Judit Polgar promotes chess for girls and women in the media

Judit Polgár made a splash at the London Chess Conference when her perspectives on Chess and Female Empowerment caught the attention of the media. Until her retirement from competition in 2014, she was one of the top players in the world, competing in open tournaments, never in women-only events.

First up was the Guardian which on the opening day of the Conference published an opinion piece which called for a review of the segregation between male and female chess players. Judit regards such an arrangement as patronising although she recognises that many women place value on women’s titles.

At the final round table, Judit fielded a wide range of questions from the audience. In the extract below (2:10) she explains why boys and girls diverge due to small differences in how they are treated when they are young and the different level of expectations.

Extract from the final round table
Judit Polgár and Emma Barnett

The full video of the round table is available here.

After the Conference, Judit was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 by Emma Barnett who is one of the most popular broadcasters in the UK. They had an amiable and informative discussion for 20 minutes in which Judit talks about her life as a chess player.

The recording is available on BBC Sounds (1:40) for 28 days. Time to put on the headphones.

Judit was a top player and now is a top ambassador for chess. Her deep love of the game shines through her interviews in which she is invariably confident and charming. Her passion is to bring chess to children and women. If anybody can succeed it is Judit.

Chess brought her back to science

We have interviewed key speakers of the conference. First up is Delia Duca Iliescu. In Romania, she is well known as the presenter of a weekly chess show on TV. She conceived and pitched “Strategy in Black and White” herself. A promising player as a child she went on to win junior titles but hated to study opening theory. At tournaments nowadays you rather see her as an arbiter than as a player.

Recently Delia has become a lecturer of computer science at the University of Brasov after ten years as a software engineer. AlphaZero inspired her to start a PhD in machine learning. She is connecting Artificial Intelligence with her chess speciality: chess problems, particularly chess compositions. In our interview, she tells more about this.

Delia Duca Iliescu was interviewed by Stefan Loeffler.

“Girls Are not Treated Right”

In an Op-Ed for the Guardian our conference co-director Judit Polgár argues for changes at a young age. “Girls in chess are not treated the same way as boys. Coaches and officials are guided by potential successes in girls competitions, which are comparatively easier to achieve. Parents tend to follow what the experts advise. The point is that a talented girl should be inspired to compete in all competitions, just as a boy would.”

When she is organising children’s tournaments, she continues “I make a point of never separating girls and boys, nor awarding special prizes for girls”. All in the interest of not limiting girls and encouraging them to go for the maximum, as she had in her own career, during which she became the eighth highest ranked player in the world.

“I could never have reached those heights if I had only been interested in winning women’s titles. In fact, I was only a teenager when I last participated in a women’s tournament”, writes Polgár, who was awarded a Golden Pawn for her career achievement in Monte Carlo on Saturday and is to join the conference on Sunday. Here is her full article.

From Vera to Judit

The Conference starts today. It is time for some reflection on the history of women’s chess.

The modern era of women’s started with Vera Menchik who won the first recognised Women’s World Championship in 1927. The Vera Menchik Club was the group of male players that Vera beat – men that had never lost to a woman.

She lived a life which traced the sweep of European history. It is perhaps surprising that a full-length biography has never been published.

Judit Polgar was a grandmaster at the age of 15 was the highest-rated woman player for 26 years until 2015, becoming 8th ranked in the world. She is joining the conference on Sunday afternoon after receiving an award at a gala dinner tonight in Monaco as European Chess Legend (female).

A light-hearted video from ChessKids.com gives a glimpse of the great moves they played.

https://www.chesskid.com/videos/girl-power

Please spare 5 Minutes!

What is the main cause in your country why fewer girls and women pick up our game? What is your best explanation why so few females reach top levels at chess? What do you think about some of the measures federations use to promote females in chess?

Our short online questionnaire takes only five minutes to complete. You are welcome to participate regardless of your sex and if you attend the conference or not. Your input, if in by this Saturday lunch-time, will inform our debates and ultimately our results and recommendations. Here you go.

A Queen’s Journey

by Jason Kouchak

Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men (and women) happy.
—Siegbert Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (1931) 

Music is my first love and I have always had an affinity for chess, a sense of harmony and the similarities between music, ballet and chess. It is a combination to inspire and inform children of the importance of coordinating together and moving forward in the future. 

In 2015 I established the concept of the Queen’s Journey to encourage more women and girls to play chess. Through music, ballet and chess the Queen’s Journey educates and entertains in equal measures. In addition to being a fun and social activity, chess improves the players’ generic life skills by developing their logical thinking, situational awareness and planning ahead, as well as their communication skills. Music, ballet and chess are gender-neutral activities that connect people through time and space. They are a profound medium of communication that has no barriers of language, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical ability or social status. 

Since its establishment, the Queen’s Journey has toured in the United Kingdom and internationally including the United States and Hungary in various events promoting equality and encouraging women and girls to play chess as a means of building life skills that help them to be strong, look forward and strive towards their own goals. Thanks to its pioneering concept i.e. educating and entertaining through music and ballet the Queen’s Journey can adopt different themes and be always relevant. 

So far, the performances have included a ballet-chess music production at the British Museum in 2015 as well as a brief history of the evolution of the queen and an explanation of how chess can inspire.

I believe that ballet is a way to encourage girls to make their moves on the chessboard and would like to see more girls to be involved in chess. In 2016 the theme of the Queen’s Journey was “power and grace” to mark the Queen’s 64 years in reign. This included the printing of a 3D chess queen design project to inform and inspire more girls to see chess from different and new exciting perspectives.

To illustrate the power of women and girls supporting one another the theme in 2017 was “chess connects”. This included a special artistic moment at Judit Polgar’s Global Chess festival in a format of a human display in which eight chess queens danced on a giant chess board following their own paths and without obstructing each other (see video).Music

In 2018, the Queen’s Journey toured under the theme “empowerment” to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women’s rights and empowerment in the United Kingdom. The piano performances that year included “1000 Faces of Chess” and “Music Mosaic” at Judit Polgar’s Global Chess festival’s opening ceremony and directing a chess-themed ballet performance at Holland Park, London. 

The Queen’s Journey concept of empowerment has been especially popular in Nordic countries. This year at Norway Chess in Stavanger and at the ‘Heart of Finland’ chess ceremonies, I performed the world premier of the “Queen of the Knight” based on Philidor’s “Princess of Norway”.

In 2020 there will be a ballet and chess performance of ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrating the ‘perfect vision’ of Alice as she looks and moves forward finally becoming a Queen.

Each game of chess is like a new melody which beautifully resolves at the end of a journey. I hope by using a combination of chess, music and ballet we can inspire and inform children, specifically Chess Queens, the importance of coordinating together in the future

As a proud Goodwill Ambassador of Artistic Values of Chess awarded by Judit Polgar, I hope to continue the themes of female empowerment. The visual aesthetic, melody and movement remind us that the game is always greater than the player. 


Jason Kouchak is a classical pianist and composer based in London and Paris. He has performed worldwide in the United States, Europe and Japan. Find out more at ChessBallet.

Girls in Chess

Let’s hear it from the girls. The US Chess Federation has shared a short video by Jenny Schweitzer, a New York-based director. In this inspiring film, young female chess players explain the emotional and intellectual impact of chess in their lives and the challenges they’ve faced in the game.

Schweitzer wrote, “Even at their young ages, the female chess players in my video are keenly aware of being stereotyped. And their ability to articulate their frustration is startling. When I asked them what a chess player most needs, they didn’t talk about strategic thinking or rules of the game; they mentioned determination and the ability to face a challenge without being intimidated.”

Girls in Chess was filmed at the 2018 KCF All-Girls Nationals in Chicago, Illinois. US Chess is building upon the video’s momentum to attract more girls to the game via its US Chess Women initiative, which includes hosting girls’ clubs at mixed-gender tournaments, celebrating female accomplishment in the game in our print and digital publications, and setting up networks for girls and women.

US Chess is well represented at the Conference including its Chief Executive, Carol Meyer, the chair of the Women’s Committee, Maureen Grimaud, Kimberly Doo, Karsten McVay (Girls to Grandmasters) and Sophia Rohde (Little House of Chess).

Hundreds of UK Libraries have Picked up Chess

“Chess and libraries are an excellent fit”, says Dan Staples, coordinator of library chess at Chess in School & Communities (CSC). “CSC has helped over 267 libraries and community groups across the UK set up and run chess clubs (some are listed here) – and we are keen to help more.” Similarly, in Norway already 150 libraries have signed up for the “Chess and Society” project that was launched a few weeks ago.

Chess has a huge number of books written about it – a recent search of Amazon produced over 20,000 results. CSC provides equipment and has trained DBS checked volunteers. “We would also be very happy to provide our curriculum for libraries to stock in their catalogue and workbooks for the children to use. CSC has supported libraries to provide chess clubs for juniors, for adults and for both”, says Staples, who will Chair the Chess in Public Spaces Workshop at the conference.

International Games Week is an initiative run by volunteers from around the world to reconnect communities through their libraries around the educational, recreational, and social value of all types of games. During International Games Week in early November CSC has helped many libraries.

On Saturday 9th November Staples ran a workshop at the IGW Game Library Camp held at Leeds Central Library. Leeds Central Library has daily giant chess sessions at the entrance come rain or shine. On Fridays a CSC tutor is there to play and teach. There was great interest at the workshop in the CSC way of teaching chess. Staples met librarians from Bournemouth, Calderdale, Stockport and Stockton among many others. There was interest in having clubs for juniors and courses for older people.  

The Name of the Chess Queen in Different Languages

In accordance with the theme of the Conference, a closer look at the chess queen is essential. Why does the most powerful piece on the chessboard have a female identity? Chess is an abstract strategy game, so the naming of the pieces should be arbitrary – merely a polite fiction. Yet the name of the chess queen, seen in a historical and geographical context, reveals some fascinating aspects of European culture. Arguably, we are given the story of the emancipation of women.

Name of the chess queen in different languages

The “queen” was not always the queen. Asian and Eastern European languages refer to the queen as the “vizier” – a high ranking government officer – not necessarily female. Russian (ferz’) and Turkish (vezir) retain this derivation. The original vizier piece could move only one square in each direction.

As chess moved to medieval Europe the piece became more powerful – it could move any number of moves in any direction. During this period, it acquired a new identity – it became a queen, perhaps inspired by the powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine. Norway, Denmark, the British Isles and Iceland use the terms “king” and “queen”, easier perhaps having lived under monarchies since the Vikings.

The most common name for the piece in Western Europe is “dame” (or its cognates). As in the musical South Pacific, there ain’t nothing like a dame. In French, the piece is called the “dame”. This change in terminology happened centuries before the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France – who might otherwise be blamed for depriving chess of its noble character.

Most European languages use more than one word for the piece – not only “queen” but also “dame” or “lady”. The subtle linguistic differences between queen and dame would require a more extended exploration of aristocratic and political history beyond the scope of this article.

However, we should not overlook one simple explanation. The advent of chess notation brought about the need to distinguish between pieces. In many languages, the word for king and the word for queen have the same root. For example, in Spanish, the word for king is “rey” and the word for queen is “reina”. Chess notation requires clarity and so a word with a different initial letter meets this requirement.

The Queen Names map is not intended to be definitive. It illustrates that chess terminology imports the history and culture of the world. Long live the queen, the lady, the dame and the vizier.

Two cultural groups held out against foreign influence and retained their own words to refer to the queen: Estonia (Flag) and Georgia (Jackal). The Flag and Jackal – a tempting title for a book on chess name history – or a club for the independent-minded.

Announcing a new Chess Journal

This year’s London Chess Conference will feature a presentation on a new journal for the field of chess in education. The session will feature editorial board members, offer an overview of the journal’s scope, and provide an opportunity for questions and feedback.

Jerry Nash

Chess: Education and Science is the official journal of the Chess Scientific Research Institute (CSRI) at the Kh. Abovyan Armenian State Pedagogical University. In 2019, Jerry Nash from the USA was selected as Editor in Chief and the journal’s Editorial Board was expanded. The Editorial Board anticipates the release of the first issue during the first half of 2020. 

Chess: Education and Science will include news in the field of Chess in Education, pedagogical issues in chess education, chess-related research, and literature reviews.

Journal articles will include emphasis on the following areas:

  • Psychological (cognitive processes, intelligence, psychological conditions and phenomena, etc.)
  • Sociological (the educational potential and possibilities of chess and social attitudes towards chess as an educational innovation)
  • Pedagogical (aspects of teaching chess, interdisciplinary interconnections and issues of professional training)
  • Chess (research based on the essence and uniqueness of chess in the context of education).

Contributions are being accepted for upcoming editions of the Journal. For additional information, contact Jerry Nash.