Liz Loves Chess

Liz Loves Chess

| 63 | Chess Players

There's a tendency for all of us to define chess through its best and most successful adherents.  I've always been of the mind that, while there is no doubt that world champions, potential world champions and all other players near that stratospheric level are highly relevant and important, the foot soldiers of Caïssa are just as important as, and often far more interesting than, the generals.   

A half dozen years ago I wrote an article, The Rock Scrapbook, about a young chess player from the 1960s named Cecelia Rock.  She rose from a casual player to a contender in the U.S. Women's Chess Champion.

This article is also the story of the short chess career of a young lady who just seemed to have loved playing chess and rose rapidly into the ranks of the best women players in America at the time.   I opted to simply outline her chess progress chronologically.  And it all starts in 1983.

     In October 1983 Elizabeth Ann Neely, a sophomore as University High School in Tuscon, Arizona was mentioned in Chess Life magazine as being the 38th most active female chess player in the United States, sporting a rating of 1534 (more precisely, she tied with Amanda Folsom, rated 1202 and Mia Hammerman, rated 1700 for 38th place).  
     1534 is a decent rating but certainly nothing impressive, even for a girl in 1983.  The bottom entry on the top 50 women list in 1983 was Debra Kitchen with a rating of 1731.   But Liz was a fireball.  She was on the University High School chess team and, as she put it, "I play an awful lot of chess."


     The next year, 15 year old Liz Neely became the very first Arizona Women's Chess Champion, beating out 13 year old Marian Hendricks and pocketing $125 (Marian received $95).

     By this time, Liz had worked her way up to #43 in the top 50 US Women list with a rating of 1793, making her the 6th highest rated high school student (male or female) in America.  In an interview, Liz said she had just started playing chess in 1982 and that she was aware (at that time) that only 5% of the USCF members were female and of that group, most were youths. 

     In spring if 1984, Neely participated in the National High School Individual Championship. The event was won by Joseph Waxman with a 6-0 score. there was a tie for second/third place with 5.5-.5 scores. Liz Neely and 3 another players tied for fourth-Seventh place with  5-1 scores.  The same year she played on the Arizona team, We Make it Hort, in the Amateur Team West section of the U.S. Amateur Team Competition in which she scored 3.5-1.5. In the meantime, her rating shot up to 1956.

     Did I mention she was a fireball?


     1985 saw Liz Neely enter the ranks of the U.S. Women elite.  As can be seen, she was now in the top 20, surrounded by highly recognizable names.

     She again won the Arizona State Women's chess championship.
    Liz also played in the Class A section of the U.S. Open in Santa Monica, scoring of 3.5-2.5 and sharing 4th-13th place.  At the National High School competition in St Louis she shared 5th-7th place among the individual winners.
    These helped push her rating to 2088.


      1986, her senior year, spotlights how far she'd come.

      First she took the Arizona Women's Championship title for a third time in a row, then she was selected to participate in the Girls World U-20 Championship -

The Arizona Daily Star, 1-15-1986

The Tucson Citizen, 1-29-1986

     In April her University High School team traveled to King of Prussia, PA to compete in the National High School Championship and took 1st place.

     Liz moved up into the top 10 women chess players in the United States.

     In the Expert Section of the U.S. Open, Liz tied for 1st-7th place (Henry Terrie won on a tiebreak)
     In the U.S. Junior Open played in Pittsburgh, Liz scored +4-2=2  for 6th place.

     It's not clear whether Liz ever made it to Vilnius for the U-20 Girls World Championship.  The clipping below, Chess Expert Will Face the Crowd, mentions a handful of international events where Liz participated, presumably as a junior. Neither Vilnius or Lithuania are mentioned.  It does say she placed 5th in the U-20 Girls World Championship held in the Philippines (Baguio, 1987).

contenders for the 1986 U.S. Women's Chess Championship

      Ms. Neely was, however, invited to participate in the U.S. Women's Championship held in Frank Normali's iconic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  The competition was won by the 22 year old Brooklynite, Inna Izrailov.  Liz Neely took 2nd place.  It wasn't as cut and dry as the statistics suggest. The fourth round game between Izrailov and Neely and won by Izrailov who sliced through the event undefeated was described by Arthur Bisguier as "a very fine game which could use several days of close analysis."  Izrailov won the $50 Paul M. Albert Brilliancy Prize for this game.

     Izrailov pocketed $1300 and Neely, $800 and both young ladies found themselves on the role of WIMs:

from the April 1987 listings


     The January 1987 lists also shows Liz Neely #6 among the top women players. 

     She was invited to play in the 1987 U.S. Women's Championship held again at Estes Park. This event featured some heavy hitters such as Anna Akhsharumova who had emigrated from the USSR (where she had been a 2 time USSR Women's Champion) with her husband Boris Gulko, Diane Savereide, who was out of practice but still very strong, Dolly Teasley, a 3 time veteran of this championship and one of the higher rated U.S. women players and Ruth Donnelly for whom this was her 9th championship tournament.

     Here's her fifth round win over second-placed Dolly Teasley:

     In the crosstable above you may recognize Mary Kuhner (WCM mkkuhner) a newcomer to the championship and last minute replacement who was able to place 4th among these recognized stars of U.S. women's chess.  Ms. Kuhner also graciously sent me some notes relative to Liz Neely from a journal she was keeping at the time: 


Liz Neely is 19, and could be younger. She wears her dark-blond hair in a single, waist-length braid, which she never toys with as I would. She has a little girl's voice, and in some moods the petulant stubbornness to match.

She played the Sicilian against me, and was able to demonstrate the inadequacy of my knowledge and calculation. I made a natural move which was a clear blunder, she checked me, and my Queenside collapsed. I tried for counterplay, and actually thought I was getting it. I was dead wrong.

WCM Kuhner has also written beautifully about her experience at this championship tournament on her blog:   Part I  and  Part II  (Part II details her game with Liz Neely)


     In 1988, Liz tied for 2nd-4th place in the U.S. Junior Open and shared 13th-26th prize ($114.59) in the U-2200 section of the World Open. 

     Announcing her first simul:

Santa Cruz Sentinel 5-20-1988
(click image for full size)

     Liz, now a California resident, made the cover of the California Chess Journal (thanks to Kerry Lawless of Chess Dryad for preserving this) after playing undefeated in the expert section of the LERA Memorial Day Class Championships (May 28-30, 1988). Liz took home $300. 


     In 1989 Liz played in the U.S. Women's Championship held in the recital hall and performance auditorium of Converse College for women in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  She was the highest rated contestant but only came in 5th.  However, the winner, Alexey Rudolph regarded her second round encounter with Neely (below) as her best effort.


     The 1990 U.S. Women's Championship was again held at Converse College in Spartanburg,


     The 1991 U.S. Women's Championship took place in the town hall of Highland Beach, Florida, August 17-24. 

     I'm not meaning to pick on Krystina Wieckiewicz,  but Liz Neely won the Paul M. Albert Brilliancy Prize for this game (Arnold Denker selected the game for the prize).

     and here's a win vs Pamela Ruggiero:

Top 10 Women 1991


Liz played in 8 California tournaments during the second half of 1992.:

HFTS Chess club Sixes (Santa Clara, CA): Section I — 5th  /6
Kolty Summer Knights (Campbell, CA):  Section I — 23rd-27th  /31
LERA Class Championship (Sunnyvale, CA): Open Section — 3rd-5th  /31
Monterey Chess Center Open (Monterey, CA):  Premier Section — 1st  /16
Kolty Open (Campbell, CA):  Section I — 1st  /29
Calchess Labor Day Tournament (San Mateo, CA):  Master Section — 17th-19th   /30
San Francisco Bay Open (San Mateo, CA):  Open Section — 5th-6th   /16
Kolty Class Championship (Campbell, CA):  — 5th-6th   /12


Liz played in the CalChess Championship in Hayward, CA, , earning  12th-14th  /28 in the Master Section. At this event she earned her Candidate Master title.

Other tournaments included:

Monterey Chess Center Open (Monterey, CA):  Master Section —  1st place  /20
Silicon Valley Summer Championship (Santa Clara, CA): Section I 10th-14th /17
Continental Open (Concord, CA):  Open Section  24th-33rd   /111 

and finally  (although it was her first tournament  in 1993 played from Jan. 16-18).
Region XI Women's Championship (Burlingame, CA):  3rd place  /18

Carolyn Withgitt, came in second, acted as TD and wrote the following article for the California Chess Journal (thanks to Chess Dryad), reformatted, below:


1994 indicates a slowdown in Liz' chess activity with her playing in just two tournaments.

LERA Class Championship (Sunnyvale, CA):  Open Section — 4th-9th   /21 
CalChess Labor Day Championship (San Mateo, CA): Master Section — 21st-26th /35


     And  in 1995 she seems to have only played in one -her final- tournament: 

Super Bowl Warm Up (Salt Lake City, Utah): Open — 19th-24th  /32

 She'd dropped in overall ranking probably due to a lower rating, less competing and the influx of high caliber chess-playing emigrants. 

 Like most amateurs, especially women, either her interest in chess waned or her priorities changed and all that remains is a story of a girl who loved chess. 

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