Webster University Chess Team Co-Hosts First Tournament for Local Schools

Two young chess players compete in the first district-wide tournament for area schools Saturday's tournament was the first-ever for Webster Groves K-6 schools and attracted more than 50 young competitors

ST. LOUIS (MAY 5, 2014) - For the first time in the Webster Groves School District’s history, the K-6 schools held a district-wide chess tournament on Saturday, May 3. More than 50 students from seven of Webster Groves’ eight elementary schools competed.

Members of Webster University’s SPICE chess program officiated and co-sponsored the tournament. At the end of the tournament, students who won medals at the tournament played chess against Webster student and chess grandmaster Manuel Leon Hoyos, a former US Open champion and reigning National Open Champion.

“It’s exciting that this is the first ever tournament for the school district,” said Jane Baumgartner, secretary to the school board and one of the district’s organizers of the event. “It’s especially exciting to have this enthusiastic response of more than 50 students and their parents. There was so much excitement for it.”

Chess is relatively new to the Webster Groves School District, explained Paul Truong, director of Marketing for the SPICE program. He said Webster University Chess Head Coach Susan Polgar strongly believes in the value of supporting chess clubs in elementary, junior high and high schools, as studies have repeatedly shown that students who play chess excel in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes that they take. Because of that, she has met with school district officials, offering support to local chess programs.

“Only one school does not offer chess right now. By the fall, every school in Webster Groves, including the junior high and high schools, will have a chess program,” Truong said. “Susan had meetings with teachers where she taught them how to play chess, as well as showing them how to teach their students how to play chess.”

The tournament started at 10 a.m. Saturday at Steger Sixth Grade Center with remarks from Polgar and school district officials. Students were led into the cafeteria where several dozen chess boards were laid out and numbered and students were told which board they would play at and who they were facing. The students were split into two groups - K-3 and 4-6 - so that there wasn’t a significant age difference against players. Players then played four rounds and faced a different opponent in each round. They earned one point for each win, zero point for each loss, and a half-point for each draw. During the tournament, parents were not allowed in the cafeteria (to avoid possible distraction or interference), so most stood outside with their faces pressed against the windows, trying to see how their children were performing.

“My son Lucca was really excited about this tournament and really wants to focus more on chess,” said Tom Lane, father of the fourth-grade boy. “I have never seen him so happy for a school event, and I’m really glad we were able to fit this in on our Saturday.”

At the end of the event, trophies were handed out to the best K-3 and 4-6 players, as well as to the teams with the best average scores. The top two students from each grade also were given medals for their performance and then invited to play against grandmaster Hoyos. Most of the students took up Hoyos’ challenge and played against him for another hour.

Photos of the tournament can be found online at: https://picasaweb.google.com/116302832360230031699/WebsterGrovesSchoolDistrictChessChampionship.

A group photo of the chess players with the Webster University SPICE chess team