Sunday, May 13, 2007
A Worthwhile Chess Gambit in West Texas
Excellent move: Grandmaster coming to Tech to start chess program
BY elliott blackburn
Deep in the land of Frito pie and high school football, a grandmaster will launch her latest gambit.
Susan Polgar announced during a Saturday commencement speech at Texas Tech the creation of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, or SPICE, at the university.
Officials related to the project believe it is unique among programs in the world, sporting an ambitious array of research programs and headed by a world champion player.
From her base at Texas Tech, the chess celebrity hopes to research the ties between scholastic chess and academic achievement, develop new software and build, of course, an elite collegiate team.
She leaves an established metropolitan chess community to do this, choosing a city where schoolchildren dominate the game. There is no centralized chess club in Lubbock and no city tournament.
But Lubbock has no attitudes on the game to change, Polgar said. And the university hopes chess will help find and entice strong students from around the world as supporters believe the number of young U.S. players will soon swell.
"Huh? You're moving off to where?" her husband Paul Truong, said, laughing while trying to predict the reaction from the rest of the chess community.
"And that will be a good thing, because it will create curiosity," he said. "They will know that if Susan agrees and committed to do this, there must be something there."
But while quick to note the academic strengths of their current student athletes, Tech administrators liked the ring of a chess team. Tech has been a football school and a basketball school - a chess school separates the university from the rest of the country's established sports programs in a game evocative of scholarly strength.
"Obviously, universities are looking for students that have the kind of skills that chess players have," said Jerry Nash, scholastic director for the U.S. Chess Federation and its liaison to the sport's international organization. "They're saying, 'Yes, gosh, we can have teams that can compete, but in addition to that, we're getting the kinds of students that we need."
Tech offers Polgar a chance to build a program from the ground up, focused on her priorities - chess and education, chess and computers, girls in chess - all of which administrators believe will attract widespread attention to Tech.
There have been early discussions with high-speed computing and programming faculty about building competitive chess software or tools that could link schools together for chess instruction, faculty said. The university was in late April bidding to host elite collegiate tournaments that would bring top players from around the country to Lubbock.
Polgar will be the face of Tech at myriad high school tournaments filled with high-achieving prospective students and will assist in the university's fundraising efforts.
And then there are the benefits for the home team. Tech will have an expert chess player for its students to study under and one that will attract other younger masters who will seek out her instruction.