Female Only Samford Style Award?

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I saw the list of 2022 Samford Fellowship awards a couple of days ago, and it was nice to see two female winners this year in Carissa Yip and Alice Lee. In fact, this is the third year in a row that Carissa has made the list, and I imagine that she has been putting the funds to good use based on her continued success at the board.

It’s also Chess Olympiad season right now, and so I’m enthusiastically keeping an eye on the performance of the USA teams. One thing that has struck me is that while the USA Open team has become far and away the team to beat, the USA Women’s team has not achieved nearly that same level of success.

In fact, our ladies have won only two team medals in their entire history (Silver in 2004, and Bronze in 2008) and 3/5 of the team in 2022 have been there since the times of those medals.

This isn’t to cast disparagement on the performance of our current female Olympians. As always, I quite enjoy watching their performance, and am hopeful that they will wind up outperforming their starting position. Yet I keep coming back to the thought that it would be nice if we could create some of the same opportunities for female chess players here at home that we have for men.

The importation of talent such as Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Lenier Dominguez, along with the growth of a player like Sam Shankland mean that some prior stalwarts of the US team, such as Ray Robson and Var Akobian, no longer have a spot on the team. In fact, Shankland only has his spot due to Nakamura turning it down. A fact that Sam is refreshingly honest about as he often openly wonders if the current Olympiad will be his last, which he has done since his first.

Yet on the ladies’ side, we are seeing the return, yet again, of Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih, and Tatev Abrahamyan. Again, please don’t misunderstand, I enjoy watching these ladies play, and often admire their games. I used to follow Tatev’s games quite closely when I was a French Defense player. I can’t help thinking, though, what would it be like if the USA was producing GM’s amongst female players like we are amongst the men?

That brings me back to the topic of this post. How nice would it be if there were some sort of Samford-style award that was for female players only. How long before we would have a Women’s Olympic Team that would be perennial medal contenders?

How long before we would be producing more professional female players? Many of the top US Women’s players, such as Jennifer Yu, seem to have little to no interest in continuing as professionals. In the current climate, it’s hard to blame them.

Anyways, food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott