Webster University rules college chess

Chess team group photo 2021

Webster University’s chess team won more titles than any other participating school at the 2021 U.S. Collegiate Rapid and Blitz Individual Championship this past fall. Under the leadership of Liem Le, considered one of the youngest collegiate grandmaster head coaches in the U.S., the Gorloks’ dominance is only beginning.

Many people wonder how the Webster chess team can maintain our No. 1 ranking every year since inception and how our students won more titles than all other chess programs in the country combined,” Le said. “The secret is teamwork and training. Our team members train together, travel together, dine together and win together. I always believe in the collaborative spirit of ‘all for one and one for all.’”

The Webster chess program has been making noise since its creation in 2012. Le was part of the dominance as a competitor, having been selected team captain during his years as a student in 2015 and 2017. He moved over to the coaching seat after the retirement of Susan Polgar, founder of the eponymous Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence.

Because of President Julian Z. Schuster's insight and vision, chess made its home at Webster. He says, “The establishment of Webster's chess team ten years ago was a continuation of Webster’s focus on providing a quality education to students challenged to access higher education. Our students do more than win chess tournaments. They teach chess to students from kindergarten to high school in the Greater St. Louis area. This instills skills such as critical thinking and timely decision making and the values of hard work and perseverance at a young age — the traits which will serve them well throughout life and professional pursuits.”

Chancellor Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble points out, “The game of chess transcends geographic borders and language differences, fueling our students' critical and creative thinking and providing benefits far beyond the competition on the chessboard. Chess is a natural fit for Webster — a global game for a global institution.” 

With the main location in St. Louis, Webster features an action-oriented global network of faculty, staff, students and alumni. That reality is reflected by its chess team, which features competitors from the U.S., Ukraine, Peru, Cuba, Armenia and Hungary.

“Our students are some of the most talented chess players throughout the world,” said Le, a native of Vietnam. “In addition to earning national and international recognition for the University, students provide an international perspective on chess training and play, in a collaborative manner. The team are truly outstanding global citizens who excel in chess and academics.”

“The secret is teamwork and training. Our team members train together, travel together, dine together and win together. I always believe in the collaborative spirit of ‘all for one and one for all.’”

Gaining steam

In 2021, the Gorloks won national titles in the Individual Rapid, Individual Blitz and the Collegiate Rapid competitions. That success on the chessboard has led to recognition in other areas of academia, Le said.

“Webster's successful chess team helps keep Webster in the academic spotlight as a powerhouse of collegiate chess, and also as a premier institution that supports individual excellence and promotes global education,” he said. “Our high academic standards that we ask of our chess team further showcase that Webster cares about fostering each student's learning and future success, even outside of chess.”

After the team's rousing success at the Rapid and Blitz championships, the Gorloks are now preparing for the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Championship this winter and the Final Four of College Chess in the spring of 2022. The players have no intention of letting up.

“Chess has long been recognized to be an intellectual pursuit with far-reaching cognitive and real-world benefits,” Le said. “Having a top chess team, club and center allows all Webster students and the community a chance to engage in a college experience that is unique. The connections made over a chess board benefit all our Webster students and community.”

President Schuster notes that, “The game of chess is more than a complicated strategic game. It is a mental exercise of choices and actions which create challenges and opportunities requiring comprehensive solutions for complex problems. Thus, we can simply state that chess belongs in every school and every university. Since its founding in 1915, Webster University has addressed both internal and external challenges by finding innovative and truly entrepreneurial solutions. Basic chess principles have been used to advance Webster’s mission and vision.”

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