If you’re ever in St. Louis, visit the World Chess Hall of Fame and the attached Chess Club and Scholastic Center, where the U.S. Chess Championships are now held (April 13). Come for the giant king piece outside the building—a Guinness World Record—knock some rooks inside the club, or visit one of the many exhibitions inside the Hall of Fame. Past exhibitions have included a photo retrospective by Harry Benson on Bobby Fischer, the all-time great who won the 1972 World Chess Championship, the last won by an American; another past exhibit about Fisher, which closed just last year, featured a remembrance of his complex life. Other exhibits include one about chess and the American presidency, and chess during World War II, which recently closed, too.
At the moment, the World Chess Fall of Fame, which just inducted two new members (grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Gata Kamsky), recently opened an exhibit about women and chess, called “Her Turn: Revolutionary Women of Chess.” Featured are, of course, the Polgar sisters—Susan, Judit, and Sofia—who were world-class chess players in their primes (Judit mostly recently retired in October, 2014). But there are also names the passing chess fan might not have ever heard before, such as “Russian Jewess” Vera Menchik, the first women’s world champion, who represented Russia, Czechoslovakia, and England in her six title defenses. Menchik, like Polgar after her, defeated a number of the top male players, including Max Euwe (in 1930/31), a world chess champion himself. Menchik died in 1944 as the women’s world champion.
Also featured is Mona Karff, who was born in Russia and played for Palestine in 1937 in the women’s chess championship (she lost to Menchik); she later moved to Boston and won seven U.S. women’s championships. And, Gisela Kahn Gresser, an American who trained at the Marshall Chess Club and Manhattan Club in New York City, and won nine (!) U.S. women’s championships; she won her last, in 1969, at the age of 63. (To boot, Gresser’s grandfather, Dr. Alexander Kohut, was a founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary.)