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The strongest native-born American woman

8/3/2003 – At 22 Jennifer Shahade, the 2002 U.S. Women's Champion, is the strongest American-born female chess player in history. In a profile, published in the latest edition of the Smithsonian magazine, Paul Hoffman, author and chess player, introduces us to a generation of female chess champions and the new, cool world of competitive chess.
 

Jennifer Shahade, Chess Queen

Jenny Shahade learnt chess from her father, a four-time Pennsylvania chess champion, at the age of six. For a long time she tagged along to tournaments with my brother Greg and her father. "I was more interested in staying at nice hotels than in the actual chess," she says. But then, when she was about 13, things started to click and she began to see more tactics, and beat experts and masters in blitz games. Jennifer graduated from NYU in January this year, and since then she's been playing and writing and teaching chess to support herself. "This was not a conscious decision, but just an easy and enjoyable way to make money without working 9-5," she explains.

"People sometimes ask me if chess is fun," Jennifer says. "'Fun' is not the word I's use. Tournament chess is not relaxing. It's stressful, even if you win. The game demands total concentration. If you mind wanders for a moment, with one bad move you can throw away everything you've painstakingly built up."


Other Smithsonian articles on chess

In the Game of Chess "Your Opponent Must Be Destroyed"
When world champion Garry Kasparov lost to IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue, it wasn't a total defeat: the visibility and interest generated by the event proved that the game itself is winning an ever-growing number of enthusiasts around the world.

Outsmarting Napoleon
Sometimes it starts with chess, a most abstract form of warfare, with rigid rules and little identical armies. Sometimes a young player wants more "reality," more of a sense that this is indeed a battle, and discovers commercial board games simulating war.

Reds versus Whites
As chessmen go, they are large, the king and queen nearly five inches tall, knights and bishops about an inch less, pawns and castles two and a half inches. Most chess sets come with opposed sets of identical pieces. Not this masterpiece in porcelain, which replays old struggles between Bolshevik and Czarist opponents.

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