Chess champ shares love of game with kids

2013-05-04T00:00:00Z Chess champ shares love of game with kidsHenry Barajas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Anjelina Belakovskaia, three-time U.S. women's chess champion, will be trying to win her fourth U.S. title in a tournament in St. Louis.

Belakovskaia, of Tucson, is participating in the 11-day championship, which began Friday.

She is the sixth-place seed and will have to compete against some of the top chess players in the country. Ten women are taking part in the championship tournament.

Belakovskaia will face the likes of returning champion, Irina Krush, and former U.S. champion Anna Zatonskih.

She last won the coveted title in 1999 but took a break after that from competing professionally.

When Belakovskaia first came to the United States in the 1990s she hustled chess players at a Washington state park making a few dollars with each match she won.

Her skills landed her a brief role in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." She used the money she earned to hire an immigration attorney to help her gain her citizenship.

Even though she took a break from competing professionally, much has happened to Belakovskaia during her hiatus.

She received her master's degree from New York University, moved to Tucson, and married Lawrence Bernstein in 2003.

Belakovskaia is the mother of three young children, all chess players, and is a real-estate agent for Keller Williams Southern Arizona.

She started a youth chess club called the Catalina Foothills Chess Academy, and lectures at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.

The chess grandmaster recently organized the Girls Science and Chess tournament in mid-April with the help of the UA's mathematics department and Bill Plant, director of the UA's Flandrau Science Center.

She recently talked about her chess skills with the Star. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Q: I noticed that you're the best at whatever you put your mind to, but what aren't you good at?

A: There are a lot of things that I'm not good. You have to ask my husband. He's a much better cook than me. I'm not competing with him in that area.

Q: What got you in the game in the first place?

A: I grew up in the USSR. When I was 6 years old, my father was working on his Ph.D and my mom kept me away with chess so he could finish his work. Then I started to beat her at chess. She took me to the after-school programs and the rest is history.

Q: What's your chess-training schedule like?

A: It's tough. I have three kids. I train with my oldest son Brian, 9. Brian is in the top 100 chess players in the country, and I'm very proud of his accomplishments.

Now my younger children want to play. I don't know if they like the idea that I play chess or they find it interesting because of the chess games they play on the computer. I have started to show them how to move the pieces across the board.

I lecture undergraduate and graduate classes on risk management and derivatives, so I spend a lot of time to ensure that I come up with different strategies and give as much as I can to my students to help avoid anymore financial disasters.

I train at midnight. I play games online at chesskit.com and chessclub.com when I have time.

Q: What do you know about your competition?

A: The tables have turned. I used to come in being first place, now I'm the underdog.

Q: How can a world champion become the underdog?

A: My competition plays chess professionally. They study a lot. There are computers and databases with 4 (million) to 6 million games, so some players study day and night. One of my challenges will be to survive the openings, but if I survive, I will do fine because I have a good intuition in the middle and end game.

Q: What do you think the future has in store for chess?

A: It's exploding. There are children in India, America, Russia playing the game. When someone became a grandmaster at the age of 20-25 it was awesome, but now if someone is a grandmaster at 18 it's considered old. Now we have some very young grandmasters at the ages of 12.

If you look in Tucson, there is no chess club and not one building dedicated to chess. When I grew up in the USSR there were many chess clubs and palaces, but I'm looking for a sponsor to fund a chess club and center.

Contact Henry Barajas at 573-4203 or hbarajas@azstarnet.com

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