Friday, March 22, 2013

Webster University’s Top Chess Team Is a Six-Man Wrecking Crew

Webster University’s Top Chess Team Is a Six-Man Wrecking Crew
Nobody's Pawns
by Byron Kerman

Imagine Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Albert Pujols all playing for the Cardinals at the same time. You might not know it, but the Webster University chess team has just that sort of ridiculously powerful roster. Composed of grandmasters from around the world, the team is a murderers’ row of chess minds, and they’ve made it to the President’s Cup, a.k.a. the Final Four of College Chess, to be held this month in Rockville, MD. Coached by former world champion Susan Polgar, this squad is, to be blunt, expected to dominate.

  Wesley So Nickname: Wes Age: 19 Class: Freshman Born: Cavite, Philippines  

Rankings: No. 1 in the Philippines; No. 3 under-21 player in the world Hobbies: Reading, basketball Favorite country he’s visited to play chess: China Strategy: Known for the ability to neutralize opponents regardless of their strengths
On playing for money: “I once won dinner from this guy in New York.”
On his opponents’ expressions: “If I’m playing against an inexpert player, I can sense fear, but it doesn’t happen often.”
On dressing strangely for a tournament: “I had to wear sunglasses because of sunlight coming through the window at my last tournament.”

Ray Robson Nickname: Ray-C Age: 18 Class: Freshman Born: Guam  

Rankings: No. 8 in the U.S.; No. 10 under-21 player in the world; the youngest in US history to achieve a grandmaster ranking at age 14 Hobbies: Tennis, ping-pong, reading Favorite countries he's visited to play chess: Switzerland and Norway Strategy: Aggressive and tactical
On his strangest moment at a chess tournament: “One time there was a tornado warning, so we stopped playing, and during that time I thought up a good plan and won.”
On foods to avoid: “I don’t drink lemonade at matches because for some reason that makes me have to go to the bathroom more.”

Fidel Corrales Jiménez Age: 25 Class: Freshman Born: Pinar del Río, Cuba  

Ranking: No. 3 in Cuba Hobbies: Listening to music, playing soccer Favorite country he's visited to play chess: Spain Strategy: “I like to play for the win—I don’t like draws.” On leaving his home country: “I am a defector. I am considered a traitor. I cannot go back to Cuba for seven years, officially. I was very lucky; it’s almost impossible to get a visa from the U.S. government, but I got it because of chess.”
On once beating a chess hustler: “One time I was in Hungary in a train station, and a very old man with a chessboard challenged me to play a game. He didn’t know I was GM [Grandmaster]. He said ‘one Euro per game.’ I said no. He kept asking me, until I said yes. I played two games and beat him twice, but let him keep his money.”
On coach Polgar: “She is very nice, like a mother for us [on the chess team]. She really cares about us. We can tell her anything.”
On superstition: “All chess players are superstitious. Sometimes, I use the same pen to write my moves for all the games, and when I lose with that pen, I switch. Even the way I brush my hair before games is superstitious.”

Georg Meier Age: 25 Class: Sophomore Born: Trier, Germany  

Ranking: No. 4 in Germany Hobbies: Watching movies, going to the gym, travel, getting to know people from other cultures Favorite city he's visited to play chess: San Francisco
On his favorite outfit: “I have a light blue zip-hoodie, which brought a lot of luck during the European Team Chess Championship in 2011, which Germany won.”
On dirty pool: “A few years ago I was playing a Super Tournament in Germany, and there was one game which I really wanted to win. When I got close and it started to look like it was time for my opponent to resign, he suddenly started to shake the board as well as his whole body. It was extremely annoying and it happened several times during that game. The game lasted for eight hours and ended in a draw. I think I’ve never been so upset in my life as I was after that game.”

Manuel León Hoyos Nickname: Manu Age: 23 Class: Freshman Born: Merida, Mexico  

Rankings: No. 1 in Mexico; reigning U.S. Open champion Hobby: Soccer Favorite country he's visited to play chess: Italy Strategy: Dynamic attacks
On Webster besting Harvard, Yale, etc., on the way to the Final Four: “This is just my first time playing on a team for Webster, and it’s important for us to beat such prestigious universities.”
On the benefits of chess in everyday life: “As you play chess, you think strategically. You think about the consequences that every position can have. That kind of thinking helps you when you’re not playing chess, too.”

Anatoly Bykhovsky Nickname: Tolik Age: 24 Class: Junior Born: Ashkelon, Israel

Ranking: No. 21 in Israel Hobbies: Following the financial world, hanging out with friends, sports Favorite country you’ve visited to play chess: Norway Strategy: Flexibility
On his strangest moment at a chess tourney: “In Russia, in the last round of a tournament, some of the players decided to start celebrating before the end—by drinking alcohol.”
On opponents’ weird techniques to distract him: “I played against a guy who colored his hair red before the tournament to mess with his opponents. We finished in a draw. It didn’t work for him then, but over the long term it did—he’s number three in the U.S. right now.”
On coach Polgar: “The most notable thing about her—and there are many—is her personality. She’s always willing to help. It has a huge impact on our play.”


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