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2008 Samford Fellowship Awarded to Krush and Bhat Print E-mail
June 25, 2008
GM-elect Vinay Bhat at the American Open. Photo by John Hillery
For the first time in its 22-year history, two full Samford fellowships have been awarded in a single year.  The applicants this year included an unusually large number of highly qualified masters.  Because two of them, Irina Krush and Vinay Bhat, are in their last year of eligibility (both are 24) it was decided to award both the 2008 and 2009 Samford fellowships this year. 

The winners were chosen by the Samford fellowship committee, consisting of Frank P. Samford III (son of Samford fellowship founder Frank P. Samford, Jr.), former U.S. chess champion grandmaster Arthur Bisguier and international master John Donaldson. The winner's potential was determined based on his chess talent, work ethic, dedication and accomplishments.

The late Frank P. Samford, Jr. of Birmingham, Alabama, was a distinguished attorney and CEO of Liberty National Life Insurance Company (now Torchmark). Mr. Samford was active in civic, business, political, educational and cultural affairs. He was also an enthusiastic competitor in chess tournaments.

Mr. Samford created the Samford fellowship to identify and assist the best American chess masters under the age of 25 by providing top level coaching, strong competition and access to study materials. The fellowship also provides a monthly stipend for living expenses so that the winners may devote themselves entirely to chess without having financial worries. The total value of the two-year fellowship is approximately $36,000 annually.

Generous contributions from Mrs. Virginia Samford and Torchmark Corporation support the fellowship. The Samford fellowship is a fitting memorial to an extraordinary man. The dedication, creativity and achievement that marked Mr. Frank P. Samford, Jr.’s life are examples for all chess players to admire and emulate.

IM Irina Krush
International master Irina Krush is the 1998 and 2007 U.S. women’s champion. Her USCF rating is 2530 and her FIDE rating is 2479. Irina has represented the U.S. in numerous international competitions since the age of seven, receiving medals in both World Youth and World Junior championships. She became a master at age twelve and an international master at 16. She has been an integral part of the U.S. women’s olympiad team since the age of fourteen, helping the U.S. win a historic silver medal at the 2004 Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain.

At just 14, she won her first U.S. women’s title with the convincing score of 8½/9. At 17, she tied for first place with GM Igor Novikov in the New York City Mayor’s Cup and earned her first grandmaster norm. Irina is also active in the chess community as a writer, photographer, teacher, and manager of the U.S. Chess League team, the New York Knights. 

GM-elect Vinay Bhat
GM-elect Vinay Bhat learned how to play chess when he was 6½ years old. At the age of 10½ he set the then-current record for becoming the youngest national master, breaking Bobby Fischer’s record by two years. That record has since been broken by Hikaru Nakamura, and then in 2007 by Nicholas Nip (see next page). Vinay also played extensively internationally, representing the U.S. in nine different World Youth competitions with top-five finishes on five different occasions. Vinay completed his international master title in 2000. From 2002 through 2006, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with degrees in statistics and political economy, and then went on to work at Cornerstone Research in Menlo Park, California. While working he has gotten back to playing chess and won his third and final GM norm in July 2007. Later that year, FIDE granted him the grandmaster title conditional on his FIDE rating crossing 2500.

~Allen Kaufman

Frank P. Samford lll

Let us take some time to honor a man who has shunned publicity, but who, along with his family, has had one of the most important influences on the course of American chess of anyone. He is the trustee and administrator of the Frank P. Samford, Jr. chess fellowship award, originated by Frank P. Samford III’s father and continued by himself and his mother Virginia Samford. The award has been given yearly to rising young chess players in America to give them freedom for an extended period to receive coaching, study chess and opportunities to excel in national and international chess tournaments.

Chess is a mentally intriguing game, which I can assure you Frank Samford III has not himself resisted. But chess is enormously competitive and the pressures to leave the game to seek a career elsewhere are compelling. It is the Samford award that gives the young player a chance to pause and breathe the fresh air of chess accomplishment. It is the Samford award that creates a star to reach for. One recipient of the award, Rusudan Goletiani, said of hers, “I have been dreaming about this since I was six years old.” We now present our own accolade which is an acknowledgment of our appreciation for a distinguished Southern family, benefactors of the Samford University in Alabama which bears the family name, dedicated to the cause of academic excellence and accomplishment for the young people of America. After 21 years, we say, “Thank you!” to Frank Samford III and his family.

~Barbara DeMaro