The Washington Post

The other Final Four — of chess

The UMBC chess team and coaches. (Marlayna Demond for UMBC)

The tallest figure at this weekend’s Final Four in New York will stand about 4 inches.

I speak, of course, of the King.

And the Final Four of Chess, not basketball.

The quiet, polite madness will take place at the New York Athletic Club, where the dress code is somewhat more refined than AT&T Stadium, where the taller Final Four participants will play.

The chess Final Four features the University of Maryland Baltimore County, one of the oldest and most successful collegiate programs, but one that has been overtaken both in pizazz and talent by another Final Four participant — Webster University in St. Louis, which is led by Susan Polgar, a powerful, controversial and ultra-competitive figure in chess. She makes her players work out at the gym.

Texas Tech and the University of Illinois round out the other two teams.

On paper, Webster is highly favored. It fields a roster with Grandmasters on all four of its boards. UMBC has just two.

“But anything can happen,” Alan Sherman, a UMBC cryptology expert and the school’s longtime chess director, told me.

What UMBC’s chess team members lack in dunking ability they make up in creative nicknames, a longtime tradition at the school.

Top player Niclas Huschenbeth, a Grandmaster, is “The Dark Knight.” Akshayraj Kore, another Grandmaster, is “The Indian Knight.” Levan Bregadze is “The Georgian Gangster.” Nazi Paikidze is “The Black Widow.” Sabina Foisor keeps her nickname simple. She is “Sunshine.”

Play wraps up Sunday.

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