The Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence is hosting its fourth annual SPICE Cup, a chess tournament that draws the biggest names in chess worldwide and will be going on all this week.
Brett James, a sophomore geosciences major from Richmond, Va., broadcasts the games online to FIDE, the World Chess Federation, which Paul Truong, the SPICE director of marketing and public relations, said is only second to FIFA, soccer’s governing body, in number of countries involved.
“It’s a matter of awareness,” said Susan Polgar, founder of the tournament and four-time world champion, of being known worldwide but receiving almost no recognition on campus. “I’m quite positive it’s only a matter of time before everybody in town knows about us.”
Polgar began the tournament and the institute in 2007 and has been able to build it up to its current state — the ‘A’ group of the tournament is the highest-rated international chess tournament in U.S. history — in just three years.
“She used her charm, and her fame managed to get people here,” said Hal Karlsson, one of the founders of SPICE. “They figure if a world champion is putting this on, she knows what she’s doing.”
When foreign players first heard about it, Karlsson said, he was forced to nearly beg them to come. This year, chess champions from around the world are already asking if they can be invited for next year’s tournament.
However, not everything happens outside of the U.S., or even Texas. Some of Tech’s success is very close to home.
“Look at our football game against UT-Austin every year,” Truong said. “When we beat them, it’s big news, but (the chess team) crushed them four to zero and no one really heard about it. We got revenge for our football team.”
As Tech becomes a bigger name in the chess world due to SPICE, the Knight Raiders are becoming stronger as well.
“I’ve had students from Princeton and other schools come up to me and say ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Texas Tech, look out,’” said tournament director and sophomore Spanish major Zach Haskin. “When it’s something intelligence related, Texas Tech is not predicted to be higher than Princeton, Yale, Stanford.”
But it is; Haskin, from Wichita Falls, said the team beat all three of the schools he mentioned by a wide margin.
Truong said SPICE is helping to make it clear that Tech is not a “jock” school. With the chess team’s GPA averaging at 3.28, he sees the tournament as just another way to recruit quality students to the university.
“The kind of students we attract, these are the kind of students any university would love to have,” Truong said.
The SPICE Cup is in its fifth of ten rounds, with players from around the world here to compete. Many will be staying for the next weekend as a part of SPICE’s first FIDE-rated open, which will feature a top team from Norway.
Competing now are 16 players from everywhere from Germany to Brazil.
Ray Robson, who has had two games end in a draw this tournament, may not be from anywhere terribly exotic, but he does hold the title of Grandmaster and was the youngest in U.S. history to earn the title when he did it at 14, Karlsson said.
“There aren’t so many really strong events in the U.S.,” Robson said, “so it’s great for people in the U.S. to play in such a great event.”
Robson, from Clearwater, Fla., attested to the quality of the tournament, saying it is probably the strongest tournament he’s been in.
Polgar said spectators are welcome to watch the games in the Matador Room in the SUB; they will start every day at 2 p.m. until Nov. 7. The only rule is that anyone who watches must be very quiet.
“The difference is we don’t have 60,000 people screaming in the stands,” Truong said. “So it kind of gets lost somewhere; people don’t realize how big this is. If you talk pure numbers, it’s impressive.”