Thanks to three national lockdowns and the release of the hit Netflix miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, chess is thriving. Yet it is a game that has struggled to attract female players.
As founder of the Girls Get On Board campaign, Blue Coat Chess Club Leader and Old Blue Jenny Long, from the Class of 2009, wants to overturn the deeply ingrained prejudice against women being allowed to play club and competitive chess at all levels, which occurs throughout Europe.
Jenny is backed in her campaign by Chess Grand Master Malcolm Pein, from Liverpool, The Chess Magazine’s executive editor, who has delivered a series of Chess Workshops to Blue Coat School Chess Club.
In her role as Regional Chess & Schools Community Co-ordinator, Jenny encourages new female players, but this has sadly been stalled by lockdown. However, she said: “There’s been a surge of chess playing during lockdown and many girls have taken up the game as individuals, but not at club or society level. The Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit has created a lot of interest and highlighted these issues.
“As a player, I’ve been subject to huge prejudice myself. Girls are told they’re not clever or competitive enough. There have been conferences about getting more women into chess – led by old men!
“When I put chess boards in Blue Coat School Library, I saw female students playing, but they won’t join our club. It’s crucial to get primary school children playing to help change this elitist male attitude, but it’s a situation which won’t be resolved overnight.”
Jenny’s advocacy work has not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year she was approached by the producers of BBC Radio 4’s The Listening Project, to publicise the lack of female representation and to bang the chess drum in a move to get more female players across the board to take up the game, which is 91 percent dominated by men. Interviewed by the program’s presenter Fi Glover, with fellow guest Matthew Read, Editor of The Chess Magazine, Jenny’s conversation can still be accessed on the BBC’s website and will shortly be archived by the British Library, in order to preserve it for future generations.
To listen to Jenny’s interview please click here.