Sunday, March 6, 2011
Vera Menchik (16 February 1906–27 June 1944) was a female British player who became famous for becoming the first women’s world champion and successfully competing in men’s tournaments in which she defeated many leading players of the day.
The daughter of a Czech father and British mother, she was born in Moscow but after WW1 and the Russian Revolution, her family moved to England in 1921.
At the time of the Russian Revolution the Menchik family lived in a six room flat in Moscow , but a notice was served on Vera's father that he must share his rooms or give up most of them. People came up from below bringing their goats and fowls with them. Vera and Olga were not permitted to visit the basement of their flats where many people lived in great poverty.
Worse was to come for the Menchik family. Vera's father was the owner of a mill, but this was seized in the unrest and the family was driven out of their home. Mrs Illingworth, grandmother of Vera, fled from Moscow and walked a long way to receive help from the Consul. She left the country and came to Hastings to live. Meanwhile the rest of the Menchik family were made to sweep snow and this adversely affected the health of Vera's mother. In the autumn of 1921, when Vera was 15 years of age, her family left the country and came to Hastings, where they lived with Mrs Illingworth.
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 Geza Maroczy. After WW1 the Hungarian GM, Maroczy, had moved to Hastings and became her coach. Geza Maroczy had suffered privation during WW1 and, on coming to Hastings , had been allowed to stay at the Albany Hotel for free for a period of time.
The FIDE established the first world championship for women in 1927 which Menchik won with +10 -0 =1. She won every women's world championship held thereafter: 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939. In 83 games she lost only one and drew four. She was killed in a bombing raid in 1944, at the age of 38.
In 1929, she was invited to the Carlsbad International Tournament which included Capablanca, Tartakover, Nimzowitsch and Euwe. She did not have a good result in the tournament, finishing tied for last place with several players. Among her best results were a second place finish with Rubinstein at Ramsgate, a half point behind Capablanca and ahead of Maroczy, and George Koltanowski. She finished second in London in 1932, third in Maribor 1934 and third in Yarmouth in 1935.
Starting in 1929, she participated in a number of Hastings tournaments and when in 1929, she entered a tournament at Carlsbad, the Austrian master Albert Becker ridiculed her entry by proposing that any player that Menchik defeated play should be granted membership into the Vera Menchik Club. Of course, Becker became the first member. Other member included: Eero Book, Colle, Golombek, Sultan Kahn, Miesis, Milner-Barry, Opocensky, Reshevsky, Saemisch, Steiner, Sir George Thomas, William Winter, Yayes, and…Alekhine!
In 1934 she finished third at Maribor ahaed of Spielmann and Dr. Vidmar. In 1942 she defeated Jacques Miese in a match +4 -1 =5.
In 1937, at the age of 31, she married Rufus Stevenson (1878–1943), twenty-eight years her senio. Stevenson was subscriptions editor of the British Chess magazine.
Early in 1943 Vera's husband died and she was joined by her mother and sister. On 26th June 1944 the house was destroyed by a German bomb and all three perished. Vera was 38 years old, Olga 36 (also a well-known player) and their mother 59. Menchik’s death caused outrage all over the country and one British newspaper columnist wrote: “In the annals of chess history this black blot will remain for ever marked against the German nation, and must fill chess players of the future with repulsion and disgust.” There home was located at 47 Gauden Road in South London. Today the addrtess is an apartment complex.
Menchik’s play was characterized by sound positional judgment and she was not known for tactical attacking play, but was particularly good in converting small advantages into wins. During her games she remained immovable in her chair. She soon became very popular, not just because she was a woman in what was essentially a man's game, but on account of her shy and kind nature. She had other hobbies, especially tennis and modeling in clay.
In December 1923 she competed in her first Hastings Congress and obtained a draw against Edith Price, the current British ladies' champion. In 1925 she played two matches against Edith Price winning both of them and was clearly the strongest female player in the country. Still, she could not enter the national championship because she was not a British citizen.
1927 an international ladies' tournament was held in London in the summer which Vera won with a score of 10.5 out of 11.. Subsequently the International Chess Federation decided to give the tournament the status of the women's world championship. She was easily the strongest women player in the world and from 1928 onwards she began to be invited to some strong tournaments where all her opponents were men.
In August 1928 she had given a talk on the French Defence at the Hastings CC and began to take an interest in teaching chess, writing articles and giving simultaneous displays. She even gave bridge lessons.
He had previously been married to Agnes (nee Lawson), who had been one of the strongest lady players in the country. Sadly she had died following a terrible accident at an airport. For an earlier Blog post on this Mrs. Stephenson, see HERE.