PanAm Reflection
by Paul Truong

I usually do not like to invoke my personal opinion publicly about the competition. However, sometimes things need to be said, especially to defend our students. They work very hard in chess and academically.

I have heard a number of dumb comments about the unfairness of the PanAm because Webster always wins and we have too many strong players. It is hogwash. Many teams have incredibly strong lineups and world class coaches. Sometimes, things go our way and sometimes they do not.

But let’s examine some facts:

* Webster B team [Bd 1 GM Vasif Durarbayli 2692, Bd 2 GM Priyadharshan Kannappan 2611, Bd 3 GM Ashwin Jayaram 2575, Bd 4 GM Manuel Leon Hoyos 2549 (Captain)] tied for 1st (and won on tiebreaks) with Webster A team. Webster B also finished tied for 1st in 2012 and 2015 (3 of the 5 years Webster is in College Chess). This team is ranked #6 in 2016 among the 60 teams behind UTRGV, SLU, Texas Tech, and UTD.

* Webster C team [Bd 1 IM Irene Sukandar 2501, Bd 2 Aaron Grabinsky 2433, Bd 3 FM Joshua Colas 2457, Bd 4 IM Eric Rosen 2413 (Captain)] tied for 3rd and would have qualified for the Final Four if there are no Webster A & B. The rule states that only 1 team per university could participate in the Final Four. This is a team with 2 freshmen and no GM and was seeded 11th among the 60 teams entered in 2016 the PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships.

* Webster D team [FM Justus Williams 2398 (Captain), Shawn Swindell 2150, Kaleb Gosdin 2045, Luisa Mercado 2092, Kenneth Fernandez 1967 and Tori Whatley) finished tied for 2nd in their division. This is a team with 3 young freshmen.

What more can I ask of our students?

Every university has a budget (scholarship and operation). Our scholarship budget is way smaller than some other state university programs. As of operating budget, while other top teams flew to New Orleans, our players traveled from St Louis to New Orleans by bus (left at 8 am on December 26 and we arrived at 11 pm). Some people snickered and made fun of our team for taking the bus, our students showed what they got on the chess board.

To save money, time, and maximize efficiency, Webster University was the first to enter (to get lower entry fees), book hotel rooms (to get lower rates), and have all our meals prepared (to save money and time from going to expensive restaurants). We bought bottled water, snacks, and other miscellaneous things from Sam’s Club in St Louis and brought it with us on the bus (to save money). We did not whine or complain about why we do not have big budgets like other big schools. We just make do of what we have with smart planning and preparation.

But our students made up the difference with hard work. They trained hard year round. But as soon as our students finished with their last final exams, they came to SPICE to train as a TEAM from morning to early evening every single day. Our system is we train together, travel together, dine together, fight together, and win together. There is no I in this TEAM.

There were no easy matches. Our students fought hard to earn every half point. And if one happened to falter in a particular game, their teammates picked up the slack. Every player’s job is to man their board. With such intense and strenuous competition, everyone is tired. But they also trained hard physically and were mentally ready.

Winning is not easy. But to continue the tradition of excellence is even harder. We are very thankful to have the fantastic support from so many people at Webster, especially our President and Provost.

Will we win every year? Probably not. But the harder we train and the more we focus, the luckier we will get. I could not be more proud of our students. When they come to Webster – SPICE, they know that they will be in for a tough ride. But they gave 110% and they continue to live up to the lofty expectation. Now the students will have a little time off and they the road to prepare for the Final Four will begin!

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