- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - Nazi Paikidze planned every day of her trip to Missouri for the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.

“I love to plan ahead,” she said. “That’s what I do in chess. I don’t make the move without planning ahead. Same in life.”

The Frederick resident went to St. Louis, known as the national chess capital, last month to play in the championship. She didn’t plan to win it, but she did.

“I knew that I could do well, maybe finish in (the) top three, but I didn’t expect to be first,” she said.

Last year, her first time at the invitational, Nazi Paikidze (pronounced NAH-zee puh-KID-zee) placed second to seven-time winner Irina Krush.

This year, Paikidze, 22, was among the 12 best women in the country competing in the championship. In the last of 11 rounds, she was pitted against Krush. This time, Paikidize finished first. A video clip of the match is on YouTube .

Paikidze knew she not only had to defeat Krush, but Paikidze’s friend, who was also playing in the championship, had to lose.

“It was very unlikely that both of these things would happen because (my friend) was having a great tournament,” she said. “Somehow, she ended up losing, and then I played one of the best games I ever played in my life.”

When she found out her friend had lost, Paikidze was in a good position on the board against Krush.

“I knew that if I would win this game, I was a champion,” she said. “All I need to do was finish the game. … I was like ‘I just have to finish this game. Then, I can feel all the emotions after the game.’”

She said she and her husband cried when she won the title and the $25,000 grand prize.

“It was a very emotional day,” she said. “For me, this is the greatest accomplishment so far.”

She was introduced to chess at age 5. It was a part of the curriculum in her home country of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, she said. Her teacher told her she had talent and should consider it as a career.

She went to her first tournament, a national competition in Georgia, when she was 6.

“I won it and it felt so good,” she said. “It was like my drug to keep playing and competing.”

Her parents favored her pursuing a career in swimming or dance, which she also participated in when she was young. But she chose chess because she loves that it’s an individual, logical game.

“You have to be the kind of person who likes to be quiet for hours and just think in your head for hours,” she said. “I’m very introverted.”

She said her first “big” tournament was the European Youth Chess Championship, which she went on to win four times.

“I won it two rounds before it ended because I had seven out of seven points,” she said. “It was just incredible. I will never forget that. Even though I was 9, I still remember it.”

Before moving to the U.S., she medaled in the World Youth Chess Championship six times, including two gold medals; won both the Moscow Women’s Championship and the Moscow’s Open Women Tournament; and finished fourth in the Russian Women’s Chess Championship.

FIDE, the World Chess Federation, gave her the title of women’s grandmaster in 2010 and international master in 2012 for reaching performance benchmarks.

She moved to Frederick for her husband’s job about six months ago. She works from their Frederick apartment teaching the game, training with coaches, learning from books and playing by herself, she said.

She spends three to four hours a day training. She used to spend eight to 10 hours a day practicing when she was a child, she said.

“I think it’s one of those sports if you stop just for like a couple months, you’re not going to be as good,” she said. “Chess is (a) very complicated game. We do have patterns in our head, so we can recognize similar positions that we have learned before. But every game is different from another, and that’s one of the most amazing things about chess. You can learn, learn, but you can never finish learning.”

She said other players in the tournament had more practice than her. She hadn’t played as much as them while at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, although she was on its chess team.

She moved to Baltimore from Moscow to balance playing chess and her education. She said there aren’t college chess teams in Russia like there are in the United States.

She went to UMBC on a scholarship and studied information systems, but quit after three years, she said.

“It was interesting and I learned a lot, but at some point, I realized that I want to have chess as my career and instead of having a regular job, I preferred the life of a professional chess player,” she said.

She likes that she has a flexible schedule, can work from home and travels for tournaments. One thing she hopes to change about the profession, though, is to have more women competing.

“Since I started playing, I’ve noticed that this is a male-dominated game,” she said. “I used to be one of about 100 guys playing the tournament. It’s gotten better. I would love to see the ratio being 50-50.”

Winning the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship opened up two tournaments that she is preparing for now.

The biennial World Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, in September will pit the United States against other teams from all over the world. In October, she will compete in the Women’s World Chess Championship, in a location that hasn’t been set.

“I’m very excited to represent the United States at the Olympiad,” she said, “and I’ll try my best at the Women’s World Championship.”

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, https://www.fredericknewspost.com

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