The Women's Championship Field
If Irina Krush can once again achieve victory at this year’s U.S. Women’s Championship, her recent domination of the tournament will seem less like a win streak and more like a chess dynasty. Winner of six U.S. Women Championships, including the past three, Krush has entrenched herself as the figurehead to elite American women’s chess play. But this doesn’t mean she’s resting on her haunches: America's only active female GM says she doesn't spend much time contemplating her current chess success or failures -- "I'm more attached to my future accomplishments."
Born in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine) in 1983, Irina learned to play chess at age five, emigrating with her parents to Brooklyn that same year. Krush attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, where she participated in one of the top high-school chess teams in the country. It has been a rapid climb for Irina since then, including exceptional showings in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Chess Olympiads, as well as a gold-medal performance in the 2013 Women’s World Team Championship -- a result Krush called the best of her career. 2013 clearly was a great year for Irina, as she also achieved her long-sought Grandmaster title.
In addition to her chess studies, the 2008 Samford Chess Fellowship recipient enjoys tennis, reading, writing, yoga and music. Krush has a degree in international relations from NYU, though she is currently concentrating on chess. She said she enjoys the challenge of playing other Grandmasters most: "When you beat a strong GM, that's when you feel like you can play chess."
Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at eight after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female 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.'" After, Tatev was soon playing competitively among the top players her age in Europe.
Moving to the U.S. when she was thirteen was a challenge for Tatev. "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."
But what hasn’t changed is Tatev’s prowess at chess and her drive to improve. Currently the third highest rated female in the U.S., she has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.
Tatev lives in Los Angeles, having graduated in 2011 from California State University Long Beach, where she double majored in psychology and political science. When she is not studying or playing chess, she likes to read, play tennis, travel, watch movies, and hang out with friends.
With a number of strong showings over the past several years, including a runner-up finish in last year's U.S. Women’s Championship, Abrahamyan has proven to be a capable third party against the stranglehold that GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih have held on the event since 2006.
After her recent transfer to the U.S. Chess Federation, the 2015 U.S. Women's Championship will be Anna Sharevich's first time competing for the national title—though none of her competitors will see it as any reason to underestimate her.
A native of Brest, Belarus and a prolific champion of the Ladies’ Belarusian Chess Championship (2002, 2005, 2007, 2011), Sharevich has long-established herself as a fierce competitor on elite levels of chess competition. Receiving her WGM title in 2006 at 21 years old, Sharevich has continued to improve her play after immigrating to the U.S. and grown accustomed to living far from home.
Now living in Saint Louis, MO, Sharevich has played for both the Lindenwood and Webster University Chess teams, and recently put together an impressive showing in December’s 2014 Pan American Intercollegiate Championship. This past year also saw Anna selected for her first Chess Olympiad -- for team U.S.A. -- already boasting a great deal of experience in Olympiad play, having contributed to the Belarusian team in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2011. Sharevich also was a member of the Saint Louis Arch Bishops, the 2014 champions of the U.S. Chess League.
With WGM Cristina Adela Foisor and IM Ovidiu-Doru Foisor for parents, the expectations were sure to be high for Sabina Foisor’s chess career -- and she just might have already exceeded them. Sabina was already participating in chess tournaments by the age of four and, by the time she was eighteen, she had already been crowned a Romanian and European Junior Chess Champion, scored fifth place in the 2007 European Women’s Chess Championship, qualified for the 2008 World Women’s Chess Championship, and had achieved her WGM title.
Foisor credits much of her early success to the intense mentorship she received from her parents as a child—each day devoting five-to-seven hours studying and playing chess. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Gary Kasparov and the late Bobby Fischer. Like many U.S Championship players, she has traveled the globe playing chess tournaments, and she has participated in each of the past six U.S. Women's Championships (2009-2014). With each passing tournament, Sabina continues to strive towards her goal: To become one of the top-20 female players in the world.
When not playing or training for chess, Foisor 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."
WGM Katerina Nemcova is a Prague-born, Czech chess champion who currently attends Webster University in St. Louis for her Masters in Public Relations. Learning to play chess at age four in the Czech Republic, she won her national youth championship in eight different age categories on her ascent, topping out as the Czech Women’s Champion in 2008 and 2010.
As a representative of the Czech Republic, Katerina is a three-time Olympic player (2008, 2010, 2012) and a gold-medalist as the second board in the European Women's Team Championship in 2007. Katerina transferred to the USCF in 2013, and while she attended UT-Brownsville for her undergraduate degree, she competed for Rio Grande Ospreys in the U.S. Chess League. Last year, Katerina’s first attempt at the U.S. Women’s Championship was a great success, finishing an impressive fourth place.
Katerina is the product of a chess-playing family, the third of seven siblings, all of whom were taught chess and encouraged by chess-playing parents. Four Nemcova girls, including Katerina, have earned Czech youth champion titles.
“My father always had us all practice together, it was always a nice family moment -- not just like ‘practice,’ but always a lot of fun with my siblings,” Nemcova said. “I’ve always had my best performances in team events -- I just feel like more people is more fun, the collectiveness of the whole event. I’m used to fighting together with my siblings; I like people around.”
Her first time competing in the event, as one of the U.S. Chess Federation’s most-recent transfer, IM Nazi Paikidze is bound to make her presence known in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Championship by arriving with a resume full of international success.
Even at an early age, it was clear Paikidze would soon become a powerhouse player. Raised in Tbilisi, Georgia, Paikidze quickly collected prolific wins at the highest levels of international youth chess play. By the time she was 16, Paikidze had won four European Youth Chess Championships and medaled in the World Youth Chess Championship an astounding six times, including two gold-medal finishes.
In 2006, Paikidze moved with her family to Moscow, Russia, which allowed her to participate in Russian tournaments. While she continued to represent Georgia in international events, she seized the initiative to combat some of Russia’s best, winning both the Moscow Women’s Championship and the Moscow’s Open Women Tournament, and finishing fourth in the Russian Women’s Chess Championship. With continuous strong play, Nazi achieved her Women’s Grandmaster title in 2010 and her International Master in 2012.
Nazi transferred to the USCF last November after recently moving to the U.S., where she now currently studies Information Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is a major asset to the traditionally powerhouse UMBC chess program, one of the Final Four schools of collegiate chess to compete in the 2015 President’s Cup.
A woman of many talents, FM Alisa Melekhina is a ballerina, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a budding entrepreneur -- and one of the strongest female chess players in the United States. Emigrating from Crimea, Ukraine, Melekina's family spent her early childhood growing accustomed to their new life in the United States. It was during this time that Alisa's father first taught her chess and, by the time she was seven, Melekhina was already participating in her first tournaments. In less than three years, she was succeeding in prestigious international tournaments, including top-10 finishes in World Youth and Junior Chess Championships.
Since then, Alisa has been a regular competitor in national and international events, placing third in the World Open U2400 Section and being crowned the first female Pennsylvania State Champion. The 2015 U.S Women’s Champion will mark the sixth time she has competed for the title.
Alisa achieved her FIDE Master rating in 2011, the same year she began attending the University of Pennsylvania Law School. While it only took her two years to graduate, Alisa admits that the law school workload paid its toll on her chess studies. While she continues to stay busy with her own entrepreneurial endeavors and a full-time position at a New York law firm, Alisa has recommitted herself to chess. Now, Alisa strives toward her ultimate goal of achieving Grandmaster status, and this year's U.S. Women's Championship should prove to be a great next step.
A veteran to the Women’s U.S. Championship, WGM Rusudan Goletiani was the 2005 U.S. Women’s Champion -- and the last to hold the throne since Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih began trading the title. Goletiani has continued to be a force with each appearance in the event, finishing third as recently as 2012.
As a U.S player in the 2008 Olympiad, Goletiani helped steer the U.S. team towards a bronze medal finish -- though she doesn’t dwell heavily on the past. When asked about important highlights in her chess career, Goletiani said that she appreciates each victory she achieves: "Every accomplishment means a lot," she said.
Hailing from the country of Georgia, Goletiani made an impact on the chess community as a young girl, winning the World Championship for Girls in each U14, U16 and U18 categories. She moved to the U.S. in 2000, and since 2004 has been competing for the USCF. Though she has achieved a great deal, Goletiani won’t rest until she achieves her ultimate chess goal: Becoming a Grandmaster.
Outside of chess, Goletiani enjoys ping pong, reading and cooking. She is married with two children, but says she doesn't have much difficulty 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. Goletiani considers the great Russian Grandmaster Alexander Alekhine her biggest chess influence, though she adds that outside of chess she admires “every person that works hard to achieve his or her goal."
WIM Viktorija Ni learned chess at age of seven from her mother, Polina, who possesses an expert rating at chess. Since then, it has been a steady climb for Ni now entrenched among the top-15 female players in the United States.
Ni received her WIM title in 2010, earning her final norm at the 19th Chicago Open. After representing her native country Latvia in the 2008 and 2010 Chess Olympiads, she switched to the USCF in 2011 and has since competed in three U.S. Women’s Championships. Her best finish was fourth place in 2012.
Ni is the wife of GM Yury Shulman, and together they live in Barrington, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. She favors the Sicilian defense and the Queen’s Gambit, and she hopes her solid play will result in another favorable result at this year’s U.S. Women’s Championship. Ni has worked as a chess coach through Chess without Borders since 2010, and in her free time she practices yoga.
In March 2014, when she was 11, seventh-grader WIM Annie Wang became the youngest female chess master in the United States -- a record that had stood since 1996 when reigning U.S. women’s champion Irina Krush set it at age 12.
She was turned onto chess at the age of five, while attending a festival at a park near her home and observing a simul. Annie remembers: “I was interested in the toy-like pieces and started learning chess.” She has since compiled a number of impressive accolades, including an undefeated win in the U2100 section of the Annual Recession Buster Open in San Diego in 2013, and first place in the U18 Girls section of the North American Youth Chess Championship last June. There, she also earned her current title.
Now 12, Annie lives in La Cañada, California and, though her father is a numerical-modeling researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, his daughter’s chess talent far outpaces his own. When she isn’t playing chess, Annie enjoys reading and spending time with friends.
When Apurva Virkud learned the game from her first-grade teacher, she was hooked. She took a few classes, joined chess clubs and became Michigan’s Individual Children’s Champion for 4th and 5th Grade by age 11. Today, after nine years of honing her skills, the 16-year old is ready for the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.
Now a high-school junior from Troy, MI, Virkud holds a FIDE rating of 2127 and already has many championship wins under her belt, including the 2011 Susan Polgar Girls’ Invitational Chess Tournament in Lubbock, Texas with a perfect 6-0 score. She also tied for first place at the first National Girls’ Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin in 2013, and last July tied for first in the U.S. Girls Junior Invitational.
"I like the problem-solving aspect of chess. It opened up so many opportunities for me, and I've traveled to many countries and met some great friends through chess," said Virkud, who has traveled as far as Turkey and Brazil for international competitions.
For fun, Virkud enjoys playing the violin and piano, reading and spending time with friends. She is planning to go to college to study engineering, but will keep professional chess-playing in mind. Her practice schedule is made up of one hour per day during the school year, and four hours per day over the summer.
WFM Jennifer Yu is well on her way to chess stardom after her recent gold medal at the 2014 World Youth Chess Championship in South Africa -- the only U.S. gold in the event and the first world title for an American girl since 1987.
Yu was born in Ithaca, New York and started playing chess in first grade, attending an after-school chess class. After the school finished its chess sessions, Yu wanted to continue her interest and asked her parents to find a coach. This simple request launched Yu’s chess career. They took her to group chess lessons and tournaments for kids, but didn’t realize how talented she was until that coach informed them.
Today, the 13-year-old lives in Ashburn, Virginia and is a pretty typical eighth-grader, aside from her immense chess talent. Her well-rounded interests include playing the flute and piano, listening to music, drawing, and playing sports. Though she practices chess at least one hour per day and Skypes with Grandmaster Larry Christiansen for lessons, she ultimately becomes a better player through competition in tournaments where she can think through difficult challenges as she encounters them.
Yu holds a FIDE rating of 2166 and has participated in three World Youth Chess Championships, including last year’s gold medal event. At 10, she came in 11th place at the 2012 World Youth Championship in Slovenia, and in 2013 she placed fourth in the United Arab Emirates.