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Samford and Daughter

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Rusudan GoletianiTo continue with the Yanqui-centric theme of the week, the US Chess Federation today announced that Rusudan Goletiani has won the lucrative 2004 Samford Chess Fellowship. My congratulations to her. The 23-year-old from Georgia (the country) is the first woman to win the Samford in its history. Joel Benjamin was the first recipient of the Samford, in 1987.

I haven't been able to find a comprehensive list of all the winners, but I described it as "lucrative" instead of the cliche "prestigious" for a reason. It means $32,000 per year and the ability to hire a trainer and work exclusively on chess instead of flipping burgers. It's a great idea that helped US chess legends like Benjamin, Dlugy, and Kamsky. Winners include two world junior champions, I. Gurevich and Shaked.

That's all good, but when it comes to recent winners, "where are they now?" is a tough question. Not that they aren't lovely people and not that they don't do good things for US chess, but if the point is success at the board then names like Shahade, Ippolito, Mulyar, Waitzkin, Kreiman, and Finegold aren't going to ring a bell for most. (Dmitry Schneider just won a year ago so we'll give him some time.) Akobian, the controversial 2002 winner who had just arrived in the US, is considered to have more promise but hasn't gotten his GM title yet either. Playing a heavy diet of big American open tournaments makes those GM norms hard to find.

The problem isn't necessarily with the Samford, although they are obviously behind the times. Producing world-class players starts at 13, not 23! Basically it has become a subsidy to keep people who otherwise couldn't afford it to stay in the game. It's almost impossible to make a living as a chessplayer in the US and these winners do the sensible thing and get a university degree. You can't force someone to become a chess pro when it's just not feasible without spending over half your life out of the country.

Goletiani is the first female and she's also probably the oldest winner, which seems like the wrong direction. I suppose Hikaru Nakamura, six years younger than the winner and already a GM, is considered established and not in need of developmental assistance.

I guess it would seem odd to give so much money to an unproven teen when you can give it to a successful 20-year-old. But look around. The top juniors are GMs by 12 or 13! Training the next Fischer needs to start in the first year of high school, not university.

Anyway, if it can keep good guys like Greg Shahade and Dean Ippolito active in the sport that's not to be scoffed at even if they never hit the world top 100 list. (I single them out because I know them, not because the other guys are evil.) If a Fischer is what the Samford folks want they might consider giving less to a wider net of younger candidates.

Another issue is whether it should aim at inspiring young American players or subsidizing the most promising players in the US, period. This was the heated debate about Akobian's 2002 award. You're not doing much to reward the dedication of US coaches and kids when someone from a mature chess culture can drop in and grab the top carrot. But I'm less worried about that than the age factor. Start young!


Im pretty sure you have to have graduated high school to apply. Hikaru hasn't yet.

FYI: According to Akobian he has completed the required GM norms and is waiting for the title. Or should I say the title is in the mail.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on April 22, 2004 11:55 PM.

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