Little girls sign up in large numbers to play chess in elementary schools. Yet, by middle school, most of them quit playing chess. Out of 1500 or so grand masters in the world, only 30 are women. It is immensely important that women continue playing chess. Chess improves reading scores and emotional intelligence. It levels the intellectual playing field between genders. More importantly, women carry faith in their intellectual abilities when they venture in life long battles of being the only girl in the room, whether it is at a chess tournament, or in a computer science class, or in a boardroom of a major tech company.
Chess4Girls is a nonprofit organization working to create a conducive environment for girls to continue playing chess through middle school, high school, and beyond. By founding Chess4Girls, Shifa Somji's aim is to remove the misconception that chess is not a game for women. She hopes to see a day when FIDE, the world chess federation, crowns a woman as its champion.
Shelmina Abji is a global empowerment speaker, former IBM vice president, an angel investor in early technology start ups and board member of Young Women Empowered and the United Nations Foundation: Girl Up. As one of IBM's highest ranking women of color and a single mother, she led global teams and was responsible for over one billion dollars in revenue. She now empowers women by sharing her journey and how she achieved career success and personal satisfaction.
Grand Master Susan Polgar
Grandmaster Susan Polgar, the first woman in history to break the gender barrier by qualifying for the 1986 “Men’s” World Championship and earning the Grandmaster title in 1991. She became the #1 ranked woman player in the world at the age of 15 and remained in the top 3 for nearly 25 straight years. Polgar went on to win ten Olympic medals (5 Gold, 4 Silver and 1 Bronze) and four Women’s World Championships. Her most recent Olympic spotlight moment took place in October 2004, when she and the U.S. women’s national team brought home the first ever medal (silver) for the United States at the 36th Chess Olympiad. In that Olympic, she further distinguished herself by bringing home 2 additional gold medals (one for best overall performance and one for the most points scored in the entire Women’s Olympiad). She also got another silver medal for racking up the second-best percentage on the top board.
The mission of the Susan Polgar Foundation is to promote chess, with all its educational, social, and competitive benefits throughout the United States, for young people of all ages, especially girls. Polgar dreams of making chess so popular that it competes with other sports, like tennis, baseball and football. “We hope to get many more colleges to start offering scholarships for chess,” she says. “And we are working to promote chess as a grassroots movement in some of the smaller cities.”