The St. Louis Chess Club is currently hosting its first international all-female chess tournament in an effort to expand opportunities for women to enter the male-dominated sport. Jennifer Shahade, a two-time U.S. women's chess champion, commentator and analyst explained the excitement behind the Cairns Cup tournament on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.
“It's really a chance for the queens of the board to take center stage,” Shahade told St. Louis Public Radio editor Holly Edgell. “Things are getting better for women in chess all over the world. And I think this is just a sign of good things to come where women are really respected for not only their chess, but also for their point of view in the world.”
Shahade said the skills gained from learning how to play chess can prove to be beneficial outside the game itself, since “that intellectual confidence can spread to all areas of your life.”
She will not be competing in the ongoing tournament, stating that she’s not yet at the level to compete with the 10 players competing.
“These players are very active and they're the very best players in the world,” Shahade said. She will be offering commentary about the matches instead and working on pushing forward women’s initiatives in the sport.
“I'm very invested also in what this does for girls in chess,” she added. “It's really important to get more girls into the game, and we see that these top 10 players are like role models. So we feel that not only girls, but boys as well, [are] going to be watching these games, and, you know, it's inspiring.”
Her books, “Chess Bitch” and “Play Like a Girl,” showcase the top women players in history in the world and explain the double standards women end up facing when entering a male-dominated field.
“‘Chess Bitch’ [is] more of a feminist exploration about how in chess, if you're really aggressive as a female, you're often called the ‘B word’ – as opposed to a man, who might just be called aggressive, strong, tough,” Shahade explained.
“Play Like a Girl” is a censored version for younger readers, and “is more of [a] training manual, where it takes the top grandmasters who are women in the world and we look at their checkmate and their tactics, and you have to solve them.”
“There’s no real difference between technique from a man and a woman. But it's also, I think, very powerful to know that every checkmate you're solving in that book is from a female player,” Shahade added.
For women interested in learning how to play the game or those looking to play with others, regardless of skill level, the St. Louis Chess Club offers free “Ladies Knight” classes every Thursday.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.