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Girl Chess:    How It Was

Ladies Chess Congress While segregation of gender in chess wasn't always true -woman and men often played together, both in Literature and reality before 1800; Shakespeare's only chess scene has Miranda playing Ferdinand in the last act of The Tempest; many paintings depict men and women playing at chess together; Ben Franklin, as well as Paul Morphy were fond of playing against ladies. Women, however, were often barred from the private clubs as well as the coffeehouses and the taverns where these chess clubs developed in the 19th century.
By the middle of that century, female players started to gain their own chessic distinction - separate from men . The first chess clubs exclusively for women were organized in The Netherlands in 1847. The first chess book written by a woman, The ABC of Chess, by "A Lady" (H.I. Cooke), appeared in England in 1860 and went into 10 editions. The first women's tournament was sponsored in 1884 by the Sussex Chess Association.
Women also gained a certain prominance in postal and problem chess during this period. An American woman, Ellen Gilbert, defeated a strong English amateur, George Gossip, twice in an international correspondence match in 1879 - announcing checkmate in 21 moves in one game and in 35 moves in the other!! Edith Winter-Wood composed more than 2,000 problems, 700 of which appeared in a book published in 1902. The first woman player to gain attention in direct OTB competition with men was Vera Menchik (1906-44) of Great Britain.
She was, in effect, the godmother of modern wonem's chess.

Menchik and others
Her father was from Czechoslovakia. Her mother was British. Vera Menchik was born in 1906 in Moscow. They all moved to England in 1921. She was 15 and won the British Girls’ Championship. Geza Maroczy, the great chessplayer moved to Hastings, England from his native Hungary after WWI. He noticed Vera's aptitude and became her instructor. In 1927 she won the newly formed first Woman's World Championship. Out of eleven games...she won 10 and drew 1. She was untouchable! To understand her relative strength to other women chessplayers of the time consider this: she won every Woman's World Championship up to her death. This tournament was held in 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 and 1939. She played a total of 83 games, of which she only lost 1. Her sister, Olga Menchik Rubery was also a good player and a world challenger in 1935 and 1937...but not ofhe same caliber. Vera Menchik-Stevenson, her sister and their mother were killed in a bombing raid when a German V-1 rocket hit her home in Kent in 1944. At the time of her death, Vera was serving on the editorial staff of "Chess" as games editor.

The Menchik Club

In the 1930s Albert Becker said anyone who should lose to Vera Menchik would be a member of the Menchik Club. While Vera stood head and shoulders above any other woman of her day, she was below the strength of the male GMs. Yet, for reasons best understood as psychological, these same men lost to her, much to their embarrassment and regret. They hated to play against her, and their own fear of becoming unwilling memebers of her club generally led them to defeat. The membership roster was quite impressive: Max Euwe (twice), Sammy Reshevsky, Mir Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, C. H. O'D. Alexander, Edgar Colle, Frederick Yates, William Winter, Lajos Steiner, Frederich Saemisch, Milner-Barry, Harry Golombek, and Jacques Mieses (who lost to her four times in a match).
In 1929, Vera was invited to the Carlsbad International Tournament which included such players as Jose Capablanca, Savielly Tartakover, Aron Nimzowitsch and Max Euwe. She did not have a good result in that tournament, finishing tied for last place with several players. However, she played and beat Max Euwe (twice). Among her best results were a second place finish with Akiba Rubinstein at Ramsgate, one-half point behind Capablanca and ahead of her tutor, Maroczy, and George Koltanowski. She finished second in London in 1932, third in Maribor 1934 and third in Yarmouth in 1935.
Vera Menchik established for herself a unique and uncompromising place in the evolution of woman's chess.

What about the American women chess scene of this time?