The first-ever Ontario U-19 Girls' Championship was held in Mississauga, ON, on February 24-25, 2018. The girls played five rounds of FIDE-rated classical chess (60' + 30" incr.) in order to determine the champion and the official representative from Ontario to the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls' Invitational, held annually at Webster University in St-Louis, MO. The project came into being due to close collaboration of Team Canada captain, the incomparable FA Andrei Botez, his lieutenant in Eastern Canada, FA Vadim Tsypin, and a dynamic local Ontario company, Elevate My Chess Canada (EMC), founded by Gary Hua and Ken Green. In addition to beautiful trophies, the main prize made available by EMC was a transportation subsidy for the winner to attend the SPFGI this summer.
Thanks to support and encouragement from the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC), the Championship was also awarded the status of a qualification event for the 2018 Canadian Youth Chess Championships (CYCC) that will be held in Quebec City, QC. Every girl who scored 50% or more qualified for the CYCC in her age group. Recognizing an inherent difficulty for the youngest girls to play against their much older counterparts, the organizers also established a an additional set of prizes, awarding a trophy and medals to the three best finishers born in 2009 or later.
Many families with chess-playing siblings expressed interest in having their boys play FIDE-rated chess, too. Thus, a parallel event called Elevate My Chess Mississauga CYCC Open Qualifier came into being and was run in the same venue on the same five-round schedule, making it extremely convenient for parents. Fifty-five (55) players competed in five sections (Open U-08, Open U-10, Open U-12, Open U-14 and Open U-16/U-18 Combined) for the right to qualify to the CYCC, trophies, medals, and the top prize in every section - a transportation subsidy to attend the 2018 CYCC. A spacious and comfortable venue at the Erindale United Church, with lots of natural light and good airflow, was made available through good offices of the Mississauga Chess Club (Paul Roschman, Bob Gillanders).
On the girls' side, there were twenty-six (26) players, which made it the biggest girl's/women's event ever held in Ontario, the most populated Canadian province. Parents and players were keen to pursue a chance to qualify for the SPFGI and to take part in a veritable worldwide festival of chess that GM Susan Polgar kindly organizes at Webster University every year. Many families and coaches took a realistic and healthful point of view that even if their young charges were not yet able to compete for the honour this year, playing in the 2018 Championship would give them invaluable experience that will position them well for future years. Everyone appreciated a chance to play in a friendly, safe and fun all-girls environment, where recent opponents laughed, danced and had snacks together between rounds. That's why the player pool featured such a healthy age distribution with birth years from 2001 through 2010. Remarkably, seven (7) girls, or more than 25%, were born in 2009 or later, making them just eight years old or younger. This cohort acquitted itself well and was a real factor in a tournament, heralding even brighter days ahead for girls' chess in Canada.
Another factor that we appreciated very much was a groundswell of community support. Parents, coaches, chess professionals from Ontario cities big and small have embraced an idea of a tournament "for girls only" and came up with practical solutions to facilitate players' participation. Several remarkable individuals, who included parents of former junior chess players (girls and boys) and a chess club organizer, pledged their own money to sponsor transportation and/or entry fees for local players. It allowed a sizable contingent of players who would otherwise have had financial and logistics difficulties to come up from outside the Greater Toronto Area. The tournament had players from as far away as Ottawa, Windsor, and Kitchener. It was the first time that such a "targeted sponsorship" model was used in Ontario, and this made the Girls' Championship a common cause that was universally embraced in the province.
The opening ceremony featured a very special guest. WFM Rachel Tao, an alumna of the SPFGI tournament and a first-year engineering student at the University of Waterloo, came all the way to Mississauga specifically to address a new generation of chess-playing girls. Rachel gave an eloquent, moving and inspiring speech where she explained how studying chess and playing competitively were crucial for her self-confidence and for her time management skills, how the top-level events she was privileged to take part in (including the SPFGI at Webster and several World Youth Championships) allowed her to expand her horizons,to learn about new cultures, and to start long-lasting friendships. Rachel was brutally honest when she spoke about inevitable upsets and disappointments during tournaments, about the need to apply all her willpower, to dig her heels and to persevere, all the while remembering the joy of playing. By the end of her speech, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Girls in the Susan Polgar Qualifier and boys in the Open thanked Rachel with thunderous applause, and this set a high note for the two days filled by emotions and competitive drama.
The Girls and Open tournaments were directed by a husband-and-wife team (FA Vadim Tsypin, NA Diana Tsypin) that came from Montreal specifically for the events. They enjoyed full support from the Elevate My Chess contingent on the ground (Gary Hua, Ken Green, Mikhail Egorov, FM Eugene Hua). Several Toronto-area families who knew Vadim and Diana from the common adventures at the World and North American Youth dropped by to say hi and to cheer in on new players.
The final rankings for the 2018 Ontario Girls' U19 Championship can be found here:
The tournament featured pleasant surprizes. Lucy Gao from Toronto, born in 2009 and playing against competitors twice her age, took 5th place overall (!) and won the class trophy (girls born in 2009 or later).
Two players from the Seneca Hill Chess program ascended to the podium. Isamel Shen from Toronto took third place. Sarah Peng from Oakville triumphed in a hard-fought Rd 5 game against a much higher-rated opponent, and this success propelled her to the second place. The joy and excitement of those two teammates at the awards ceremony were palpable and delightful (photos are coming soon). In a show of force, with a perfect score of 5/5, WFM Svitlana Demchenko from Ottawa became the 2018 Ontario Girls U-19 Champion and the official representative of Ontario to the SPFGI.
Congratulations to the deserving winners!