KCF All-Girls Nationals Returns, Inspiring Newcomers

In late April, nearly 400 girls from 33 states converged on Chicago, Illinois for the 17th Annual KCF All-Girls National Chess Championship, which returned to over-the-board play after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. The three-day event featured six rounds of classical chess across six age-based sections, punctuated by Bughouse and Blitz tournaments.

17th Annual KCF All-Girls National Championship Logo

But the All-Girls Nationals isn’t a run-of-the-mill tournament-- it’s a special opportunity for the growing community of female players to meet, compete, and develop the lasting friendships and camaraderie that chess inspires. And while other tournaments struggled to rebound from COVID shutdowns, the All-Girls returned strong with an attendance very near its pre-pandemic numbers.

“Once the tournament started, it was like a homecoming being back with the players, family members, coaches, and staff that have made this such a great tournament year after year,” said David Heiser, president and founder of Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation, the event’s sponsoring affiliate.

While the All-Girls is a familiar tradition for many, the Los Angeles-based Archer School for Girls team was seeing it with fresh eyes. “Our team is new, with seven of the eight girls playing in their first event," explained Coach Jay Stallings. "At the start of this school year, only Liora [Ginzburg] knew all the rules of play.”

Archer School for Girls Team
The Archer School for Girls Team at the 17th Annual KCF All-Girls National Chess Championship. (from left to right) Marlowe Kohn, Maya Hernandez, Liora Ginzburg, Guinevere Hesse, Mia Makower, Margaret Morris, Alondra Atrian, and Julia Smithson. Photo: Jay Stallings.

The nerves of Coach Stallings’s first-time players wore away as the pieces began moving. Margaret Morris, for whom this national event was her first-ever rated tournament, appreciated the challenging opportunity. “I was really concerned that I was going to lose every game and not even know why, but I never felt like my opponents were playing moves that I didn’t understand,” she said. Margaret picked up her very first tournament win in round 3, but wasn't discouraged by her losses. "Despite winning only one game, I’m very happy with my performance.” 

Margaret Morris at the 17th Annual All-Girls National Championship
Image Caption
Margaret Morris at the 17th Annual All-Girls National Championship. Photo: Jay Stallings

Liora, a 16-year-old who has attended past KCF Nationals as an individual player, enjoyed the new dynamic of competing with a team. “It felt great to feel like a part of something,” she said. “It really was a dream come true-- win or lose, when you walked into the team room, the team applauded you!”

Liora Ginzburg at the 17th Annual All-Girls National Championship
Image Caption
Liora Ginzburg at the 17th Annual All-Girls National Championship. Photo: Jay Stallings

While the overall atmosphere was welcoming and supportive off the board, the competition on the 64 squares was fierce, with many players eager to showcase the improvements they had made during quarantine. The phenomenon of players’ pre-COVID ratings catching up with their actual abilities played out in real time at the All-Girls. According to Coach Stallings, many mismatched pairings weren’t quick wins, but drawn-out contests. “The other coaches and I observed that these matches seemed to take longer than many of the battles among top players,” he said.

In round 2, 1600-rated Liora had the opportunity to face 12-year-old Iris Mou, a 2200 who defeated an FM at the 14th Annual Open at Foxwoods the weekend prior, won the KCF All-Girls Under 12 section in 2019, and would go on to win the Under 18 section this year with 5½/6.

Iris Mou in the final round of the 2019 KCF All-Girls National Chess Championship.
Iris Mou deciding her next move in the final round of the 2019 KCF All-Girls National Chess Championship.

“As soon as the pairings went up, my teammates started asking me if Iris was better than our coach,” Liora said.  “I told them she is, in fact. My team was so excited to see such a strong young female player.”

Below is Liora's game against Iris, with annotations provided by Coach Jay Stallings.

[pgn][Event "17th Annual KCF All-Girls Nationals"][Site "?"][Date "2022.04.23"][Round "2"][White "Ginzburg, Liora"][Black "Mou, Iris"][Result "0-1"][ECO "E21"][WhiteElo "1638"][BlackElo "2173"][Annotator "Stallings,Jay"][PlyCount "85"][EventDate "2022.??.??"][SourceVersionDate "2022.04.23"]1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. c4 Bb4+ 4. Nc3 O-O 5. Bd2 Bxc3 6. Bxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 Nxc38. Qxc3 d6 9. e4 Nd7 10. Bd3 e5 11. O-O a5 12. Rad1 Qe7 13. Bc2 Re8 14. Rfe1Nf6 15. b3 $2 {A useless pawn move that weakens the dark squares and lessens the prospects of White's bishop.} Bg4 16. h3 Bh5 17. dxe5 dxe5 18. g4 Bg6 19.Nh4 Qe6 20. Nf5 b6 21. c5 Qc6 22. g5 Nd7 {[#] Even though there are three attackers aiming at the pinned c-pawn, a careful examination reveals: a) Black will not want to take with the b-pawn as it would weaken the queenside pawns beyond repair; b) Capturing with the knight turns it around so it is a Black piece on c5 that is pinned; and c) A capture by the queen would hang the knight IF White's queen were protected, thus 23.Re3! would prevent the loss of the pawn outright.} 23. b4 $2 axb4 24. Qxb4 Nxc5 25. Bb3 $6 {A good idea, but White misses the fact that, in the ensuing moves, Black's knight will be able to escape attack while simultaneously blocking the d-file and indirectly protecting the e-pawn (see move 27 for Black).} Nxb3 26. Ne7+ Rxe7 27. Qxe7 Nd4$1 {White is suddenly unable to capture the knight at b3, play the deadly Rd8+,or even take the poisoned e-pawn (Nf3+).} 28. Rc1 $4 {White lashes out with an attacking move, but Black's heroic knight springs into action once again.} Ne2+$1 29. Rxe2 Qxc1+ 30. Kg2 {And Black closed out the game for the full point.}Qc4 31. Rd2 Qc5 32. Rd8+ Rxd8 33. Qxd8+ Qf8 34. Qxc7 Bxe4+ 35. f3 Bd5 36. Qxe5Qa8 37. Qe3 Qxa2+ 38. Kg3 Qa8 39. f4 b5 40. Qc5 Bc4 41. h4 Qf8 42. Qa7 b4 43.f5 0-1[/pgn]


The loss against Mou didn't weigh heavily on Ginzburg though. “Despite allowing that tactic, I felt like I played well in this event,” she said. “My games were hard-fought no matter what my opponent was rated.” Liora finished in a four-way tie for 4th place in the Under 18, scoring 4/6 for the weekend.

With an overwhelmingly positive experience for the Archer School for Girls team, their excitement to return for the 18th All-Girls Nationals is already brewing. “While our team did not earn a spot on the awards stage, we applauded those who did,” Coach Stallings said. “And we pledged to be up there next year!”

The annual All-Girls Nationals was launched in 2004 by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF). This year, the KCF celebrates its 20th anniversary as an organization.


Special thanks to Liora Ginzburg and Jay Stallings for their research and contributions to this article.



Below are the top finishers in each section. Full results can be viewed here. The Champion in each age category qualifies to represent the United States at the 2022 World Cadets (U8, U10, U12) and World Youth (U14, U16, U18) Championships. 

Under 18
1st: Iris Mou (5½/6)
2nd-4th: Omya Vidyarthi, Nastassja Matus, and Sneha Prabu (5/6)

Under 16
1st (tie): Asha Kumar, Yesun Lee (5½/6)
3rd: Ria Raj (5/6)

Under 14
1st (tie): Kally Wen, Chloe Gaw, Ananya Ananth (5/6)

Under 12
1st: Jasmine Su (6/6)
2nd-4th (tie): Parinya Jain, Kylie Zhang, Michelle Zhang (5/6)

Under 10
1st: Ananya Wadhwa (6/6)
2nd-4th (tie): Sophie Li, Alice Chovanec, Anagha Sinkar, Neeli Buchireddy (5/6)

Under 8
1st: Dena Wang (6/6)
2nd-5th (tie): Rongyu Jiang, Adorabella Zhu, Tiffany Li, and Scarlett Kong (5/6)


New York-based teams dominated the team standings, finishing on top in five of the six sections

Under 18 – Dalton (NY)

Under 16 – Discovery M.S. (AL)

Under 14 – Success Academy, Hudson Yards (NY)

Under 12 – Hunter College Elementary (NY)

Under 10 – PS334, Anderson School (NY)

Under 8 – PS77, Lower Lab (NY)