The Field: U.S. Women's Championship
Irina Krush has earned the spot as the highest-rated competitor in this year’s tournament. She 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. She is also an author and has dedicated her time to writing several articles for Chess Life and USchess.org. Her article based on her experience earning her grandmaster norm in 2013 was named “Best of U.S. Chess.”
Zatonskih was born in Maripol, Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. in 2004. 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 (then) 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.
Outside of 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.
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at eight 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.
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/Goddesschess Fighting Chess 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. That same year, Abrahamyan graduated from California State University Long Beach with a double major in psychology and political science. These days she is a regular face of the Saint Louis Chess Club commentary and journalism crew.
Paikidze was born in Irkutsk, Russia and has been playing chess since she was four years old. 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 Woman Grandmaster title in 2010 and her International Master title in 2012. Nazi transferred to the USCF in November 2016 after moving to the U.S. and is currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2016, she started teaching lessons on ChessUniversity.com's Prodigy Program chess course.
Nazi Paikidze has a strong stance in activism in women’s rights in chess tournaments, and announced in October 2016 that she intended to boycott the Women's World Chess Championship 2017 in Tehran, Iran due to its hijab dress code. She has been quoted saying, “I will not wear a hijab and support women’s oppression, even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career.” She has received over 15,000 signatures on a petition regarding this regulation, including support from the United States Chess Federation and other prominent members in the chess community such as Nigel Short and Garry Kasparov.
Sabina Foisor has been a chess dynamo since age 4. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Garry Kasparov and the late Bobby Fischer. 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 studied psychology, modern language and linguistics.
Yu enters this year’s championship with a USCF rating of 2402. She 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 16-year-old lives in Ashburn, Virginia and is a pretty typical tenth-grader, aside from her immense chess talent. Her well-rounded interests include playing the flute and piano, listening to music, drawing, and playing sports. She 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 2196 and has participated in three World Youth Chess Championships. At age 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.
WIM Wang 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.” In March 2014, Annie Wang became the youngest female chess master in the United States at age 11--breaking the record that had been held by Irina Krush since 1996. Annie held this record for one year, until Carissa Yip broke it in March 2015. The following year, she competed in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship at just 12 years old. Annie currently 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.
FM Feng lives in Ohio with her family. She has competed in several tournaments hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club recently, and we expect her to appear as a regular competitor in the coming years.
Now living in Saint Louis, MO, Sharevich has played for both the Lindenwood and Webster University Chess teams, and had an impressive showing in December’s 2014 and 2015 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, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Sharevich also was a member of the Saint Louis Arch Bishops, the 2014 champions of the U.S. Chess League. She also heads the Ladies Knight class for the Saint Louis Chess Club.
IM Derakhshani officially changed her federation from Iran to the United States in 2017 after a controversy arose about her refusal to wear a hijab while she played for the Iranian national team under the Iranian Chess Federation. Derakhshani was a loyal member of the team; however she claimed that “they cared more about the scarf covering my hair than the brain under it.” Currently, Derakhshani is a student at Saint Louis University where she studies biology, and is an accredited journalist for FIDE. At the age of 19, she is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
When Akshita first entered the chess scene in March 2009 at the age of seven, she was rated 400. However, that rating quickly shot up: 1000 by the end of 2009, and 1467 by the end of 2010. Some notable achievements began to stack up for Gorti after a few years of playing in an impressive number of tournaments (averaging 30 per year). She took second in the 2013 All-Girl National Championship U-18 and the 2013 All-Girl National Blitz Championship U-18, tied for first in the 2014 U.S. Junior Girls Invitational, and took clear first in the Releya Chess WGM Norm Tournament in 2015.
IM Goletiani’s love of chess and the desire to make a better life for herself encouraged her to move her life to the United States in May 2000. When Goletiani immigrated to the U.S, it took her awhile to gain status as a USCF chess player, but soon after she was granted status, she played in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship and won (2004). She enters this year’s championship with a rating of 2302.