Dear Chess Friends,
Let me introduce myself, present my vision and explain why I am
running for the USCF Executive Board.
If you have been around U.S. chess for any period of time,
there’s a good chance you have heard my name, seen some of my
games or played against me in some tournaments.
I came to the United States in 1991, to play in the World Open
in Philadelphia. At the time I was already an established chess
player – World Champion among Students (USSR Team), Woman
International Master, Ukraine Women Chess Champion and USSR
Champion among Young Masters.
Even though I spoke no English and had only $100 (or rather
-$115, since the Entry Fee to the tournament was $215), I
decided to stay in the United States. Over the years, I learned
the language, opened a Chess Academy (first in Russian and later
in English), won the U.S. Women’s Championships in 1995 (shared
with Sharon Burtman), 1996 & 1999. I also shared 3rd place in
1993, shared 2nd place in 1994 and took clear 2nd in 1997. I
represented United States in the three Chess Olympiads – in
1994, 1996 & 1998, leading the U.S. Women’s Chess Team. In 1993
I was awarded the title of Women International Grandmaster by
the International Chess Federation (FIDE). My highest placement
by rating was #33 in the World among Women.
However, all my chess achievements didn’t provide the necessary
financial support to become a professional chess player.
In addition to playing, I became actively involved in teaching
and promoting chess. In 1994, I embarked on expanding my chess
teaching from the tight boundaries of a Sunday school into the
depths of the New York City Public School system. 2 classes at
P.S. 217 in Brooklyn grew into 14 classes the year after, and
then to 23 classes the following year. Between 1994 and 1999, I
taught chess to about 1,000 children in a number of Public
Schools in Brooklyn, NY.
In 1997 one of my students qualified for the FIDE World
Championship under 10 y.o. and I was invited together with GM
Ron Henley to coach the American Chess delegation at the FIDE
World Youth Championships in Cannes, France. My responsibilities
included preparing young American players to compete in the
categories: Girls under 10, 12 and 14 years old and Boys under
10, 12 and 14.
During the years I lived in NY, I also supported the NCA/Putnam
ChessChild Substance Abuse Prevention Program through annual
lectures and simultaneous exhibitions (1996 – 1999). I helped to
open a chess club and organize the All-Girls Chess tournaments
in Parker, AZ (1996-1999). I also took part in the movie
“Searching for Bobby Fischer” by Paramount Pictures (1992) and
provided professional live and Internet online commentaries for
the Chess Match between World Champion Garry Kasparov and IBM's
Deep Blue II computer, as a Chess Consultant for IBM and
Electric Minds Companies (1997). Between 1998 and 2000, I served
as a Chairperson of Women's Committee of the USCF, supporting
women’s chess activities and promoting women’s chess around the
For my contributions and achievements, I was Honored by Howard
Golden - President of Brooklyn, City of New York in 2000.
To prove that analytical abilities, logic and critical thinking
skills developed through chess are applicable to the real world,
I entered New York University’s M.S. in Mathematics in Finance
program in 1999, simultaneously learning about derivatives and
preparing for the FIDE Women’s World Championship, as the 1999
US Women’s Chess Champion.
Unfortunately, in 2000 my right to participate in the World
Championship cycle was given away by the USCF and thus, I chose
to concentrate full time on my financial career.
A few months after graduation from NYU in January of 2001, I
moved from New York to Tulsa, Oklahoma to trade Weather
Derivatives at Williams EM&T (Energy, Marketing and Trading),
where I developed a strong admiration for exotic financial
products that utilize grandmaster skills to design, value and
understand cross-commodities structures. Soon thereafter, I
became the head of the Weather Derivatives desk and was
recognized as “Best Female Employee” for my contribution to the
company’s success. As a current member of American
Meteorological Society Financial Weather / Climate Risk
Management Committee, I educate public, private, academia and
government sectors about weather associated risks and various
ways to protect earnings and financial bottom line through the
use of available derivatives and custom structured hedging
In February of 2003, Lawrence Bernstein (former Treasurer of
Marshall Chess Club in NY) and I got married on board the Coral
Princess, where I was invited as a guest lecturer to give talks
on chess and finance related subjects.
Now, we have three children - Brian, Connor and Ariela - and
live in Tucson, Arizona, where I run my Chess Academy for
children since 2010, while I teach Finance classes at the
University of Arizona to both Graduate and Undergraduate
students. I also teach “Chess, Leadership & Business Strategy”
class for Honors students.
All 3 of our children play chess, with both Brian (1551, 11 y.o.)
and Connor (1057, 8 y.o.) being very close to making it to the
Top 100 in the US by age. In addition, both my husband and my
father love to play chess, and at some tournaments you can see 3
generations of our family playing side by side.
In addition to running Belakovskaia Chess Academy, I organize
and TD numerous chess tournaments. In total, I served as a Chief
Tournament Director in 21 chess tournaments; while being an
Assistant TD in 2013 Super Nationals V and 2012 National
Since 2010, I resumed playing in chess tournaments. Due to the
ever changing Qualification rules, I finally qualified to play
in the US Women’s Championship in 2013.
This is where I was approached with the suggestion of running
for the USCF Executive Board.
At first, I didn’t know what to think of it, but then realized
that there is a need for someone new to come and represent the
interests of professional chess players, chess parents, chess
coaches and chess kids, as every member of the existing USCF
Executive Board has served more than one term. While they
obviously got accustomed to working together, such an
environment is prone to develop inertia and stagnation, with
some of the goals becoming harder to realize or taking
inordinate time to become a reality. Thus, the time came for new
people to step in and volunteer on committing their time and
This became even more apparent to me during 2014. Why so?
Because in May of 2013, at the US Championships, the USCF
Executive Board invited both men and women participating in the
event to a meeting, so we, as the top players in the country
could provide our feedback and suggestions. Many ideas were
discussed and the Executive Board promised to pursue them.
For example, there was a proposal by Top players to change
residence and bonus requirements for Olympiads, World and US
Championships. At first we were told that the USCF needs more
time and thus the requirements couldn’t be changed for 2014, but
would apply in 2015. There were a ton of discussions and emails
back and forth. Yet, nothing has been changed so far.
Another example - to give young girls an extra incentive to
stick with chess, I suggested revamping the “Women and Girls”
list in the “Top Players Lists” section, matching the categories
to the “By age” list (thus, including Age 7 and under, Age 8,
etc). The feedback was – “that’s a great idea, we will
definitely do it.” If you look at the ratings lists on the USCF
website, you will see that nothing has been done either.
Also, looking at the Scholastic Scholarships list on the USCF
website, one will notice that the list has not been expanded
over the years.
For the US Championships, the USCF relies solely on one generous
sponsor. This creates situations where the USCF has to bend its
rules, to accommodate the event on the sponsor’s terms. For
example, this year, the first announcement of the dates for the
2015 US Chess Championship was published on Susan Polgar's blog
on January 5th. It took the USCF almost a month, to publish the
official information on February 3rd. The rules once again have
been tweaked, invitational deadlines changed, peak performance
bonuses applied, even though they had to be removed (passed by
the USCF Executive Board in 2014), and even the dates of the
event: March 31st – April 14th conflict with the 2015 Women's
World Championship that will be held from March 16th to April
7th, as well as the 2015 College Chess Final Four on April 4-5.
Locally, I have seen many coaches coming up with their own
rating systems or simply preferring unrated tournaments, while
telling their students there’s no reason to join the USCF. I
feel strongly opposed to such a notion and believe it’s
important for the USCF to be a strong, efficient, successful
organization that is active in building a vibrant chess
community. I envision the USCF with leading and providing
critical support to: Professional Chess players and Chess
Seniors (many of whom have spent their lives in chess), chess
youth, who are just learning the moves and discovering the
wonderful world of the chess game, chess playing teenagers who
are eager to get into good colleges and are looking for
scholarships, and chess playing girls who need to build
confidence for learning science, math and other STEM
As a professional chess player myself, a business person, a Mom
of 3 chess playing kids and a coach, I know I can bring a lot to
the table -- from improving the image of professional chess, to
attracting more girls into the game, to raising the number and
size of chess scholarships in colleges around the country –
these are some areas I can see contributing my efforts into.
There are a lot of things that need to be done and a lot of work
ahead. I know that it is not going to be easy, yet I expect a
lot of support in addition to some opposition. I am willing to
communicate, to work together, to find common ground. Moreover,
I am eager to get things done, moving away from just talking and
In 2013, I came up with an idea to combine chess & science and
organize an all-girls tournament. For the last 2 years it has
been a reality – the Chess and Science Festival at Flandrau
Science Center in Tucson, Arizona has been featured on TV by
Arizona Public Media, and was sponsored by many organizations.
Girls and parents alike think it is the best chess event they’ve
ever participated in.
I envision putting similar effort into improving the USCF image,
getting more scholarships at colleges and universities around
the country, finding additional sponsors in the business and
corporate world, increasing USCF membership through promoting
chess at various events and through the media, listening to the
suggestions of Top Players regarding their needs and
qualification rules, and much much more…
Thus, I am asking for your votes, support and suggestions to
make the USCF a better place for everyone…
3-Time US Women's Chess Champion
Woman International Grandmaster
If you would like to know more, you might find it useful to
review some links:
http://en.calameo.com/read/0039822742e15e808c3e3 - NYU
Alumni Magazine, Winter 2014-2015, pages 56-57.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhKDLXb6TT8 - 2013 Chess &
Science Festival video.
http://chessandsciencefestival.com/ - The website I created
for the Chess & Science festival.
- Arizona Public Media, 2014.
- The University of Arizona publication, 2014.
- Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, 2013.
- Arizona Daily Star, 2010.
USA Today, Front page of Money section, 2001.
- Derivatives Strategy, 2001.
DiscoverE, Williams Energy Publication, 2001.
The New York Times, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, Women Sport, Fall 1997.
http://chessforparents.com/ - Belakovskaia Chess Academy
https://www.facebook.com/BelakovskaiaChessAcademy - Facebook
page of Belakovskaia Chess Academy.