moved out of state) in New York. During this time, she introduced to and trained thousands of youngsters the art of chess.
Being the daughter of two educators, Susan has very strong passion for teaching. But something was missing. The goal was not fully completed. Many kids dropped out of chess because when they got to a certain age, there were little incentives to stay with chess. Many parents did not want to continue investing money in chess for their children unless they can see a promising return for their investments.
Being a person who has always thought outside of the box during her entire life, a solution was born. Why not combine higher education and chess? This way, kids can obtain a scholarship to pursue their college degree while improving chess at the same time. It is a win win situation for everyone. Universities like the idea of recruiting smart students. Parents are happy that they can save money. And young players are happy that they can continue to improve chess at the highest level.
If you build it, they will come!
As the famous saying in the movie “Field of Dreams”, “If you build it, they will come!” When SPICE was created at Texas Tech, it was a concept with no student. As each year passes, the number of applications and the playing levels increase dramatically. The ratings of players in the first year were around 1500-2000. Now at Webster University, a student has to be 2400+ to even make the C team. No player under 2700 USCF can make the A team. The running joke is it is probably harder to get into SPICE than top Ivy League Universities.
What is being done differently?
Many universities and institutes around the United States and across the world have strong chess programs, with high rated players. So what is being done differently at SPICE? First of all, there is absolutely no one size fits all method at SPICE. Every student has individualized goals and areas of improvement. We pinpoint weaknesses and work to fix them. We developed an exclusive playing style which can be summarized as Chameleon Chess.
But most importantly, the chess culture created at SPICE provides students a magnificent platform to improve their chess. Within a radius of 2-3 blocks, there could be at any given time up to 10-11 Grandmasters, plus a number of International Masters and 2400+ players. These players are like brothers and sisters. They train together, work out together, dine together, play sports together, and travel together. There is no “I” in this team. They do everything as a team. This is why they continue to improve and win year after year as a team.
Wesley So was stuck in the mid 2600’s for 3 years. He had no idea how to get to the next level. Instead of making a mistake like many other young talented players who stopped progressing, he decided to come to SPICE. After a little over 2 years of intense training at Webster University, he went from #99 in the world at 2652 to #10 at 2762 while winning $100,000 at Millionaire Chess and many other big events including World Universities Championship. That was an incredible climb. Since then, with the knowledge he gained at SPICE, he continued to progress and now is at #2 in the world. He is within a hair of Magnus Carlsen. There are many more success stories.
The biggest misconception is that if young 2600+ players come to Webster University, they would have to give up their chess careers. On the contrary, even with taking university classes, they can still work on their chess and play in many major events. They just have to know how to manage their schedule efficiently.
As a result, many of our students won more money in tournaments as a full time student at Webster University than when they played full time chess. For example, our students won big money in Millionaire Chess 1 & 2, World Open, US Open, National Open, World University Championship, World Blitz Championship, Olympiad Gold Medals, etc.
There is no miracle pill. There is no short cut. Susan’s success motto is: “DDD”
If young players are willing to be trained by Susan (someone who has reached the pinnacle of chess and knows what it takes to succeed), and work hard, they will have plenty of opportunities to succeed. This is something they cannot do on their own without a strong and sound supporting system.
Susan’s method is a proven success. Even if one wants to be a professional player after college, it is very important to have a valuable American degree as a backup plan. Many big firms across the US are going out of their way to recruit top-level chess players. It is important to have options. Obviously the best part is chess improvement. Therefore, to have unlimited free world class training and resources to succeed is something every strong young player should consider.
SPICE Training Facility is located at Webster University in St. Louis. The training / tournament space is about 11,500 square feet (about 1,150 square meters).