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Time to Recruit More Girls To Play Chess

April 19th, 2016

This is an excerpt of a long list of humorous, educational, and otherwise interesting trivia and anecdotes involving players and games throughout the history of chess. The list was compiled by Bill Wall.

"In 1864, George Mackenzie (1837-1891), a former Captain in the Union army, was arrested and imprisoned for desertion from the Union army. He was released in May, 1865, and moved to New York and started playing chess. By 1867, he was U.S. chess champion."

"Wilhelm Steinitz and Henry Blackburne would sometimes get in a scuffle. Steinitz wrote of Blackburne “…he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out. And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size, who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded.” In 1900, Frank Marshall (1877-1944) sat down to play a game against the British player Amos Burn (1848-1925) at the 1900 Paris International. Burn was a smoker and loved to smoke his pipe while he studied the chess board. After two moves, Burn began hunting through his pockets for his pipe and tobacco. By move 4, Burn had his pipe out and was looking for a pipe cleaner. By move 8, he was filling up his pipe with tobacco. Marshall made a few fast moves, and by move 12, Burn was looking for his matches. On move 14, he struck his first match, but was concentrating on the position. The match burned down and burned Burn’s fingers and went out. On move 15, Burn found another match and lit it. On move 16, he finally lit his pipe, but it was too late. Burn was checkmated on move 18 and his pipe went out. He never did get to smoke his pipe."

"In 1916, during World War I, Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) and Jacques Mieses played a chess match in Berlin in which the prize was ½ pound of butter. Tarrasch won the match and the butter with 7 wins, 2 losses, and 4 draws."

"In 1927, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1978) married his first wife, Lydie, and went on their honeymoon. One night, she glued all of his chess pieces to the chess board because he spent his honeymoon week studying chess. They were divorced 3 months later."

"In the late 1920s, Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), world chess champion from 1921 to 1927, spent his spare time hanging out in a specific cafe in Paris. Friends, acquaintances, and others would often drop by, participating in games and libations with the former world champion. One day, while Capablanca was having coffee and reading a newspaper, a stranger stopped at his table, motioned at the chess set and indicated he would like to play if Capablanca was interested. Capablanca folded the newspaper away, reached for the board and proceeded to take his own queen off the board and play a queen down. The opponent (who apparently had no idea who Capablanca was) reacted with slight anger. 'Hey! You don't know me! I might beat you!' he said. Capablanca, smiling gently, said quietly, 'Sir, if you could beat me, I would know you.'"

"In the early 1930s, an amateur approached Frank Marshall, who was the US champ at the time, and asked for help in a postal chess game. Marshall obliged and played a few opening moves. A few days later, another amateur dropped in at the Marshall Chess Club to also seek help in a postal game from Marshall. Marshall realized the game of the second player was with the opponent who had come in a few days earlier. Marshall helped the second player and then ended up playing himself for several months as the two amateurs marveled at how their opponent was able to play on for so long against the great Frank Marshall!"

"In 1972, during the World Youth Team championship in Graz, Switzerland, Robert Huebner of Germany was scheduled to play Ken Rogoff of the USA. Both were tired from previous long games and Huebner offered a draw to Rogoff without making any moves. However, the arbiters did not like this and refused the game. So the two players put together a scoresheet of a game that looked like this: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Ng1 Ng8 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Ng1 Ng8 and so on ... Draw. The arbiters were not amused. They insisted that the two play some real moves. So the next game went 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nf1 Bg7 4.Qa4 O-O 5.Qxd7 Qxd7 6.g4 Qxd2+ 7.Kxd2 Nxg4 8.b4 a5 9.a4 Bxa1 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Bh8 Bg7 12.h4 axb4 draw. The arbiters were not amused. They insisted that the two play a valid game. Rogoff agreed but Huebner did not, so Rogoff was given a win and Huebner was given a loss. The Russian team pressed for a double forfeit, but Huebner insisted that he alone bore responsibility. Years later, the main arbiter, Sajtar, admitted he was wrong in ordering a rematch of the games."

"In 1973, during the Anglo-Dutch match, chain smoker Jan Donner (1927-1988) was filling up a large Bakelite ashtray with all of his discarded cigarettes. Cigarette after cigarette and all the ashes were making a big pile in the ashtray, much of which was still emitting smoke. Eventually, after several hours of play and several packs of cigarettes, the mountain of ash and discarded cigarettes burst into flames, causing the Bakelite ashtray to crack completely in half. The players were still transfixed on the position of their game as the chess table started to burn, with neither player seemingly about to take any action to control the fire. At this point, Ray Keene picked up Donner’s coffee cup and threw the contents over the fire. With the chess table now covered in a mess, the players looked at one another and offered a draw, shook hands, and left the table."

Read the full list of anecdotes on Bill Wall's page here, freshen up on your trivia, and learn something new about historical chess matches that you didn't know before!


Time to Recruit More Girls To Play Chess

April 19th, 2016

Written by Ranae Bartlett

The disparity in the number of girls playing chess has been well documented. As students approach middle school, the number of girls playing chess drops off. If we want more girls to play chess at the highest levels, we have to bring more girls into the game at an earlier age.

Take a look at your existing chess clubs. What percentage of your competitive chess players are girls?

At Rainbow Elementary in Madison, Alabama, over 40 percent of our competitive chess players are girls. That more than doubles the national average of girls playing competitive chess. We are making a conscious effort to grow the number of girls playing chess. The first time our school won a section at the National Elementary Championships was in 2015. We did it with three of the top four scores coming from female players.


Here are some of the things we are doing, in conjunction with the local non-profit Madison City Chess League, to accomplish this.

1. Recognize that girls play chess for different reasons than boys.

When I ask the boys on our team why they like to play in tournaments, they give me answers about the competitive aspects of chess like winning trophies and medals and competing. When I ask girls on our team why they like to play in tournaments, their answer is “to hang out with my friends.” 

Recognize that girls play competitive chess for the camaraderie as much, if not more, than the competition itself. In response, I build in activities that allow both girls and boys to bond. We hold team parties and events like going to the movies together. Friendships and team spirit contribute to the growing number of girls on our competition team.


2. Cast a wide net when sponsoring chess contests.

As a school board member for Madison City Schools, I recognize the academic benefits from playing chess. Because of those benefits, our school system purchased a site license with ChessKid.com to provide every elementary student a gold subscription. We wanted all students to experience the benefits of chess, whether they were on the chess team or not.

With every student in all of our elementary schools having access to ChessKid.com, we are able to hold school-wide contests.

Contests and prizes motivate kids to participate. At Rainbow Elementary, we crown a king and queen for each grade level in contests we hold. Both boys and girls of all ages are excited and motivated to participate. Puzzle contests are suitable for all kids as puzzles are tailored to the kid's abilities.

If you award the boy (king) and girl (queen) at each grade level for the most chess puzzles solved correctly, you are giving everyone a chance to win. You are also providing them an opportunity to exercise their brains. It is a win/win for all students. You may even identify and encourage girls who had not realized they could be good at chess.


3. Award top female medals at every tournament.

The Madison City Chess League (MCCL) hosts numerous tournaments throughout the year. At each tournament, we award a top female medal in every section to the female player who does not otherwise place in the tournament. MCCL also hosts a team tournament where a top female team trophy is awarded to the top four-person team that is composed of all girls. I have asked female chess players across the city whether they like this recognition or feel it is demeaning. They unanimously responded they like any recognition and encouragement they receive. It encourages them to return and keep competing.


Photo: First place team in Under 500 Section at 2015 Queen's Quest chess tournament from Rainbow Elementary.

4. Recognize girls at tournaments.

When girls are outnumbered by boys at tournaments, it is easy for them to feel isolated, particularly on teams where they are significantly outnumbered. They may not play on a team with 40 percent female students like mine at Rainbow Elementary. At a recent tournament of around 200 students in Madison, I asked all of the girls to come to the stage to take a “Girl Power” photo so they could see how many of them were there and so they could connect with each other.

The photo opportunity was empowering! I heard and could see the excitement in the crowd as parents were snapping pictures of all the girls who were there to compete. Dispersed among each team, the girls did not feel as significant. Standing on stage together, they could see what a force they were and how much their numbers continue to grow. Try it at your next tournament, and take that photo each year to see how your numbers grow.


5. Start early. 

The earlier we introduce girls to chess, the greater our chances to see more girls continuing to compete. Early success is the greatest encouragement any student can receive. If your school chess club only offers admission to older students, you are limiting an access point for female students. By the time students are in third or fourth grade, girls can already feel greatly outnumbered by boys in chess clubs. At a recent local tournament in a neighboring city, we saw our efforts paying great dividends in the K-3 section where half of the awards went to females — all from Madison!

Rookie Rally K-3 winners.

6. Host a girls chess night.

I have written a previous article about how the Madison City Chess League started a girls chess night program in the summer at a local restaurant. During the school year, we again tapped into the local school system to grow and extend Girls Chess Night by hosting a tour of schools

Every month, girls chess night is hosted by a different school in Madison. This draws a different set of girls each month as we travel to different host schools and use their chess equipment to play chess with other girls. The girls who come to the event range in ability and are paired accordingly.

Because girls chess night is on Tuesday night, we always participate in the National Fast Chess Hour on ChessKid by providing computers and Chromebooks for our students to log on to play. When I host at Rainbow Elementary, I offer the library/media center for recreational players and a separate playing room for the more serious tournament players. I meet new girls every month that I would never have known were it not for girls chess night.


Girls chess night at Columbia Elementary in Madison.


Girls chess night at Rainbow (left) and Madison (right) Elementary Schools.

7.  Offer girls scholarships for camps.

Girls need support and encouragement. Chess camps are a great way for any player to improve, but they tend to be dominated by male participants.  Last summer, the Madison City Chess League was able to offer one girl a scholarship to its annual Summer Knights Chess Camp. We had other girls participate, but scholarships will help that number grow.

This spring, MCCL received a donation to its Girls Chess Initiative Fund that will allow two girls to attend Mid-South Summer Chess Camp, a week-long overnight chess camp in Memphis, TN. Summer chess camps that offer girls scholarships can open a door for girls who might not otherwise be able to attend.


8. Look to the future. 

There are numerous ideas that have been percolating that need to be discussed and shared among the chess community. Here are a few:

  • Develop regional girls summer chess camps that begin or end with a tournament just for girls.  
  • Conduct a national girls chess town hall via Twitter to get ideas from coaches across the country on what they are doing to grow the number of girls playing chess. There are numerous successful programs that we can all learn from if we can get together virtually to discuss and share.
  • Develop online girls chess clubs and forums where girls can hang out virtually and share information.
  • Increase female role models and coaches on your chess team.

 Photo: Constance Wang (Rainbow's top female competitor), Ranae Bartlett (MCCL Executive Director), and Nancy Brandon (Rainbow Chess Team Sponsor).


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