Anna Zatonskih is entering the 2016 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship as the highest-rated seed and the competitor with the greatest chance of ending Irina Krush’s reign as Champion. Zatonskih did not participate in last year’s Championship, but having won the title of U.S. Women’s Champ four times she is always a serious threat to win it all.
In 2009, 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. In 2012, Zatonskih suffered a heartbreaking loss in a playoff match against Krush, who went on to win the event.
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 fifth title.
Irina Krush is hoping to secure her U.S. Women’s Champion title for the fifth time in a row this year against a field of familiar faces. She has won the Championship seven times as has been the reigning Champ from 2012 - 2015.
Krush has entrenched herself as the figurehead to elite American women’s chess play by earning the title of Grandmaster in October 2013. 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.
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."
Known for her uncompromising style of play, Tatev Abrahamyan always bring a lot of excitement to the U.S. Women’s Championship. She is the most capable third party with a chance to end the stranglehold that Krush and Zatonskih have had on the U.S. Women’s Championship since 2006.
She is participating in her eighth U.S. Women’s Championship this year and despite never having won a Championship, she has come the closest compared to the rest of the field. She tied for first in 2005, but lost to Rusudan Goletiani in the playoffs. She tied for second with Zatonskih in 2010 and came in clear second in 2011.
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.
Katerina Nemcova has been a dangerous competitor in the U.S. Women’s Championship from the moment she changed her federation in 2013. This marks the third year in a row that she has played in the Championship and she has proven that she is capable of fighting for the title.
Last year, she led the field for most of the tournament but ultimately tied for second with Nazi Paikidze. She played Irina Krush in the final round and a win would have forced a playoff but they drew the game and Krush became the Champion.
Nemcova is a member of the prestigious Webster University chess team where she majored in public relations. Coached by Susan Polgar, Nemcova has shown rapid improvement in recent years and enters this year’s Championship nearly 50 points higher-rated than she was a year ago.
Nemcova is a Prague-born, Czech chess champion who learned to play at age four. She won her national youth championship in eight different age categories on her ascent, topping out in 2008 as the Czech Women’s Champion and earning the title again in 2010.
Nemcova is the product of a complete chess-playing family, the third of seven siblings, all of whom were taught chess and fueled 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.”
She has represented the Czech Republic in a team event every year from 2007 to 2012 and was a three-time Olympic (2008, 2010, 2012) player and a gold-medalist as the second board at the European Women's Team Championship in 2007 with a score of 7.5/9 points.
Individually, Nemcova found her international stride after a second-place showing in the 2007 World Youth Championship (Kemer-Antalya, Turkey), followed up with a win at the 2008 European Youth Chess Championship after entering as the highest-rated girl U18.
Nazi Paikidze had a strong debut performance in last year’s U.S. Women’s Championship, tying for second with an undefeated score of 7.5/11. Since transferring federations to the U.S. in November 2014 she has risen to the fifth highest rated woman in America.
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.
She 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.
By the age of six, Sabina Foisor had started participating in chess tournaments and, by the time she was 18 she had already been finishing in top 3 at multiple National Romanian and European Junior Chess Championships. She says that aside from having earned her WGM title, her most memorable achievement was at the 2007 European Women’s Chess Championship where she shared 5th place qualifying for the 2008 World Women’s Chess Championship.
Foisor credits much of her early success in chess to the intense mentorship she received from her parents (both International Masters) as a child—each day devoting around five hours of studying chess. Like many U.S. Championship players, she has traveled the globe playing chess tournaments, and she has participated in each of the past seven U.S. Women's Championships (2009-2015). Additionally she has represented the U.S. at three Chess Olympiads and two World Women’s Team Chess Championships.
In 2008, after receiving a chess scholarship at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Foisor decided to focus on her studies. She graduated Cum Laude in Modern Languages and Linguistics and continued pursuing a Masters in Intercultural Communications. Upon finishing her Masters in 2014, Sabina moved to Lubbock, Texas, where she currently serves as a Unit Coordinator for the Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center at Texas Tech University where she strives to organize events that promote diversity and academic excellence on campus and in the community.
Foisor does not consider herself a professional chess player anymore. However, she states that chess will always be a part of her life and she loves promoting it to make a change. She has recently started a YouTube channel where she loves to share her knowledge. Additionally her love for cooking has given her the idea to create a chess cooking website. When not working, playing or training for chess, Sabina likes to travel, read books, watch movies, cooking and blogging.
At just 12 years of age, Carissa Yip has quickly become one of the top female players in America. Known for her creativity over the board, she enters the tournament with an all time high rating of 2305.
Yip has been on a record-shattering pace ever since she learned how to play the game from her father at age 6. Three years later, at age 9, she became the youngest ever to reach the title of Expert.
Two years later she broke the record for youngest female to achieve the title of National Master at the age of 11 years, 5 months, and 18 days -- breaking the record previously held by Annie Wang. Along the way to Master, she set the record for youngest female player to beat a Grandmaster for her win against GM Alexander Ivanov in the New England Open a few days before her 11th birthday.
A familiar face in the U.S. Women’s Championship, Alisa Melekhina is making her eighth appearance this year having had more time to study chess since graduating from law school in May of 2014.
Emigrating from Crimea, Ukraine, Melekhina's family spent her early childhood growing accustomed to their new life in the United States. It was during this time that Melekhina's father first taught her chess. By the time she was seven, she was already participating in her first tournaments.
Since then, Melekhina has been a regular competitor in both national and international events, placing third in the World Open U2400 Section and being crowned the first female Pennsylvania State Champion. Melekhina said, "My top chess accomplishment is winning the gold medal at the 2009 Women's World Team Championships in Ningbo, China."
Alisa Melekhina achieved her FIDE Master rating in 2011, the same year she began attending the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Even though it only took her two years to graduate, Melekhina admits that the undergrad workload paid its toll on her chess studies. While Melehkina continues to stay busy with her own entrepreneurial endeavors and a full-time position at a New York law firm, she has recommitted herself to chess.
WFM Jennifer Yu was well on her way to chess stardom after earning 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 14-year-old lives in Ashburn, Virginia and 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 2182 and has participated in three World Youth Chess Championships, including winning the gold in 2014 in the Girls U14 section. 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.
Entering the tournament as the number one highest-rated female chess player under 14 in the world, Akshita Gorti is hoping for a successful debut performance in the U.S. Women’s Championship this year.
Gorti has been successful in all female tournaments before: coming in second in the 2013 All-Girl National Championship U18 and the 2013 All-Girl National Blitz Championship U18, tying for first in the 2014 U.S. Junior Girls Invitational, and taking clear first in the Manchester November WGM Norm Tournament in 2015.
Since joining the USCF in 2009, Gorti’s rating has been on an up-and-down rollercoaster ride with massive rating changes in both directions and rarely see a dull moment. Her rating has increased dramatically each year with a large part of her success due to the fact that she averages over 30 tournaments a year.
Starting with a rating of about 400 in March of 2009, she more than doubled her rating and finished the year rated above 1000. By the close of 2010 she had improved her rating to 1476. Over the next two years her rating rose to above 1800. In May of 2013 she broke 2000 for the first time, becoming a chess Expert where her rating continued to skyrocket. Two year later, in May of 2015, Gorti broke 2200 and earned the title of National Master. Two months and four tournaments later, she broke 2300 for the first time in July of 2015.
Last year, she earned both the title of Woman International Master and FIDE Master. This year will be her first opportunity to showcase her strength on the national stage.
Entering the tournament as the top female in the country under 18 years of age, Agata Bykovtsev has toured the globe to play in tournaments in Brazil, Slovenia, the United Arab Emirates, and many other countries. Agata Bykovtsev was born in Uzbekistan but has lived in the US since before the age of one.
Bykovtsev’s resume includes winning the gold medal at both the 2014 Pan American Chess Championship and the 2015 North America Junior U20 Chess Championship. She also is the only U.S. high school female who has ever medaled at the World Youth when she took home the bronze medal in 2015.
Agata Bykovtsev also excels at academics: she has taken all available Mathematics (including Statistics, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra and Differential Equations) and three semesters of Calculus-based Physics classes at her community college, and completed the requirements for college transfer at the age of 16.
Bykovtsev was one of two recipients of the 2015 Matthew J. Quinn Youth Leadership Award, which was awarded to her for her volunteer work with the Isla Vista Youth Project -- a program she designed to teach chess to low-income elementary school children in Goleta, California. Using the money she had earned giving private lessons, she designed a curriculum and purchased boards, sets, a demo board for her class.
Ashritha Eswaran is a two-time competitor in the U.S. Women’s Championship. Her first appearance saw her capture the prize for the Best Game of the Tournament despite being the youngest among the field. Eswaran is from San Jose, California where she learned to play at the age of 7. By 13 she became a national master under the training of Bulgarian Grandmaster Dejan Bojkov at the NorCal House of Chess, and currently holds the title of Women’s International Master.
In June 2015, Ashritha took first place in the U.S. Girls Junior Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She won with a 6.5/9 and qualified to play in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Championship. The very next day, she flew to Colombia for the 2015 Pan American Youth Chess Championship. In the U18 section she scored 7.5/9, sharing first place, but ended up getting the Bronze through a tie-break. This year in February, Ashritha played and came in an impressive third in the incredibly competitive American Continental Women's Championship in Lima, Peru.
Eswaran is also a part of the “Young Stars - Team USA” program which is sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Other accomplishments throughout her career: All-Girls National Champion U12 (2012) and again in 2013 in U14 section. She played in the World Youth Championships four times from 2012-2015. She is currently a sophomore at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.
Eswaran hopes to make another splash at the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in April.
Fabiano Caruana is an American Grandmaster of Italian descent whose rapid advance into the elite ranks of chess has earned him the reputation as the next rival to Magnus Carlsen for the world championship. He is currently No. 5 in the world with a FIDE rating of 2787.
The 23-year-old was born in Miami, Florida and was introduced to chess through an afterschool program as a five-year-old in Brooklyn, New York, living near Bobby Fischer’s childhood home. This same year, he played in his first tournament at the Susan Polgar Chess Center in Queens, New York. This landed Caruana his first coach, NM Bruce Pandolfini.
At 10 years old, Caruana became the youngest American to defeat a GM in a sanctioned event. By 12 years old, he was a FIDE master and winner of several national scholastic championships, as well as two gold medals in Pan-American Youth Championships. When it became evident that chess would be his future, Caruana and his family moved to Europe.
Caruana was a four-time Italian national champion and today is one of the hottest players on the global scene. He crossed the super-elite threshold of 2800 after winning the 42nd Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany. He was the eighth player in history to pass the 2800 barrier. He secured the tournament win in the penultimate round without losing a game.
In 2014, Caruana achieved two impressive results - he placed second behind Magnus Carlsen in the World Rapid Championship and won the Sinquefield Cup with a remarkable score of eight and a half out of ten.
In early 2015, after spending ten years as a member of the Italian Chess Federation, Caruana rejoined the United States Chess Federation as one of its strongest members. Caruana hopes to make 2016 his most successful year to date. In addition to his first U.S. Championship appearance, he will compete in the March 2016 World Championship Candidates’ Tournament for the right to play for the World Title later in the year.
The defending United States Champion has been the longtime U.S. No. 1 Grandmaster and the leading hopeful to become America’s first World Champion since Bobby Fischer. The chance for that world title creeps ever closer this year, Nakamura will play in his first Candidates’ Tournament this March in Moscow.
A child prodigy in every sense of the word, Nakamura made a fast impact on U.S. chess by knocking down nearly every age record on his way to the top. He was at one time the youngest American master in history (10 years, 79 days), the youngest American international master (13 years, 2 months) and eventually the youngest American Grandmaster (15 years, 79 days). This broke Fischer’s record by three months.
Nakamura has collected numerous titles and championships since the age of 13, when he first arrived onto the national scene by becoming the 2001 U.S. Junior Champion. He quickly confirmed his place as one of chess’ great elites, shocking the world with a sweet sixteen appearance in the 2004 FIDE World Cup. Nakamura has had another excellent year in 2015, capturing his fourth U.S. Championship and winning the top prize at the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open in Las Vegas, Nevada.
His accomplishments do not end there. Among them, he was awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship. His honors include becoming the 2007 National Open champion and three time winner of the North American Open. He was an individual bronze medalist in the 2006 and 2008 World Olympiad, as well as the gold medalist on the first board of the 2010 World Team Championship, where the United States placed second.
Ever since FIDE began publishing Blitz ratings, Nakamura has graced the top of the list, demonstrating his skill and speed. Nakamura won bronze at the FIDE World Blitz Championship in June 2014, and he currently sits second on FIDE’s Blitz rating.
So learned chess from his father at age 6 and was competing in junior tournaments by 9 years old. By earning his Grandmaster title at the age of 14 years, 1 month, and 28 days, So completed the trifecta as the Philippines’ youngest-ever National Champion, International Master and Grandmaster. Considered a chess prodigy, he is the eighth-youngest GM in the world.
So came to the U.S. in August 2012, enrolling at Webster University in Saint Louis. There, he made the jump from top-100 to top-10 in the world, leading the school to back-to-back national titles along the way.
In October 2014, So won the inaugural Millionaire Open in Las Vegas along with its $100,000 prize, then returned to Saint Louis to lead the Arch Bishops to their first-ever U.S. Chess League championship.
So participated in his first world-elite tournament with a fourth-place effort in 2014 at the 77th Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, though returned this past January and tied for second place, just a half-point behind winner World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Wesley also participated in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup as the wildcard selection.
Gata Kamsky is a five-time U.S. Champion. Born in Siberia, Russia, Kamsky learned chess at the age of seven, won the USSR’s U15 Championship at the age of nine, then became back-to-back Junior Soviet Champion at 13.
Kamsky began his dominance of American chess shortly after immigrating to the U.S. in 1989 and spent nearly 20 years as the highest-rated American - losing that title to Nakamura in 2009. In 1990 he earned his GM, and soon after became the youngest player ever rated in the World’s top-ten. Kamsky won his first U.S. Championship in 1991, and the following year helped the USCF secure its first-ever gold medal in the World Team Chess Olympiad. Kamsky also became the youngest player to challenge for the FIDE World Title and the first American since Bobby Fischer, as the Candidate for the 1996 World Chess Championship.
Afterwards, Kamsky began an eight-year hiatus away from chess to focus on studies, first graduating in pre-med chemistry and then completing his law degree. His return to chess in 2004 began an extraordinary second chapter in his playing career. Within three years Kamsky had regained his elite form, qualifying for the 2007 Candidates Tournament and later winning the 2007 Chess World Cup, where he knocked off Magnus Carlsen in the semifinals. In 2010, Kamsky won his second U.S. Championship – 19 years removed from his first title. Since then he's earned three more.
Born in Guam, Robson soon after moved with his family to Florida, where his father taught him chess when he was just three years old. From 2004 to 2007, Robson finished in the top 10 at the World Youth Championship and then won SuperNationals in 2005. He defeated his first grandmaster in 2006, the same year he earned the USCF National Master title. Other impressive performances include first place in the 2005 and 2006 Pan-American Youth Championships; the 2009 U.S. Junior Championship; the 2009 World Team Championship; and the 2012 Dallas Invitational.
In 2008, Robson won his first major tournament at the Miami Open, and later that year became the youngest American to win the Grandmaster title, at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 16 days. The mark bested the record held by Hikaru Nakamura and once by the great Bobby Fischer, making Robson one of America’s brightest hopes to another world-elite GM.
Though the University of Texas offered him a chess scholarship, in 2012 Robson decided instead on the SPICE program at Webster University where, just a few months after enrolling, he won the 2012 Webster University SPICE Cup Open and eventually helped the program win three consecutive national titles.
Alexander Onischuk began playing chess when he was six years old and has ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world for the past two decades.
Onischuk earned his GM title as a Ukrainian 18-year-old in 1994, then later won the 2000 Ukrainian Championship before emigrating to the U.S. the following year. For five years, he played collegiate chess for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), leading the program to multiple national titles before graduating in 2006 with a degree in linguistics. He has been invited to every FIDE World Cup since 2005, winning more than 20 major tournaments along the way, including the 2006 U.S. Championship -- which he called the happiest moment of his career, having his name on a trophy alongside players such as Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy.
Onischuk was key to America’s bronze medal finishes at the 2006 and 2008 Olympiads, and delivered a gold-medal performance on board two at the 2009 World Team Championship in Bursa, Turkey.
In 2012, Alexander Onischuk was named the head coach of Texas Tech University’s chess program, helping the squad return to the President’s Cup in 2014, finishing in a close second behind Webster University. He led the TTU program back to the Final Four of Collegiate Chess in 2015. National recognition again came in 2014 when Onischuk was named “Chess College of the Year” and was awarded “2014 Grandmaster of the Year” by the U.S. Chess Federation.
He has finished among the top three in the U.S. Championship seven times.
When Sam Shankland was just 18, he announced he would be retiring from the game of chess. Before leaving, however, he agreed to honor his previous commitments and compete in the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - the rest is history. He won the Junior championship after back-to-back playoff matches against Parker Zhano and tournament favorite Ray Robson, earning Shankland a spot in the 2011 U.S. Championship and another commitment that became too good to refuse.
The youngster performed admirably in the 2011 national title fight, edging veteran GM Alexander Onischuk in a playoff to reach the four-player quad finals. There, Shankland ran into eventual champion GM Gata Kamsky, who topped him 1.5-.5 - though after his defeat, Shankland remained upbeat. He finished third place, and described his performance as his “dream tournament for the year."
Sam spent much of the past year at his all-time rating’s high, and enters the 2016 U.S. Championship with very good recent results. A strong showing at the 2014 Qatar Masters Open was topped by an undefeated run at the 2014 Tromso Chess Olympiad, where he entered as the fifth-board reserve but went on to win an Olympic gold medal. He made his first break into the world’s top 100 players at the end of 2014, then opened up 2015 with another undefeated performance in the Tata Steel Challengers section for third place. Shankland will face the toughest U.S. Championship field in 2016. As his past performances have shown, he is up for the challenge.
Jeffery Xiong of Coppell, Texas, has shown tenacity well beyond his years. At 15, he already has had an impressive list of results: the 2010 Under-10 North America Continental Champion, a silver medalist in the 2010 Under-10 World Youth Chess Championships, and the 2013 MVP of the entire United States Chess League for his undefeated play for the Dallas Destiny. But it is his creativity on the board and his maturity in defeat that has caught the eye of some of the most renowned chess grandmasters.
From a very young age, Xiong has seen his losses, though painful, as an opportunity to improve. While some of Xiong's older competitors have been known to display their frustration with difficult losses, he remains collected, analyzing where his play could have been stronger. This maturity has helped enlist legendary Grandmaster Garry Kasparov as a mentor in the Young Stars program, and it has led to numerous impressive victories and awards since.
Home-schooled now, Xiong already has been awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas, with the chance to compete for their prestigious chess team. The school’s faith in him is well-founded, particularly since his play in this past spring’s UT Dallas vs. U.S.A. Junior All-Stars event helped his team, the Junior All-Stars, achieve victory over that same UT Dallas university program he may one day attend.
Jeffery Xiong’s impressive play in 2015 has confirmed his status as one of the most promising junior players in America. He competes for the first time in this year’s U.S. Championship.
Alex Lenderman first started playing chess with his grandfather when he was 9. From 2004-2007, he attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, and was a member of the super-team that won four straight, national high-school titles. The journey of this high-school chess dream team was documented in the 2007 book The Kings of New York, by Michael Weinreb.
Since that time, Alex has been a formidable force in the chess world and has solidified himself as a young rising star. In 2008, he managed to barely edge GM Sergey Kudrin to win the USCF's Grand Prix, and in 2009, he ran away with the competition.
Lenderman is an active member of the renowned Marshall Chess Club in New York City and was crowned the Marshall Chess Club Champion in December 2013, beating Kudrin and IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy in the process. Having achieved an extremely strong result in the 2014 U.S. Championship, Lenderman returns to play in the 2016 version with a year of strong chess under his belt.
The weather was so harsh in the years that youngster Varuzhan Akobian spent in Mongolia, his father forbade "Var" and his sister from playing outside. Instead, he taught them chess -- a perfect indoor distraction.
"From the very beginning, I was different from other chess kids,” Akobian recalls. “It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and I knew that I would do what it takes."
Later as a teenager in Yerevan, Armenia, Akobian spent many of his days playing chess and soccer -- all with his teacher’s permission.
"This is one way in which Armenia is very different from the United States. If I went to high school here, I never could have spent so much energy on chess."
Akobian immigrated to the U.S. in 2001, and it didn’t take him long to make an impact on the American chess community. Within his first three years, Akobian had been awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship, tied for first in the 2002 World Open, won the Irme Koenig GM Invitational, and dominated the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship after winning his first seven games. He was officially awarded the GM title in June 2004, after which he won the World Open again, clinching it with a sparkling win against Alexander Shabalov.
Akobian is a popular rotation in the Resident Grandmaster position at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and he continues to be a force in U.S. chess tournaments. He returns this year hoping to capture America’s chess crown.
Alexander Shabalov realized chess would be his profession after winning the Latvian junior championship at the age of 11. He went on to win the Under-16 Championship of the Soviet Union in 1982. The four-time U.S. Champion is known for no-holds barred chess, and he thrives on wild moves.
Known for fighting chess, Shabalov rarely proposes or accepts early draw offers. In the 2003 U.S. Championship, there were eight Grandmasters vying for first place. After fifteen minutes, the stage was almost empty. All the other contenders had drawn their games, ensuring them a decent payday but depriving fans of exciting, high-stakes chess. Shabalov's game was the exception. He played a six-hour slug fest against Varuzhan Akobian, ending in a victory for Shabalov. In addition to the 25K he won for first place, main sponsor Erik Andersson awarded Alex and Varuzhan $5,000 each for their fighting spirit. Shabalov won clear first in the U.S. Championship four years later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, besting Kudrin in the final to edge out the defending champion, 2006 Champ Alexander Onischuk.
Shabalov is always a serious contender to take the crown. He will arrive again in Saint Louis looking to capture a fabulous, fifth title in the 2016 U.S. Championship.
International Master Akshat Chandra started learning chess at the age of 9 ½, during a visit to India - a relatively late start compared to most leading chess players who learn the game at the age of 5 or 6. When his family relocated there for nearly four years, Akshat was unable to play his favorite sports of basketball and football, so chess filled the competitive void.
In January 2010, Akshat received a starting FIDE rating of 1548 and, in just four years and ten months, improved his FIDE rating to 2490. His accelerated progress from such a late start is believed to be the largest and quickest rating increase in the world.
Akshat is the highest ranked junior rapid chess player in the country, and is among the leading junior blitz players in both online and on-board chess. He is the 2015 K-12 US National Champion in both classic and blitz forms of the game. In 2013, Akshat won the K-9 Super Nationals Championship, the Under-18 North American Youth Championship, and achieved his international master title as well.
Away from the board, Akshat is an avid writer and the youngest Chessbase author. He doesn’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly. In fact, as a fan of the New York Jets, his outlook echoes the words of former quarterback Joe Namath: “If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?” He indeed has come a long way. Winning the 2015 United States Junior Closed tournament, Chandra earned his place among this year’s field, and his shot to call himself the U.S. Champion.