2023 KCF All-Girls National Championship: A Look Back


471 players from 35 states flocked to downtown Chicago for the 18th Annual KCF All-Girls National Championship. The tournament has taken place since 2004, presented by Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF), Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation, and US Chess. Held April 28 through 30, players competed in six age-based sections in addition to the traditional blitz and bughouse side events.

To commemorate this event, please enjoy this collection of photos (courtesy of Deshaun Adams and Renaissance Knights), a personal essay from the father of one of the participants, and annotated games from the Under 18 and Under 14 section winners.

The next KCF All-Girls National Championship will be held again in Chicago from April 12 through 14, 2024, and will be open to all girls under the age of 18 as of January 1, 2024.

Nastassja Matus, of Plymouth, MN, won the Under 18 section and has kindly shared her third-round victory with us. Variations are hers, and comments are JJ Lang’s.



New York’s Chloe Gaw won the Under 14 section and tied for first in the blitz tournament with a stunning 9½/10. Here is one of her thoughtfully annotated victories from the main event.



The 2023 KCF All-Girls National Championship: A Parent's Perspective

By Mike Berkey


The KCF All-Girls National Championship has been an important annual ritual for my daughter and me since she was in kindergarten. Whenever I tell a new acquaintance about my daughter’s involvement in chess, I always talk about our first time going to the KCF All-Girls tournament. I sat in the skittles room for two and half hours, anxiously waiting for her to finish a game. I kept asking the doorman to check if she wasn’t actually missing. I was amazed to see how the context of a tournament could bring out a level of focus from this five-year-old girl that she had never shown elsewhere.

This year, the tournament, which in the past had always been held at an unwelcoming mega-convention-complex in a somewhat awkward part of town, was moved downtown to the historic Palmer House. The new setting provided much easier access to public transit, a wider variety of food choices, and fun things to do between rounds. During one of our breaks, we walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago where my daughter, now a fifth grader, was particularly taken with an exhibit of ornate suits of armor and jousting apparel. I really hope the tournament stays at the Palmer House in future years.

During the first round, I took a little snooze on one of the benches — only to be woken up by a very jaunty performance of some classical rondo. A grand piano had been placed right in the center of the elevator bay! And throughout the tournament, the girls would blow off steam after their games by playing songs for each other. Despite the interruption of my nap, I was happy to see it. Those girls were confident in taking up space and enjoying it how they saw fit.

There is a special energy in the corridors outside a tournament hall — wild and full of life. Hundreds of girls running around, playing little games with each other, playing piano, celebrating their victories, commiserating over defeats, and most of all analyzing each other’s games. It makes me so proud to see how even the young girls, without any instigation from the adults, squat around a chess board on the ground and engage in passionate discussions about strategy and tactics.


My daughter doesn’t join in the camaraderie though. Unlike those girls, she did not travel here with a team. She does have me though. I remember when I was young, my favorite part of the tournament was analyzing my games during the breaks with my dad. I never felt any disappointment from him when I lost. But win or lose, I always felt challenged by him to learn from my mistakes and to pay closer attention. Those discussions made me feel supported and seen by my dad. I also never traveled with a team, but my dad and I were a team.

Over the years I have fostered a tradition of post-game analysis with my daughter, hoping to build the same bond with her that I had with my dad. Unfortunately, my daughter does not feel the same way I did. We had a real heart-to-heart during this tournament. Where I had felt challenged, she feels criticized. She told me that she really does not like going over the games with me, and that notating felt like a chore that diminished her enjoyment of the game. This led me to question whether she enjoys chess at all, and I assured her I would be supportive if she wanted to quit. But she said I wasn’t getting it. She does like chess. She just wants to be free to play without worrying about what her dad will think of her every move.

I can understand that.

As we kept talking, I realized I had mistakenly assumed she disliked chess merely because she didn’t like it for the same reasons I did as a child. She told me her favorite thing about chess is finding a creative and powerful move. Whereas I had valued chess as a means to an end (i.e. bonding with people I loved by thinking together about games) she values chess more as an end in itself, as an art.

Our differing values are not mutually exclusive, and neither is better or worse. I also expect as she matures, she will become more interested in analyzing games with me. But for now, I am happy she finds pleasure in chess’s beauty.

Just as chess, for me, is a means to bonding with others, the KCF All-Girls tournament wasn’t about ratings and trophies, but was rather an impetus to see my daughter more clearly. She is growing up and developing her own identity independent from me. As we talked, I saw a quiet, self-assurance written all over my daughter’s face. She knew what she liked and didn’t like. She knew herself. And she wasn’t afraid to tell me about it.


2023 KCF All-Girls National Championship: At A Glance





Under 18: Nastassja Matus, Plymouth, MN



Under 16: Ellen Wang, New York, NY



Under 14: Chloe Gaw, New York, NY



Under 12: Audrey Zhou, Scarsdale, NY + Anvitha Penagalapati, San Jose, CA + Anagha Sinkar, Huntersville, NC (not pictured)


Under 10: Sophie Li, Gainesville, FL (not pictured)



Under 8: Elizabeth Xia, Lincolnshire, IL





Under 18: Success Academy HS of Liberal Arts, New York, NY



Under 16: Stuyvesant HS, New York, NY



Under 14: Success Academy Hudson Yards, New York, NY



Under 12: Brearley, New York, NY



Under 10: Speyer Legacy, New York, NY (photo courtesy Jennifer Yung)



Under 8: Oak Hall, Gainesville, FL