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Whatley Will Join Nation's Top Ranked Chess Program At Webster University

web posted April 8, 2014

MERRIWETHER Strom Thurmond High School senior, Tori Whatley, has been accepted to study at Webster University, and through the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) program, will receive a  $14,000 per year scholarship to study and play with the Webster chess team, which, has been ranked #1 in Division I College Chess since it's inception in August, 2012. The St. Louis-based powerhouse, led by nine Grandmaster team members from nine different countries, has never relinquished the top ranking, and has never lost a match. 

The team boasts 2 World and 19 National Championships, and this past weekend, defended their National Championship title at the 2014 President's Cup in New York.

Whatley's storied path to this honor began about nine years ago, when she was only one of three or four girls in South Carolina who played competitive chess.  National Master, Donny Gray worked with the blossoming talent instilling some fundamentals and honing her skills.  Then, in 2008, she befriended Polgar, a 4-time Women's World Champion, after winning the privilege to compete in the Susan Polgar Girls' Invitational.  Meeting Polgar heavily influenced the young girl. who in time, would earn an unprecedented, five invitations to the elite tournament, a record shared with only one other girl in the United States.

Through the years Whatley established many state records for female scholastic (K-12) chess in South Carolina, her success inspiring more and more girls to try the game.  Since the young lady from Edgefield County began playing the game, the South Carolina Chess Association has shown marked growth in the number of girls participating in the intellectual activity.  In response to the growth, the organization created new awards and began recognizing the female champion in each of it's four divisions at the state scholastic championship tournament.

"When I stop to think about it, it's all so surreal.  It's like a fairy tale.  I'm so proud of where I'm from, that they would support me in chess, when football, baseball, and basketball are the attention-getters.  Through local support, I've been able to travel and play an exhibition match with a Women's World Champion (GM Alexandra Kosteniuk), play a casual game with someone recently inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame (GM Gregory Kaidanov), and now have the support of another Women's World Champion (GM Polgar) to get a top-notch education.  I'm so fortunate and thankful to have met all of these awesome people and that this has all come together the way it has.  Many local people have had a hand in getting me here and I really appreciate what they've done for me."    

The teen will play her last "local" tournament on May 3rd in the championship section of the Southern Girl's Regional Chess Championships in Charlotte, N.C. before embarking on her journey to St. Louis, Missouri for her sixth, and final, Polgar Invitational in mid July.  She is expected to return to Webster's St. Louis campus to commence classes in mid August.

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