U.S. Senior Women’s Championship: Origins and First Round

After more than four-and-a-half years of anticipation, the first round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Championship happened on November 3, 2023 at the Berkeley Chess School. In four more rounds, there will be a 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Champion. Top ranked in the 12-player field is three-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia.


Image Caption
courtesy Kimberly Doo


Origins and Future

On March 6, 2019, ChessBase published my article Golden Age of US Chess, for players ages 50 and older. I asked readers to, “Fill in the blank: U.S. Junior Championship, U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. U.S. Championship, U.S. Women’s Championship. U.S. Senior Championship, ______________.”

Jim Eade, founder of the Eade Foundation, filled in the blank with “U.S. Senior Women’s Championship.” At the 2022 US Chess Delegates Meeting, Eade turned that “blank” into reality by getting the following motion passed: “DM22-24/MMM22-01 (Jim Eade, CA-N) Delegates recommend that the Executive Board establish a U.S. Senior Women’s Championship Round Robin.”

The US Chess Executive Board sought bidders for this new national championship. Elizabeth Shaughnessy, Founder and President of The Berkeley Chess School, submitted the winning bid with financial support from the Eade Foundation. 

US Chess accepts donations through its Women’s Chess Initiative, where you could specify support for a U.S. Senior Women’s Championship.

If a permanent sponsor is found, or if sufficient funds are raised, the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship could become an annual event. 


Golden Girls

In my 2019 ChessBase article, I wrote that “perhaps the next chess players highlighted [by US Chess] might resemble the stars of the 1980s TV show Golden Girls.” In 2023, 12 women, ages 54 to 82, are competing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship. Here is the list of participants, with their FIDE titles, their October 2023 US Chess ratings, and their first round results


WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia, Arizona, 2218 (won as Black versus Dimitrijevic)

WIM Beatriz Marinello, New York, 2200 (won as White versus Kennedy)

WFM Natalya Tsodikova, California, 2181 (lost as Black versus Christiansen)

WFM Olga Sagalchik, New York, 2100 (won as White versus Cabrera)

WIM Dorothy Teasley, New York, 2000 (lost as White versus Kuhner)

WIM Alexey Root, Texas, 2000 (won as Black versus O’Neill)

WIM Vesna Dimitrijevic, Massachusetts, 1907 (lost as White versus Belakovskaia)

WIM Shernaz Kennedy, New York, 1900 (lost as Black versus Marinello)

WCM Natasha Christiansen, Massachusetts, 1824 (won as White versus Tsodikova)

Varinia Cabrera, Florida, 1814 (lost as Black versus Sagalchik)

Julia O’Neill, Arizona, 1800 (lost as White versus Root)

WCM Mary Kuhner, Washington, 1737 (won as Black versus Teasley)


Learn more about the participants in this US Chess preview article.


Reversing Chess Retirement

According to the invitational regulations, each player needed at least one game rated, by FIDE or US Chess, within the last 10 years. As I wrote on SparkChess in 2019, “Some famous high-rated women might be enticed out of retirement by a large prize fund, such as former Women’s World Championship challenger WGM Irina Levitina, US Chess-rated 2430.”

Two top women players from the 20th century, both retired from rated chess, contacted me about playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship. In mid-October 2023, I had a Facebook exchange with WCM Diana Lanni, who may have been the inspiration for the fictional character Beth Harmon. As a first step to qualify for the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship, Lanni paid for a year of US Chess membership. Unfortunately for Lanni, she rejoined US Chess too late to be invited to the 2023 championship. 

After Facebook messaging with me in late October 2023, WFM Ivona Jezierska decided to visit the 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Championship from her home and chess business in Southern California. Jezierska stated, “I would be interested in playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Championship next year.”


Box Elder
Image Caption
Box Elder News-Journal, June 13 1981. Back row (from left): Ruth Haring, Ruth Donnelly, Linda Mahon, Diane Savereide, Diana Lanni, Shernaz Kennedy, Rachel Crotto, Alison Bert. Front (from left): Pamela Ford, Alexey Root, Dolly Teasley, Baraka Shabazz


This photo, of the 1981 U.S. Women’s Championship participants, includes 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Championship participants Shernaz Kennedy, Alexey Root, and Dolly Teasley. In the photo, my last name was “Rudolph” and I was 15 years old. Baraka Shabazz and I were the two youngest participants in that 1981 championship. The photo also includes 2024 U.S. Senior Women’s Championship hopeful Diana Lanni. 


Prizes, Housing, Closing Dinner

The prize fund for the 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Championship is $8,000, to be awarded as follows:

1st $4,000

2nd $2,000

3rd $1,000

4th $750

5th $250

In addition, the organizer provided each participant with a hotel room at the DoubleTree Berkeley Marina and transportation from the hotel to the playing site. 

On November 5 at 8 p.m. there will be a dinner and closing ceremony at the DoubleTree Berkeley Marina Hotel. 


Opening Ceremony, Commentary

US Chess Executive Director Carol Meyer spoke at the opening ceremony and introduced US Chess Executive Board member Leila D’Aquin and US Chess Women’s Committee Chair Kimberly Doo. FM Jim Eade and Elizabeth Shaughnessy also spoke at the ceremony. Then the championship’s tournament director, FIDE arbiter Richard Koepcke, reviewed the rules.

Eade and IM Elliott Winslow commentated on the first round on Twitchand that may be the channel for commentary on the rest of the rounds as well.


My First Round Game

My first-round game was the last to finish, I was pretty shaky even after it ended, forgetting my phone at the Berkeley Chess School site. I wasn’t the only one to suffer from post-game brain fog: four of the 12 players left phones at the site, according to DGT operator Jean-Rudolph Cendejas.

My opponent, Julia O’Neill, had not had dinner before the round. O’Neill and her husband had arrived in Berkeley at 5:30 p.m. from the airport, just an hour-and-a-half before the 7 p.m. round. Nonetheless, she played well in our game and missed some chances to draw, and one to win:



Round two begins today at 10:00 a.m. PDT, with round three to follow at 3:00 p.m. Below are two additional games from round one, annotated by JJ Lang:



Quick Links

Official website

Live game broadcast on Chess.com

All event coverage on CLO

Annotated games

Twitch stream