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On Chess: Krush earns elusive grandmaster title

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon:

It’s a great time to be a woman in chess. I think.

To be sure, I should ask GM-elect Irina Krush, who is in town for the month as the resident grandmaster at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center in the Central West End. Krush is the reigning U.S. Women’s Champion, a five-time winner of the event, and the 16th highest rated woman in the world. She will handle the club’s weekly programming while she is here, undoubtedly providing a boost to the Thursday night ladies’ class.

She was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 5 – apparently learning the game of chess on her flight over here. Conveniently, she landed in Brooklyn, N.Y., and eventually attended Edward R. Murrow High School, which boasts one of the best scholastic teams in the nation. GM Alex Lenderman, the 2005 World U16 Champion, also hails from Murrow High, as did the late Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys. (Clearly, the chess rubbed off quite well on Krush, but the jury is still out on her rapping career.)

Krush recently made headlines for what some of you sharper-eyed readers might have already picked up: That “GM-elect” in front of her name means she will become an actual grandmaster in December, once FIDE, the governing body of chess, officially awards her the title. Her title application was recently approved at the FIDE congress in Estonia, meaning the powers-that-be determined Krush performed well enough in three elite tournaments, known as “norms,” and achieved the necessary rating (2500+) to earn the title. And she did it the same way every other grandmaster has had to do it.

A longtime debate rages over the value of woman-only events in chess and, especially, women-specific titles such as WGM – which technically means “woman grandmaster,” but carries the air of inferiority: The WGM title represents a level of chess skill significantly lower than that of an unrestricted GM.

Krush has long since acknowledged her side in the argument, all but ignoring her WGM label (the only title, she says, that she has never asked or applied for). Instead she has competed for the past decade as an International Master – just one notch below GM, though harder to achieve than WGM and with standardized prerequisites.

To the point, Krush has always described herself as striving to become a great chess player – not a great female chess player – and that’s just what she proved by finally grabbing that “real” GM title. Men and women, alike: bow down.

She nabbed her third and final norm at the Baku Open in Azerbaijan last month, also passing the 2500 rating watermark at the same tournament – which must feel nice to slam dunk a title like that in one sitting. She completed her second GM norm just last March, a span of six months, but before that, her first GM norm came more than 12 years ago.

Also appealing to women in chess, I think, is the opening of A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chessat the World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End on Oct. 19. Certainly, speculation exists on how exactly fashion ties into chess, but such questions seem to be generating attention in the exhibit’s preview stages. It has earned mentions in the latest issues of Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan magazines.

That said, I already admitted in an earlier column that I enjoyed watching the U.S. Championships, broadcast live to my couch via the Internet, in my underpants. So I’ve been relieved of any such commentary on fashion, and WGM Jennifer Shahade will write next week to provide a little more insight on what’s going on over at the Hall of Fame.

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, including his own children, and a student of the game himself through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. He is also a Mizzou journalist with a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other odds and ends. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess.