Texas Tech's chess team, the Knight Raiders, are ranked #1 in the nation, but their head coach and director Susan Polgar is moving to Webster University, and she's taking some of Tech's best players with her. Polgar says the main reason for the move is not enough funding.
Polgar said her goodbyes in a blog post on Friday, praising Texas Tech for their "incredible support" and offering to help them continue the program.
An internationally known, Polgar was named the #1 chess player in the world at age 15, and is described as one of the strongest female chess players in history.
She came to Texas Tech in 2007 to establish SPICE, the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence. "We started from the ground up," said Polgar. "We had just a few students, but we now have 21 students in the SPICE program."
Recruiting players from around the world, Polgar built an unstoppable team that beat top universities like Yale and Harvard. In 2010 Knight Raiders division one made it to the Final Four Championship. In 2011 they won the championship, and this year they've once again made it to the Final Four and are expected to take the trophy home.
Polgar says it's that success that's causing the problem. "We kind of became the victims of our own success. The program grew so fast that the university had difficulty accommodating the fast growth of the program," said Polgar.
Her husband and professional business manager Paul Truong says with the fast growth, SPICE can't keep up with recruiting the best with the funding Tech allots to the chess program.
"A grandmaster is the highest title in chess, and around the world there is maybe 1,200. Tech could potentially have eight grandmasters next year if we would have enough funding," said Truong. "Imagine having eight Michael Jordans or eight Tom Bradys… it would be insane. Unfortunately we don't have funding, and if we don't have funding they go elsewhere."
Originally Tech gave SPICE $15,000 for scholarships, but after they won the championship last year the amount was doubled to $30,000. Polgar says that's simply not enough, and most rival schools will give $30,000 to one player alone. She says the only way the team was able to stay afloat for as long as it did was because of a very generous donation.
"It's not that they didn't want to support the program. I think being a state institution their hands were tied and they weren't at liberty to give as much as perhaps they wanted to," said Polgar.
Tech communication and marketing managing director Chris Cook says that's exactly the case. "With the most recent rounds of budget cuts, we're all experiencing a little tightening in the purse strings so to speak," said Cook. "We have other national championship programs. We did see the importance of the chess program, but you have to meet the needs of all programs while staying in the overall budget."
In addition to Polgar and her husband leaving, eight of the A-Team, or division one, players are following her to Webster University in St. Louis. Polgar says many of them came to Tech solely for the SPICE program, so it's not surprising they're making the move.
"For many of them it was a pretty natural and logical decision. For others who are closer to their graduation here at Tech it was logical to stay," said Polgar.
Polgar says Webster has international campuses and is a private institution that can give more money to the chess program. While her students are going with her – she still says the move is bitter sweet. "It was a very difficult decision I must say," she said. "We love Texas Tech. We love Lubbock and had a lot of support.
The following students have been accepted / committed to Webster University for the Fall 2012 (August):
Grandmaster Georg Meier - Germany - Sophomore
Grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi - Iran - Graduate student
Grandmaster Anatoly Bykhovsky - Israel - Junior
Grandmaster Andre Diamant - Brazil - Junior
Grandmaster Denes Boros - Hungary - Junior
International Master Vitaly Neimer - Israel - Sophomore
International Master - elect Faik Aleskerov - Azerbaijan - Graduate student
Polgar will continue coaching the Knight Raiders for the Final Four Championship in March.
After she leaves in June, Tech officials will be looking to hire a new coach and director for the chess program.
Copyright 2012 KCBD NewsChannel 11