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On Chess: Role Models Abound For St. Louis Girls

Susan Polgar and Wesley So
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

It’s a great time to be a St. Louis girl in chess, I think. Just look at what surrounds them: Webster University coach Susan Polgar is adding something new to her resume. Right there at the bottom of page 11.

Already considered to be one of the strongest female players in history -- a five-time Olympic champion, four-time women’s world champion and triple-crown holder -- Polgar’s second career-as-coach has reached an equally monumental level. The mentor of four national collegiate championship teams, including two back-to-back at Webster, has been recognized as the top chess trainer in the world.

Polgar is the latest recipient of the Furman Symeon medal, one of six highly prestigious awards for chess coaching given annually by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). She is widely credited for shattering several gender barriers in chess, including qualification for the “men’s” world championship in 1986, and Polgar continues her rise through glass ceilings as the first-ever woman recognized globally for coaching. She is also the first-ever American to win the award, which she credited to Webster’s tremendous support of chess and chess in education.

Polgar will receive her just award on the global stage, at the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, next month, and she won’t be the only St. Louis celebrity on the scene. Women’s Grandmaster Anna Sharevich, who just graduated from Lindenwood University in December, will be making her debut for the U.S. Olympic team.

Sharevich is a four-time women’s champion to her native country of Belarus and will head to Tromso with tremendous big-tournament experience, having represented the nation well in six previous World Chess Olympiads. She did the same for the Lindenwood squad at the Pan-American Intercollegiate tournaments for the past two years, all while balancing her master’s in public administration, and she should prove to play a strong role representing the stars and stripes next month.

Irina Krush is facing the camera.
Credit Provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis
Irina Krush, right, playing in a tournament this year.

She will be the fifth U.S. member alongside fellow newcomer WGM Katerina Nemcova, as well as America’s top-three familiars: IMs Anna Zatonskih and Tatev Abrahamyan, and reigning women’s champion GM Irina Krush -- who will arrive in St. Louis next week as the resident Grandmaster for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Krush is certainly one of the most-recognizable female figures in U.S. chess, a former child prodigy who won her first national title at 14 and has since collected five more; we watched her grab her third straight here in St. Louis last May. She has appeared on our nation’s Olympic team several times over, including 2008 where she led the squad to a bronze medal on the first board.

Among her other chess duties while in town, Krush will run the CCSCSL’s second-of-three GM-led summer camps. The week-long, half- or full-day sessions are pulling in hundreds of scholastic students throughout the season, and Krush was specifically brought in next week to headline the club’s first installment of an all-girls section.

That Krush-camp is still open for signups, as is the third co-ed camp on Aug. 4. These come hot on the heels of Polgar’s 11th Annual All-Girls Invitational, one of the most prestigious all-girls events in the U.S. It begins today at Webster and runs through the weekend.

The tournament collects the top girl from each of the 50 states and features Blitz, Bughouse and Puzzle-Solving side sections as well as the six-round classical tournament. It also offers more than $200K in scholarships to Webster. Last year’s Missouri representative -- Margaret Hua from the 2016 class of Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School -- won an Armageddon playoff match to win the blitz tournament, and finished tied for fourth in the main event.

St. Louis girls in chess: Look up.

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, including his own children, and a student of the game himself through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. He is also a Mizzou journalist with a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other odds and ends. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess.

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