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.