Contact: Allen Kaufman
For the first time in its twenty-two year history, two full Samford Fellowships have been awarded in a single year. The applicants this year included an unusually large number of highly qualified chessmasters. Because two of them, Irina Krush and Vinay Bhat, are in their last year of eligibility (both are 24) it was decided to award both the 2008 and 2009 Samford Fellowships this year.
The winners were chosen by the Samford Fellowship Committee, consisting of Frank P. Samford III (son of Samford Fellowship founder Frank P. Samford, Jr.), former U.S. Chess Champion Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier and International Master John Donaldson. The winner’s potential was determined based on his chess talent, work ethic, dedication and accomplishments.
The late Frank P. Samford, Jr. of Birmingham, Alabama, was a distinguished attorney and CEO of Liberty National Life Insurance Company (now Torchmark). Mr. Samford was active in civic, business, political, educational and cultural affairs. He was also an enthusiastic competitor in chess tournaments.
Mr. Samford created the Samford Fellowship to identify and assist the best American chessmasters under the age of twenty-five by providing top-level coaching, strong competition and access to study materials. The Fellowship also provides a monthly stipend for living expenses so that the winners may devote themselves entirely to chess without having financial worries.
The total value of the two-year Fellowship is approximately $32,000 annually.
Generous contributions from Mrs. Virginia Samford and Torchmark Corporation support the Fellowship.
The Samford Fellowship is a fitting memorial to an extraordinary man. The dedication, creativity and achievement that marked Mr. Frank P. Samford, Jr.’s life are examples for all chessplayers to admire and emulate.
International master (IM) Irina Krush is the reigning U.S. Women’s Champion, with a USCF rating of 2515 and a FIDE rating of 2479. Irina has represented the U.S. in numerous international competitions since the age of seven, receiving medals in both World Youth and World Junior Championships. She became a master at age twelve, and an International Master at age sixteen. She has been an integral part of the U.S. Women’s Olympiad Team since the age of fourteen, helping the U.S. win a historic silver medal at the 2004 Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain.
At just fourteen, she won her first U.S. Women’s title with the convincing score of 8.5/9. At seventeen, she tied for first place with GM Igor Novikov in the NYC Mayor’s Cup and earned her first grandmaster norm. Irina is also active in the chess community as a writer, photographer, teacher, and manager of the U.S. Chess League team, the New York Knights.
Vinay Bhat learned how to play chess when he was six-and-a-half years old. At the age of ten-and-a-half he set the then-current record for becoming the youngest national master, breaking Bobby Fischer’s record by two years. That record was since broken by Hikaru Nakamura, and most recently, by Nicholas Nip.
Vinay also played extensively internationally, representing the US in nine different World Youth competitions with top five finishes on five different occasions.Vinay completed his IM title in 2000. From 2002 through 2006, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with degrees in Statistics and Political Economy, and then went on to work at Cornerstone Research in Menlo Park, California.
While working he has gotten back to playing chess and won his third and final GM norm in July 2007. Later that year, FIDE granted him the GM title conditional on his FIDE rating crossing 2500.