Karff's Revenge


     In 1937 Adele Rivero won the championship of the National Chess Association.  The tournament that decided the championship began as the Marshall Club championship for women in 1934, refereed by Frank Marshall himself and organized by his wife, Caroline. After the first tournament, one of the contestants, Miss Hazel Allen, donated a trophy and from then on it was referred to as the "Hazel Allen Trophy."  Adele Rivero played in the very first  tournament but even with her excellent score of 9-2, only placed second (actually shared it with Mrs. Broughton) behind Marjorie Seaman who scored 11-0.

     Although this was to be an annual event, a 1935 tournament never materialized. But in 1936, Adele Rivero won the Hazel Allen Trophy with a perfect 5-0 score.  It was then hoped that the 1937 tournament could be used to decide the woman champion of the entire country and the winner would attend the International Ladies Tournament in Stockholm.  At that time there was no single American chess organization.  US chess was divided between the National Chess Federation (which the Marshal Club represented) and the American Chess Federation (formerly, the Western Chess Association).  The NCF seemed to feel that since they sponsored the US Championship, that they automatically would have authority to determine the US Women's Championship. Since the 1937 tournament didn't include representitives from the ACF, the claim that it was a national championship is rather specious.  In fact, Edith Weart, the greatest archiver and reporter of women's chess form that time claimed, "As the tournament this year was sponsored by the National Chess Federation. Mrs. Rivero now holds the title of woman champion of that organization."  She never went out on the limb to claim the Mrs. Rivero was the US Women's Champion .  In fact, she solidifies the idea that the 1937 tournament was an organizational one and not a national one with her 1938 announcement, ""Feminine chess takes a step forward with the announcement by the National Chess Federation that a tournament will be held in connection with the regular U. S. Championship tournament to determine the U. S. Woman Chess Champion."

     In 1938, Miss N. May Karff won both the Hazel Allen Trophy and the US Women's Championship. (Although the AFC champion, Miss Jean Moore Grau, didn't attent, she had been invited, giving the tournament the needed push to be called a national one).  The 1939 tournament was conspicuous in two respects. First, Adele Rivero didn't participate and second, there was no clear winner. There was a three-way tie among Mary Bain, N. May Karff and Dr. Helen Weissenstein.  While a play-off was called for, it's unclear whether one ever took place. 

     Now, in 1940, Adele Rivero returned to the scene and won the tournament decisively with a score of 7-1 (in contrast to 2nd place Karff who scored 5½ - 2½).

    The one significant event in 1941 was what the promoters hope would be viewed as a historically important event - the format changed whereby the U. S. Women's Champion Title would be determined through match play rather than through a tournament. The result was that is was more historically significant through its singularity since it was never attempted again.

     Adele Rivero, who made a brilliant come-back the previous year to win the title, agreed to play N. May Karff, the 1938-9 title holder, to an eight-game match to determine the U. S. Women's title. The games were played between November 16th  and December 7th.

     The day before the first game, Adele Rivero married Donald Belcher and played the match under her new name, Adele Belcher. Possibly her newly-wed status coupled with her own natural anxiety affected her play. May Karff swept through the match with a 5-1 victory. Mrs. Belcher's play was uncharacteristically weak and several of her games contained outright blunders. This led Horowitz to write, "Mrs. Belcher, on the other hand, was nervous and self-conscious, made some incredible blunders, showed every sign of being badly out of practice.  After losing four straight, she came to life in the fifth game, smartly out-played her opponent, put on a real show for her many admirers, only to lapse into defeat in the sixth and final game."

     The winner of the match took possession of the new Chess Review Trophy and each player received a purse of  $98.50, splitting the $197.00 raised through contributions.

     Below is the story of that match as offered by Chess Review:

Lady Chess Stars to Play for Title

   As announced last month, Mrs. Adele Rivero, Woman Chess Champion of the United States, has agreed to defend her title in an eight-game match with Miss N. May Karff, the former champion. The match will be held in November and the games will be played at the leading New York chess clubs.
   The contest between these fair young women chess stars has been arranged by CHESS REVIEW to promote interest in the royal game and help to dispel the erroneous idea that all chess players are old men! Mrs. Rivero and Miss Karff will demonstrate that attractive young women can play good chess.
   Slim, petite Adele Rivero (seated at right in above picture) plays strong, conservative chess. Inclined to be nervous, she exercises remarkable control in important games, displays great powers of stamina and concentration, nurses small advantages into the end-game. Mrs. Rivero dethroned Miss Karff and won the Women's Championship title in the open tournament held in New York last year at the Hotel Astor.
   Self-confident, smartly-dressed Miss N. May Karff, is an outstanding chess player of international repute. She recently won the Hazel Allen Trophy in the annual Women's Chess Tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, New York. The following game, from this tourney, is an excellent example of Miss Karff's aggressive style of play:

  The schedule of championship match games will be announced soon. A purse of $500 is being raised for the players. CHESS REVIEW's Editor I. A. HOROWITZ is the official treasurer.  Contributions towards the purse are solicited and may be sent to I. A. Horowitz, Treasurer, Women's Chess Championship Match, 250 West 57th Street, New York, N. Y.



Miss N. May Karff, playing at the Marshall Chess Club on November 16th, won the opening game of her championship match with Mrs. ADELE BELCHER who, as Mrs. Rivero, gained the national title in the open tournament last year.
   The day before the match began the lady champion married DONALD BELCHER of the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research and teacher of mathematics and physics at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville.
   Preceding the game, L. WALTER STEPHENS, Vice-President of the U. S. Chess Federation and official referee of the match, called attention to the historic importance of this first match for the Women's Title and announced the donation of the CHESS REVIEW TROPHY by the Editors of this magazine, as sponsors and promoters of the match.
   This new trophy, in the form of a large engraved silver cup, will be the emblem of the Women's Chess Championship of the United States and will become the permanent possession of any lady who wins it three times. The victor in the present match will be awarded custody of the cup.
     Succeeding games of the Belcher-Karff match are scheduled for Nov. 22, 8 p.m., at the Manhattan C. C.;  Nov. 23rd, 3 p.m., at the home of L. Walter Stephens, 279 East 34th St. Brooklyn and Dec. 3rd, 8 p.m. at Queens Chess Club, 40-05 59th Street, Woodside, L. I. Dates for four more games are still to be arranged.

Game 1




    Miss N. MAY KARFF is again the Chess Queen of the United States.  In the scheduled 8-game match with Mrs. Adele Adele Belcher, Miss Karff regained the championship title by the lop-sided score of 5-1.  The match ended on December 7th, at the conclusion of the sixth game, as the new champion was then four games up with only two to go.

   A prize-awarding party was given to the players, officials and notable guests on Dec. 13th by L.WALTER STEPHENS, Vice-President of the U. S. Chess Federation, at is home in Brooklyn. Stephens served as referee of the match.

    At the coronation party, Miss Karff was officially declared reigning Chess Queen and award custody of the CHESS REVIEW TROPHY donated by the editors of this magazine as the emblem of the U. S. Women's Chess Championship. The cup will become the permanent possession of any lady who wins it three times.

   I. A. HOROWITZ, treasurer of the match, presented each of the players with a check for $98.50 as a reward for their efforts. Although the ladies had agreed to play without any guaranteed purse, Horowitz asked patrons of chess to send contributions and the response was most encouraging. A total purse of $197.00 was raised and divided between the players.

   Arranged by CHESS REVIEW to promote interest in chess among women, the match proved to be popular and was given wide publicity in the press.  The games were well attended and followed with great interest, particularly by lady players. More and more women are taking up chess and we are only too glad to encourage this trend.  Women have popularized other games and can do the same thing for chess.

   Miss Karff showed considerable improvement in her play, displayed the fighting spirit and determined will to win possessed by all champions.  Calm, self-assured, she played aggressively throughout, took full advantage of her opponent's mistakes.

   Mrs. Belcher, on the other hand, was nervous and self-conscious, made some incredible blunders, showed every sign of being badly out of practice.  After losing four straight, she came to life in the fifth game, smartly out-played her opponent, put on a real show for her many admirers, only to lapse into defeat in the sixth and final game.


              Grouped around the new CHESS REVIEW TROPHY, emblem of the U. S. Women's
              Championship, are (In the usual order) Editor I. A. Horowitz, Mrs. Adele Belcher,
              Referee L. Walter Stephens, Veteran Reported Herman Helms, Miss N. May Karff,
              Grandmaster Frank J. Marshall


Game 2


Game 3


Game 4


Game 5


Game 6