Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taking on a Grandmaster

Students compete against chess masters
Matthew Payne
Issue date: 9/25/08 Section: La Vida

We will hit'em. We will wreck'em. We will check'em Texas Tech!

What is being called the highest rated chess tournament in the nation hosted a tournament open to Tech students Monday in the Student Union Building.

The 2008 Spice Cup International Invitational Tournament is a round-robin tournament that pits an international slate of 10 players against each other through nine rounds of play over 10 days, ending Sept. 28.

The 10 players all have achieved grand master status, the highest possible status in the chess world.

"We have secured a very prestigious roster of players from around the globe to compete in this tournament," said Susan Polgar, SPICE Director.

The countries represented in the tournament include the United States, India, Germany, Poland, Israel and Iceland.

Harikrishna Pentala, the youngest Indian ever to achieve grand master status, agreed to play as many as 20 students simultaneously during Monday's round.

He was not defeated before the competition's conclusion just after 10 p.m.

Interested contestants were asked to bring their own chess boards and reserve a spot by paying a $25 entry fee. The contestants were as young as 7 years old. Pentala was undefeated.

Born in the village of Vinjanam Padu in India, Pentala, who has been playing the game since he was 4 years old, broke the record of being the youngest International Master in 2000 and again for being the youngest grand master from India in 2001.

He said he has been representing his country since the age of 14 years old.

While he has traveled all over the world, this is the first tournament that called him to Lubbock.

"I've been all over the United States, but this is my first time in Texas," Pentala said. "I was very happy with how the games went."

Pentala said he has played chess with multiple people simultaneously before, but it was his first time to compete with random members of the public.

Polgar, the founder of the Susan Polgar Foundation and a chess advocate at Tech, was proud to open the event to the public.

"The foundation's goals are to promote chess in a social, competitive and educational environment," Polgar said. "Study after study shows that children who are better at chess get better grades."

While SPICE and the Susan Polgar Foundation are two different organizations, they work closely together and share many goals.

"The missions of the organizations are to promote the university, recruit students who like chess to allow students to represent Tech through chess and academic excellence and research," she said.

While many researchers have studied the connection between performance at chess and performance in school, Polgar said, it has never been done in a strictly academic environment. The main goal of SPICE is to support the theory of correlation in an academic environment.

But Susan Polgar is not just a researcher; she has accumulated a reputation in the chess world as a fierce competitor.

"My passion for chess was an accident, really," Polgar said. "I started playing when I was four, and I just loved it."

She has won four world titles and five Olympic gold medals in chess. When she moved to New York and had children, she wanted to do something for children and chess, so she founded the Susan Polgar Foundation. The foundation provides opportunities and scholarships to students who love chess. Although there is a slight emphasis on female participation, males also are encouraged to join.

"The tournament will continue throughout the week and into the weekend," she said. "I invite all students to check out the tournament."

More side events will be offered by the tournament, including the SPICE Cup Scholastic Open, the SPICE Cup Open Grand Prix and the Texas State Women's Open Championship.

Half of the proceeds from the tournament will go to Hurricane Ike victims in Texas, and the other half will go toward supporting the SPICE Cup Festival. This event is being sponsored by SPICE, the Knight Raiders chess club and the Susan Polgar Foundation.

Source: TTU
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