Choose to Challenge: International Women’s Day


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International Women's Day

Tomorrow, 8 March, is International Women’s Day.

Before we return to the specific world of chess, it is useful to put the occasion into context and to understand the aims of the day.

The History of the Day

The day was created following the proposal of Clara Zetkin at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women, which was held in Copenhagen.

Clara Zetkin – Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – proposed that every year, on certain day, every country in the world should celebrate Women’s Day. The basic idea was to enable women to press for their demands in a male-dominated world.

The International Women’s Day took some years to become fully established and calendar confusion between the Julian and Georgian formats meant it was a while before the date of 8 March was universally accepted.

The Aims of International Women’s Day

The website for International Women’s Day lists four main aims for the day:

  • Celebrate women’s achievements
  • Raise awareness about women’s equality
  • Lobby for accelerated gender parity
  • Fundraise for female-focused charities

There is also a theme for 2021 and that is ‘Choose To Challenge’, because ‘A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change.’

Challenges in the World of Chess

Vera Menchik was the first Women's World Chess Champion
Vera Menchik, the first official Women’s World Chess Champion

Common Question: ‘Can women play chess as well as men?’

Answer: ‘Of course they can!’

Vera Menchik won the inaugural Women’s World Chess Championship in 1927 and held the title until her death in 1944. Menchik also competed successfully against men in chess tournaments.

Much has been said about the unofficial Vera Menchik Club. According to legend, this was ‘created’ by the chess master Albert Becker, initially in derogatory fashion. Becker suggested that any man losing to Menchik should become a member of the club. With poetic justice, Becker became the first ‘member’ of the club when he lost to Menchik at the great Carlsbad tournament of 1929.

Join the Club

Vera Menchik – Albert Becker
Carlsbad, 1929

White to play

This is a thoroughly miserable position for Black. Every one of White’s pieces stands better than Black’s. It is no surprise that the game didn’t last much longer.


Attacking the rook and threatening a knight for on d6.


39…cxb5 wasn’t any good either because of 40.Rxc7. 39…Re7 was as good as anything else, but Black should still lose after 40.Nd6+ and 41.Nxc8.


Forking the king and the rook. Becker resigned; 1-0.

Becker ended up in illustrious company; Menchik’s victims included luminaries such as Max Euwe (World Champion, 1935-7), Samuel Reshevsky, Mir Sultan Kahn, Edgard Colle and numerous other notable players.

Breaking Down the Boundaries

Judit Polgár broke down more chess boundaries than any other woman. Her fearsome attacking style brought Judit victories against no fewer than 11 World Champions – including Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky. What’s more, the games usually featured Judit’s renowned tactical flair.

Judit Polgár – Anatoly Karpov
7th Essent Tournament, 2003

White to Play

25.Bxh7+! Kxh7

26.Qh5+ 1-0

Karpov resigned this hopeless position. 26…Kg8 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rg3+ Kf6 29.Qg5 checkmate is a sample line of what is store for Black.

Judit's Chessable CourseWe featured some more of Judit’s attacking games in Friday’s post.

Popular Culture

The famous Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, has taken the world by storm. The question I have been asked the most often over the course of the last few months is ‘Have you seen it?’

Beth Harmon in Netflix's The Queen's Gambit
Beth Harmon in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit | photo: Netflix

Despite the series containing material inappropriate for a younger audience, it has helped to change the perceptions of many viewers who have always been led to believe that ‘chess is a man’s game.’ Presumably a sequel is in the pipeline. If it isn’t, chess will lose its important foothold in popular culture, just when it had a real chance of achieving something highly significant.

Role Models

Young people need role models. Turn on the news and you will gain the impression they are currently in extremely short supply. Look a little closer to home and you will still find them.

Role models do not have to be Grandmasters of chess. More important qualities include the ability to communicate and inspire, to be hardworking, respectful and not afraid to be true to themselves. None of those qualities requires a title.

Inspirational People

I work with many inspirational women, including the following.

WFM Sarah Longson
WFM Sarah Longson

Woman FIDE Master Sarah Longson is a Chessable author but more importantly is the organiser (together with Alex Longson) of the Delancey UK Schools’ Chess Challenge, which inspires as many girls as boys in hundreds of schools.

We have a Chessable interview with Sarah, here.

Kineke Mulder
Photograph © FM Christian Srienz

In Austria, Kineke Mulder specialises in taking chess into the community and influences the lives of many people, including numerous refugees. This is inspirational outreach work at its finest. The story is covered in our three-part interview.

Jo Hutchinson
Jo Hutchinson with Michael Adams at the 2019 London Chess Classic

Jo Hutchinson has achieved so much in the world of chess, ranging from teaching in schools to speaking at the 2019 London Chess Conference – plus virtually everything else in between. Jo’s chess story is related here, although her chess activities and experiences have already grown considerably since then.

Important Subject

The aforementioned 2019 London Chess Conference had the theme of Chess and Female Empowerment.

The Conference produced many excellent discussions (some heated!) on the important subject, gave scope for a frank exchange of view and ideas and acted as a springboard for new initiatives.

London Chess Conference

Unfortunately, some of the initiatives were sidelined by the subsequent global pandemic, but the discussions are still ongoing and I am sure there will be plenty of new events once the current emergency clears.

Play Magnus Group Competition

We also have news of a new celebratory event! Click on the image to fond out more.Play Magnus IWM

The Chessable Sale

We have a new Chessable sale to commemorate International Women’s Day and there is an opportunity to see some of the finest Chessable authors and presenters in action, including Anna and Maaike.

Anna Rudolf
Anna Rudolf
Maaike Keetman
Maaike Keetman

The sale will not last long, so don’t leave it too late to pick up a Chessable bargain.

Final Thoughts

For those who are waiting with there question: ‘Will we also celebrate International Men’s Day on the blog?’ the answer is yes; I have the date of Friday 19 November 2021 marked in my diary.

You don’t have to be a man to play chess and you don’t have to be a woman to propagate equality. It is a misconception that men cannot be feminists. If we go by the standard definition of ‘Feminism is the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women’ then, of course, we should all be proud to be called feminists.

Let us remember: ‘A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change.’

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