Women As Pioneers for ALL Players
Lisa and Bobby playing a game ©Wil Blanche courtesy of gettyimages under fair use policy.

Women As Pioneers for ALL Players

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Can you name the first chess player on the cover of Sports Illustrated? No it wasn’t Bobby or Karpov. No it wasn’t Kasparov, Vishi or Magnus. It was former US Women’s Champion, Lisa Lane.  WGM Jennifer Shahade describes why we should all know about Lane in her fantastic book Chess Queens,  

"Lisa’s defiant attitude made her all the more exciting to the press. Lisa declared, 'I hate anyone that beats me' "

©Sports Illustrated - I want this framed cover!

A player like Lisa is universally interesting to even non-chess players. Why? Because people love an exciting story. We all love to hear about the stories of top level achievement and the struggle to overcome beyond the odds. We love fights; we love drama. The wider culture at the time was certainly interested the rise of Bobby Fischer. He had just won the 1959/60 US Championship with an undefeated 9/12 winning by a full point over Byrne. But, who did Sports Illustrated pick? Lisa Lane of course! She clearly had a swagger that made chess exciting and accessible. She was a champion and fought to win every single game. 

Despite this major achievement of gracing the cover of major magazine, there is not a single game online from the 1959 US Women’s Championship! If I am wrong, please link us all in the comments below because if they are online, they are buried in the archives. This is a major tragedy and we should all reflect on why this is the case. Despite this obvious omission, we do have an interesting game where she crushed her opponent as Black in the 1961 US Open Championship. Do the puzzle first and then check out the full game!

Here she has built up a great position against a passively played bird opening... Black to move and find the beginning of a strong attack!


Lisa’s brash attitude and charisma was not without consequences. She was overlooked for the 1963 US Olympic team despite having finished second to Gisela Gresser in the 1962 US Women’s Championship. She fought for equal prizes in the chess world while Gresser was wealthy and accepted the status quo. This tension combined with her bad result in the 1964 Women’s World Championship finishing 12th out of 18, soon caused her to drop out of chess altogether.

 Despite all of this, here is another great quote from Chess Queens:

"Lisa Lane had a relatively short career on the professional circuit, but her passion for the game and glamorous lifestyle made an impression on girls and women who read about her in the press." 

The cover of Shahade's fabulous book, "Chess Queens"

Lisa Lane certainly influenced a generation of women and men to come. I hope I can pass on this information to any that have never heard of her. I was surprised to learn that she was on the cover of SI only 5-6 years ago. Let me know in the comments below if you have or have not heard of her before this blog. I want to know because she is an incredible figure having represented all chess players in the wider culture and her life should be celebrated! is celebrating Women’s month all throughout March so please join the King Chess Club because we will have a FEMALES ONLY tournament next Friday 3/24 at 7 PM PST. There will be prizes and diamond memberships for the top finishers. For full disclosure, Jen Shahade was my editor at US Chess Online and one of my favorite people in US Chess.  She helped jumpstart my journalistic career by editing & publishing my articles on the 2016 World Championship and did fantastic job with article when Fabi won the 2018 Candidates. 

If you enjoyed this blog please join the King Chess Exclusive Club, where we will have weekly and monthly tournaments and you can win free diamond memberships! PLUS, if you love chess film, I am running a promotion right now that if you buy a cool T-Shirt and support my upcoming film King Chess, you get to a free sneak peak copy to watch BEFORE it's released!