Chess News

Interview with Paul Truong from SPICE

The SPICE team with Paul Truong and Susan Polgar celebrating the Final Four title

The SPICE team with Paul Truong and Susan Polgar celebrating the Final Four title

The SPICE team won the Final Four college chess championship for the fifth time. This was the third consecutive title of the team as Webster University.

With 10 points, Webster University broke our own all time Final Four record of 9.5 points (in 12 games) set in 2013 and 2014. In addition, the 4.5 point winning margin is the largest for Webster (beating the previous record of winning by 2.5 points set in 2013 and 2014).

Replay the games here

After the victory, Paul Truong – the marketing and PR director of the program – gave an extensive interview to

Congratulations on winning the College Chess Final Four for the 5th consecutive years. What is your secret to winning the most prestigious College Chess event in the United States year after year?

Thank you. It is not really a secret since our system is well known. The system is also very simple.

1. Train harder than anyone else. Since this was the strongest ever Final Four College Chess Championships with 18 GMs among the 4 teams, we knew it would not be easy. Our work started the minute the PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championship ended on December 30, 2014 when we knew which other 3 schools qualified for the Final Four. From December 30 until March 27, we spent over 1,000 hours collectively as a team doing research to know every little thing about each of our potential opponents. We want to know what are their favorite openings, as well as strengths and weaknesses in each phase of the game, in addition to many other intangibles.

2. Team work. Every member of the entire team contributes in one way or another. This is one family. Those who do not buy into this system are shown the door out of SPICE, regardless of their ratings. There is no I in this team and selfishness is not something we tolerate. There is no exception to this rule and some found out the hard way.

3. Pinpoint assessment. After the initial scouting phase of the Final Four, we have to try to outsmart and outguess our opponents. Pinpoint assessment is the key. The better the assessment, the better chance to win. This is a science in itself. This is also why many big financial firms reached out to recruit chess players. This pinpoint assessment skill can translate into major success in finance or business.

4. Game plan precision. After the initial scouting and pinpoint assessment, we then come up with a game plan for each match and each player in each round. The better the data, the more precise the game plan will be. Our game plan has worked to perfection in the last 5 years.

5. Enhanced physical fitness. Even though we were made fun of many times about why chess players need to be fit to move the little chess pieces, we firmly believe that physical fitness is required to raise chess strength to another level. When a chess game can last 5, 6, or 7 hours, and there are 2 games in a day, you have to be so fit. When players are tired, mistakes are more likely to happen.

6. Setting goals. We do not believe in randomness. This team sets goals every year. Then we will do everything humanly possible to reach those goals. For example, the goal of getting 10 points in 12 games in the Final Four to break our own records from the past 2 years was something we aimed for. Some may say we are nuts but that was our goal.

7. Planning for the next year. My personal enjoyment ended 1 minute after we won the Final Four. While I am very happy for Webster University, the staff, the students, and all our sponsors and supporters, I am already looking at 2016. There are a long line of students waiting to get into SPICE and we have students who will be graduating. Never sit on your laurel for too long. The competition will not sit still. They will work hard to improve and if you want to be the best, you have to be 2-3 steps ahead of them. As I said to many people, including all of my students, that while we may or may not have the best team in any given year, we will work harder than anyone else, fight with more vigor than any other team, and we will be more disciplined than all the competition. I guarantee it!

These are some of the things we instill in each of our student. Wesley So learned from the same system which vaulted him from mid 2600’s to high 2700’s and top 10 in the world.

Webster University has many strong students. What is your recruiting secret to getting some of the biggest names (all 2600+ GMs) such as Le Quang Liem, Wesley So, Ray Robson, Georg Meier, Illya Nyzhnyk, Vasif Durarbayli, Fidel Corrales, Manuel Hoyos, etc?

Contrary to what many people think, we do very little recruiting. Even though we do reach out to a few particular students, but in most cases, prospective chess students contact us. Everyone knows where and how to contact Susan (Polgar) directly.

We have a long list of GMs, IMs, WGMs, and other players applying and waiting to get in. There are many good universities which offer chess scholarships. But if players are serious about improving and getting to the next level, SPICE at Webster University is the first choice for all of them. However, I must say that it is harder to get into the elite SPICE program than to get to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, or Cornell, etc.

The cup coming once again to SPICE and Webster

The cup coming once again to SPICE and Webster

What are the requirements to get into Webster University – SPICE?

1. They must focus on their academic study to maintain at least a 3.0/4.0 GPA, although we expect a much higher GPA.
2. They must follow all team rules.
3. They must conduct themselves professionally and ethically at all times.
4. They are expected to volunteer in the community.
5. They must respect their teammates and learn to work as a team.
6. They are expected to work on their physical fitness and endurance.
7. They are expected to set achievable chess goals, and work with us to reach these goals.

Every player has strengths and weaknesses. We will work with our players to enhance their strengths and fix their weaknesses. If they do not want to improve and get better then they will not be a right fit at SPICE. They are better off being at other chess programs which are not as strict or have no expectation at all. There are plenty of players who want to improve and want to have the chance to improve to get to the next level.

CrossFit Chess Challenge

CrossFit Chess Challenge

What do you look for in potential students?

We look for the 7 P’s.

1. Passion
2. Process
3. People
4. Purpose
5. Preparation
6. Persistence
7. Perseverance

For those who are not acquainted with the SPICE program, allow me to tell you more about it. SPICE stands for Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence. Susan is the Director of SPICE, as well as Head Coach of the chess team. It is a part of Webster University. In order to be a part of SPICE, all students must follow the same process to be admitted to the university. Once they are accepted, they can then apply to be a part of SPICE. There are two main components to our chess program at Webster.

1. Webster University Chess Club: Any student, staff, faculty, or members of the local community can participate.
2. SPICE: This is for Webster students only, which includes training and competition, etc.

Thank you for taking time to chat with us. Congratulations once again to Webster University and all the students.

2015 College Chess Final Four Championship Standings

(4 team round robin with 4 boards for each team)

1. Webster 10 pts / 12 games
2. University of Texas in Dallas 5.5 pts / 12 games
3. Texas Tech University 4.5 pts / 12 games
4. University of Maryland in Baltimore 4.0 pts / 12 games

With 10 points, Webster University broke our own all time Final Four record of 9.5 points (in 12 games) set in 2013 and 2014. In addition, the 4.5 point winning margin is the largest for Webster (beating the previous record of winning by 2.5 points set in 2013 and 2014).

Board 1: GM Le Quang Liem 2.5 / 3
Board 2: GM Ray Robson 2.5 / 3
Board 3: GM Illya Nyzhnyk 2 / 3
Board 4: GM Vasif Durarbayli 3 / 3

Photos from College Chess Final Four 2015

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