As you can see from this photo, chess isn’t always just about brains. International Masters Sam Shankland (left) and Dean Ippolito were paired to play in round four of the 2008 Frank K. Berry U.S. Chess Championship. Both had arrived in the playing room before the round was to begin to socialize with other participants. I was taking some pre-game photos, when the socializing turned into good-natured pre-game “trash talk.” Shankland was an easy target. He was still in high school and was rising in his chess career. Next to Ippolito, a more seasoned player, who is also a body builder, Shankland didn’t seem to stand a chance.

The trash talking between the two lead to most of us in the room joining in and having a laugh. Eventually the tension was too much and Shankland and Ippolito wanted to start the game early to get the show on the road, but chief Arbiter Berry wouldn’t allow that to happen, as it wasn’t appropriate. A speed game of chess was contemplated, as well, but soon they arrived at a consensus on the perfect solution: arm wrestling.

And so it was. Shankland and Ippolito decided to muscle it out beside the board instead of over it. It didn’t seem like a fair fight and it wasn’t. Ippolito didn’t break a sweat, as Shankland put every ounce of himself into the wrestle, turning beet red before Ippolito took him down.

Ippolito was victorious in the arm wrestling match but not in the chess game. Perhaps the pre-game loss Shankland suffered only inspired him to win when it really counted.

Side note: The Shankland/Ippolito arm wrestling duel created such a buzz that it lead to a group arm wrestling match in the hotel lobby after the closing ceremonies were over. The primary participants in this impromptu smackdown were the women who had played in the 2008 U.S. Women’s Championship held simultaneously with the 2008 U.S. Championship.

If you ever wanted to be part of breaking a Guiness World Record now is your chance. Dean Ippolito will be going after the record for most games played in a simultaneous exhibition.

The World Record Attempt Will Take Place on November 27, 2010 at the HealthQuest Sports Dome in Flemington, NJ.
Sign up at www.chessworldrecord.com


US Women: Chess and Friendship

Irina Krush vs Iryna Zenyuk

In honor of the 2010 US Women’s Chess Championship, I thought I would give the backstory on this shot. It was taken during the opening ceremonies of the 2009 US Women’s Chess Championship, which was held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Featured in the arm wrestling photo are two ladies who will be playing again this year. Affectionately they are known as the Irinas: Irina Krush and Iryna Zenyuk. They are fierce competitors but also close friends. All too often the only time they see each other is when they compete.

The Irinas wanted to make sure they had lots of photos of themselves together. In this shot they shared Iryna Zenyuk’s dress gloves to create a dramatic pose, setting the tone for the competition that lay ahead. After seeing the Irnias together that night posing for photos and laughing, no one would have thought that the gloves would later come off, as they fought it out in the 5th round of the tournament when the final knock out of the game went to Krush.

It might be surprising for chess outsiders to learn that it isn’t unusual for chess players who are friends to be forced to face off across the board - and often for high honors. The community of top players is a small one. Many players have known each other since they were quite young and up-in-coming in the game.

In 2007 and 2008 the title of US Chess Champion seemed to come down to just two men: Alexander Onischukand Yury Shulman, who have been friends since high school. In 2007, Oninschuk won the US Championship, after a final play off game between the two, and the following year Shulman walked away with the title.

During the 2010 US Women’s Chess Championship, ten ladies will be battling it out for top honors and a $16,000 prize but they will also take time to be together. Plans will be made for lunch and dinner gatherings. The ladies will have get togethers in the gym, and late night talks and walks will just naturally happen. Those who don’t visit the tournament would never realize how much socializing happens when the women aren’t fighting it out across the table from one another. Yet the chess world is even smaller for the women than it is for the men, and girls have to stick together.

2010 US Women's Chess Championship Players
Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush, Tatev Abrahamyam, Iryna Zenyuk, Katerina Rohonyan, Sabine Foisor, Camilla Baginskaite, Alisa Melekhina, Beatriz Marinello, and in her US Women's Chess Championship debut Abby Marshall.
2009 Competitors

To my girlfriends: I wish you each do your best, play the fighting chess I know you are capable of, and find time to enjoy each other’s company.


Hug in a Hard Place

SSDN (South Side Day Nursery) was founded in 1886 and is an anchor for the South Saint Louis community it serves. The school delivers high-quality childcare and preschool education that prepares children for success in school, while enabling their parents and guardians to work, receive job training, or attend school. SSDN is able to take in 101 children at a time.

While a majority of the families SSDN serves work hard to make ends meet, they aren’t always able to. Children in the school often go homeless and hungry. The number one must-asked-for item last Christmas was a pillow. SSDN provides not only education but food, health care, and a safe place to sleep.

I spent three days at SSDN photographing the students, teachers, parents and daily activities. It was hard work and I volunteered for it because I believe in the mission and the needs that this school serves. I experienced many emotions in those three days. Sometimes I laughed with joy and other times I was in tears.

I found that a lot of the children were starving for physical contact. I saw it the most in the older children. Maybe it is because they are a little less afraid to reach out. On my first day at SSDN, I entered room 5 and one little boy came up to me very slowly. I assumed because of the size of my camera that he was coming to get a closer look. Instead, when he was within arms' reach, his hands reached up to the sky. I looked down on the little boy and as our eyes met, his tiny hands touched my hips. It was not quite a hug but more of an attempted hug, and before I could pull him closer or even touch his head he was gone.

Not so far away was a little girl who had been watching me. When she saw I was giving out hugs she ran up to me, coming to a complete stop with the toes of her shoes nearly touching mine. She peered at me with large brown doe eyes. I asked her, “Would you like a hug?” Her little head nodded up and down and as she smiled, I opened my arms, and she fell into me. She gave me a squeeze then off she ran to her assigned spot on the rug for circle time.

At first I questioned myself: Had I done something wrong? Is hugging allowed here? I made a mental note to myself to ask an adult if I had broken a rule. And while I would feel badly if I learned that I had done something wrong, a part of me didn’t care. Those little children just needed a moment of love -- a touch that said, "You are accepted." I was happy that I could provide that feeling, but they in turn, had given it back to me.

It was especially hard to leave for home when I overheard one two year old little boy tell his mother that I was his friend. But home I had to go.Learn more about my time at the school in a dedicated gallery at:
To learn more about SSDN or even make a donation please visit www.SSDN.org


Mating Season

Since I was five years old, I have dreamed of running away to Africa with a camera, where I would live for months among the animals taking their pictures.

It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that my favorite after school activity was watching nature programs on PBS, while having a snack in front of the TV. I wanted to be just like Jane Goodall, and I would sit for hours watching mourning doves or ground squirrels. Truth is I still have a journal of observations from stalking Canadian geese that lived in a pond at the school where my mother took classes.

When I had saved long enough to afford a Nikon D80, I decided to take the new camera for a spin and took a walk around my hometown of Chicago with my husband and our dog Stella. Our route took us to the corner of Wacker and LaSalle on the Chicago River, a favorite hangout for pigeons and a good place to shoot a favorite building of mine.

Luckily for me, the sun peeked through the early spring clouds as I reached the corner. The sun, close to setting, lit the building perfectly in hues of orange and red. I shot the building, but I soon turned my attention to the pigeons, which were everywhere and partly in my way. It was after watching the pigeons for just a second that it was clear this was mating season. My childhood love of animals and dreams of an African safari took over, and I turned my camera on the birds.

One male in particular caught my eye because he was relentless in trying to win over a certain female.This female didn’t seem to be anything special; her feathers where not silky or smoothed down. In fact, of all the birds there she looked kind of homely. While other males were wooing, jumping from girl to girl, this one had chosen this girl for himself. He was steadfast in his courting, fully willing to invest whatever time it took to tame his shrew. No other males paid this lowly-looking female any mind. Perhaps it proves each of us really only needs one true love.


Nakamura 2009 U.S. Chess Champion

To capture this photo I said the immortal words, “trust me.” These two words are a loaded gun. I try to be careful about using the phrase, as it makes me think of unscrupulous sales people or of a doctor prepping to give a shot. How many sincerely good things have truly followed the words, "trust me"?

This photo of 2009 U.S. Chess Champion Hikaru Nakamura was taken as the closing ceremonies for the event were winding down and the sun was setting on nine grueling days of play. Not only did the Nakamura take home a check for $40,000, thanks to the generosity of the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center founder Rex Sinquefield, he was also given a custom jacket and ring. I had photographed the newly-crowned champ with his prizes several times and was not happy with the images. My main objection to these initial shots was that he posed with the prize ring in its box, which appeared unnatural. It would look better if he were wearing it, I thought.

Nakamura seemed uncomfortable, at first, with the idea of putting on the ring, since it wasn't yet sized for any of his fingers. Eventually, after he gave in and found a comfortable finger to display the ring, he was at a loss for what to do with his hands. After trying to communicate with him through the party noise and excitement and not succeeding, I finally lowered my camera and bent his arm into the final shot position.

He looked at me with eyes that expressed a mixture of surprise and disbelief. I am sure I was saying things like, "You look great," or, "That is the perfect," but again Nakamura wasn’t able to hear me. Than I said it: “Trust me.” I was horrified that I uttered those words. I felt like I might as well have said, “Pick your nose, it will look great. Trust Me.” Luckily Nakamura indeed trusted me and settled into the shot. I like this shot more than any of the others I posed of him that night. I feel like I bonded with my subject in that moment, and I was able to capture a winner’s smile that conveyed the relief of knowing the relentless hard work was over and well worth it.

Nakamura vs. Kamsky Round 5


Perfect Health

Perfect Health is my first award winning shot but this photo isn’t important to me for that reason. Primarily it's because of the situation under which it was taken. I was shooting away with my first digital camera, a cheap Pentax point and shoot consumer model. I was taking photos of some Gerbera daises using the textured green walls in the entrance of my home as the backdrop. I had been using my feet to balance a flower in the perfect position for a shot, and when I grew tired I rested my feet on the wall in front of me.

Whatever force you believe moves you/us - whether you call it intuition, God, instinct or the inner voice - mine said "snap the picture." My initial thought was that my feet holding a flower between them wasn’t very interesting, but I obeyed and did as I was told.

The second reason this photo is important to me is because of the role it has played in my overcoming an illness called Endometriosis, which I had since I was 17 years old. I have always associated green with healing and health, while pink makes me think of love. Seeing my feet against these colors sparked within me an affirmation (See Below).

Finally this photo is important to me because of how it has touched others. The process of taking the photo and writing the affirmation lead me to creating a three-piece work of art that described my journey with Endometriosis. This art piece was shown at the ARC Gallery in Chicago in 2004 as part of a show titled, “Endo Expressions”. After the show, word of the impact of the piece spread, and I was asked to show it again at the International Endometriosis Conference held in Wisconsin. There the piece moved many people to tears. For some it put their own feelings into words they had not been able to express, and loved ones of women with the disease felt that for the first time they understood how the person they loved felt.

While "Perfect Health" was powerful as part of a trio of works, it lives on today as a solo act. Today this photo is most commonly seen in the form of a greeting card with an affirmation of health. It has been given by many to inspire others along the path to perfect health and healing. The inside of the card contains the affirmation given to me years ago.

Endo Hell

This piece tells the tale of the first ten years of my life living with Endometriosis. I was 17 years old when symptoms first began. Almost a year later I was diagnosed. Like most women I have had numerous doctors and surgeries, unnecessary tests, drug treatments that only made me more ill, and given pain pill that had no affect of the pain.

No Cure
Reality sets in. There is no cure for Endometriosis. Most doctors are ignorant, at best, about the disease. I must learn to live with the pain. I have to get past the scars in my head, my heart, and on my body. I am not defined by what my body
can and cannot do.

                            Perfect Health
                                         I am a child of God; I do not inherit illness.
                                    I am made to be healthy,
To have joy, and share love.
This idea blooms in my heart and mind as
Walk on the path of healing.
I am grateful. I am stronger. I am wiser.
I am more compassionate. I am blessed.

Thank you God.

Side Note: Learn more about Endometriosis at www.endometriosisassn.org


The Game Face of Williams

Aeneas Demetrius Williams

The Game Face of Aeneas Williams

Born January 29, 1968 in New Orleans Williams is a former professional football cornerback and free safety who played for the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. No doubt a personal career high was playing in Super Bowl XXXVI for the Rams, but Williams might be best known for delivering the tackle that ultimately ended the Hall of Fame San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Steve Young’s career. After his own injury Williams retired from professional play in 2005.

Today, Aeneas Williams is a minister with at Spirit of the Lord Family Church in Clayton, Missouri. He visited the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL) during the 2008 U.S. Chess Championships to meet founder Rex Sinquefield and Major League Baseball pitcher Todd Worrell. All three men are concerned about the education system in the city and are working to improve the lives of children in St. Louis.

Williams and Worrell were moved by the works of the CCSCSL, and spent the rest of the afternoon playing their first game of chess with help from Sinquefield and Executive Director Tony Rich. The born competitors weren’t willing to end the game even after the press coverage ended.

As part of their VIP<brtreatment, Williams and Worrell posed for photos, just like the top 24 chess players competing in the tournament had. Worrell gave a game winning smile, but not Williams. Williams said chess is too serious and decided it was best to put his game face on.