Polgar, recently the subject of a profile in Wired magazine, is an assertive, controversial figure in chess. In 2010, she settled a long-running legal battle with the U.S. Chess Federation, which resulted in her membership being revoked.
Polgar likes to win, and she frequently does, with four world championships on her résumé. So intense is her desire to dominate the chess world that she even instructs her players to exercise at the school gym. Physical strength, she said, gives the mind endurance for long matches.
Asked why she left Texas Tech, Polgar said, “We were hoping to get more support for our program, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.” Asked how people in the chess world view her, Polgar said as someone who “revolutionized college chess in recent years.” Webster is clearly protective of her, too. A public relations official for the school listened in on a phone interview.
Sherman had this to say about his rival: “She’s done a remarkable job in recruiting, but many people have a rather low view of some of her tactics.”
Is she a maligned figure like Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, known as A-Rod to friends and foes? “Well, I don’t know who A-Rod is, so I can’t comment on the analogy,” Sherman said. (To be fair, it’s unlikely A-Rod knows who Sherman is.)
Administrators at Webster said they viewed landing Polgar as a unique opportunity to strengthen the school’s academic reputation and forge a path, as Provost Julian Schuster put it, “to incorporate chess as a didactic tool in the academic mission of the university.” It’s not about winning, he added, so much as celebrating an intellectual activity that brings brilliant, diverse students to campus.
“But we prefer winning to other options,” he said.
‘The Mongolian Terror’
UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III has a similar philosophy when it comes to celebrating an activity of the mind. “We’re sending the message that educated people should be focusing attention on how to think critically,” he said. “That’s what it means to be educated.”
UMBC offers a variety of scholarships for players, including chess fellows funded by the school’s campus soda contract with Pepsi, which includes full tuition and a $15,000-per-year food and housing stipend. Team members often choose goofy nicknames that make them sound like professional wrestlers: “The Mongolian Terror” and “The Polish Magician,” for example.
Four UMBC chess fellows are playing in the tournament this weekend, to be held at the office of corporate sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton at 1 Preserve Pkwy. It is open to the public. Two players are grandmasters: Margvelashvili, a senior majoring in economics, and Niclas “The Dark Knight” Huschenbeth, a freshman psychology major from Germany.