Samford Fellows in the Majority at the U.S. Championships!

Samford Fellows in the Majority at the U.S. Championships!

by Al Lawrence

The positive impact the U.S. Chess Trust Samford Scholarship has had on American chess is on display at the all-grandmaster U.S. Championship taking place at the St. Louis Chess Club, where two thirds of the hopefuls are either current or former Samford Fellows. The U.S. Chess Trust program, meant to develop top American chess talent, is accomplishing its goal.

Wesley So (Final Four) Photo Copyright Dora Leticia

Invitees to the U.S. Championship are the country’s best. Of the 12 chess GMs vying for the title this year, eight are Samford recipients. Varuzhan Akobian, the Samford recipient in 2002, and Wesley So, currently in his second year as a Samford Fellow, lead the event after three of the 11 rounds, tied with world champion contender Fabiano Caruana.

Former Samford Fellows Hikaru Nakamura, Ray Robson, Alex Lenderman, Sam Shankland, and current recipient Jeffery Xiong are also among the hopefuls. The youngest championship contender, Awonder Liang, was named the 2018 Samford Fellow in February. His term will start July 1.

Awonder Liang at the U.S. Junior Championship, which he went on to win. Photo Courtesy: US Championship Website


Samford Fellow, Jeffery Xiong, Courtesy of Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

The tournament began on April 18 and wraps up on April 30. Besides the Samford fellows and Caruana, the tournament includes Alex Onischuk, Zviad Izoria, and Yaro Zherebukh.

Rusudan, Goletiani, Photo Credit Betsy Dynako, Saint Louis Chess Club

The U.S. Women’s championship is being held simultaneously at the same location. Two of the 12 women competitors were also Samford recipients: seven-time women’s champ Irina Krush (Samford ’08) and Rusudan Goletiani (Samford ’04).

You can follow the action live at — >

The FRANK P. SAMFORD, JR. CHESS FELLOWSHIP, marking its 31st annual award, is the richest and most important chess fellowship in the United States, having awarded over two million dollars the past three decades. It identifies and assists the best young American chess masters by providing top-level coaching, strong competition and access to study materials. The Fellowship also supplies a monthly stipend for living expenses so that the winners may devote themselves to chess without having financial worries. The total value of the Fellowship has been increased several times over the years and is now $42,000 annually. The prize is awarded for one year and can be renewed for a second year.

Samford Fellows are selected based on their chess talent, work ethic, dedication and accomplishments. The Fellowship is administered by the U.S. Chess Trust.

The Samford Chess Fellowship was created by the late Frank P. Samford, Jr. of Birmingham Alabama. Mr. Samford was a distinguished attorney and CEO of Liberty National Life Insurance Company (now Torchmark). He was active in civic, business, political, educational and cultural affairs. Mr. Samford was also an enthusiastic competitor in chess tournaments. After providing financial support for several chess projects he decided to do something significant for American chess. The result was the Samford Fellowship.
Since its inception the Fellowship has proven very successful. Many Samford Fellows have become strong Grandmasters, members of the United States Olympiad team and U.S. Champions. Four of the five members of the 2016 gold medal winning US Olympiad team were current or former Samford Fellows.

Generous contributions from the late Mrs. Virginia Samford and the 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 chess players to admire and emulate.


1987 Joel Benjamin
1988 Maxim Dlugy
1989 Patrick Wolff
1990 Alex Fishbein
1991 Ilya Gurevich
1992 Alex Sherzer
1993 Ben Finegold
1994 Gata Kamsky
1995 Josh Waitzkin
1996 Tal Shaked
1997 Boris Kreiman
1998 Dean Ippolito
1999 Greg Shahade
2000 Michael Mulyar
2001 Eugene Perelshteyn
2002 Varuzhan Akobian
2003 Dmitry Schneider
2004 Rusudan Goletiani
2005 Hikaru Nakamura
2006 David Pruess
2007 Josh Friedel
2008 Vinay Bhat
2008 Irina Krush
2009 Ray Robson
2010 Robert Hess
2011 Alex Lenderman
2012 Timur Gareev
2012 Alejandro Ramirez
2013 Sam Shankland
2014 Daniel Naroditsky
2015 Samuel Sevian
2015 Kayden Troff
2016 Wesley So
2017 Jeffery Xiong
2018 Samuel Sevian
2018 Awonder Liang

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