2012 U.S. Women's Championship Player Bios
Anna Zatonskih is a four-time U.S. Women's Champion. Three years ago, Zatonskih won the U.S. Women's Championship with a dominating score of 8.5/9, but she ran into stiff competition in 2010 against her longtime nemesis IM Irina Krush. Zatonskih recaptured the title in 2011 with a gutsy and grueling performance. Including the tiebreak and playoff matches, she played 19 games of chess over a two-week period to win the 2011 U.S. Women's title. Last year, Zatonskih suffered a heartbreaking loss in a playoff match agaisnt Krush, who went on to win the event.
Either Krush or Zatonskih have been the clear favorite each of the past five years, and odds-on money is that it will come down to one of the two to win the title of 2013 U.S. Women's Championship.
Anna said her chess highlights include the 2004 silver medal and the 2008 bronze she helped the U.S. team win at the Chess Olympics.
Outside of the chess, Anna has a variety of interests from bicycling to ping pong to scuba diving. She even played an underwater match while in scuba gear on a giant board. The game couldn't go longer than 50 minutes, but she played to a draw. Coached by her husband, German Grandmaster Daniel Fridman, Anna comes into the tournament in the hopes of securing her fourth title.
Irina Krush secured her fourth U.S. Women's title last year after narrowly missing out on a title in 2011. Although she is the reigning U.S. Women's Champion, she is coming into the tourney second by rating, and both she and IM Anna Zatonskih are the clear front runners to win this year's event.
Irina says looks forward to chess matches, but doesn't spend much time contemplating her chess success or failures. "I'm more attached to my future accomplishments." She said she enjoys the challenge of playing grandmasters most. "When you beat a strong GM, that's when you feel like you can play chess." Krush was the only female player to compete in the 2010 U.S. Championship, and turned in an impressive 12th-place finish, narrowly missing another GM norm.
Her performance at the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship just a few months later delivered her third title and further cemented her as one the top players in the nation.
Irina has a degree in international relations from NYU, but she is currently concentrating on chess. The 2008 Samford Chess Fellowship recipient has been hunting for GM norms and recently participated in the GM Norm Invitational in Saint Louis where she finished T-4th behind the three GMs in the field.
Outside of chess, Irina enjoys tennis, reading, writing, yoga and music.
Krush will be battling hard this year to surpass Zatonskih with her fifth U.S. Women's Championship title. She is coming off of a spectacular performace at the 2013 Women's World Team Championship, where she earned a gold medal for her superior performance on board 2 for the U.S. team, a result Krush called the best of her career.
Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at 8 after her father took her to the Chess Olympiad games in 1996. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest woman player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. "I was in complete awe," Tatev said. "My first thought was, 'I want to be just like her.'" She was soon playing competitively among the top players her age in Europe and has played in the U.S. Women's Chess Championship eight times.
But becoming a top chess player has not been easy. "The main problem is balancing school with chess. Even though college is the number one priority for me, I usually take time off to play in major events, like this one." When she is not studying or playing chess, she likes to read, play tennis, travel, watch movies and hang out with friends.
Another big challege for Tatev was moving to the U.S. In fact, she said: "It was the biggest change in my life, and it happened in a very short period of time. Everything in my life changed in a matter of few months. I had to give up everything I knew and start a new life. Even though I have lived here for some time now, it was a very big adjustment, and I think a continuous one."
Tatev is a formidable competitor. At the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship she played her heart out to a fantastic 7/9 score, which would usually be enough to net first place, but actually put her in a tie for second place, half a point behind Irina Krush. Tatev's strong play and fighting qualities in 2010 earned her the 9 Queens/goddess chess fighting spirit award, which was selected by former Women's World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk.
At the 2011 U.S. Women's Championship, Tatev turned in a remarkable performance, falling just short to Anna Zatonskih in the playoff finals to finish in second place. Although she had a somewhat disappointing performance last year (6th place overall), Tatev has gained more than 70 USCF rating points since the event in 2012, and she is poised to mae a deep run at this year's Championship.
Sabina Foisor has been a chess dynamo since starting around age 4. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Gary Kasparov and the late Bobby Fischer. Like many players, she has traveled the globe playing in tournaments, and she has participated in each of the past four U.S. Women's Championships (2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009). 2013 will mark her fifth appearance. Her main goal in chess is to become one of the top 20 women players in the world.
When not playing or training for chess, she likes to travel, read books, watch movies and hang out with friends. "Of course I can manage to balance chess with other things," she says. She has many heroes outside of chess, including her family, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Sigmund Freud. After listing those three she added, "I will stop here because the list would be too large."
One of her biggest challenges was moving to the U.S. to study at University of Maryland at Baltimore County, which has a strong chess program. Indeed, UMBC won the 2009 U.S. national collegiate title. At UMBC Foisor studies psychology, modern language and linguistics.
Camilla's deep understanding of chess and years of experience at elite competitions like the Olympiad and the Women's World Championships makes her capable of major surprises despite being less active than many of her rivals. For instance, in the 2009 U.S. Women's Championship, Camilla took clear second place, winning some brilliant games in the process, and earning herself an IM norm. These days, Camilla's energies go largely toward her family. She is married to grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky, and has two children.
Camilla has a master's degree in art history and is studying to become an art teacher. She is blunt when asked how she balances chess and the rest of her life: "There is no such thing as a good balance. You either do chess professionally or not." But Camilla quickly adds that she's not giving up on winning another championship, and vows to become a more aggressive player. Camilla is not about to let age get in the way of continuing to be a top player. She's hopeful that 10 to 15 years from now, her name will still be on the list of U.S. Women's Chess Championship invitees. "When the kids are out of the house," Camilla figures, she will have more time to devote to chess.
Viktorija Ni learned chess at the age of 7 from her mother, Polina, who is an Expert. She earned the title of Woman FIDE Master (WFM) in 2007 and the Woman International Master (WIM) title in 2010, earning her final norm at the 19th Chicago Open. Viktorija represented Latvia twice at the Chess Olympiad (2008, 2010) on the women's team. She recently switched her federation form Latvia to the United States, and this will mark her second U.S. Women's Championship.
Viktorija is a formidable competitor, coming into the tournament ranked sixth in the country by rating for Women. She is the wife of GM Yury Shulman, and they both live just outside of Chicago with their son Gabriel. Their son was born during the 2010 U.S. Championship, in which Yury finished second.
Iryna Zenyuk has two huge goals in life: To be a chess champion and to help the environment. She has a good start on her chess goal, ranking as one of the top 10 women players in the U.S. And she is active with her second goal too, currently pursuing a masters degree and eventually a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She plans to use the degree to develop ways to make renewable energy more prevalent. Iryna defines her interests this way: Chess is her love, it's fun. But mechanical engineering will give her the means to give back to society.
Iryna will undoubtably fight hard for her passions, as she is used to that overcoming long odds and adversity. Iryna's father died when she was 8 and her mother moved to the U.S., leaving her and her brother in the Ukraine alone until Iryna could join her 6 years later. "It taught me to be independent," she says without a trace of bitterness.
Other interests play a big role in Iryna's life too. Although only 5 feet 4, she was able to play volleyball in college. And these days dancing, particularly Latin and cha-cha, has become a main pursuit. Furthermore, she is friends with many of her chess competitors. "I have a lot of chess friends. We do the normal stuff: hang out, go to restaurants ... I don't call myself solitary."
For about as long as Rusudan Goletiani has been playing chess, she has been among the elite players, and that includes the ten years she has spent in the United States. The winner of the 2005 U.S. Women's Championship says she can't pick out one or two highlights that stand out. "Every accomplishment means a lot," she says, adding that her ultimate chess goal is to become a grandmaster.
Rusudan considers the late, great Russian grandmaster Alexander Alekhine as her biggest chess influence and adds that outside of chess she admires “every person that works hard to achieve his or her goal."
Outside of chess, Rusudan enjoys ping pong, reading and cooking. She is married with two children, but Rusudan says she doesn't have much difficult fitting the rigors of chess into her daily life. "I wish I had more time for everything, but somehow I manage it all," she says. Indeed, her most difficult challenge was moving – from her native country of Georgia to the New York when she was 19. "I did not have a family in New York, and did not know much English," she says.
Two years ago, she took a break from the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship to have her second child, but she came back to the event in 2011. She is hoping the 2012 event will bring her her second title.
Alisa Melekhina started playing at age 5 and entered her first tournament at age 7. In less than three years, she was winning prestigious international tournaments. the 2012 U.S. Women's Championship marks her fourth time competing for this sought-after title.
Alisa has already earned an International Master norm, which she considers her top chess accomplishment so far, but her ultimate goal is to become a grandmaster.
Alisa learned chess from her father, who was her first coach and remains a strong influence today.
Outside of chess, she is a ballerina, having studied dance for 12 years. But Alisa knows where her priorities lie: squarely with chess. "I try to maintain a flexible schedule, but chess always takes precedence," she said.
Although she is just 20, Alisa has already begun law school at Penn Law, the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious law school. She will be a formidable opponent at this year's event.
Three years ago, Alena Kats became the youngest female master in the country at the age of 15. Currently she is the second-youngest female master and is No. 1 in the nation for women under the age of 21. Alena started playing chess at the age of 4 and credits her mother for helping develop her early interest in the game. She started playing tournament chess at the age of 9 and is currently being coached by her father, Mikhail Kats.
Although Alena said she's not exactly sure what field of study she'd like to pursue when she goes to college, she said she has already expressed interest in Stony Brook University, located in Stony Brook, NY.
"I'm going to take different classes and see what suits my interests best," she said.
When asked what advice Alena would give to other strong female players who are younger than her, she said she'd tell them to believe in themselves, because in chess, hard work and effort will always pay off in the end.
Alena received the one-and-only wildcard invitation to the 2012 U.S. Women's Championship.
"I felt very honored, surprised and excited as I received the invitation," she said. "It was something I didn't expect, yet always dreamt of."
She said that her ambition as a chess player is to continue learning more about the game, as there are plenty of undiscovered secrets, with a short-term goal of improving her rating "as much as I possibly can, which will require lots of studying."
Outside of chess, Alena said she enjoys going out with friends, working out, shopping, traveling and trying out new and exciting things.