Darina Kulaha was crowned Iowa's 2017 Girls Chess Champion in Wellsburg this weekend. The only undefeated player in the field of 11 girls who attended, Darina is a foreign-exchange student from the Ukraine, currently residing in Strawberry Point, Iowa. She learned to play at a chess club in Kiev.
The tournament started uneventfully with all higher-rated players defeating their opponents in Round 1. The major upset of the tournament came in Round 2, when Anjali Lodh scored a 400+ point upset against defending champion Sarah Faith Carson in a tight game, which ended with both players in deep time trouble: under 1 minute. Meanwhile, Darina kept her spot on board 1, victorious in her game against Sanmati Thangavel.
Anjali--whose sedulous preparation for the tournament with coach James Neal had paid off so well in the first two rounds--became Darina's third victim, while Regan Hodina lost to Sarah Faith.
Sarah Faith was matched against Darina in the final round. Had she been victorious, a tie-break match would have been necessitated--with four girls with only one loss. However, Darina's indefatigable prowess proved too strong. She now has the opportunity to represent Iowa in the nationals held in conjunction with the U.S. Open in Norfolk, Virginia.
Second place, with three points out of four, went on tiebreaks to Sanmati Thangavel, who also tied for second in last year's championship.
Third place (also with 3/4) went to Regan Hodina. Regan may very well have the record for most Iowa Girls Championships consecutively attended, as she has faithfully competed in every championship for the past nine years. Hers is an accomplishment Iowa girls should aspire to emulate.
As TD James Hodina noted at the tournament, though a smaller field, this was likely the strongest field ever at an Iowa Girls Championship--with five girls rated over 1100 (and two over 1500!).
Congratulations to Darina Kulaha, and to all the girls who competed. And thanks to Mr. Hodina for his always excellent work directing.