Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chess and Italy: What could be better

Chess and Italy: What could be better?
Holly McRoberts

Set in majestic Lido Adriano, Italy, chess players gathered from twenty-seven countries and eagerly waited to demonstrate their skills at the Inaugural International Ravenna Chess Tournament on April 2nd through April 10th of this year. As the only American, I was fortunate enough to be amongst those players, and a guest at the Grand Hotel Azzurra, which not only sponsored this event, but also provided a welcoming and relaxing ambiance. Every room in this beautiful hotel had a balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea and access to a private beach.

As if the incredible accommodations were not enough, the highlight of this tournament featured a guest appearance by Judit Polgar who graciously gave a simultaneous exhibition at the generous price of only ten Euro per participant! Of the twenty-five players, Polgar achieved 24 wins and 1 draw.

Diana Mihajlova not only did an excellent job of organizing this event, but she made all the players feel welcome throughout the tournament. She and the tournament winner, Sarunas Sulskis, kindly invited me to have dinner with Judit Polgar, which I felt was an enormous honor!

Sarunas Sulskis of Lithuania won the tournament from a strong field of 10 GMs, 8 IMs, and 1 WGM in addition to the other class players. He was a favorite amongst the amateurs due to his humble and kind demeanor as well as his willingness to help struggling chess players such as myself. When asked if his first coach was proud of his great accomplishments his response was, “I’m just an ordinary GM.” This is coming from an individual who was second to Ivanchuk, studied at the Botvinnik-Kasparov School, and is a five-time Lithuanian champion.

Being the only American at the event, I felt it was my noble duty to “represent!” Unfortunately, as a class C player, I could not “represent” in the manner or form in which I intended.

Fortunately, Sarunas Sulskis, and the well-known tournament organizer, Stewart Rueben, took pity on this poor American soul and offered their time, patience and wisdom in an attempt to develop my skill as a tournament chess player who eventually achieved 3 out of 9 points.

So, walks on the beach, wonderful food; dinner with Judit Polgar, and personal training from a GM made this trip truly memorable. If this article inspired jealousy in any way, do not fear! You still have the opportunity to experience this amazing event for yourself: the tournament will be on next year, and possibly even this year in the autumn (subject to confirmation), as the organizer’s intention is to hold the tournament twice a year. For more information, visit This website contains all the information including results, pairings, selected PGN games, and fantastic photos.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Special Final Four Interview

The golden coaches of the Knight Raiders about the Final Four success
Susan Polgar and Paul Truong in a large interview

The Knight Riders were successful at this year's Final Four. The team led by Susan Polgar and Paul Truong managed to win a title in what can be viewed as the Final Four with largest mass media coverage.

After the success, coaches Polgar and Truong gave an extensive interview to Dr. Hal Karlsson, Associate Professor of GeoSciences at Texas Tech University.

Dr. Hal Karlsson: Susan and Paul, first of all, congratulations! This Final Four victory is simply fantastic and quite unexpected. How did it happen?

Susan Polgar: Thank you. I think the team did great, and even though we were the lowest seed, as a team, we believed that we could win. I also think we were more unified and working together more as a team than our competitors. I’m very proud of our guys that they gave their all.

Paul Truong: It is a good feeling for the entire team because they’ve worked very, very hard to be able to accomplish this. As Susan said, they gave it their all and they deserve it.

SP: They were also fearless. They were not intimidated facing much stronger opponents, even ones they had bad records against in the past. In the first round, Grandmaster Timur Gareev of UTB, the highest rated player in Texas, offered our top board, Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky, a draw in a very complicated position. Bykhovsky just lost to Gareev in an earlier encounter in Berkeley. Even with that in mind, Bykhovksy refused the draw offer against a much higher rated opponent and went all out for the win.

In the critical final round, a similar thing happened. Grandmaster Leonid Kritz of the defending champion UMBC, the highest rated player of the entire Final Four, offered our team captain Grandmaster Davorin Kuljasevic a draw with the white pieces. In the same matchup last year's Final Four, Kuljasevic lost to Kritz. Just as Bykhovsky, Kuljasevic refused the draw offer and went all out for the win. Both of them succeeded and they gave our team two vital points toward the national title. As their coach, I could not be more proud of this.

HK: Clearly all the teams must prepared very hard for the Final Four given what was at stake here. But what accounted for Texas Tech's success. What was the secret?

PT: I believe the secret is quite easy. We simply worked harder. We not only studied the games of our opponents just as everyone else, but we also study our opponents' demeanor, body language, movement, facial expression, pattern of thinking and decision making, etc. We dissected every inch of every possible aspect of the game. We put countless hours into the preparation. Even after our players were asleep, Susan spent hours double checking all the analysis to make sure there was no error. We were lucky to even get a few hours of sleep.

It does not mean that we will succeed every time. It just means that we will put our team in the best possible position to win. We had a similar approach when Susan and I ran the 2004 U.S. Women's Olympiad program which brought home the first four ever Chess Olympiad medals (2 gold and 2 silver) for the United States. If you want to win, you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else. No one will just hand the title to you. If you want it, you have to get it.

Another thing we did different than other teams is our approach before the start of the Final Four. The team arrived in Washington, D.C. very late Thursday night. We had Friday free until about 6 p.m. Other teams stayed in the hotel to do some last minute preparation. Being a world class competitor herself, Susan realized that the players were under tremendous pressure. So she decided to give them two choices:

1. To stay in the hotel like other teams to cramp in last minute preparation. 2. Go for a tour in Washington, D.C. to relax, stay fresh, and build further team chemistry.

The players voted to go to D.C. So we spent the day on the famous Double Decker bus tour to visit the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and other landmarks. The players had plenty of good times and good laughs. It worked out great. But if it did not work as planned, I am sure others would be quick to criticize her decision. But as a coach, you need to make tough decisions.

HK: That is impressive. But Susan also accomplished something else in this Final Four.

PT: Yes. Last year, Susan became the first female head coach to take a men’s division I team to the Final Four. This year, she is the first female to take a men's division I team all the way. You cannot even imagine, let’s say, a female coaching a men’s basketball team or men’s football team to the national title, but in chess, she showed that it can happen.

And the success was not only in division I. In just in the past two years, the Knight Raiders also won the national division II, III, and IV titles, in additional to many other individual honors. This is simply another gender barrier that she was able to break. What is even more amazing is this is only our second year competing in division I.

UTD and UMBC have been ruling the collegiate chess world for the past decade. For us to catch up with them on this level, this fast, was pretty amazing. I am sure the competition will be a lot tougher next year as all the schools will try to improve their rosters.

Susan now has done it all. She won Olympiad gold, five of them. She won the Women's World Championship Triple-Crown (Rapid, Blitz, and Classical). Her students have won National Scholastic Championships and now Collegiate Championships. But don't worry, she'll find more barriers to break, I am sure.

HK: Was there any particular player who stood out for Texas Tech in this Final Four?

SP: No. It was total team work. They fought hard as a unit and a different player came through for us in each round. It was Bykhovsky in the first round, Sipos in the second, Kuljasevic in the final round. Diamant was solid all the way through. And Aleskerov, as a reserve player, was the biggest cheerleader for his teammates the whole time. Just like the famous song by Sister Sledge, "We Are Family", the Texas Tech Knight Raider family.

HK: I saw the Final Four chess boards the Knight Raiders were holding up. Those look unique. Did you make those and how can one get one of them?

SP: Those are very special Final Four commemorative boards. They are not for sale. Only twenty of them were done and they were made by our friends at This is an American company out of Kansas City, Missouri. They have done a lot of good things to promote chess and bring kids into the game. When I told them about Final Four, they immediately designed and produced these twenty special boards to give out to each of the four teams and the sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton. They also sponsored other scholastic events of mine in the past. It is a good company and good people and I am proud that they support chess and the Knight Raiders. You cannot buy these boards but you can design your own chess board with them or use one of their over 110,000 designs.

HK: That is pretty neat. So what is the next step? A long celebration or vacation? I understand the team is going to Vegas (not Disney World like football players). What was that all about?

SP: There is no time to rest. Winning it is hard. But defending it is even harder. We already started to prepare for next year with recruiting. We have a tradition of excellence at Texas Tech and we hope to win many more championship titles.

We are lucky to have strong support from Chancellor Hance, President Bailey, Provost Smith, our supervisor Vice President and Vice Provost Dr. Juan Munoz, our donors, and so many other people at Texas Tech and in Lubbock. To have people waiting to cheer the chess team on at the airport when they returned at midnight was pretty incredible. The media also prominently covered the team success. Everyone believes in us and we want to continue making all of them and this university proud. We will do everything in our power to help Texas Tech become a Tier One university. Through chess, we will attract some of the greatest minds to this university.

HK: What other goals does SPICE have in mind?

SP: As the chairwoman for the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Commission for Women's Chess, I am working with SPICE to promote women's chess and help raise the playing level of the next generation through various important initiatives. SPICE is also actively working to get chess in more schools. This is a very important part of our goal.

University Interscholastic League (UIL) of Texas, the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world, has approved the proposal from SPICE to include chess puzzle solving as a statewide competition. This can potentially be the biggest scholastic chess initiatives in the United States as more than 2,000 schools in Texas are competing in a number of UIL competitions each year.

I am also hoping to work closer with FIDE to enhance various chess in the schools and chess in education projects in the United States. The future of chess is very bright.

HK: Thank you, Susan and Paul, for your time. Once again, congratulations and Go Tech! Check'em Knight Raiders!

SP and PT: Thank you, Hal.

Dr. Hal Karlsson is original from the chess loving country Iceland. He is an Associate Professor of GeoSciences at Texas Tech University. He is also the founder of SPICE as well as a student advisor for the Knight Raiders.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bored with your board?

Highest Quality Vinyl Chess Boards (made in the USA)

* Made from high performance, marine grade vinyl for a long life and easy cleaning

* Designs are printed directly onto vinyl for long life and vibrant colors
* All boards have standard size 2.25” x 2.25” squares

Create your own customized Board

* Endless possibilities for creating chess boards with unique club, school or personal identities

* Upload your own logos and images to appear on the board squares

* Change border and square colors with fun and easy editor

Here are a few custom designed GLOS boards which I have framed in my SPICE office at Texas Tech University:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Great story! Chess Mom turns author!

What do Moms do at chess tournaments? Anita Wheeless, mom to Amelia Wheeless (three-time Polgar Invitational participant), learned to knit in 2003 while waiting for her kids at chess tournaments. Just like chess, practice paid off as Anita now has a knitting book that’s just been published by Leisure Arts. “Storybook Dolls to Knit” is for sale at most online book sellers like Barnes & Noble or craft stores like A.C. Moore.


Classic fairytale characters come to life in the form of walkabouts with this book from designer Anita Wheeless. Walkabout characters are adorable knitted and felted puppets. Adults and children alike will love simply sliding their fingers into the hollow legs of these storybook stars to act out their favorite roles. The designs include Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, Mary and her little Lamb, Hansel and Gretel with the Witch, The Gingerbread Man, and Humpty Dumpty. All of the characters are knitted with wool yarn on double-pointed needles, with embellishments added after felting. Instruction book comes with an audio CD of the classic stories and nursery rhymes related to the characters.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

2011 SP Girl's Invitational

SPGI Press Release - March 25, 2011

The 8th Annual Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational 8th (2011 SPGI) will be held this year July 24-29 at Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock, Texas. This is one of the most prestigious all-girls events and will incorporate a three-day intense training with Susan Polgar and her team of chess instructors, followed by a 6 round (g/60) championship tournament. There will also be Blitz, Puzzle-Solving and Bughouse events and over $120,000 in chess scholarships and prizes (including netbook computers) will be awarded.

Each state is allowed to send one representative. Alternates may be substituted if named by June 15, 2011. Our hope is to have all 50 states and the District of Columbia represented. If the state affiliate does not recommend a representative, the Susan Polgar Committee may determine the candidate from that state. Players must have been enrolled in a school (through 12th grade) from the state they represent. Additionally, home-schooled students who have not yet enrolled in college courses prior to June 1, 2011 are also eligible to represent their home state. See for more SPGI details.Please send the name and email contact information for your state’s nomination to no later than May 15, 2011. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Martha Underwood, PhD, 2011 SPGI Chairperson, or one of the other committee members at this email address.
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