Coach Wins Final Four, Leaves, Takes Entire Team


Silliman on Sports
By Stan Silliman


Texas Tech’s loss, Webster’s gain.

Yes, the Knight Raiders of Texas Tech won the college national chess championship, actually their second in two years, then packed up their bags wholesale and moved to St. Louis.

Unheard of, you ask, a coach taking a new job after winning a national championship? It’s happened before. But taking your entire team of underclassmen with you? Never!

Here’s something else you rarely find in college sports – a team made up entirely of young men who are international chess grand masters – the top athletes in their sport… and their coach can beat them one-on-one, any of them or all of them. That doesn’t happen in other sports. John Calipari just led Kentucky to a Final Four basketball championship but don’t expect Coach Cal to whip Doron Lamb or Terrance Jones in a game of hoops.

Also don’t expect John Calipari to have set a Guinness World Record for having played 324 chess games simultaneously while only losing three of those games. This only happens if your name is Susan Polgar and you were the number one Women’s Chess player in the world. This only happens if you were the Olympic chess champion, as both a player and a coach.

Do you get the picture? One of the all-time women’s chess players ever, world champion when she was 15, puts together a team with two players from Israel, and one each from Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Azerbaijan and Iran.  Her team is a little United Nations promoting world peace and Najdorf Sicilian Defenses, one pawn at a time.

Okay, I have to admit I’m not that well versed on chess. I wouldn’t know a gambit from a gimlet, although I think the latter is a drink going best with a certain card game. But, taking a new job and all your students with you, we have to call it brazen, even spicy, if you will. Which, by the way, SPICE is what Susan Polgar calls her chess school – Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence. And from now on, it will compete from a leafy suburb of St. Louis at Webster University across the street from the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Good move on her part? Actually, yes, since Texas Tech didn’t provide full scholarships for her players (they funded her full team at $ 80,000) and Webster promises better salaries for her and full rides for her students. They also get to try their games against Hikaru Nakamura, the top U.S. player (ranked number 6 in the world) who is resident big shot at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Still, moving your whole squad, justified or otherwise, is still shocking. In the chess terms of that political chess mavin, Michelle Bachmann, Susan Polgar has chutzpah.

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