A female chess player from Battersea is encouraging more women to get involved with the game after it has helped her to overcome her trauma.
Zoya Boozorginia, 39, began playing chess when she was 10-years-old and now, as a full time architect, she balances her time between her work and her addiction to chess, even moving house to live nearer to the chess club.
She is one of only six women who are full time members at Battersea Chess Club, which has been in existence since 1885.
Zoya has been overcoming a divorce, which has been a very difficult period for her, but she found chess to be very helpful during this time as it can help with your state of mind.
She said: “With chess you have to be able to put your emotions away, it’s all about logic. You have to put a lot of thought into it, making plans and strategies, trying to anticipate the other player’s moves.
“I’m really happy I am part of the Battersea Chess Club, they are amazing people and are very organised – they have arranged tournaments and are even running lessons.”
Zoya started playing chess as a hobby just before lockdown, but quickly grew addicted, as she took lessons online, reading books and going to tournaments.
She added: “I’m taking chess seriously, it’s not just a hobby to me anymore.”
Zoya now competes in chess tournaments regularly across the country, and also has an online chess rating and an English Chess Federation rating.
Chess tournaments can take multiple different formats which are based on their time control.
This can include standard games, rapid games, blitz and bullets.
Round-Robin tournaments, also known as an all-play-all tournament, allows players to compete with all contestants.
However, Zoya is concerned about the amount of women who are taking part in the sport.
She said: “Most of the time I am the only woman at the chess club or at a tournament.
“I know there are other women but I hardly see them. It’s really rare to see another woman playing. In reality, when you walk into any chess centre it’s mostly men.”
Statistics in the United States show only one-seventh of the national chess federation are female.
As of this year, there are only 37 active female players that have achieved the highest title in chess, GrandMaster, out of 1700 active players.
Zoya would like to see more women get involved in chess, and even tries to teach and encourage her friends to get involved.
She said: “The TV show Queen’s Gambit has done a great job of encouraging more women to play. I really related to the show in the sense of how it portrayed chess life.
“With the character of Beth, I wasn’t just seeing a women who was playing chess, I was seeing a woman who was going through trauma and from playing chess she became a better person. I have also gone through trauma, and it showed how a game of chess could be a means of escape from it.”
The English Chess Federation has even named a scheme after the TV show, truly showing the scope it has had on the chess community.
The Queen’s Gambit Scheme offers free supporter membership for women over 18 to complete the Free Junior Silver Membership for junior players.
There are also events such as the British Women’s Online Championship, which ran from 18th December 2020 to 3rd January 2021.
A spokesperson for Battersea Chess Club said: “There is good work being done by the big chess companies like the Play Magnus Group, with initiatives like the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour – which is an event that is on now and is meant to be “gender-balanced”.
“It is all about finding the next female role model, or making Beth Harmon a new reality. There have been strong female role models before who have led the vanguard of women’s chess like the Hungarian Judit Polgar, who is involved in the Tour. But there is a long, long way to go before English chess can say it serves women well.
“People talk about the “Queen’s Gambit Effect” on chess and that is definitely true. Lockdown hit the club hard but we are getting back on our feet again and The Queen’s Gambit has certainly helped.
“Right now, we have a small cohort of female players who we hope will help drive us forward among a membership approaching 100 – but that is not enough. We need a broad base of members from all walks of life to survive and so we are appealing for women particularly to join.
“We are trying to make our club a more welcome place for everyone to come to. We do things like have prizes for the highest placed woman in the competitions we run.
“Generally, we (as mostly men) are trying to make a bigger effort to be supportive to new beginners, including women. It’s not easy – imagine being interested in chess and thinking that you’ll go to a chess club then going through the door and walking into a room of almost entirely men – it’s not surprising some people get put off by that!
“Right now we have about 90 paid-up members and only six are women. That may sound bad, but as a percentage, that’s good for a chess club!
“We also have maybe a dozen more women who are occasional visitors and haven’t joined, but we hope they do.”
Featured image credit: Zoya Boozorginia