By Laura Doman
Women and girls are a distinct minority among the players in a chess tournament hall. This is most noticeable at Scholastic tournaments, especially when round pairings are first posted on the walls. Within seconds, crowds of boisterous boys are pushing and jockeying for position, each one seeking to be among the first to glimpse the board line-ups. A girl has to be quick on her feet – or at least armed with a sharp elbow – to compete in the rush (or choose to avoid the stampede all together!).
Such was NOT the case at the All Girls National Chess Championship, held April 11-13, 2014 in Northbrook, IL. Eight Georgia girls traveled to Chicago to compete with 330 others from across the U.S. in six age divisions, ranging from Under 8 (the youngest was barely four!) to Under 18 for the 6 Rounds Swiss System (no elimination) G/90, d5 tournament. Some of the girls and their parents took a little time before the tournament to enjoy the sights of Chicago, but the main excitement was at the Championship. While there were no shoving matches at the pairings postings (at least none that were observed), the competition was fierce and the victories sweet.
Second grader Katie Hill (3.0, 794) and fourth grader Rachel Doman (3.0, 1029) played in the Under 10 division. Katie “learned that I could play a 2 ½ hour game. I also liked riding “The L” and walking around Chicago. But my favorite part of this tournament was that I didn’t need to avoid all the boys who are usually running!” Rachel, who was on crutches and recovering from a broken leg, was also glad that she didn’t have to dodge an indoor football game. “It was really fun to spend a weekend hanging with my mom and being at a tournament with only girls – usually, I’m one of the only girls! I liked seeing my friends from Georgia and meeting up with each other. We all had amazing games.” The highlight of the tournament for Rachel was when, as a 1029 rated player, “I beat a 1503!” It was the only game that the other girl lost all weekend.
Fourth grader Zoe Justice (3.5, 1343), playing in the Under 12 division, shared their enthusiasm. “I like the tournament because it is only girls. This was my fourth year to play in the All-Girls Nationals. In the past it has been in downtown Chicago, which I liked better than having it in the suburbs. In Chicago, I enjoy going to American Girl Place and the Sears Tower. I like that other players from Georgia are at the tournament. I was happy to get a draw this year against an 1800 rated player! I plan to go to the tournament again next year.”
Fifth graders Ingrid Guo (4.0, 1476) and Vaishnavi Vuyyuru (3.5, 910) played in the Under 12 section alongside Zoe, while eighth graders Saithanu Avirneni (3.0, 1884) and Shiraja Abayanathan (3.0, 1553) competed in the Under 14 division. Ninth grader Aviva Smith (3.0, 1559) represented Georgia in the Under 16 section, and was joined for a short while by her coach Frank Johnson, who is originally from the Chicago area. (Evidently, the Chicago chess community was quite excited to learn that Frank was in town and bombarded him with requests for games while he was there.) Congratulations to our trophy winners: Ingrid, who placed 12th with 4 points, and Aviva, who placed 8th with 3 points.
Everyone, both parents and girls, seemed to agree with Zoe that Northbrook was not nearly as exciting a venue as downtown Chicago. Unlike previous years where there were tourist attractions, sight-seeing, and fine shopping and dining options outside the tournament hotel, there was literally nothing (besides another hotel) within walking distance. Still, it allowed the girls to fully concentrate on their chess competitions and enjoy each other’s company.
While the girls seemed to bring with them some of Atlanta’s warm and lovely spring weather – the temperatures rose to the mid-60s over the weekend! – they were quickly reminded that Chicago isn’t called the Windy City for nothing. The last day of the tournament turned cold, rainy, and blustery. Fortunately, most of the girls were already on their way home when the last snow of the season came blasting through Chicagoland. Next year, they’ll be sure to pack an extra set of gloves, just in case.
Complete results and standings can be found at:
Featured photo above: Aviva Smith earns 8th place at the Girls Nationals in Chicago April 2014. She is shown here with USCF Executive Board President and WIM Ruth Haring.