Karen Birkedahl, 17, Sensation of the 1999 US Open Chess Championship

by Sam Sloan

The great sensation of the 1999 US Open Chess Championship in Reno, Nevada has been Karen Birkedahl, age 17, who entered the tournament with a rating of 1613 and defeated a master, Bill Orton (2203), in round one and defeated a high expert, Edwin Straver (2115), in round two.
Karen Birkedahl with Sam Sloan

In round three, Karen Birkedahl drew a strong master, John Graves (2327). Finally, in round four, Karen lost her first game. She was defeated by Grandmaster Anthony Miles in a close king and equal pawns endgame. (Many spectators said that she should not have resigned).

What makes this even more remarkable is that Karen just learned how to play chess three years ago and she lives in Provo, Utah, a small town with almost no other chess players. Karen has had little formal chess training and is primarily self-taught.

Karen's father is a professor at Brigham Young University. Her mother is a librarian.

Karen's improvement has been remarkable. Only last month, she scored a miserable 1.5-6.5 in the under-1800 section of the World Open in Philadelphia. Karen won no games at all in that event. She scored only two draws and received a half point bye. (See http://www.worldopen.com/1800.htm).
Karen Birkedahl

Karen has some serious weaknesses. She knows nothing about the chess openings, absolutely zero. She concentrates fantastically hard when playing a tournament game, and wears herself to exhaustion. Her hard work over the board is no doubt a major factor which has enabled her to defeat masters. However, she is so exhausted after the game that she has to go to sleep.

In the last five rounds of the US Open, Karen had to play two games a day, because simultaneously there was held the Denker Tournament of High School Champions. The two games per day were too difficult for Karen and she started losing games in the US Open, plus she did not do well in the Denker.

It is a strange problem that a 17 year old girl would find it too exhausting to play two games of tournament chess per day.
Karen Birkedahl

Karen Birkedahl was born on November 6, 1981 in Tucson, Arizona. Her coach is Damir Trtanj, a refugee from Bosnia. Karen is a senior at Orem High School.

Karen was one of 17 Utah girls to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award this year. Her Gold Award project was organizing and coaching an elementary school chess team.

Karen is also a volunteer chess coach at "Chess for Kids" in the Orem Public Library every Thursday afternoon.

Her interests are science, history and girl scouting.

Karen was 1998 Utah High School Blitz Chess Champion. Sixty-three boys competed for this title. Karen was the only girl. Karen was unable to defend her title in 1999 because the event conflicted with the National Open.

I almost forgot to mention: Karen is beautiful too, with long blond hair and green eyes. I have photos of her which I will post on my web site when I can get them scanned.

Results of the US Open are available at http://www.mb3.net/100usopen/100usopenstandingh.html . Results of the Denker tournament are available at http://www.mb3.net/100usopen/denker1.html .

The tournaments are being played at the Sands Regency Hotel in Reno, Nevada.

Here are the first five games played by Karen Birkedahl at the 1999 US Open:

[Event "U.S. Open 99"]
[Site "Reno USA"]
[Date "1999.08.10"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Orton,Bill"]
[Black "Birkedahl,Karen"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C02"]
[PlyCount "38"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 cxd4 6. cxd4 Qb6 7. a3 Bd7 8. Nc3
Nge7 9. b4 Nf5 10. Na4 Qc7 11. Nc5 Be7 12. a4 Ncxd4 13. Nxd4 Qxe5+ 14. Be3 Nxe3
15. fxe3 Qxe3+ 16. Qe2 Qc3+ 17. Qd2 Qxa1+ 18. Kf2 Bxc5 19. bxc5 Qxa4 0-1

[Event "U.S. Open 99"]
[Site "Reno USA"]
[Date "1999.08.11"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Birkedahl,Karen"]
[Black "Straver,Edwin"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B50"]
[PlyCount "37"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 Nf6 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. h3 d5 6. e5 Nd7 7. e6 fxe6 8. Ng5
Nf6 9. Bxh7 Ne5 10. Bc2 d4 11. Ba4+ Nc6 12. Qe2 Qd5 13. Nf3 Bd7 14. Bb3 Qd6 15.
Ng5 d3 16. Qe3 Rh5 17. Bd1 Nd5 18. Bxh5+ Kd8 19. Nf7+ 1-0

[Event "U.S. Open 99"]
[Site "Reno USA"]
[Date "1999.08.12"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Graves,John"]
[Black "Birkedahl,Karen"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D85"]
[PlyCount "51"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 c5 8.
Rb1 cxd4 9. cxd4 O-O 10. Be2 Nc6 11. d5 Nb8 12. O-O Nd7 13. Be3 a6 14. Qc2 b5
15. Rfc1 Ne5 16. Nxe5 Bxe5 17. f4 Bg7 18. Qc7 e6 19. d6 e5 20. Rd1 Be6 21. Qc2
Qd7 22. Qd2 Rac8 23. Rbc1 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Rd8 25. Rd1 Rc8 26. Qa5 1/2-1/2

[Event "U.S. Open 99"]
[Site "Reno USA"]
[Date "1999.08.13"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Birkedahl,Karen"]
[Black "Miles,Anthony"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B03"]
[PlyCount "82"]

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. exd6 exd6 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Be3 Nc6 8. a3
O-O 9. Bd3 Bg4 10. Nbd2 Bf6 11. Qc2 g6 12. O-O d5 13. c5 Nc8 14. Rfe1 N8e7 15.
h3 Bf5 16. Nb3 Qd7 17. Bg5 Bxg5 18. Nxg5 a5 19. Nf3 a4 20. Nbd2 f6 21. Nf1 Rfe8
22. Ng3 Bxd3 23. Qxd3 Na5 24. Nd2 Kg7 25. Re2 b5 26. Rae1 Ng8 27. Qf3 Rxe2 28.
Qxe2 Kf7 29. Qf3 Ra6 30. Re3 Re6 31. Qe2 c6 32. Kf1 Ne7 33. f4 Nc4 34. Nxc4
dxc4 35. f5 Rxe3 36. fxg6+ hxg6 37. Qxe3 Nf5 38. Nxf5 Qxf5+ 39. Ke2 Qc2+ 40.
Qd2 Qxd2+ 41. Kxd2 Ke6 0-1

[Event "U.S. Open 99"]
[Site "Reno USA"]
[Date "1999.08.14"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Birkedahl,Karen"]
[Black "Banks,Derek"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B17"]
[WhiteElo "1613"]
[BlackElo "2127"]
[PlyCount "64"]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Bf4 Ngf6 6. Bd3 Nxe4 7. Bxe4 Nf6
8. Bf3 Qb6 9. Ne2 Bg4 10. Bxg4 Nxg4 11. O-O O-O-O 12. Qd3 g6 13. Qh3 f5 14. Qc3
Bg7 15. Qc4 e5 16. Qe6+ Kb8 17. dxe5 Rhe8 18. Qf7 Bxe5 19. h3 Bxf4 20. Nxf4 Ne5
21. Qxh7 Rd7 22. Qh6 Qxb2 23. Nd3 Nxd3 24. Qxg6 Red8 25. cxd3 Qb5 26. Rab1 Qxd3
27. Qxc6 Rg7 28. Qb5 Qe4 29. f3 Rd2 30. Rf2 Rxf2 31. fxe4 Rgxg2+ 32. Kh1 Rh2+

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