Vera Menchik

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Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik 1933.jpg
Menchik in London in 1933
Full nameVera Frantsevna Menchik
Věra Menčíková
CountryRussian Empire
Czechoslovakia
United Kingdom
Born(1906-02-16)16 February 1906
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died26 June 1944(1944-06-26) (aged 38)
Clapham, London, United Kingdom
Women's World Champion1927–44

Vera Menchik (Russian: Вера Францевна Менчик, Vera Frantsevna Menchik; Czech: Věra Menčíková; 16 February 1906 – 26 June 1944) was a Russian-born British-Czechoslovak chess player who became the first women's world chess champion. She also competed in tournaments with some of the world's leading male chess masters, with occasional successes including two wins over future world champion Max Euwe.

Early life[edit]

Menchik on a 2001 stamp of Yugoslavia

Her father, František Menčík, was born in Bystrá nad Jizerou, Bohemia, while her mother, Olga (née Illingworth;[1] c. 1885–1944[2]), was English. He was the manager of several estates owned by the nobility in Russia, and his wife was a governess of the children of the estate owner.

Vera Menchik was born in Moscow in 1906. Her sister Olga Menchik was born in 1907. When Vera was nine years old, her father gave her a chess set and taught her how to play. When she was 15, her school club organised a chess tournament and she came second.

After the Russian Revolution, her father lost a mill he owned and eventually also the big house where the family lived. The marriage broke down; her father returned to Bohemia, and in the autumn of 1921, Olga and her daughters went to Hastings, England, to live with Olga's mother. As Vera spoke only Russian, she hesitated to go to the local chess club, but at last, on 18 March 1923, she joined the Hastings Chess Club and began to take lessons from John Drewitt. Then, she became a pupil of the grandmaster Géza Maróczy.[3] During 1923, she played in several team matches.

In December 1923, she played in her first Hastings Congress and got a draw against Edith Price, the then British ladies' champion.

In the next Hastings Christmas Chess Congress 1924/25, she played again in Group A, first class, and finished second with five points out of seven. She met Miss Price in the last round of the Group of the Winners and again drew.

In 1925, she contested two matches against Edith Price, winning both of them, and she was considered the strongest lady player in the country. As she was not British, she could not enter the national competition.

In January 1926, she won the first Girls' Open Championship at the Imperial Club in London with her sister Olga coming third. In 1927, she retained this title and Olga came second. Next year, Vera was too old to play, and Olga again came second.[1][3]

Women's World Championships, Olympiads[edit]

She won the first Women's World Championship in 1927 and successfully defended her title six times in every other championship held during her lifetime, losing only one game, while winning 78 and drawing four games.

  • In 1927, she represented Russia in London taking 1st place with (+10−0=1).
  • In 1930, she represented Czechoslovakia in Hamburg taking 1st place with (+6−1=1).
  • In 1931, she represented Czechoslovakia in Prague taking 1st place with (+8−0=0).
  • In 1933, she represented Czechoslovakia in Folkestone taking 1st place with (+14−0=0).
  • In 1935, she represented Czechoslovakia in Warsaw taking 1st place with (+9−0=0).
  • In 1937, she represented Czechoslovakia in Stockholm taking 1st place with (+14−0=0).
  • In 1939, she represented England in Buenos Aires taking 1st place with (+17−0=2).

Women's World Championship matches[edit]

She also won two matches against Sonja Graf for the Women's World Champion title by 3–1 at Rotterdam 1934, and by 11½–4½ at Semmering 1937.

International tournament results[edit]

Starting in 1929, she participated in a number of Hastings Congress tournaments:

  • Hastings 1929, 9th place out of 10 players, (+2−4=3)[4]
  • Hastings 1931, tied for 5th–8th places out of 10 players, (+3−4=2)[5]
  • Hastings 1932, tied for 6th–8th places out of 10 players, (+2−4=3)[6]
  • Hastings 1933, 8th place out of 10 players, (+2−6=1)[7]
  • Hastings 1934, 8th place out of 10 players, (+1−4=4)[8]
  • Hastings 1936, tied for 9th–10th places out of 10 players, (+0−4=5)[9]

The biggest and strongest tournament Menchik played in was the Moscow tournament of 1935, which featured World Champions Botvinnik, Capablanca, and Lasker, as well as a host of elite players and future grandmasters like Flohr, Ragozin, Spielmann, Levenfish, Lilienthal, etc. She finished last, 20th out of 20 competitors, with a score of (+0−16=3).[10]

Other major international tournaments include Carlsbad 1929, where she finished last, 22nd out of 22 players, with a score of (+2−17=2),[11] and Lodz in 1938, where she finished 15th out of 16, with a score of (+1−9=5).[12]

Menchik's best results at international tournaments came at Ramsgate 1929. This was a Scheveningen system match,[13] with 7 players from one team competing against 7 from another. Menchik finished with an unbeaten score of (+3−0=4).[14] In 1934 she finished in 3rd place out of 9 players at Maribor, behind Lajos Steiner and Vasja Pirc, but ahead of the likes of Rudolph Spielmann and Milan Vidmar, with a score of (+3−1=4).[15] In 1942 she won a match against Jacques Mieses (+4−1=5),[16] 77 years old at the time.

The "Vera Menchik Club"[edit]

When in 1929, Menchik entered the Carlsbad 1929 chess tournament, Viennese master Albert Becker ridiculed her entry by proposing that any player whom she defeated in tournament play should be granted membership into the Vera Menchik Club. In the same tournament, Becker himself became the first member of the "club".[17] In addition to Becker, the "club" eventually included Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander, Abraham Baratz, Eero Böök, Edgard Colle, Max Euwe, Harry Golombek, Mir Sultan Khan, Frederic Lazard, Jacques Mieses, Stuart Milner-Barry, Karel Opočenský, Brian Reilly, Samuel Reshevsky, Friedrich Sämisch, Lajos Steiner, George Alan Thomas, William Winter, and Frederick Yates.[16][18][19][20]

Personal life[edit]

In 1937, at the age of 31, Menchik married Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson (1878–1943), twenty-eight years her senior, who was subscriptions editor of British Chess Magazine, a member of the West London Chess Club, and later honorary secretary of the British Chess Federation. Stevenson was a widower, having been married to Agnes Stevenson, a four-time British ladies' chess champion.[21] Rufus Stevenson died in 1943.

Death[edit]

On 26 June 1944, Menchik, her sister Olga, and their mother were killed in a V-1 flying bomb attack which destroyed their home at 47 Gauden Road in the Clapham area of South London.[22] All three were cremated at the Streatham Park Crematorium on 4 July 1944.[23]

Legacy[edit]

Vera Menchik is the longest-reigning women's world chess champion in history, having held the title for 17 years.[24] Her dominance over her contemporaries can be seen in her matches against Sonja Graf. Graf was the second strongest women's player in the world at the time and had been coached by the legendary Siegbert Tarrasch, but looking at both the games and the final result, their playing levels were completely different. In the two matches, Menchik won twelve games to three, with five draws. The fourth world champion, Alekhine, wrote after one of her victories against Sonja Graf in 1939 that "it is totally unfair to persuade a player of an acknowledged superclass like Miss Menchik to defend her title year after year in tournaments composed of very inferior players",[25] the specific tournament in question being the seventh Women's World Chess Championship.

Menchik had a good record against Max Euwe (2-2, 1 draw),[26] and Samuel Reshevsky (1-1).[27] However, against the other very best male players, she did not fare well. She lost to Jose Raul Capablanca (9-0), Alexander Alekhine (7-0), Mikhail Botvinnik (2-0), Paul Keres (2-0), Reuben Fine (2-0) and Emanuel Lasker (1-0).[24]

She was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.[28]

The trophy for the winning team in the Women's Chess Olympiad is called the Vera Menchik Cup.

Notable chess games[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Brian Denman, "Vera Menchik", Hastings Chess Club
  2. ^ Casualty Record, Wandsworth Metropolitan Borough. Civilian Olga Menchik. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  3. ^ a b Nikolay Minev, Vera Menchik: in Her Own Words, Inside Chess, 1994/18 – via ChessCafe.com
  4. ^ "Hastings 2930 1929 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  5. ^ "Hastings 3132 1931 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  6. ^ "Hastings 3233 1932 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  7. ^ "Hastings 3334 1933 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  8. ^ "Hastings 3435 1934 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  9. ^ "Hastings 3637 1936 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  10. ^ "Moscow 1935 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  11. ^ "Karlsbad 1929 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  12. ^ "Lodz 1938 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  13. ^ Schevevingen match system ?? description online ? chesskb.com
  14. ^ "Ramsgate schev 1929 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  15. ^ "Maribor 1934 – 365Chess.com Tournaments". 365chess.com.
  16. ^ a b Anne Sunnucks, The Encyclopaedia of Chess, St. Martin's Press, 1970, p. 306.
  17. ^ Chess Notes Winter, Edward, Chess Note 3433 (excerpt from Sunnucks, Anne, Encyclopaedia of Chess (1976)).
  18. ^ B.M. Kazić, International Championship Chess: A Complete Record of FIDE Events, Pitman, 1974, p. 260. ISBN 0-273-07078-9.
  19. ^ Irving Chernev, Wonders and Curiosities of Chess, Dover Publications, 1974, p. 6. ISBN 0-486-23007-4.
  20. ^ Winter, Edward (11 August 2020). "The Vera Menchik Club". Chess Notes.
  21. ^ Michael S. Rosenwald, "The Forgotten Female Chess Star Who Beat Men 90 Years Before 'Queen's Gambit'", Washington Post, Nov. 28, 2020.
  22. ^ Casualty Record, Wandsworth Metropolitan Borough. Civilian Vera Stevenson. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  23. ^ Tanner, Robert (2016), Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women's World Chess Champion, McFarland & Co., ISBN 978-0786496020
  24. ^ a b Lubomir Kavalek (6 July 2012). "Women in Chess A Few Tales". Huffington Post.
  25. ^ Alekhine, Alexander (1992), Winter, Edward (ed.), 107 great chess battles: 1939–1945, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-27104-8
  26. ^ Menchik - Euwe, Chessgames.com
  27. ^ Menchik - Reshevsky, Chessgames.com
  28. ^ "World Chess Hall of Fame: Vera Menchik". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert B. Tanner, Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women's World Chess Champion, with 350 Games, McFarland & Co., 2016

External links[edit]

Preceded by
none, first champion
Women's World Chess Champion
1927–44
Succeeded by
vacant, then Lyudmila Rudenko

(no champion from 1944–1950)