Life of a Female Chess Player Pt. III: How it all Started

Life of a Female Chess Player Pt. III: How it all Started

Jun 14, 2016, 1:02 PM |

Dear All,

I apologize to everyone who enjoys reading my blogs for not posting in a long time. Due to the personal implications that writing these blogs have on my personal psyche, I struggle to write them sometimes. Long breaks are necessary for me to recover for reasons that I hope at some point I will be able to convey to my readers without fear or anxiety.

I realized I almost made a cardinal error when titling this blog series. I almost called it “The Life of the Female Chess Player,” rather than “The Life of a Female Chess Player.” The mistake would have been claiming that what I’ve been through is what every female chess player experiences. My story is unique in some ways from other female chess players, yet I feel like it might make some female players feel less isolated in their chess careers and lives. The world is not as black and white as the chess board would lead us to believe, and I do not want my readers to misunderstand my intentions, and to think that I speak for all women who play chess.

That said, for this blog I would like to give a little bit of insight to my readers into my personal journey as a chess nerd. My father taught my sister and me how to play chess when we were both little kids. I am almost certain that we all remember the awe we felt for whoever taught us to play chess. I thought my dad was a tactical genius. Nonetheless, my father is not the most sociable guy, and soon left my sister and me to our own devices. Growing up, my sister was always the smart one and so it was no surprise that she would always beat me. We spent tons of playing chess, until one day I beat my sister. After that we did not play chess anymore, much to my disappointment.

When I was in high school, through a series of rather amusing circumstances, I ended up on the high school chess team at the end of my sophomore year. In Texas, football is king. Naturally, this includes high school football. Everybody went to the games, and they were actually pretty fun. That’s saying a lot coming from me, someone who has very little appreciation for sports. When my parents divorced and I ended up in Arizona, I was shocked at how little my high school cared about the football team. The school was not really known for anything except the scent of marijuana drifting from the bathrooms, and surprisingly, chess.

Those that truly know me would note that I am an observer. From years of listening to my loud and opinionated sister, I learned to sit quietly and watch other people. I found myself watching the chess team all the time. As I watched, I soon realized that the chess players seemed to be the happiest people in that high school. This is not to say that they were the most popular people in high school, (far from it), but rather that they just seemed to be having the most fun in general. Something else I noticed was that there were not any girls on the team. Every time I would get close to going to a meeting, panic would overcome me. I started to ask my friends why they had not joined chess, and their reasons tended to be similar. Chess was just not something that girls played.

I’ll admit, I have a rebellious streak. Being told that something was not for me made me want to do it even more. So one day, I just showed up to the chess club. Nobody noticed me for a long time. I sat there and watched them play, hoping someone would ask me to play. Thirty minutes passed before the librarian walked up to me and informed that the library was closed except for chess club. When I informed him that I was indeed there for chess, we both became red faced. We both knew why he did not think I was there for chess, but neither of us commented. Much to his credit, he was quite kind and introduced me to the chess coach. At this point, the players still had not noticed me. It was not until I was sitting among them at the lesson that one of them looked at me, blinked, and asked the coach if I was really there for chess.

My chess coach was a kind elderly man who donated his training free of charge to our team once a week. The varsity players would stay downstairs and listen to a national master yammer on about some game he had played, while the rest of us would go upstairs and receive a lesson from my coach. My coach was a very patient man. We could be a rowdy bunch, and I doubt we showed him the respect he deserved, but he always came back. I think it was for that reason alone that we grew to trust him and eventually started to improve.

After the lessons, we would all play each other for a few hours. Luckily, I had been mistaken about there being no girls on the chess team. There was one girl who played JV who had come to the lesson that day. She did not play with the team for very long, but those first few weeks she was the only one I would play. One time, we were playing, and a guy from one of my classes sauntered over to me with a sly look on his face. He watched our game and then looked at me and said, “Are you a lesbian?”

Being called a lesbian is not fun, especially when it is a guy. Once a question like that is voiced, people treat you differently. Even if you are not a lesbian or gay, it does not really matter. You are diseased with stereotypes and assumptions about who you are. I was furious. Who was this guy to ask me such a personal question, based only on the fact that I was playing chess? On that day, I made it my personal goal to kick his ass at chess, the only way I could exact revenge.

And that, folks, is how all this started. Of course, there was a lot more at play, which I’ll go into later, but that’s the general gist of it. It's ok to laugh. I laugh about it sometimes. It’s hilarious that such a huge part of my life started with someone questioning my sexual orientation, but I’m grateful for the drive it gave me. If I had not experienced such assumption being made about me in the beginning, I would have never been prepared me for what was to come.

Till next time,

A Female Chess Player