WGM Dana Reizniece-Ozola wins with a perfect score in Toronto Chess Festival For Women & Girls

WGM Dana is giving a talk. (Photo: Anna Burtasova)

On May 14th a special Mother’s Day was celebrated in Toronto as 60 women and girls came together at Hart House for a Chess Festival. Dana Reizniece-Ozola, managing director of FIDE (the international chess federation), spent the whole day with these women and girls, some of whom traveled from Waterloo or even as far away as Thunder Bay. A strong woman grandmaster herself who has made a successful career in politics in her home country of Latvia, Dana was joined by well-known titled women from the Toronto area, Anna Burtasova and Oksana Golubeva, in giving talks during the morning. Alla Mischanka spoke briefly as well, on FIDE’s INFINITE Chess Project, an initiative to engage children with autism spectrum disorder with chess.

Following the morning talks, the participants went upstairs for a pizza lunch while the volunteers worked hard to reset the room for a simul. Dana and Anna gave large simuls in the Debates Room while several participants spilled over into the Committees Room where Cindy Qiao, UofT’s strongest woman in attendance, gave a third simul. To ensure the subsequent rapid tournament could start on time, a clock was put on each board, giving 45 minutes to the simul giver and 15 minutes to the participants. With the number of games to be played, that edge on the clock was not enough to give Dana, Anna, and Cindy an easy time, and many games came down to the wire in serious time pressure. It was a great experience for the participants to play these games, and some of them even scored memorable points.

WGM Dana in Simul.
WFM Cindy in Simul.
WGM Anna in Simul.
Simul in the Debates Room (Photo: Bowen Zhang)

After the simul, the volunteers reset the room slightly for the rapid tournament as we finalized the starting list for that event. Pairings were up to start the first round at 2:45pm, and that kicked off a 6-round tournament with 54 participants, surely the largest tournament for women and girls to be held at Hart House, and one of the biggest such events in Canada. Players had 10 minutes per game, gaining 2 seconds on the clock with each move they made. The first 6 boards were DGT boards with moves relayed live and broadcast on lichess. The tournament was so strong that each of these boards featured a titled player in round 1: WGM Dana Reizniece-Ozola, WFM Oksana Golubeva, WGM Anna Burtasova, WCM Olena Kucherenko, WFM Cindy Qiao, and WIM Gabriella Johnson were the top six seeds. At the other end, we saw a lot of new faces in chess with 17 unrated players starting the tournament.

Before the match (Photo: Michael Reyes)

Players were fighting for a generous prize fund, with the Chess Federation of Canada and Ontario Chess Association sponsoring the event with prize fund contributions, while FIDE’s support included contributions to trophies.  Prizes were available to the top three finishers, as well as top finishers by rating category (U2000, U1600, U1200, U800 and unrated). Trophies went to the top three and then by age category (U18, U15, U12, U9) with prizes as well for the top UofT student and youngest participant.

The top seeds made it unscathed through three rounds, with the exception of Gabriella’s defeat to Ingrid Wu in round 3. Round 4 saw the start of titled players being matched against each other, with Dana getting the best of Olena on board 1 and Cindy defeating Oksana on board 2. Such fighting chess characterized the tournament across all boards – after 4 rounds of play and over 100 games of chess, still, no draws had been made. Three undefeated players started round 5 – Dana gave up her queen in a nice fashion to defeat Anna while Cindy matched Dana’s 5/5 when she delivered a checkmate against Olena after breaking through with a rook sacrifice.

Dana vs. Anna (Photo: Michael Reyes)

In round 6, the board one clash featured the two remaining undefeated players. In a long game with some ups and downs, but one that was roughly balanced throughout, Dana emerged victorious against Cindy with the clock playing a big role. Several players took the opportunity to catch Cindy in second place, as the tournament finished without a single draw occurring on the top 6 DGT boards.

Dana took clear first place for her efforts, recording the only perfect score. Joining Cindy in a tie for second place were Oksana, Anna, Lucy Gao, and April Zhong. The five players shared the prizes for 2nd and 3rd place while each was awarded their own trophy: Anna took 2nd place on tiebreaks, Oksana took 3rd, Cindy (4th) was awarded Top UofT Student, Lucy (5th) won Top U15 and April (6th) won Top U18. Lucy and April also shared the top U2000 prize.

Top U1600 was split 5 ways among players finishing at 4/6: Ingrid Wu, Chloe Duong, Shabnam Abbarin, Adie Todd, and Anna Gavrileva. Top U1200 was shared by 2 players finishing at 4/6: Emily Robinson and Chloe Huang. Four players at 3/6 shared Top U800: Victoria Lai, Katherine Leung, Angela Wang, and Tiffany Chen. Liza Augistin took top unrated alone, scoring 3.5/6 (after making one of just 3 draws in the whole tournament).

The final trophies were awarded to Laksshana Deepak (Top U12 at 4/6) and Chloe Huang (Top U9 at 4/6). Carter Payne was recognized as the youngest participant, at just 6 years old. All attendees were awarded certificates recognizing their participation.

Trophies! (Photo: Michael Reyes)

At the end of the awards ceremony, Dana presented certificates recognizing the efforts of Anna, Oksana, and the Hart House Chess Club in making this event possible.

Special thank you again to the generous sponsors, to FIDE and the Commission for Women’s Chess, the Chess Federation of Canada, and the Ontario Chess Association. To Hart House for hosting and to the volunteers from the club who helped arrange everything on the day – Victor, Bowen, Ahmed, and Alex. Thanks to the participants as well who took time to help set up boards and clocks. Thank you to all the special guests Dana, Anna, Oksana, and Alla. Thank you to Sahan, who recorded all the morning lectures. Thank you to all the mothers who spent their day with us. The feedback received from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, and we can only hope that there can be more such events to promote the participation of women and girls in chess.

Tanner McNamara (Right) and Victor Zheng(Left) recording the scores (Photo: Michael Reyes)

The above report was written by Tanner McNamara, outgoing Secretary of the Hart House Chess Club and the lead organizer! A big shoutout should go to Tanner for his vision and expertise running the event.