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Girls and Chess

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It is hard not to notice the disparity in the numbers of girls versus boys playing chess.

United States Chess Federation President Ruth Haring shared some hard numbers with respect to membership in her August 2014 annual report.

Only 12 percent of the USCF membership is female, and the largest portion of that female membership is in the “under-12” demographic.

If we grow the number of females playing chess, more females will be among the top chess players in the world.


Ignoring the disparity is not an option. The question is what are we going to do about it. As a chess coach, I feel a responsibility to make some effort in growing the number of girls who play chess. 

At Rainbow Elementary in Madison, Alabama, our competition chess teams last year were over 40 percent female. I am proud of that, but I want to see the number of female chess players continue to grow city-wide.

At the 2015 Elementary Chess Championship, Rainbow Elementary won our state’s first national championship in the K-6 U1000 section, and three of our top four players were girls! Growing girls in chess can produce winning results.

National K-6 U1000 Champs!

In honor of our girls who are now an inspiration to so many, and through the support of the Madison City Chess League (MCCL) and a local restaurant, we started our first weekly girls chess night this summer.

I had read about girls chess nights occurring across the country, and was fortunate to be wearing one of my chess shirts while eating at a local restaurant (truly an occupational hazard when one directs a city-wide chess league) when I discussed the possibility of holding such an event with the owner.

He was sold! He even offered to provide the girls in attendance free appetizers.


Our first meeting was a big success, and I saw girls I had never met before who were willing to come play at a girls-only gathering.


There is a social dimension to girls chess night that differs from other events I direct for MCCL. We gather the girls so we can talk and share information about other females who are paving the way in the world of chess.

At our meetings, the girls have learned about the first women's world champion in 1927, Vera Menchik; the current U.S. women's champion GM Irina Krush; the youngest-ever female grandmaster, Hou Yifan (achieving GM at 14 years and 6 months); and Susan Polgar, coach for the reigning Division-I collegiate chess champion, Webster University.  

Although we occasionally have special guest instructors, like IM Danny Rensch in July, most of the time girls chess night is an opportunity for our girls to gather, socialize and have fun while playing chess. This less formal event was a great way to encourage girls to come back each week. 

To support this program and others, the MCCL board appointed a girls chess coordinator, Beena Chopade. Beena has twin daughters who play chess at Columbia Elementary in Madison. Beena and I are committed to growing the number of girls playing chess in our area and beyond. We are very excited to connect with others in the southeastern part of the United States and hopefully collaborate on regional events.


Beena (standing) with her daughters Neha and Puja.

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