By Judit Sztaray
Girls in chess is a hot topic nowadays, it seems to be trendy topic to discuss and form your projects around. But what about 16 years ago? The situation was quite different then: with less than 1%(!) of USCF memberships belonging to females, dedicating a tournament just for girls seemed a controversial and not at all a sound initiative. Thank God for the visionary leaders like GM Susan Polgar, who together with Frank Niro and the rest of the Susan Polgar Foundation, created the very first all girls tournament. The Susan Polgar Foundation Girls’ Invitational was officially approved by US Chess back in 2003, and became the first all girls tournament to award a national title.
Fast forward 16 years, I was honored to be invited to be the chairwoman and the Chief Tournament Director for the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational event. Leading up to the event, we worked tirelessly for months to track down affiliates and ask for nominees from each state, and the countries in the Americas to secure strong players for this tournament. At the end, we had representatives from 38 states and DC and girls from 11 different countries at this year’s tournament that took place June 22-27 at SPICE, Webster University, Saint Louis, MO. It was not only the largest attendance ever, but also the strongest field in the history of SPGFI. The top 20 players were all 2000+ rated with 3 girls over 2200+. Northern California was represented by no less than five girls: Rochelle Wu lead the delegation, followed by Omya Vidjyarthi, Anika Rajaram, Mai-ha Nghiem and Marina Xiao.
The amazing and cool thing about this event is while it’s a tournament, it also feels like a camp, since all the girls are staying in one building, eat meals together, and have side events together. I enjoyed seeing all the girls socialize, have the opportunity to make new friends and have fun during these 6 days.
Side events included blitz, bughouse, the famous Polgar puzzle solving competition, and also an interesting alumni panel discussion, where former SPFGI players, such as the popular streamer Alexandra Botez, came back and discussed how chess and this tournament impacted their lives. Game analysis sessions with titled players, such as GM Illya Nyzhnyk, who recently won the National Open in Las Vegas; live streaming of after round decompression with Alexandra Botez; and dance class with a Cuban instruction were just the few extras that made this event truly one of the kind.
The main event itself is a 6 round, G/90 + 30s inc tournament where the girls compete in one open section. Stakes are high with cash prizes and scholarships on the line, so girls had to take every round very seriously. Before the last round there were no perfect scores and still nine girls were within reach of the first place, that comes with $4000 and a full 4 year scholarship to Webster University. Interesting fact that on the second board, the 9 year old Alice Lee from Minnesota was the second youngest competitor in the whole field, the fact that she had a shot at the title was alone sensational.
At the end, the match between WIM Emily Nguyen from Texas and WIM Mitzy Caballero from Peru was the deciding one, and with a thrilling upset, Mitzy won and took the clear first place and became the 16th SPF Girls Invitational Champion.
Frank Niro wrote a summary article that was published on uschess.org and included their game. I’m including it here for your enjoyment.
As I’m flying back from MO, it gives me enormous gratification to know that this event truly made a huge difference in 82 girls’ lives. I hope to see more and more of these events, since none of these should be viewed as competing events, rather than more opportunity for girls to play with other girls, strengthen their dedication to chess and serve as a calling to other girls to come and compete in rated events.
Finally, I’d like to thank the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club and its committee for supporting me in this role.
Over 560 photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/18TTxbqyrSvi6HCP8