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.

An Unofficial Champion

Mary Rudge (1842-1919), who had been called the women´s world champion before the title existed, died today 100 years ago. She played her first competitive games by correspondence. This was no unusual start at chess for a woman in the 19th century. Rudge became Bristol Chess Club´s first female member after the club decided in 1872 to accept women.

Mary Rudge was the youngest daughter of a medical doctor who taught his children to play chess. She did not marry and worked as a teacher for some years. When she was without income, friends remembered her chess prowess and organised exhibitions for her to raise money. Rudge was most likely the first woman to give simuls.

The exclusion of women from clubs and competitions was still widespread when the first Ladies Chess Club was founded in London in 1895 and the first Ladies Chess Congress took place in London in 1897. Rudge who was already 55 years old won the main competition of the congress. The British Chess Magazine went on to refer to her as women´s world champion.   

Rudge died in 1919 nearly two years before Vera Menchik and her mother and sisters moved from Russia to England. Soon afterwards the world chess federation FIDE was founded and introduced official women competitions. Menchik won all championships until she was killed in a German air raid in 1944.

Source: Wikipedia

So Little Time, so Much to Do

Here are some tips to make the best out of your forthcoming trip. Bring your teaching materials to show around, and donot forget your business cards. If you make a presentation, please send it to us in advance (info@chessplus.net) and consider a one page hand-out. We welcome posters about gender-related issues and projects. We cannot help with the lay-out but with editing and printing (info@chessplus.net).

Our conference venue, the Irish Cultural Centre at 5 Black´s Road, is just two minutes from the underground at Hammersmith in proximity to restaurants and coffee shops. An M&S food store is just opposite the street. Hammersmith is located in West London on a direct underground connection from Heathrow. For other connections check Transport for London.  

Be prepared for wet, windy and cool, but not freezing weather. UK power plugs are different, so don´t forget to pack the adaptor from your last visit. You can use your wireless bank or credit card on public transport and you get exactly the same fares as with the Oyster Card (paper tickets are much more expensive).

After the Saturday sessions you are invited to our special movie night (30 November): Join your peers and watch the acclaimed French movie Fahim on the true story of a talented refugee kid bringing out the best of a misanthropic chess teacher (Gérard Dépardieu at his best) and becoming a champion. The cinema inside the Lyric Hammersmith is just two minutes away from the conference venue, and the screenings will start at 7.15 and 9.15.    

If you will still be around on the Monday (2 December) join our public presentation of the conference´s findings at 11 am at the VIP room in the Olympia Kensington. At this opportunity you can also observe Chess in Schools and Communities amazing schools programme with 500 kids coming in every weekday, you can shop at the enormous chess book stall, and you can stick around for Magnus Carlsen who will play from 4.30 pm in the final of the Grand Chess Tour.  

Just in time for your visit, the Hampstead Theatre is to open a new play, Ravens by Tom Morton-Smith, on the match of the century between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. You can buy discounted tickets by using the Code LCC2019.

Away from chess London bristles with culture. Tickets to temporary art shows are pricy but often worth it. Personally, I will go for the triple bill (Gormly – Freud – Ecovisionaries) at the Royal Academy of Arts. Some of the best museum collections in the world are free to visit. Also free – and recommended – is the special exhibition Play Well at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road.

Movie Celebrates Chess Teaching

What do the actors Kevin Kline, Samuel Jackson, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Larry David have in common? All of them have played chess teachers on the big screen. This impressive cast is now joined by Gérard Dépardieu who excels in the French production Fahim. The movie has beenreleased in the German speaking area and Belgium will come to a few more countries in 2020. It has not found a UK distributor in spite of parallels with the recent story of Shreyas Royal, whose outstanding chess talent secured his family a permit to stay in the UK. Thanks to a grant from Chess in Schools and Communities and the production company Waiting for Cinéma, we have secured two special screenings during the London Chess Conference at a cinema hall, which is less than five minutes away.

Everybody who makes a living as a chess teacher or coach should see Fahim. It tells the true story of a boy who escapes from Bangladesh with his father, partly because of the politically active father fearing persecution, partly for the talented kid to find a grandmaster to train him. They arrive in France, and while the procedures for asylum are going down the drain, the boy connects with a local chess club. A grandmaster they don´t find there, but they find Sylvain, a slightly misanthropic chess fanatic who trains a few local kids and immediately recognizes the enormous talent that just walked through his door.  

Trailer in French with English subtitles

Sylvain is based on the junior coach Xavier Parmentier who did not live to see Dépardieu as himself, as he died from a brain tumour in 2016. The real Fahim Mohammad represented France in international youth competitions and is now a university student.    It is not the fault of the movie makers that some online synopses claim that Fahim became world junior champion. Chess is represented correctly except for the excusable laying down of the king as resignation instead of the usual handshake. The world of junior chess is depicted amiably, and the French Federation is getting an image boost. The well-written movie, based on the book Le Roi Clandestin (2014), has humorous moments as well as the right dose of suspense. Our conference night this year will be a movie night. Join in!

Saturday, 30 Nov, 19.15 and 21.15 Lyric Hammersmith, 149 Hammersmith Road, 107 minutes, French with English subtitles  

Bildergebnis für wunder marseille fotos

Explaining the Gap

Why are there so few women in competitive chess? Why are less than two per cent of grandmaster title holders female? One apparently explains the other. In a journal article from ten years ago Fernand Gobet and his coauthors calculated that the lower participation rate accounts for 96 % for the performance gap. He later acknowledged a flaw in their calculation and estimated the explanatory power of participation to be closer to 60%.

In his recently published book The Psychology of Chess (Routledge 2019, GBP 9,99) Gobet has included a chapter “Men vs. Women”, in which he also considers biological, sociocultural and motivational factors. He mentions psychoanalytical explanations but calls them the least likely.

As keynote speaker at our conference on “Scientific Explanations of the Performance Gender Gap in Chess and Science” (on Sunday 1 December at 11) Gobet will go beyond chess and make comparisons with other fields. Male performance is usually more variable, and the standard deviation is higher for men than for women.

The Swiss International Master was briefly a chess professional in his 20s, before he started a PhD in cognitive science. Working with Herbert Simon, a most versatile social scientist and Nobel Laureate in economics, put Gobet on track for an academic career. His specialty is the study of expertise. Chess is a neat test case thanks to the availability of performance data. Gobet´s impressive publication list is including many more chess-related papers.

Gobet has spoken at most of the London Chess Conferences. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the ECU Education Commission. Both, scientific advisors and commission members, will meet ahead of the conference as in the past years. Until recently Professor of Decision-Making and Expertise at the University of Liverpool, he has moved on to become Professiorial Research Associate at the London School of Economics.

The Psychology of Chess is a new book by conference keynote speaker Fernand Gobet

More Diverse than Ever

Participants from more than thirty countries are confirmed, and we expect to have up to forty countries present. We have always had a higher share of women than other not gender-segregated chess events, and female participation will be even higher this year thanks to our theme Chess and Female Empowerment. We are fairly optimistic that the tickets will be selling out, so we recommend you to register before it is too late. If you are a contributor you are prompted to register, so please check your e-mails.

Besides our usual keynotes, workshops, debates and software presentations, not to mention all the side meetings and training courses before and after the conference, our most diverse conference programme so far will introduce book presentations and film screenings. In the exhibition we are adding a book table. Another first is that we will present our main findings to the public on the Monday at 11 at the London Chess Classic together with our Honorary Director Judit Polgar, with Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, who switched profession from chess to politics, and with other speakers.

Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, Opposition Leader in the Lithuanian Parliament, joins the conference (photo: Clément Bucco-Lechat /Wiki Commons)

Our opening session will feature female perspectives on chess in education and its competitive version. We will invite you to World Café style debates on propositions ranging from “Should Every Chess Team Have a Female Player?” to “How Can Chess (and This Conference) Become Greener?”. Three round tables are scheduled. Their topics are inclusion, FIDE and women’s chess. We have close to twenty workshops. As each will have two or more presenters you can imagine the richness and diversity of

Our programme table is so rich that we are adding lunchbreak offerings. On our first day Jonathan Rowson will talk and answer questions about his new book, while on day two we will screen a new documentary on the four Georgian women who dominated women’s chess before the Polgar sisters took over.

We can still accomodate select contributions: Are you up to present the debate, if women chess titles should be abandoned, or if chess federations should focus on improving the performance of female players or on increasing their membership numbers? We can still accomodate a presenter or two in our workshops on “The Parents´ Role”, “Chess Programmes for Girls” and “Online Teacher Trainings”. Please write us at info@chessplus.net