Legal Moves: Melekhina on Chess & Law (Part 2)

by Alisa Melekhina
9/4/2014 – Upon transitioning from the chess world into the law school world, Alisa Melekhina, one of the top female players in the US, noticed her chess results declining. In the second part of her article Alisa attempts to identify the unexpected cause of her descent, and describes her unique solution to remaining competitive and balancing her many pursuits. Read on.

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Legal Moves: Melekhina on Chess & Law School

Alisa Melekhina

Upon transitioning from the chess world into the law school world, Alisa noticed her chess results declining. In Part 2 she attempts to identify the unexpected cause of her descent. Read on to discover her unique solution to remaining competitive and balancing her many pursuits.

At Drexel, I went to class, did my assignments, went home, and continued with ballet and chess in the remaining time. Throughout law school, I covered all of my bases by attending all of the firm and alumni networking events, as well as becoming heavily involved in three on-campus groups and helping organize speaking events.

Fortunately, Penn lives up to its motto of being the most “collegial” law school. I’ve met lifelong friends and have encountered nothing but the utmost support and respect from my fellow classmates. I love working with teams of students as President of the Penn Intellectual Property Group, Penn Law in the Arts, and Eastern European Law Students Association (EELSA). My favorite part of being involved in extra-curriculars is mentoring first and second-year students.

Getting occupied with law school events, here during a Law School Charity Gala in February

It’s not that juggling studies and event-planning completely depleted any time I could devote to chess. Rather, it warped my sense of priorities. Why practice an opening or play on ICC when there is always more reading that can be done?

2014 National Open, Las Vegas [photo Mike Klein]

I continued to play in tournaments whenever I had a holiday break. However, I noticed that I cut out the small weekend quads I grew up with. I followed tournaments, but could rarely keep up with live theoretical developments. My understanding of chess culture and knowledge broadened, but the systematic approach I once commanded was shattered. Whereas the chess board used to feel like home, my first round of a tournament game felt foreign. The game below represents a depressing trend as of late: failing to convert advantages.

[Event "NC US Masters"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.09.03"] [Round "9"] [White "Melekhina, Alisa"] [Black "Kaufman, Larry"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2222"] [BlackElo "2382"] [PlyCount "132"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.09.03"] [BlackTeam "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. Bd3 Rc8 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O Nge7 9. a4 Ng6 10. Qe2 Be7 11. Na3 a6 12. Bd2 O-O 13. b4 Qc7 14. Rfe1 f5 15. Nc2 a5 16. b5 Nd8 17. Ncd4 Bc5 18. Rab1 b6 19. h4 h6 20. g3 Nb7 21. h5 Nh8 22. Nh4 Be7 23. Ng6 Nxg6 24. hxg6 Nc5 25. Bc2 Ne4 26. Bxe4 dxe4 27. Bf4 Qxc3 28. Qh5 Bc5 29. Bxh6 gxh6 30. Qxh6 Rf7 31. gxf7+ Kxf7 32. Qh7+ Ke8 33. Qg8+ Ke7 34. Qg5+ Ke8 35. Ne2 Qxe5 36. Red1 Qh8 37. Nf4 Qh7 38. Qh5+ Qxh5 39. Nxh5 Ke7 40. Nf4 Be8 41. Kg2 Bf7 42. f3 e5 43. Nd5+ Bxd5 44. Rxd5 Bd4 45. fxe4 Ke6 46. Kf3 Rc3+ 47. Kg2 Rc2+ 48. Kh3 Rc8 49. Rd1 fxe4 50. R5xd4 exd4 51. Rxd4 Ke5 52. Rd7 e3 53. Kg2 Rf8 54. g4 Ke4 55. g5 e2 56. Re7+ Kd3 57. g6 Rg8 58. Kf2 Rxg6 59. Rd7+ Kc4 60. Kxe2 Kb3 61. Rd4 Rg2+ 62. Kd1 Ra2 63. Rd6 Kxa4 64. Rxb6 Rb2 65. Kc1 Rxb5 66. Rxb5 Kxb5 1/2-1/2

My results became very volatile. I could hold off a GM for a draw, but fall prey to a talented youngster in the same tournament. Even my favorite opening couldn’t help me out here:

[Event "2013 U.S. Masters Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2013.08.31"] [Round "5"] [White "Melekhina, Alisa"] [Black "Patel, Advait"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B22"] [WhiteElo "2214"] [BlackElo "2143"] [PlyCount "138"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [SourceDate "2003.09.03"] 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. dxc5 Qxd1+ 6. Kxd1 e5 7. b4 a5 8. Bb5 Bd7 9. Bd2 Nf6 10. Nf3 O-O-O 11. Kc1 e4 12. Bxc6 Bxc6 13. Ne5 Bd5 14. Na3 b6 15. Be3 axb4 16. cxb4 bxc5 17. bxc5 Nd7 18. Nxd7 Kxd7 19. Kb2 Rb8+ 20. Kc3 Kc6 21. Rhc1 Ra8 22. Nc2 Bxc5 23. Nd4+ Kd7 24. a4 Rhc8 25. Kd2 Bb4+ 26. Kd1 Bc3 27. Rab1 Rxa4 28. Rb5 Ba8 29. Nb3 Rb4 30. Nc5+ Ke8 31. Ra5 Rd8+ 32. Kc2 Rc4 33. Rxa8 Bd2+ 34. Kb3 Rxc1 35. Bxd2 Rxc5 36. Rxd8+ Kxd8 37. Be3 Rc8 38. h4 Kd7 39. Kb2 Ke6 40. Kb3 Ke5 41. Kb2 f5 42. g3 g6 43. Kb3 Kd5 44. Kb2 Kc4 45. Kc2 Ra8 46. Kd2 Ra2+ 47. Ke1 Kd3 48. Kf1 Re2 49. Bf4 Rb2 50. Be3 Rb1+ 51. Kg2 Ke2 52. Bc5 Rb3 53. Bd4 Rf3 54. Bc5 f4 55. gxf4 Rxf4 56. Kg3 Rf3+ 57. Kg2 Kd3 58. Bb6 Kc4 59. Ba7 Kd5 60. Bb6 Ke5 61. h5 gxh5 62. Bd8 Kf4 63. Be7 Kg4 64. Bc5 h4 65. Kh2 Rc3 66. Bd4 Rc2 67. Kg2 h3+ 68. Kh2 Kf3 69. Kxh3 Rxf2 0-1

When I was playing close to full-time during high school, I devoted about 4 hours a day to chess. In law school, I’d be lucky if I could devote 4 hours a week. I was playing in advanced 9-round tournaments without having properly trained. I could outplay stronger opponents up to a certain point in the game, but struggled to convert. It’s not that my chess skill was declining. It was growing, but it was a mutated growth without the proper nourishment of sustained study. What was missing was that glue that held everything together.

Giving a simul at "All The Kings Men" in 2010 at Pitman, New Jersey

Also missing was that passion I had for chess. Throughout law school, chess quickly became part of my identity among the student body. I continued to compete in tournaments more out of inertia, than genuine enjoyment. It took a while of being outside of the chess bubble to begin to truly appreciate the game again. I also now have a renewed respect for how complex it is to master the game, and for players who devote their livelihood toward that mastery. It was a community that instilled motivation, confidence, and the opportunity to experience diverse cultures. I’d like to find a way to continue being a part of that community throughout my career. Fortunately, there are now new ways for me to remain involved by writing articles and contributing instructional chess videos. Here is a sample:

Alisa Melekhina: Stunning your opponent in the Advanced French

My only regret is becoming complacent with the law school → career system. By enrolling in high school distance-learning and finding a way to begin law school at age 20, I was able to meet my goals by challenging convention. Typical routes for success are defaults. There is always an opportunity to customize them. To lead a fulfilling lifestyle where your time is truly your own, one must question convention and look outside his or her comfort zone.

After much grappling with the definition of success, I’ve come to the conclusion that flexibility holds the key. It’s the ability to structure your life according to your own strengths and pursuits, and not to a cookie-cutter lifestyle model.

Where does this leave me now? I recently had the revelation that entrepreneurship can provide that long-term flexibility. It’s invigorating to solve problems not only on a theoretical level, but to create an impact. Drawing from my troubles in finding summer housing for legal internships, I co-founded SubLite.net –a portal for verified student summer and semester sublet listings.

As evidence of how the chess community comes full circle, my partner, Yuanling Yuan (picture above), is a dear chess friend who is the top Canadian female player and studying business at Yale. We are applying all of the lessons we learned from chess, business, and law to continue beating the odds with a women-run business.

I’m still looking forward to beginning a new chapter in my life as I begin legal practice in NYC in October. However, working on a major side project gives me the peace of mind that I can still retain control. Entrepreneurship also involves a systematic approach. But this time I have more perspective – it’s all for the sake of having the flexibility to pursue my enduring passion of chess on my own terms.

Alisa Melekhina (photo by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis) is a FIDE master with one International Master norm, one of the top female chess players in the US. She is a frequent contender in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, and has represented the United States in numerous World Youth and Junior Chess Championships, where she has placed in the top ten. She placed fifth at the 2014 US Women's Championships. Alisa is a classically trained ballerina, and an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School aged 22, in May 2014, and recently took the NY State Bar in July.

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Alisa Melekhina is a FIDE master and one of the top female players in the United States. She won a gold medal at the 2009 Women’s World Team Championships in Ningbo, China. Alisa has competed in the United States Women’s Championships eight times, finishing third in 2009 and fifth in 2014. She is currently an attorney in New York City, practicing in the fields of intellectual property and commercial litigation. She is author of “Reality Check,” a book that discusses successful competitive strategy on and off the chess board. Her Web site is alisamelekhina.com.
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