Mary Weiser Bain always seemed to have gotten lost in the shadows of Mona May Karff and Gisela Gresser. But this pioneer of women's chess in the United States played no less a role. While Gresser was home-grown, Mary Bain was born in Hungary (Edith Weart wrote: "Mrs. Bain having been born in what was then Hungary, now Czechoslovakia"). An immigrant, like Karff (who was born in the then Tsarist province of Bessarabai, now Moldovia, and moved to Boston in her teens), Bain lived in New York (listed as living in Astoria, NY in 1937). According to Jennifer Shahade in "Chess Bitch," Mary was sent by her mother to to New York to join her sister when she was 17 (1921) because her father went MIA in World War I. Speaking only Hungarian, she had to learn English after her arrival.
She married Leslie Balogh Bain in 1926.
Her husband, Leslie, was a newspaperman, war correspondent, radio producer, film director and political author. Born in 1901, Bain was of Irish and Hungarian extraction and took a lifelong interest in Hungarian political events. He worked for the "Daily News," the "New York Reporter" and for the North American Newspaper Alliance. He was fluid in Hungarian and he visited Hungary several times.
He published several books: "The War of Confusion" (1942); "Chaos or Peace" (1943); "The Reluctant Satellites: An Eyewitness Report on East Europe and the Hungarian Revolution" (1960). I was able to procure a copy of "The Reluctant Satellites" and found Bain's writing heartfelt, poignant and touching as well as insightful.
Leslie and Mary Bain had two children, Mitchell (born in California in 1927) and Eva (born in California in 1929). Mary and Leslie divorced in 1948.
According to "The Encyclopaedia of Chess" by Anne Sunnucks:
BAIN, Mary (1904-1972) International Woman Master (1952) and United States Woman Champion 1951-1953. Born in Hungary where she learned to play chess as a schoolgirl, she later became a pupil of Frank Marshall and Geza Maroczy.
After the death of her husband Leslie Bain, author, war correspondent and film director, Mary opened and ran a duplicate bridge club in New York which left her little time for chess. She played for the United States in the Women's Olympiad of 1963. She died on 26th October 1972.
I'm not sure about the details of this entry since Mary was divorced in 1948, opened her chess studio in the middle 1950s (I haven't been able to find anything to support her alleged interest in Bridge) and Mr. Bain's last book was published in 1960 indicating he was probably still alive by then. However, the short blurb introduces her association with Frank Marshall and Géza Maróczy. Bain was a member of the Marshall Club, so her contact with Frank Marshall is easily understandable. The Maróczy connection needs some elucidation. Maróczy was exiled from Hungary after WWI, probably for political reasons, and was forced to wander for 7 years. According to Hans Kmoch, he lived in Austria, Switzerland, Holland, England and New York. In New York, he helped organize the 1927 tournament during his last year of exile. He resided at Mary's apartment during his New York stay and she undoubtedly gained some pointers just as Vera Menchik had during his stay in Hastings.
Mary Bain in 1937
Mary Bain's name first rose to the surface long before she came in second in the National Chess Federation chess tournament at the Marshall Chess Club in 1937. In 1933 she drew a simul match with Capablanca (The story is that Capablanca resigned on move 11, after which Bain offered him a draw which he accepted). Mary fell into a fortuitous situation in 1937. The winner of the Marshall Chess Club tournament was to represent the United States in the Women's World Championship being held in Stockholm, Sweden. Adele Rivero, the winner, was unable to travel, so second-placed Mary Bain, who was a newcomer to tournament chess, never expecting to do very well against such an array of female champions, came in fifth, scoring 8½ points, only 1½ points behind the second place winner (although 5½ points behind the amazing Vera Menchik, the runaway winner). She also scored ½ point more than Mona May Karff, a Bostonian who was playing for Palestine. Considering that Bain was the only contestant who had no second and who was totally uncoached makes her modest success all the more impressive. After the tournament Mrs. Bain stayed in Europe for the summer. She gave several simultaneous exhibitions. One of them, held in what is now Helsinki, was against fifteen strong male players in which she won 5, lost 6 and drew 4. During her return cruise, she gave a 10 board simul, winning 8, losing and draw 1 each. She also gave a talk on Chess. The Holland-America line presented her with a silver cup in recognition. Returning to New York, she gave a simul against 8 members of the Women's Chess Club, winning all the games.
Mary once again placed second in the 1938 tournament, the first one specifically for the national title of U.S. Women's Champion, but this time she lost to Mona May Karff (who inexplicably started calling herself N. May Karff) yet surprisingly came in ahead of Adele Rivero.
In 1938, driving home in the rain from the A.F.C. Congress (the U.S. Open) in Boston, Mary Bain and fellow chess players, Mrs. McCready and Miss Edith Weart, were involved in an accident in which they struck a telephone pole. Miss McCready seemed to have suffered minor injuries; Miss Weart was pinned under the car and sustained a fracture to her shoulder; Mary Bain, however, suffered a fractured vertebra which required her to be in a cast for eight months, bedridden for much of that time. During her convalescence she took up correspondence chess.
The following year, 1939, Mary Bain tied with N. May Karff and Dr. Helen Weissenstein for first place (Rivero didn't participate). A play-off was supposed to have taken place, but for some reaon either never took place or wasn't reported on.
In 1940, Mary Bain slipped and tied for fourth place. Adele Rivero returned to carry away the contest, far ahead of second placed Karff. The 1941 championship was determined by a match between Rivero and Karff (Karff won).
Bain came in fourth in 1942 behind Karff, Rivero (now Belcher), Nancy Roos and Gisela Gresser (a polymath who had only learned to play in 1938).
The next tournament, which took place in 1944, was unattended by Bain (and won by Gresser). There was no tournament in 1945. Like several other chess masters (Gresser was another), Mary Bain donated part of her war-years time bringing chess to the soldiers, especially the wounded.
"Miami News," Aug. 4, 1945
In 1946, Mary once again placed second behind Karff in the women's championship. The two ladies had tied the previous August in the women's event at Pan-Am Congress held in Los Angeles:
Mary Bain 1946
The next women's championship took place in 1948. This time, our unfortunate subject fell behind both Gresser and Karff who tied for first place.
The July 24, 1949 issue of the "St. Petersburg Times" had an article about Mrs. Bain by Dr. A. B. Fergunson. Below is an excerpt from that article:
Mary Bain, while attending high school in her native Hungary, found chess quite popular among the pupils and on returning to her country home, she expressed a desire to learn the game. Her mother, who had played chess in her youth, taught Mary the first moves. The latter immediately became a chess enthusiast.
Shortly after the first World War she left Hungary for her first exhibition game in America. She expected a dull and lonely ocean trip because, although she spoke Rumanian [sic], German and Ukrainian fluently, she knew no English. When on the first day out the steward passed out games, Mrs. Bain asked for a chess set, planning to amuse herself with the game. Apparently the passenger list was filled with chess players and the next day a German-speaking acquaintance and the ship's captain made a date with her for a game in the evening. When she arrived in the salon, many passengers were gathered to watch the match. It was Mary Bain's first exhibition game and she won.
Here in America she attended schools to learn the English language. She eventually married, reared two children and kept up her interest in chess.
As the century reached its midpoint, Mary Bain's chess career hadn't yet reached its highpoint . . .