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UMBC alumna fails to defend national chess title

For the past two weeks, former UMBC student and 2016 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion Nazi Paikidze has been busy defending her national chess title at the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. The tournament came to a close on Monday, April 10, with Paikidze finishing in second place

Born in 1993 in Irkutsk, Russia and later moving to Tbilisi, Georgia, Paikidze has been a rising chess star for quite a while. By the time she was eight, she came in second at the under-10 Georgian Championship, thus qualifying for the European Youth Championship that same year. By 16, she was already in the top 40 female players in the world.

Currently, Paikidze holds both the Women’s Grandmaster and the International Master titles, achieving her peak Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or World Chess Federation rating at age 16.

Paikidze, now 23, came to UMBC at 18 after receiving several scholarship offers from American universities with strong chess teams. During her time at the school, she helped the UMBC team qualify for three straight President’s Cup tournaments, otherwise known as the Final Four of College Chess.

The star player received international media attention after boycotting the Women’s World Chess Championship in 2016 that took place in Iran, due to regulations that obligated female players to wear hijabs during the tournament.

“I think it’s unacceptable to host a Women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens,” she said at the time.

In 2015, Paikidze won second place in her first ever U.S. Championship. The following year, she beat the seven-time champion Irina Krush for the title and the $25,000 prize. She once again faced Krush this past Thursday, scoring another win.

“She’s a brilliant chess player, and it was a huge accomplishment for her. We were all really happy for her,” said Levan Bregadze, Paikidze’s former teammate at UMBC who is now the general assistant for the school’s chess program after graduating last December.

Bregadze and Paikidze both met in Georgia and started playing together from a very young age. Additionally, they shared the same coach for a while. According to Bregadze, they traveled to play in World Youth Chess Championships and European Chess Championships.

“Nazi has won those world tournaments like, four, five times. I’ve lost count how many times she’s won the European Championships,” he said. In 2014, Paikidze officially changed her chess federation from Georgia to the United States.

Despite graduating, Paikidze still retains ties to the UMBC chess program. Tanguy Ringoir, current team member and the youngest Grandmaster in the history of his native Belgium, developed a tradition of practicing with Paikidze before their tournaments.

“The first time she played the Championship, we played some blitz (fast time-controlled rounds) in the Commons, but the following year we took it slightly more seriously and I visited her for a week before the championship, which she won,” said Ringoir.

This year was no different. Ringoir visited Paikidze in Vegas, before her Women’s Championship and a tournament of his own, taking place in Charlotte, which made the training mutually beneficial, according to Ringoir. “I won the tournament in Charlotte, and for the moment she is leading hers at St. Louis, so I hope she’ll win hers as well,” he said.

On average, games may last around four hours, but many go on for up to eight, according to Bregadze. “In standard time control, each player gets 90 minutes at the beginning of the game, with the clock adding back 30 seconds for every move. After move 40, you get an additional 30 minutes,” he explained.

Paikidze led the Women’s Championship with a half-point lead up to the last round, which she lost to another UMBC alumna with her own impressive resume in the sport: Sabina-Francesca Foisor. Foisor has participated in the past nine U.S. Women’s Championships, and represented the US in in four Chess Olympiads.