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Botez on Top at the All-Girls Nationals Print E-mail
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
April 10, 2011
Chicago -- For the past school year, whenever she finished her homework, 15-year-old Alexandra Botez spent her spare time learning chess openings, playing several tournaments a month and studying chess online under the tutelage of Romanian GM George-Gabriel Grigore.

All of her hard work paid off in a big way over the weekend when Botez -- who is rated 1975 -- beat out several higher rated players for top prize in the 18 and under* section at the 2011 All Girls National Championship. (*corrected from Under 18 section.)

The No. 1 spot involves far more than just a trophy and a title. As the top winner in the tournament, Botez also collected a scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas that is valued at $105,000.

Karsten McVay, Alexandra Botez and Michael Khodarkovsky, Photo by Betsy Dynako

For Botez, a sophomore at Clackamas High School in Clackmas, Ore., the scholarship represents the culmination of a youth that has shaped by chess-winning experiences that stretch back to when she first started school.

 “I’ve been doing chess for a real long time,” Botez told Chess Life Online after she emerged from the six-round tournament undefeated with 5 points that she earned through four wins and two draws.

 “To be able to get a university (education) fully paid...it’s just wonderful,” Botez said. “It will save a lot of money, too.”

Botez was just one of 236 girls from over 120 schools in 30 states and Canada who blew into the Windy City over the weekend of  April 8-10 to play in the 8th annual All Girls National Championship.

Tournament organizers say the attendance at this year’s tournament shattered its previous record of 210 from last year and drew girls from more states and schools than ever before.

They also say the tournament consisted of stronger players than in years past.

For instance, in the top section, three girls were rated higher than Botez: Anna Matlin, at 2084; Emily Tallo, at 2017, and Rachel Gita Gologorsk, at 1979.
Champs and friends: US Junior Girls Open winner Emily Tallo and All-Girls Nationals champ Alexandra Botez, Photo by Betsy Dynako

“The pool of players with high ratings is larger than before,” said Michael Khodarkovsky, president of the Kasparov Chess Foundation. “Therefore, the level of competition is very intense and it’s unpredictable who will be able to win.”

Indeed, the winners of the 18 and under section did not fall neatly in line with their respective ratings. Second place went to Penny Xu (1812), of Urbana Middle School in Urbana, Ill., while third place went to Emily Tallo, (2017) of Centerbury High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The highest rated player, Anna Matlin (2084) came in 7th place, while three players ranked in the 1900s, Rachel Gita Gologorsk, of Florida, Margaret Hua, of Missouri, Linda Diaz, of New York finished in fourth, fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Anna Matlin, Photo by Betsy Dynako

The youngest competitor in the tournament was 4-year-old Aksithi Eswaran, of San Jose, California, who was rated 145 but nevertheless earned an impressive 3 out of a possible 6 points and ended up 36th in a pool of 63 players in the under 8 section.

Aksithi Eswaran, Photo by Betsy Dynako
Aksithi -- who was formally recognized and given a trophy for being the youngest player in the tournament -- wouldn’t reveal her secret to winning, saying only that her favorite piece to use is the Queen and her favorite thing to do is checkmate, which she did in one case by employing her rook and queen to use the staircase tactic against one of her opponents.

But while Aksithi wouldn’t let on to the secret behind her wins, her parents -- Eswaran Ramalingam, who runs a software consulting firm and is an entrepreneur, and Jackuline Theagarajan, a stay-at-home mom -- say clues can be found in Aksithi’s “Teddy Bear.”

That would be North Cal House of Chess owner and Fremont area Coach Ted Castro, whom the couple has hired to provide private chess lessons for their children.

“We are going to spend the next couple of years on chess,” Eswaran Ramalingam said.

Evidently, the investment has already begun to pay off. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter, Ashritha Eswaran, who is rated 1419, took second place with five points in the Under 10 section.

“It was fun playing against all the other girls,” Ashritha Eswaran said.  Asked how she won five out of a possible six points, Ashritha said, “You just had to look at the whole board. That’s it.”

Eswaran family, Photo by Betsy Dynako
While winners in the tournament came from a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences, in the cases of Botez and the Eswaran girls, chess is popular in their ancestral lands.

Botez’s father, Andrei, president of the Oregon High School Chess Association and a board member of the Oregon Chess Scholastic Chess Federation, is originally from Bucharest, Romania. He is the nephew of FIDE Master Constantin Botez.

The Eswaran girls’ parents are originally from the state of Tamil Nadu in India, the same home state as current World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand.

The couple say they plan to visit India soon and that, when they go, they hope to have their children meet Anand in person.

 And their long-range plans involve getting their daughters at the same level as Botez.

If they keep working, the girl's father said, "They may get a scholarship, too. It’s too early to tell. We need to keep their interest very high.

For full results, see the  Renaissance Knights all girls page.

Junior High School Championship team IS 318 won the 12 and under section and placed 2nd in 14 and under. Find more details and pix on Elizabeth Vicary's blog.
Photo by Betsy Dynako

  Anvi Surapaneni, Photo by Betsy Dynako

Lilia Poteat, 14 and under champ (version of this article incorrectly labeled this photo as Fiona Lam, who won the 16 and under), Photo by Betsy Dynako

Michael Khodarkovsky of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, Photo by Betsy Dynako

Twin sisters Maria and Maya with Karsten McVay, Photo by Betsy Dynako

2nd Place 18 and under team, De La Salle, Photo by Betsy Dynako

Rhoda Lynch of IS 318, Photo by Betsy Dynako

The event is presented by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) in association with the USCF, the University of Texas at Dallas & Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation. For full results, see the  Renaissance Knights all girls page. Also check Elizabeth Vicary's blog for photos and perspective from IS 318. Bookmark the USCF National Events matrix for easy to access information and links on upcoming scholastics.

April - Chess Life Online 2011

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