1st U.S. Senior Women's Championship Preview

Update 11/02/2023: Games will be broadcast live on Chess.com at this link.


The first U.S. Senior Women's Championship is set to take place from November 3 through 5 at the Berkeley Chess School (BCS) in Berkeley, CA.

The five-round tournament will be played at the classical time control of game-in-90 minutes with a 30-second increment beginning on move one. Games will be broadcast live, and Chess Life Online will have daily recaps with annotated game highlights. The opening ceremony, held on Friday, November 3, will feature a book-signing with participant WIM Dr. Alexey Root.

Meet the 12 participants — and BCS Founder and President Elizabeth Shaughnessy — below.

Image Caption
Anjelina Belakovskaia (photo Heredia)

WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia (2218)

Anjelina Belakovskaia is a three-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion (1995, 1996, 1999) and former leader of the U.S. Women's Olympiad Team, competing in 1994, 1996, and 1998.

Belakovskaia was also a member-at-large of the US Chess Executive Board from 2015 through 2018.

Born in Odesa, Ukraine, Belakovskaia learned to play chess when she was six years old. At the age of 9, she qualified to study at the "School of Olympic Reserve" in her hometown. Little did anyone know that the preparation would be for ... the American Team! In the next decade, Belakovskaia won many Ukraine and USSR competitions, including the individual USSR Championship among the Young Masters and the Team World Chess Championship among Students, playing for the USSR Team. 

In 1991, Anjelina flew to the U.S. to play in the World Open in Philadelphia, and then she decided to stay. She had $100 in her pocket and spoke no English, but it didn't deter her. Thanks to chess, Belakovskaia found her way to survive and strive in America. In addition to actively playing in women's chess in the U.S. in the '90s and earning her WGM title in 1993, Belakovskaia opened her chess academy in Brooklyn and taught chess in several NYC Public Schools. Simultaneously, Anjelina discovered her interest in Wall Street and trading and got a job as a Foreign Exchange trader first, then as an algorithmic equity trader. 

In 1999, Anjelina enrolled in New York University and graduated in 2000 with an M.S. in Mathematics in Finance. From 2001 to 2002, Belakovskaia was a weather derivatives trader at Williams Energy in Tulsa Oklahoma, where she rapidly rose to the Head of the Weather Desk role and was featured on the front page of Money Section in the USA Today.

In 2003, Belakovskaia married Lawrence Bernstein - the former Treasurer of the Marshall Chess Club and a chess enthusiast. 

Currently, Belakovskaia is an Associate Teaching Professor of Finance at the Thunderbird School of Management at Arizona State University. An avid traveler, she has visited 47 countries so far.


WIM Beatriz Marinello (2200)

Beatriz Marinello is a Chilean-American chess player and official. She was a Vice President of FIDE from 2010 through 2018, and was president of US Chess from 2003 to 2005 (and on the executive board through 2007). 

Marinello earned her national title in Chile at the age of 13 and her WIM title in 1980 at the age of 16. That same year, she became national women's champion of Chile. As an organizer, she first organized a Chilean national championship at the age of 20.

Marinello then moved to the United States in 1990, and was a member of the 1994 U.S. Women's Olympiad team in Moscow. 


WFM Natalya Tsodikova (2181)

Born in Ukraine, Natalya Tsodikova immigrated to the United States in 1994 and currently resides in Daly City, CA, nestled in the suburbs of San Francisco.

In the mid-'90s, Tsodikova participated in the U.S. Women's Championship in 1995 and 1996, securing a fourth-place finish in each.

After a break from competitive chess, Tsodikova rekindled her passion at the local Mechanic's Institute chess club, finishing first twice in the prestigious Tuesday Night Marathon — a seven-round tournament that unfolds weekly.

Tsodikova played several times in the CA State Women's Championship, culminating in a proud first-place finish in 2019. In the wake of the pandemic, she transitioned to online play, favoring the rapid format, and is looking forward to her return to live chess.


WFM Olga Sagalchik (2100)

Olga Sagalchik is a Women’s FIDE Master and an eight-time participant in the U.S. Women’s Championship.

She has been teaching chess to NYC students for almost three decades, coaching scholastic chess players to numerous national, state and city titles.


WIM Dorothy Teasley (2000)

Dorothy "Dolly" Teasley was born on March 19th, 1941 in Hartwell, GA. She still has her father's chess set and that of John Ewing Massey, a maternal great-grandfather. Teasley moved to (pre-Disney) Orlando in 1948. Attended Delaney Elementary, Cherokee Junior High, Boone High, and Rice University (Houston). 

After learning the rules of chess at 12 by watching an aunt teach her older brother, she checked out the only four chess books at the Albertsons Public Library: two by Fred Reinfeld, one by Irving Chernev, and one by Edward Lasker. It wasn't long before she taught herself descriptive notation, solitarily played out all the games in the books, and could beat everyone else in the family.

Teasley began attending the Orlando Chess Club at age 13, and attended a Reshevsky simul. After learning of US Chess and Chess Review, she instantly joined and would play out every game in the magazine. 

After three rated tournaments in 1957 and 1958, she was already rated 1728, and became Florida Women's champion in 1957 and US Girls' Champ as well as Florida Amateur champion in 1958. 

For the next decade, Teasley was too busy to play chess (skittles or tournament), due to school and work. During this time, she was a newspaper reporter and features writer in the mid-1960s. She worked for Jacksonville Journal, St. Petersburg Evening Independent, and Chicago’s American.

She was then recruited by IBM as a tech writer but fell in love with programming, and became a computer programmer, project manager, or consultant for 44 years — in Poughkeepsie, Chicago, and Manhattan. Teasley worked for IBM, Standard Oil of Indiana, MHT, Merrill Lynch, Chemical, HIP, First Boston, Fidelity Investments, and loved it.

It was when Teasley started at IBM in 1967 when she got back into check. At lunchtime, the engineers played chess, and Teasley joined them and could beat all but one Joe Hornick, an 1800-player. She then learned of a Friday night chess club in nearby Woodstock, where the talented Meyer brothers (John & Eugene) played.  The next year, Bill Goichberg ran a 1968 tourney in Woodstock, and she began playing in as many Goichberg tourneys as she could. 

From here, she began competing in the U.S. Women's Championship, beginning in 1969 at the McAlpin, finishing seventh out of 10. In 1976, Teasley finished second out of 11 in Jackson Hole, WY. She also participated in 1981 (third out of 12) in Brigham City, UT, and 1987 (second out of ten) in Estes Park, Colorado. 

Teasley also represented the U.S. Women's Olympiad team in 1978 in Buenes Aires, where she won the Board four bronze medal, and again played for the Olympiad team in 1988 in Thessaloniki, Greece. She also played the Senior Olympiad in 1998 in Bad Wildbad, Germany, finishing 9th out of 31 players.

An in-depth interview with Dolly can be watched here.

courtesy slcc

WIM Alexey Root (2000)

Alexey Root began playing chess tournaments as Alexey Rudolph at age nine in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1976, she was the Nebraska Elementary co-champion, Three weeks before she married IM Doug Root, she won the 1989 U.S. Women's Championship. After earning her Ph.D. in Education at UCLA in 1999, Root became a lecturer at The University of Texas at Dallas. As of April 2022, she also works as the Chief Science Officer for Chessable. Root is the author of eight books about chess, including United States Women's Chess Champions, 1937-2020 

Fun facts: Doug and Alexey have two children, Clarissa and William. Both earned US Chess ratings. Clarissa's US Chess rating is under her maiden name, Clarissa Root. Doug and Alexey became first-time grandparents on October 4, 2023, when Harmony Gayle Cerepaka, daughter of Clarissa and Tim Cerepaka, was born. Doug competed in his first U.S. Senior Championship in 2023 and Alexey is competing in her first U.S. Senior Women's Championship in 2023.


WIM Vesna B Dimitrijevic (1907)

Vesna Dimitrijevic learned to play chess at the age of six, and played actively for her schools, university, and other teams in her native country Yugoslavia. She moved to the U.S. in 1982, as a graduate student at MIT. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she played in multiple U.S. Women chess championships, where she earned the WIM title in 1989. She holds a Doctorate in Nuclear Engineering from MIT and worked in her field of probabilistic risk assessment for over 30 years. She still works part time as an advisor to the U.S. Nuclear Commission on nuclear safety. She lives with her husband FM William J. Kelleher, a couple of miles from their favored Harvard Square, where chess is played year around by the rich and the paupers, grandmasters and patzers.


WIM Shernaz Kennedy (1900)

Shernaz Kennedy has competed in ten U.S. Women's championships, represented the U.S. in the 1986 Olympiad, and founded a business teaching chess to 24 schools in Manhattan. She has also written a book, The King’s Indian, about her great relationship with Bobby Fischer. "After my first U.S. Women's Championship in Utah," Kennedy said, "Bobby had his Secretary Claudia Mackarov contact me requesting ten of my wins and losses. He called me on Thanksgiving of 1981 and we began writing over a hundred letters to each other."

About my chess he wrote, “You are active aggressive and dynamic … out of all the women in the U.S., I liked your games the best." He also said, “Even when you are losing, you are like a tiger held at bay …  but there is a lot you don’t know." Kennedy credits Fischer with her earning her WIM title in 1987. Fischer had asked her to represent him in his 1992 match against Spassky, but she was unable to accompany him after getting pregnant with her fourth child.

On her career as an educator, her business partner of 37 years, Bruce Pandolfini, had said, "You earn more than any other chess player in the world, except perhaps Kasparov and Anand." Kennedy adds that she, "loves teaching children chess and taking them to City, State, National, and World championships."

Kennedy now leads a quiet life gardening, cooking and helping take care of her family as a single mother with four kids and seven grandkids. 


WCM Natasha C Christiansen (1824)

Natasha Christiansen learned to play chess at the age of 11, and has since had the honor of playing in two U.S. Women’s championships (in 1989 in Spartanburg, South Carolina and in 2006 in San Diego, California).

Christiansen currently plays in "as many tournaments as my day job of patent attorney allows." She has a Master's degree from MIT, and went to law school after having worked as a semiconductor engineer in New York and a European scientific grant consultant in Germany.

She now lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband, GM Larry Christiansen, and their two tuxedo cats.


Varinia Cabrera (1814)

Varinia Cabrera was born on the little island to the south of Cuba, named Isla de la Juventud (Island of Youth, or Island of Pines pre-revolution), after the Communist revolution. She grew up in the city of Havana, and her father taught her chess at the age of eight, although she only began to take it seriously at age 12.

Cabrera played in several Cuban national competitions individually and with the University of Havana team while completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology.  

Cabrera moved to the U.S. in 1993, but only played in one tournament, as she was pursuing her Master's and Doctorate degrees in Psychology.  She completed her Masters' in 2004 and began working with children, using chess as a therapeutic tool. 

Cabrera then completed her Doctorate in 2010, and her dissertation was a program design titled The Balance Your Mind with Chess Program:  A Psychosocial Treatment for Elementary School Children with ADHD.

Cabrera has a 22-year-old daughter that knows how to play chess but was not interested in playing, adding that, "She is super talented in painting, but chess is not her cup of tea."

Cabrera returned to tournament chess during the pandemic, and now plays often at her local club in Miami. She adds, "I am super excited to participate in the historic first U.S. Senior Women's Championship."


Julia O’Neill (1800)

Julia O'Neill is originally from San Diego, CA, and currently resides in Goodyear, AZ.

O'Neill decided to be a journalist when she was fifteen, working at San Diego Magazine that summer ... without pay. Of this experience, she says, "It was a great way to learn how things should be done and how things were really done." At seventeen, she was hired as a copy kid at the San Diego Union Tribune, where her first by-line was published.

Over the years, she wrote for various newspapers, magazines, the Encyclopedia Americana and Chess Life. In 1989, she became the first woman editor of Chess Life and some of her work has been exhibited in the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Along the way, she was an NFL cheerleader, a dance instructor, a drummer, and an artist. She is also a Silver Life Master in bridge. On chess, she says, "I play chess because I love the game. It's allowed me to travel, interview numerous grandmasters, and meet many wonderful people, including my husband! I'm thrilled to be at this inaugural event with such talented women."


WCM Mary K Kuhner (1737)

Mary Kuhner played in her first tournament at age 15. On this experience, she says, "I quickly realized that, even though I could beat my parents and friends, I wasn't actually good at chess.  This somehow intrigued me, and I competed in tournaments throughout high school and college."

Kuhner was twice Junior Champion of Alaska, and in 1987 was fortunate enough to compete in the U.S. Women's Championship, tying for fourth. Then, for a variety of reasons — including graduate school pressure — she stopped competing for 27 years. On what motivated her comeback, she says, "My father sent me a US Chess membership as a birthday present and suddenly I had tournament fever again. Coming back was a struggle and involved losing a great many games to small children, but it's also brought me a lot of joy." 

Since her comeback, Kuhner has twice been Washington Senior Champion/Co-Champion, and twice Washington Women's Co-Champion. On her playing style, she says, "I've kept my youthful aggression and love for murky positions, but added a little more endgame knowledge."

When not playing chess, Kuhner is a research scientist currently working on elephant conservation genetics, and has also developed a regrettable addiction to Starcraft 2.


Elizabeth Shaughnessy (Berkeley Chess School Founder and President)

Elizabeth Shaughnessy's earliest memory of chess was watching her father play with a Lithuanian refugee who was sheltering in their home during World War II.  As a young adult she joined the chess team at University College in Dublin, Ireland, where she studied architecture ― not unrelated pursuits because spatial reasoning is foundational to both!  After graduating in 1962, Elizabeth built an international portfolio, working on projects in Ireland, Great Britain, New Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia, and the United States, her eventual home.

In 1970, the same year she immigrated to the United States, Shaughnessy became the Irish Women’s Chess Champion, representing Ireland in seven Olympiads. She has served as President of CalChess, and on the Executive Board of US Chess. 

Shaughnessy has received numerous accolades and awards for her service to Bay Area children, including the Scholastic Service Award from US Chess, and Chess Educator of the Year Award from the University of Texas at Dallas. This year, Shaughnessy was named an AARP Purpose Prize Fellow and elected to the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in recognition of her contributions to youth education.


More about Elizabeth Shaughnessy and BCS:

Like every person, Elizabeth has had many roles: architect, chess champion, immigrant, mother, school volunteer, then school board president, and the non-profit Berkeley Chess School (BCS) president and founder. In 1982, Elizabeth offered a free after school chess class at her children’s elementary school.  She brought six chess sets, expecting ten children. 72 children came! Fast forward to a thriving school serving 7,000 children and adults annually in the greater Bay Area, with classes still offered irrespective of ability to pay.  

The Berkeley Chess School boasts four grandmaster alumni: GM Sam Shankland, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, GM Christopher Yoo, GM Hans Neiman, and anticipates a fifth ― IM Josiah Stearman ― very soon!  IM David Pruess, the originator of Chess.com for kids, is a BCS alumnus as well! Under Elizabeth’s leadership, BCS has also been a champion for women in chess, hosting many notable firsts:  the first California State Championship for Women, the first IM (not WIM) Norm Tournament for Women, the first California State Age Level Championship for Girls, and the first Western States Championship for Women and Girls.

This November, BCS will host the FIRST 2023 US Chess Senior Women’s Championship at the newly remodeled Berkeley Chess Center.  Purchased in 2017, the Berkeley Chess Center, with its spacious tournament hall, classrooms, chess library, and small café illuminated by a 256 square foot chess board window, is the venue for weekly and monthly rated tournaments for children and adults, and a haven for chess players in perpetuity. At age 86, Elizabeth still prefers to take the long view, with plans to transform the Center’s semi basement into airy classroom space.  The children of the future are waiting!