Irina Krush, 23, is the new U.S. Women’s Chess Champion. She went undefeated in nine rounds, winning five games and drawing four. She won the title once before, when she was 14 and became the youngest U.S. Women’s Chess Champion ever, a record that still stands. In 2000, she continued to break records by becoming the first American woman to earn the title of international master. Irina emigrated from the Ukraine in 1988 before she turned five, the age at which her father taught her the game.
Irina’s life revolves around the game. “I am very chessy,” she once told me, when I was interviewing her for King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. Irina is uncomfortable giving interviews—she’d rather be playing chess than talking about the game. But one morning at 3:00 A.M., when I was driving home from a tournament with her and Pascal Charbonneau, she was unusually philosophical. Of all the top players I know, she is the most idealistic about the power of chess to give meaning to life.
“Chess is a gift that civilization handed us,” she told me. “I believe chess can bring me closer to the spiritual part of this world in a way that simple material stuff can’t.” She sees no intrinsic reason why women can’t play as well as men but doubts whether there will ever be many women in chess. “You have to be obsessive to play the game well, and women aren’t as obsessive as men,” she said. “I’m not fanatically crazy about chess. I like the game but I’m not going to study it ten hours a day like many male grandmasters did when they were teenagers.”