2014 U.S. Women's Championship Player Bios
Irina Krush had a fantastic 2013.
Prior to last year’s U.S. Women’s Championship, Irina turned in a spectacular performace at the 2013 Women's World Team Championship, where she earned a gold medal for her performance on board 2 for the U.S. team, a result Krush called the best of her career.
Then in May, Irina secured her fifth U.S. Women's Championship title, and a few months later she earned her third and final grandmaster norm.
Irina says she 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."
Krush was born in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine). She learned to play chess at age five, emigrating with her parents to Brooklyn that same year (1989). Krush attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, one of the top high-school chess teams in the U.S.
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," she said. Krush was the only female player to compete in the 2010 U.S. Championship, and turned in an impressive 12th-place finish.
Irina has a degree in international relations from NYU, but she is currently concentrating on chess. In addition to her chess studies, the 2008 Samford Chess Fellowship recipient enjoys tennis, reading, writing, yoga and music.
Anna Zatonskih is a four-time U.S. Women's Champion. Four 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. Each of the past two years, however, Krush has edged Anna by the narrowest of margins.
Krush and Zatonskih have been the clear favorite each of the past six years, and odds-on money is that it will come down to one of the two to win the title of 2014 U.S. Women's Champion.
Anna said her chess highlights include the 2004 silver medal and the 2008 bronze she helped the U.S. team win at the World Chess Olympiad.
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 Friedman, Anna comes into the tournament in the hopes of securing her fifth title.
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 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.'" She was soon playing competitively among the top players her age in Europe.
Moving to the U.S. 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."
When she is not studying or playing chess, she likes to read, play tennis, travel, watch movies and hang out with friends.
Tatev is a formidable competitor. She has pushed her USCF rating to all-time high at 2475, and in September of last year earned her final International Master norm. She is awaiting final approval for the norm from FIDE. Tatev earned a fourth IM norm for good measure at the recent Reykjavik Open in Iceland.
She graduated in 2011 from California State University Long Beach, double majoring in psychology and political science.
With a second place finish in 2011 and a number strong showings over the past several years, Tatev has proven she has the ability to wrest the title from GM Irina Krsuh and IM Anna Zatonskih, who have had a stranglehold on the event since 2008.
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.
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 after receiving a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University last year, Iryna is well on her way to helping develop ways to make renewable energy more prevalent.
Iryna is currently is a postdoctorate fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researching electrochemical energy conversion devices. Her near-term goal is to get a tenure-track faculty position at a lead research university where she will be able to realize her passion for renewable energy research and teaching.
In August 2013 Iryna was part of a national team competing in a USA - China match hosted in Ningbo, China. Up until recently Iryna had been a Friday weekly columnist for chess.com, writing more than 250 articles for amateur chess players over the span of last five years.
She 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. Furthermore, she is friends with many of her chess competitors. "I have a lot of chess friends," Iryna said. "We do the normal stuff: hang out, go to restaurants ... I don't call myself solitary."
Sabina Foisor has been a chess dynamo since starting around age 4. She comes from a chess family: Her parents, WGM Cristina-Adela Foisor and IM Ovidiu-Doru Foisor represented Romania in numerous international events, and her younger sister, Mihaela-Veronica, is a WIM. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Garry 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 five U.S. Women's Championships (2009-2013). Her main goal in chess is to become one of the top 20 women players in the world.
One of her biggest challenges was moving to the U.S. in 2008 to attend at University of Maryland at Baltimore County, where studied psychology, modern language and linguistics. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in intercultural communications (INCC).
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."
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 from Latvia to the United States, and this will mark her third U.S. Women's Championship.
Viktorija 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.
WGM Katerina Nemcova is a Prague-born, Czech chess champion who attends the University of Texas-Brownsville as a senior in Communications. Learning 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 since 2007, 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. There, she earned 7.5 out of 9 points, the highest score of the event and her highest performance rating ever: 2548.
Individually, Nemcova found her international stride after a second-place showing in the 2007 World Youth Championship (Kemer-Antalya, Turkey), following up with a win at the 2008 European Youth Chess Championship after entering as the highest-rated girl U18. She also earned her WGM title in 2008.
Nemcova joined the chess team at UT-Brownsville in 2011 where she has since competed as a collegiate player. She switched federations in 2013 and enters the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship as the 11th-ranked female player in the nation. The 24-year-old is a dangerous addition to the field: With six norms already collected toward her IM title, but struggling to find the consistency to surpass the 2400 rating barrier, Nemcova is a consistent lurker who several times in her career has exploded out of plateaus with dramatic performances.
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 2014 U.S. Women's Championship marks her fifth 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.
Although chess has been central to her life for many years, Alisa is set to graduate from law school at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 22, and she will begin a full-time job at a law firm in New York City this fall specializing in intellectual property litigation. She wrote an in-depth article for Chess Life Online that discusses how her chess was impacted by her commitment to law school.
Undoubtedly, Alisa is looking to make a statement at this year's U.S. Women's Championship. With the distractions of law school nearing an end, she is now free to focus on a championship run before her legal career begins this fall.
The title of youngest-ever competitor in the U.S. Women’s Championship may still belong to reigning champion GM Irina Krush - age 11 in 1995 - but that just may be because Ashritha Eswaran got a late start. The California 13-year-old, who learned to play at age 7 (to Krush’s 5), has had an unbelievably fast rise to the top ranks since joining the USCF in just 2008 - currently ranking as the 16th female in the nation, with a rating of 2231.
After a year-plus of “casual play,” Eswaran’s parents took a promising start to the next level - and her response to coaching set her rating on a trajectory that has never come down and never plateaued. Beginning private lessons within the NorCal House of Chess and eventually moving under the guidance of Bulgarian GM Dejan Bojkov, Eswaran doubled her rating in just her first year with direction - entering January 2010 rated 650 and closing the year just past 1300. She padded nearly 500 points onto her rating in the following year, finishing 2011 rated 1786, and another 150 points in 2012 -- rated 1935. Since January 2013, Eswaran has continued her staggering climb by adding another 300 points, passing the 2200 watermark for the first time and landing her first title as Candidate Master this past February. She currently takes lessons with Bojkov, the NorCal House of Chess and Armenian chess coach Arthur Arutjunian.
Eswaran has been the cream of her age category for several years running, first winning the All-Girls National Championship U12 in 2012 then defending the title in 2013 in the U14 section. Internationally, she has represented the United States twice in the World Youth Championships - Slovenia in 2012, and Dubai in 2013 - finishing just out of medal contention in both. She will try for a third time later this year, in South Africa.
“I feel really happy and excited (for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship), and I have a lot of respect for everyone who is coming - despite the age difference,” Eswaran said. “I think it’s important to play against players of all ages, you can learn something from everyone.
“Lately, chess just feels like a door that’s opening, where I can explore new things still unknown to me around the world, meet new friends and just treat my chess career like a learning experience.”