Tech's Chess Program Continues To Thrive

Members of the chess program at Texas Tech hosts a demonstartion in the free speech area between the SUB and the library. Photo by Jordon Legendre.

Four fraternity chess champions sit in the Free Speech area. The four students are all preparing to play, but these will not be ordinary games. All four are facing the same opponent, and though they can see their opponent, he can’t see them. In this match, one, who is blindfolded, takes on four and wins, in less than an hour.

“My job is to win the game,” said victor Elshan Moradiabadi, “so, I just win it.”

Moradiabadi is a World Chess Federation grandmaster and member of the Texas Tech chess program. Moradiabadi also is one of the top 400 active players in the world, second in his native Iran.

Moradiabadi said playing four opponents did not faze him, he could play up to ten boards at a time, but one thing did make the exhibition a challenge: his schoolwork.

“It was just a physical pressure on me because I had a project to do,” Moradiabadi said. “The last two nights I didn’t have enough sleep, so I was worried about my physical condition.”

Moradiabadi is an example of the skill and talent that has become a hallmark of Texas Tech’s chess program.

Tech’s chess team rose to prominence after being led by Coach Susan Polgar to victories in The President’s Cup competitions in 2011 and 2012. Known as the “Final Four of College Chess,” The President’s Cup is considered the national championship of collegiate chess.

When Polgar announced she was leaving and taking her team to Webster University in April 2012, many wondered how Tech’s program would fare.

“We’ve moved on, and won titles since then,” said Al Lawrence, current director of the chess program and a former executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, who was hired in July.

The hiring of Alexander Onischuk in October as the team’s new coach was the next step in Tech’s rebuilding process. Onischuk is a grandmaster and one of the top 100 active players in the world. Lawrence said having Onischuk involved with the team has helped to recruit top players to Tech.

“He has many championships to his credit,” Lawrence said of Onischuk. “He is the highest rated and most powerful player that any school in North America has ever had; there is no disputing that.”

Team member Steven Breckenridge said he enjoys having Onischuk as a coach.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Breckenridge said, “he has so much knowledge and he can give so much of his experience in what to do in certain circumstance. I think he definitely has so much to offer.”

Onischuk and Lawrence’s recruited team has continued to bring championships to the university. Tech’s “B” and “C” teams won their divisions at December’s Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship. The “A” team finished sixth, just short of qualifying for a third consecutive trip to The President’s Cup.

The team was also named the top college at the world amateur team championship held in New Jersey. The 2013 Southwest Collegiate Championship in McAllen, Texas, saw Tech take the team competition, as well as an individual title for freshman Yaroslav Zherebukh.

Despite the team’s continued success, Lawrence said competition is not the program’s main focus.

“Our primary objective is really outreach,” Lawrence said. “Competition is important, but it is not as important to us as representing the university, both in the community, on the campus, and nationwide.”

Members of the Tech chess team staff a program that goes to more than a dozen middle and high schools in Lubbock and surrounding areas to teach the game to students

“Studies and anecdotal results all back up the idea that if a young student studies chess,” Lawrence said of the program’s values. “It teaches them a lot things that transfer to other skills. Concentration is one of them.”

Tech also sponsors chess tournaments for participants in the program.

“For the size of the city of Lubbock, we have a whole lot of participation,” Lawrence said. “The last one was 160 students at Estacado. It’s quite a well-attended program, lots of parents and lots of teachers.”

Breckenridge said he enjoys teaching the game.

“It’s definitely been humbling for me,” Breckenridge said. “I get to work with kids from anywhere from 5 years old to 12 or 13, they’re all just new to chess so you have to really explain it well, be humble, and dissect it really clearly. It’s a really good experience.”

Lawrence said the program has become more involved in promoting the university than it has in previous years.

“We are definitely a part of Texas Tech and the diversity division, and we’re very proud to be that, and we want to continue, through outreach, to represent the university.,” Lawrence said, “The competition side of it really interfaces with that, as you represent and win championships for Texas Tech you are doing outreach in effect.”

Lawrence said the chess program will also continue to develop.

“The outreach side is growing,” Lawrence said, “and definitely we’re getting a stronger and stronger team.”

About Jordon Legendre
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