Kindred’s Special: Women in USA Chess Remembered

Many women suffer from the lure of distractions.  I believe this may be the key to why, unless training reduces such spirited distraction that come their way, women are thought of as inferior in terms of chess skill when compared to men.  For me to say this may cause my female readers to glare at the screen in disbelief.  How could I say such a thing?? I do not mean to speak with disrespect but now impart to you a bit of history that may shed some light into why I risk mental beatings across the miles from my “fans”.  For my subject, I have searched my historical collected data and found a female subject to illlustrate my point.

Mary Weiser Bain lived to the age 68 when she died in 1972. She was first recognized as a talent to watch when she defeated in 11-moves, Jose R. Capablanca during a simultaneous exhibition. She progressed and went on to play in the 1937 Womens’ World Championship, finishing 5th behind the winner Vera Menchik.  She became US Womens’ Chess Champion in 1951. She was invited by the USSR to participate in the International Tournament to determine the challenger to face Womens’ World Chess Champion of that period, Ludmilla Rudenko. The Soviet chess machine pulled out all the stops on providing for all the ladies a wonderful vacation in Moscow and well organized tournament which included cash for excursions, restaurants and gift purchases.  I imagine the clothing establishments provided a number of interesting garments  like dresses and hats to select from.

What is most noteworthy covering this period of history was the fact that the US and USSR were in the Cold War era.  Despite this, the Soviets did their best to lavish Miss Bain with all the qualities of friendship could muster and she conducted several correspondence– letters to a chess historian and researcher David Lawson and to the USCF President, Harold Phillips.  In these exchanges, she wrote about the quality and dedication to chess excellence shown by the organizers whose eventual theme was to spread friendship among nations.  She also felt some resentment to the US Chess Federation for it being rather disorganized as the American chess power.  She told of this when she found out that the Soviet invite included all expense paid trip for each entry and a master assistant aide. All the federations pursued this except the USA which somehow overlooked the invitation to include an aide. Hence, she was the only one without a second to help her with her preparations and study of adjourned games. Harry Golombek of Britain related to her, “It is such a sad thing  how a great country like the USA has such a weak chess federation.”

She was invited to a banquet upon arrival in Moscow of mountains of caviar, fish, flowl, vintage wines and ever-present vodka. A number of wonderful shows and tickets were given to participants.  As the tournament progressed, her mood was down especially when finding out about the USCF missing the boat about having an aide accompany her and losing close games due to no help in analysis of adjourned games having good positions and little sleep.

The stress of competition and no backup support clearly affected Mary Bain. She wrote to Lawson, “By November 6th I had only one win and felt devastated by her perceived failure. I would  like not to mention the great disappointment. I am still suffering. I didn’t sleep nor eat for the last 10 days. Good old Lidia, my standy, is very attentive and without her I probably would not be alive by now. Sees to it that I get some nourishment by force. She has taken me to the doctor several times. Now I am trying very hard to get back on my feet to salvage something, but I am afraid it is too late.”

Mary Bain’s correspondence with both Lawson and Phillips highlights the status of chess in America.  Women were probably not given much support by their male counterparts. Of course, maybe no one was willing to take the time to attend the event since most chessplayers needed to work for a living and likely had families to support. That is the most likely reason, not that the USCF fell down on giving her the support she required to do well. Emotionally however was her biggest problem, expressing fears even before they evolved on the board.

6 Responses to “Kindred’s Special: Women in USA Chess Remembered”

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