Updated: Mar 13, 2021
Chess pieces. Photo: Artwork by Leah Gardner via Instagram (@leahgardner.art)
Last month I wrote a piece about The Queen’s Gambit filming locations in Berlin, Germany. The mini-series certainly deserves much praise, but some have pointed out that the show doesn’t accurately portray the extent of sexism experienced by most female players in the chess world. In Episode 2, the organisers of Beth Harmon’s first tournament frigidly explain there is no girl’s section and ridicule Beth, who is confidently prepared to play unrated. That’s about as far as the series goes to show the disadvantages, mistrust and skepticism women face in the sport; and even so, the same organisers eventually become close friends and supporters of Beth in later episodes.
American-Canadian chess player Alexandra Botez has commented that “if the show had been historically accurate, Beth wouldn't have even been able to compete in any world championship events”, while Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgár – generally considered the strongest female chess player of all time – opened up about having to deal with “sexual harassment, physical intimidation, and, regularly, verbal and mental abuse” during competitions in the 1970s and 80s. Norwegian chess icon Magnus Carlsen has also called for a change of culture having observed sexism regularly in the modern chess universe.
It’s clear the path for women in chess has been full of hurdles, and many still deal with barriers and a blatant lack of recognition today. Here are 5 Beth Harmons of the German-speaking world worth learning about and celebrating:
1) Ingeborg Kattinger
Born in 1910 in Austria, Ingeborg went on to pursue a variety of passions in her life. After having majored in Latin and Philosophy and minored in Greek, Inge also became certified to teach German. Chess played a big role in her life from the early age of 7. Notably, in 1932, Inge was the only successful woman in a simultaneous exhibition against Vienna city master Hans Müller. From 1949 to 1983, Inge won 8 city championships in Vienna and, on top of that, secured 4 wins in Austrian Women’s Chess Championships. Later in life, Inge organised widely attended and appreciated senior tournaments and international women’s tournaments.
Photo: Schachklub Hietzing Wien
2) Ursula Wasnetsky
Photo: GFHund via Wikimedia Commons
Ursula Wasnetsky was a leading chess player in the Federal Republic of Germany during the 1960s and 70s. Ursula won bronze, silver and gold medals in the West Germany Women’s Chess Championship and also came out victorious in the West Germany Open Women's Chess Championship in 1975. Ursula actually coordinated the first tournament for girls in West Germany in the 1970s. The successful chess player was awarded the Golden Badge of Honour by the Baden Chess Federation, and received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2008, a year before her death.
3) Eva Moser
Photo: Ailura via Wikimedia Commons
Eva started playing chess aged 10 and quickly went on to win 8 Austrian Chess Championships for Girls. Eva Moser was the first woman in Austria awarded the title of Woman Grandmaster in 2003, and was recognised as International Master the following year. Notably, in 2006, Eva became the first female winner of the Austrian Chess Championship in Koflach. The impressive competitor also enjoyed playing – and succeeding – in team events. Eva managed to complete a degree in Business Administration and contribute to the chess magazine Schach-Aktiv alongside playing and competing in the royal game. After battling leukaemia for several years, Eva passed away in 2019, leaving behind an impressive legacy.
4) Elisabeth Pähtz
Photo: Frank Hoppe via Wikimedia Commons
Born in Erfurt in 1985, Elisabeth was introduced to the game by her father, grandmaster Thomas Pähtz. In 1999, Elisabeth won Germany’s Women’s Chess Championship. The same year, she worked as one of four advisors on the World team in the famous Kasparov vs The World chess match. Elisabeth has been the strongest female chess player in Germany since her youth and has naturally attracted much media attention, leading her to be featured in several TV shows. In 2018, the phenomenal player won the European Women's Championship in rapid chess.
5) Fiona Sieber
Photo: GFHund via Wikimedia Commons
Having just turned 21 last week, Fiona Sieber is the talented young chess star from Göttingen, a picturesque university town. She secured first place in the International Youth Tournament Jugendmasters 2015. Fiona also won the European Youth Chess Championship in 2016 (U-16) and was awarded the FIDE International Master title in 2017. Fiona studies Physics in Magdeburg and likes to play football in her free time.