Vera Menchik

Vera Menchik

Vera Menchik (16 February 1906–27 June 1944) was a British-Czech chess player who gained renown as the world's first women's chess champion. She also competed in chess tournaments with some of the world's leading male chess masters, defeating many of them, including future World Champion Max Euwe.

The daughter of a Czech father and British mother, Vera Menchik was born in Moscow but, in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution, moved with her family to England in 1921. Her father taught her chess when she was nine and, in the year of her arrival in England at the age of fifteen, she won the British girls' championship. The following year, she became a pupil of Géza Maróczy, considered one of the top chess masters of the early decades of the 20th century.

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

    * In 1927, she represented Russia in 1st WWCh in London (+10 –0 =1).
    * In 1930, she represented Czechoslovakia in 2nd WWCh in Hamburg (+6 –1 =1).
    * In 1931, she represented Czechoslovakia at 3rd WWCh in Prague (+8 –0 =0).
    * In 1933, she represented Czechoslovakia in 4th WWCh in Folkestone (+14 –0 =0).
    * In 1935, she represented Czechoslovakia in 5th WWCh in Warsaw (+9 –0 =0).
    * In 1937, she represented Czechoslovakia in 6th WWCh in Stockholm (+14 –0 =0).
    * In 1939, she represented England in 7th WWCh in Buenos Aires (+17 –0 =2).

She won two matches against Sonja Graf for the Women’s World Champion title; (+3 –1 =0) at Rotterdam 1934, and (+9 –2 =5) at Semmering 1937.

Starting in 1929, she participated in a number of Hastings Congress tournaments. When, the same year, she entered the tournament in Carlsbad, Viennese master Albert Becker ridiculed her entry by proposing that any player whom Menchik 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". In addition to Becker, the "Vera Menchik 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, Philip Stuart Milner-Barry, Karel Opočenský, Brian Reilly, Samuel Reshevsky, Friedrich Sämisch, Lajos Steiner, George Alan Thomas, William Winter, and Frederick Yates.

Alekhine, writing about one of her victories against Sonja Graf in 1939, wrote 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”, the specific tournament in question being the seventh Women's World Chess Championship.

Menchik's greatest success at international tournaments was at Ramsgate 1929, when she finished tied for second with Akiba Rubinstein, just half a point behind former World Champion José Raúl Capablanca, and ahead of her teacher Géza Maróczy. In 1934 she finished third at Maribor, ahead of Rudolph Spielmann and Milan Vidmar. In 1942 she won a match against Jacques Mieses (four wins, five draws, one loss).

In 1937, at the age of 31, Vera 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.

Vera Menchik's younger sister Olga was also a tournament chess player. In 1944, as Britain was nearing its sixth year in World War II, and 38-year-old Vera, who was widowed the previous year, still holding the title of women's world champion, her two sisters and their mother were killed in a V-1 rocket bombing raid which destroyed their home at 47 Gauden Road in the Clapham area of South London.

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

Posted: Sat 16 Apr 2011


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