Texas Tech Hires Chess World Champion, Establishes Excellence Institute

Texas Tech university announced Saturday (May 12) that it will establish the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) and hire chess powerhouses Susan Polgar and Paul Truong to head the program.

Written by Cory Chandler

Texas Tech University, known athletically as the home of Bobby Knight and the Air Raid football offense, could soon be equally feared for its wicked endgame.

The university announced Saturday (May 12) that it will establish the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) and hire chess powerhouses Susan Polgar and Paul Truong to head the program.
Polgar, four-time women’s classical world chess champion and five-time Olympic chess champion, has been hired as director of SPICE and coach of the Knight Raiders chess team. Truong, 11-time national champion, is the institute’s business manager and assistant coach.

"We are obviously very excited about SPICE and the opportunities it will provide," said Polgar. "We plan to build one of the world’s premier centers for chess research and outreach while solidifying Texas Tech as a national chess contender."

The institute will include academic and outreach components and provide an almost unprecedented forum for academic research on the game.

Situated under the Office of the Provost, SPICE will allow researchers across disciplines to study chess from angles as diverse as artificial intelligence, cognition, and women’s studies. Research could probe the influence of chess on learning, for example, or tap the university’s High Performance Computing Center to create sophisticated computer programs.

Institute developers also intend to use SPICE as a way to promote and support collegiate-level competitive chess and to promote chess outreach to players of all ages.

Recruiting chess champions will benefit the university academically, said Jim Brink, senior vice provost for academic affairs, noting that chess requires a combination of intellect, spatial thinking and other skills that often translate into classroom success.

"Smart people play chess," he said. "There is a very close correlation between chess excellence and academic capability."

Texas Tech has established itself as an emerging chess presence in just a few short years. The Knight Raiders club, established in 2003, now claims more than 100 members. This includes an international slate of star talent wooed to checkmate for Texas Tech. In 2006, the university was named Chess College of the Year by the United States Chess Federation – the U.S. governing body – for its scholarship program and emphasis on female recruitment.

Creating an institute devoted to chess and hiring two of the game’s top personalities will increase Tech’s profile in the chess scene, said Haraldur Karlsson, the current team coach and mentor who helped found the Knight Raiders and was a key player in building Texas Tech’s relationship with Polgar and Truong.

"This is a seismic event in the chess world," Karlsson said. "This institute is a unique opportunity to apply the resources of a major research university to promoting and understanding chess."

Polgar has visited Lubbock in the past to meet with Texas Tech officials and the Ramirez Charter School Rooks chess team, an outreach program of the Knight Raiders. She spoke at Texas Tech’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies Saturday, where the institute was announced.

Polgar has a lengthy list of credentials, including being the only person – male or female – to win chess’ Triple Crown, comprised of Rapid, Blitz and Classical world championships. She currently is the top-ranked woman player in the United States and, at the age of 21, was the first woman to earn the Grandmaster title. Truong is an eleven-time national champion in Vietnam and was the captain and business manager of the 2004 U.S. Women's Olympiad Team.

CONTACT: Jim Brink, senior vice provost for academic affairs, Office of the Provost, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2184 or jim.brink@ttu.edu.