17-Year-Old from Colombia Wins Susan Polgar Girls' Invitational

SPGI winner

ST. LOUIS, July 26, 2013 – Luisa Mercado Mendoza, a 17-year-old from Cartagena, Colombia, took the top prize at the 10th Annual Susan Polgar Girls Invitational (SPGI) chess tournament at Webster University, earning a four-year, all-tuition-and-fees scholarship to Webster, worth $23,000 a year; a cash prize of $3,000; an iPad mini; and a $2,400 year-long fitness sponsorship from Crossfit.

“I was quite impressed with the dedication I saw from Luisa,” said tournament founder and Webster University chess coach Susan Polgar. “She came here to take care of business and that's exactly what she did. Her dedication really paid off.”

Mendoza, who has been playing chess for 13 years and currently ranks in the top five players in Colombia under age 18, said she immediately called her family in Colombia to share her good news. “They were screaming and cheering,” she said. On the other end of the line were her mother, father, three aunts and a cousin. Another aunt accompanied Mendoza to St. Louis for the tournament.

Mendoza was 4 when she saw a commercial on TV for free lessons at the local chess club. Her uncle took her there and she was immediately hooked. From those early beginnings, her parents later hired a private tutor to give Mendoza chess lessons.

“Chess is very popular in Colombia,” Mendoza said. “In some schools, mine included, chess is a required subject.” And it goes without question that Mendoza is the best chess player in her school.

Mendoza will enter her final year of high school this fall, but looking forward to fall 2014, she said she is very happy and excited about winning the scholarship to Webster University. “I really like Webster and want to be a part of it,” she said. “I like the possibility of living on campus at Webster, because in Colombia, there are not many schools where you can do that. St. Louis is very green and beautiful and it's very easy to get around.”

From St. Louis, Mendoza will travel to New York City to take an intensive English language course before returning to Colombia in September.

Also winning four-year scholarships to Webster University in the amount of $13,000 per year were Becca Lampman, who is ranked as the top under-18 female chess player in the state of Washington, and Jackie Peng, who is a member of the Canadian Olympic Chess Team.