Feb 15, 2021
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The real queen’s move. How Vera Menchik changed the world of chess

The popular American TV series “Queen’s Move” sparked an increase in interest in chess in general, as well as the question of whether a woman at a chessboard can compete with men.

Moscow is golden, bells ringing.

Chess is actually a pretty democratic sport. At the board, neither gender nor race matters, but only talent, knowledge and hard work. The first world chess champion among women Vera Menchik proved it by her example.

She was born on February 16, 1906 in Moscow. Her father was a Czech who worked as a manager of a noble estate. Mother, an Englishwoman, worked as a governess. Franz Menchik tried to give Vera and her younger sister Olga a good education. Among other things, he taught girls how to play chess. It is unlikely that at that moment he suspected that it was the ancient game that would become their main hobby in life.

The revolution of 1917 hit the family’s financial well-being, and life in Russia during the Civil War was, to put it mildly, not the most comfortable. The parents parted, and everyone returned to their homeland: father to Czechoslovakia, mother with daughters to England. The girls continued to play chess, surprising those around them. Vera stood out, whose successes were simply fantastic.

Young Vera Menchik conducts a simultaneous game session.
Young Vera Menchik conducts a simultaneous game session. YouTube frame

Out of competition

In 1925, 19-year-old Menchik challenges the British champion Edith Price… Despite all her experience, the venerable Price loses two matches to a daring girl with the same score 2: 3.

In 1927, as part of the World Chess Olympiad in London, it was decided to play for the first time the official title of world champion among women.

The tournament was attended by 12 chess players from 7 countries, and Menchik was out of competition. In 11 games, she won 10 victories and only one drew. Having become the world champion, she no longer gave this title to anyone.

There were only a few rivals in the world capable of playing Menchik’s strength, and the girl was faced with the question: what, in fact, should she do next?

Vera reasoned logically: to play with men. In 1929, she was included in the list of participants in the prestigious Carlsbad tournament. Among the masters who fought for victory in Carlsbad were Capablanca, Nimkovich, eve, Rubinstein, Bogolyubov, Grunfeld, Tartakover what is not a name, then a legend in the chess world.

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“Vera Menchik’s Club”, or How Grandmaster Kmoh Didn’t Get into the Women’s Ballet

The tournaments of that time were exhausting the games lasted for many hours, and the number of participants sometimes exceeded 20, each playing with each one. And Vera, among other things, was the youngest participant in Carlsbad. Therefore, there was more than enough skepticism about her.

Grandmaster Hans Kmoh, who did not play in Carlsbad, announced before the start of the tournament: “If Vera Menchik scores more than 3 points, my place is in the women’s ballet! ” Albert Becker, who was one of the participants, suggested to his colleagues to organize “Vera Menchik’s Club”, in which to include those who will lose to her, and to declare those who will draw as candidates.

Menchik herself reacted calmly to these jokes. She was not a feminist and was not particularly eager to fight for women’s rights. It was much more interesting for her to do what she loved.

As a result, Becker “was blown up by a mine”, which he himself installed he was the first to be beaten by Menchik. Then he was solemnly proclaimed the president of the “Club of Vera Menchik”. Kmoh is more fortunate Vera scored exactly 3 points in the tournament, so he still didn’t have to go on stage in a ballet tutu. Moreover, according to experts, Menchik could have performed much better, and in many well-formed games she simply did not have enough experience.

Experience it’s a real deal. In the same 1929 at the tournament in Ramsgate Vera Menchik shared 2-3rd places with Akiba Rubinstein, and only Capablanca could get ahead of her.

World champion under suspicion

Vera Menchik’s Club was regularly updated. According to rough estimates, during her career she played a little less than 500 games against men, of which she won about 150 and drew about the same number.

Among those defeated by Vera was the world champion Max Euwe. By the way, an anecdotal case is connected with him. When reporters reported that Menchik had lost to Euwe at one of the tournaments, the Dutchman’s wife immediately arrived at the competition. She was convinced that her husband could never lose to a woman, unless he gave in. And since he succumbed, it means that he is in love with her. Arriving at the tournament, the angry wife quickly calmed down: Vera, inclined to be overweight and more like a hospitable housewife, did not seem to her to be a serious rival on the love front. And if so, then Max really lost to her on the case. But these are already his professional problems.

In 1937, Vera got married, which, however, did not prevent her from successfully continuing her career. In 1939, Menchik in Buenos Aires successfully defended her world title for the last time. In the tournament, she scored 18 points out of 19 possible, scoring 17 victories and drawing only twice. During her career in 103 games against women, she won 90 victories, drew 9 times and lost only four times.

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Life was cut short by a German rocket

It is hard to say how long the dominance of Vera Menchik could last. In the Soviet Union, where a real chess boom began in the 1920s and 1930s, a whole galaxy of talented young chess players grew up, inspired by the example of a native of Moscow.

In the tournament for the title of world champion in 1949/1950, the representatives of the USSR will dominate and take the first four places. The new champion of the planet will be Lyudmila Rudenko

But Vera Menchik will not be among the participants of the tournament. World War II hit the chess world too major tournaments have practically ceased. The second world champion died in January 1941 Emmanuel Lasker, in March 1942, the third world champion Jose-Raul Capablanca died. After the end of the war, in the spring of 1946, the then current holder of the chess crown died Alexander Alekhin

But even against this background, the fate of Vera turned out to be the most tragic. By the summer of 1944, it was already clear that Hitlerite Germany would be defeated. Hope for the future was awakening in people. The world champion also had them. But on June 27, 1944, the house in London where Vera Menchik’s family lived was hit by a German V-1 rocket. All died Vera, her sister Olga and their mother.

In memory of the world champion, the cup awarded to the women’s teams that won the Chess Olympiad was called the Vera Menchik Cup.

Women can play with men. But the title of world champion will not be taken away from them

The first world champion in practice proved that a woman can play with men and defeat them. But statistics also prove that there are very few women like Vera Menchik, and in general men consistently play stronger than women.

At the end of the 20th century, the Hungarian Laszlo Polgar, who raised three daughters, chess players, set before the most talented of them, Judit, the goal of winning the title of world champion among men. In realizing this goal Judith Polgar really advanced further than other women, reaching the 8th place in the world rankings. But she never became a champion. True, this is a completely different story.

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