U.S. Senior Women’s Championship


The first ever U.S. Senior Women’s Championship, an invitational for women 50 and older, was held November 3–5, 2023, at the Berkeley Chess School. The Eade Foundation was its sponsor, with help from US Chess.

Belakovskaia wins!

U.S. Senior Women's Championship, photo by Trisha Gorman
U.S. Senior Women’s Championship, photo by Trisha Gorman

WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia was the youngest, at age 54, and the highest-rated participant. A three-time U.S. Women’s Champion, Belakovskaia was the pre-tournament favorite. She won with 4.5 out of 5. However, both WFM Olga Sagalchik (who finished clear second with 4 out of 5) and Varinia Cabrera (who finished tied for 3rd and 4th with 3 out of 5) had winning positions against Belakovskaia. Both lost, however, after Belakovskaia showed tenacious defensive skills.

Return to chess

Alexey Root (left) and Anjelina Belakovskaia, Photo by Kimberly Doo

I was thrilled to participate in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Championship, a tournament I first proposed in 2019 here on SparkChess. I hoped the tournament would cause top women to return to tournament chess. It has.

WFM Natalya Tsodikova had not played in a Mechanics’ Institute Tuesday Night Marathon since before the pandemic. The Tuesday after the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship ended, Tsodikova entered a Tuesday Night Marathon.

WFM Ivona Jezierska drove from Los Angeles to Berkeley to spectate. When she arrived, FM Jim Eade recruited her to commentate, along with himself and IM Elliott Winslow. After WCM Mary Kuhner withdrew, due to illness, Jezierska played her first tournament game since 2005 as a “house” player for the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship.

Wins into Draws

A common theme in my articles for SparkChess is turning wins into draws. I did that twice at the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship. Ratings shown within the games below are FIDE ratings.

Against WIM Beatriz Marinello in round 2, I spent a long time on my 19th move, correctly pushing my pawn to f5. But I played my 21st move too fast, missing a study-like win. Later, I repeated moves in a position where I was better.

In my last round, versus Tsodikova, I was in a “drawing” frame of mind rather than a “winning” frame of mind. My opponent was still in fighting mode, refusing my draw offers on moves 18 and 46. Near the end of our game, after every other game had finished, Tsodikova over pressed with her 67th move.

I missed a win after her 67…b2? Can you find what I should play on move 68, as White? Both of us had less than five minutes on the clock, which probably contributed to our inaccuracies in an equal position.

Tsodikova only offered a draw at the very end, where I could give up a rook for her remaining pawn and leave her with king and bishop versus my king. Our only previous game, and the last time we had seen each other in person, at the 1995 U.S. Women’s Championship was a draw also.

How to spell grandmaster

Before our game, Tsodikova and I talked about our grandchildren. Tsodikova has two, ages 7 and 3. I am a first-time grandma, as of October 4, 2023. As WGM Jennifer Shahade once tweeted, “You can’t spell Grandmaster without Grandma.”

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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