The University of Texas at Dallas, also playing this weekend, was the first imitator, then the University of Texas at Brownsville, then Texas Tech and now Webster University. Tiny Lindenwood University, in St. Charles, Mo., issued a breathless news release last year saying the school "is putting out a call for some of the finest young chess players in America and abroad. And the university is willing to provide scholarship money to build the nation's top collegiate chess program."
After winning four straight Final Fours in the mid-2000s, UMBC has won just two since 2007.
"If it continues this way, more and more universities will get stronger and stronger," said Giorgi Margvelashvili, a grandmaster from Georgia and UMBC's top player. "For now, I think other universities are doing a better job than UMBC."
The ambitions of UMBC imitators made national news last year after an unprecedented event in college — or even professional — competition. After winning two consecutive Final Fours at Texas Tech, coach Susan Polgar, the first woman to earn the men's grandmaster title, resigned from the school and signed on with Webster. Her players followed — their own decision, she said.
Polgar, recently the subject of a long profile in Wired magazine, is an assertive, controversial figure in chess. In 2010, she settled a long-running legal battle with the United States Chess Federation, which resulted in her membership being revoked.
Polgar likes to win, and she frequently does, with four world championships on her resume. 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 school public relations official listened in on a phone interview.