Meet the Players: The Reigning Queen

IM Irina Krush seeks to defend her title against a determined field, including IM Anna Zatonskih, another four-time U.S. Women's Champion.

By Brian Jerauld

Did you hear that Anna Zatonskih is playing in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Championship? Anna Zatonskih is playing in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Championship. Thoughts?

Thanks for letting me know.

You two might be one of the best rivalries in chess today. You smacking your king across the room in 2008 was epic – re-lived more than 60,000 times on YouTube. Off camera, there is a rumor you left that chess board and jumped into a pool, fully clothed. Confirm/deny? What are your thoughts on that moment, six years later?

Yes, I jumped into a pool. That's why my hair is wet in the closing ceremony pictures. I think I had the presence of mind to take off my shoes, though. No point ruining those because of temporary insanity. Why does everyone love to remember that "epic" playoff? Was it really that exciting? :)

You once stated that your WGM title is the only chess title that you didn’t ask or apply for. What are your feelings about being issued a title that exists exclusively for women? How do you feel about competing in tournaments that are exclusively for women?

Right, I don't see a point in separate women's titles, because women are fully capable of achieving regular titles. But I don't see any problem in competing in women's-only tournaments. I suppose you could eliminate them too, with the idea of eliminating professional female chess players, because realistically it's hard for women to compete with men at the very top levels. I wouldn't be one saying it's "unfair" if things like the Women's World Championship, Olympiad, World Team, etc., were abolished, because I'm sure with the right combination of hard work and talent, there would eventually be someone of Judit's caliber, but I'm guessing it would be a blow to the already not huge pool of women who pursue chess seriously. With more tournament opportunities, which make it possible to earn a living, the number and level of women in chess has really risen in the last twenty years. It is not like women are getting weaker by playing women-only tournaments once in a while. Rather, there's a motivation to stay in the game and improve because they can realistically hope to make a living from it.

You were born in and lived in Odessa, Ukraine, until you were five (four and a half, actually). You recently returned there for the first time since leaving in 1988. What was that like?

I went back to Odessa for the first time in September 2012 after the Olympiad in Istanbul and spent five days there. I was very happy to come back to the city I was born in; I had always identified with it. To prepare myself, I read a book called "Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams", a kind of biography of the city. Not a million pages long, because the city itself was only founded in 1794 by a decree of Catherine the Great! From the beginning, Odessa was a cosmopolitan city. And there is an amazing fact: all the people who laid the foundations of the city of Odessa were foreign-born! The main street of Odessa is called "Deribasovskaya" after Jose de Ribas, a general in Catherine's army who is considered Odessa's founder, another main thoroughfare- Richelievskaya, after the Duc de Richelieu, Odessa's first city administrator. Odessa is a beautiful city; the center is just gorgeous, like a small European capital. And it has the advantage of being by the sea, having beaches and a perfect climate in September... But even though Odessa is in my roots, I'm a Brooklyn girl. :)

You may have heard that chess is the hip, new thing in St. Louis. In fact, you recently visited Washington D.C. to help declare Saint Louis the chess capital of the U.S. When are you moving here?

Ah, yes. I was waiting for the invitation. Well, it's not easy to coax me away from my little nest in Brooklyn-I have my whole life here: my family, friends, and work-but I told Tony I'd be up for a stint as a resident GM at the Chess Club for a month or so. I do love Saint Louis! It has so many good memories for me. But you know, just thinking about it, I felt how much I'd miss New York ...