Vera Menchik

by Bill Wall

Vera Francevna Menchik (Mencikova) was born in Moscow, Russia on Feb 16, 1906. Her father was Czech (Bohemian) and her mother was British. Her sister, Olga, was born in 1907 and also a chess player. Vera’s father was the manager of several estates owned by the nobility in Russia, and his wife was a governess of the children of the estate owner.

Vera learned chess in 1915 when she was 9, taught to her by her father, who purchased a chess set for her.  In 1920, her school organized a chess tournament and she came in second place.

After the Russian Revolution, her father lost a mill he owned and eventually their big house where the family lived.  Her father left the family and returned to Bohemia.

Vera and her mother and sister moved to Hastings, England in the autumn of 1921, when Vera was 15. 

At the time, Vera could only speak Russian and hesitated to go to the local chess club.  But on march 18, 1923, she joined the Hastings Chess Club and began to take chess lessons from John Drewitt.  Then she became a pupil of Geza Maroczy (1870-1951).

In 1923 Vera Menchik began participating in several team matches.

In December 1923, she played in her first Hastings Congress and drew with Edith Price, the then British ladies’ chess champion.

In 1925, Vera defeated Edith Price, British ladies’ champion, twice in matches.

In January, 1926 Vera won the first British Girls' Open Championship at the Imperial Club in London.  Her sister, Olga, took 3rd place.

In January, 1927 Vera won the London ladies championship with a perfect 5-0 score. Her sister Olga took 2nd place.

FIDE established the 1st world championship for women in July, 1927, which Vera won at the age of 21 in London (with 10 wins and 1 draw in the last round). The first world championship for women was held at the same time and place as the first FIDE Olympiad.

She won every Woman’s World Championship after that: Hamburg 1930 (6 wins, 1 loss, and 1 draw), Prague 1931 (8 wins), Folkestone 1933 (14 wins), Warsaw 1935 (9 wins), Stockholm 1937 (14 wins), and Buenos Aires 1939 (17 wins, 2 draws). She only lost one game (to Henschel at Hamburg in 1930) in 83 world championship games. She won 78 games, drew 4 games, and lost only one game in 8 world championship events.

In 1929 she participated in an international tournament in Carlsbad. The Viennese master Albert Becker (1896-1984), who played in this event, said that anyone who lost to Menchik would have to be put into a Vera Menchik Club. He wanted to ridicule any master who lost to this woman. Becker was the first victim. Vera was the only woman to play in men's tournaments is the first half of the 20th century.

In 1929 she took 2nd place, behind Capablanca, at Ramsgate.

In 1934 she played an informal match with the 2nd best woman chess player in the world, Sonja Graf (1914-1965), and won with 3 wins and 1 loss. The match was held in Rotterdam.

In 1934 she took 3rd place, behind Pirc and L. Steiner, at Maribor.

In 1937, at the age of 31, she married Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson (1878-1943), the secretary of the British Chess Federation.   He was 28 years her senior.

In 1937 she played a title-match for the world's women championship at Semmering and won with 9 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses against Sonja Graf.

In 1939 she was the manager of the British National Chess Centre. A year later, it was destroyed in an air raid.

In 1942 she played a match with Jacques Mieses and won, with 4 wins, 5 draws, and 1 loss.

She was killed, along with her sister Olga and mother, in a bombing raid on June 26, 1944, at the age of 38. A V-1 buzz bomb hit her home at 47 Gauden Road in the Clapham area of South London. At the time of her death, she was the games editor of Chess magazine and women’s world champion.

In her lifetime, she played and beat Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander (1932), Abraham Baratz, Albert Becker (1929), Eero Böök (1938), Edgard Colle, Max Euwe (1930), Harry Golombek, Mir Sultan Khan, Frederic Lazard, Jacques Mieses (1928), Stuart Milner-Barry (1934), Karel Opočenský, Brian Reilly, Samuel Reshevsky (1935), Friedrich Sämisch (1929), Philip Sergeant (1938), Lajos Steiner (1936), George Alan Thomas (1932), Theodore Tylor (1933), William Winter (1932), and Frederick Yates (1928).  All are now members of the Menchik Club.

She was World's Women Champion from 1927 until her death on June 26, 1944. She has been the longest reigning Women's World Chess Champion (17 years). There was no world's women champion from 1944 until 1950 when Ludmilla Rudenko of the Soviet Union won the world's women championship in Moscow.

Her peak historical rating would be around 2390 in 1931.

When the Women's Olympiads began in 1957, a trophy, called the Vera Menchik Cup, was created for the winning team.

Here are some of her shorter games.

Janecek - V. Menchik, Buenos Aires 1939 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 7.Nd2 Bb4 8.Qc1 Ne4 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.a3? [10.Nh4] Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 Qxg5 0-1

Lougheed - V. Menchik, Buenos Aires 1939 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Qb6 5.Bd3? [5.b3] c4 6.Be2 Qxb2 7.O-O?? [7.Nbd2] Qxa1 8.Nbd2 Qxd1 and Black won 0-1

Roodzant - V. Menchik, Buenos Aires 1939 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.O-O Nf6 6.c4 Be7 7.d5 Qc8 8.dxe6 dxe6 9.Nc3 O-O 10.b3 Rd8 11.Qc2 Na6 12.a3 Nc5 13.Bb2 Nce4 14.Rad1 Rxd1 15.Rxd1 a5 16.Nd4 [16.Nxe4 or 16.h3] Nxf2 17.Bxb7 Qxb7 18.e4? [18.Kxf2] Nxd1 0-1

George Thomas - V. Menchik, Carlsbad 1929 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 O-O 7.a3 c5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.dxc5 Qxc5 12.Bd3 Nf6 13.O-O Bg4 14.h3 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Qb6 16.b4 Rac8 17.Rac1 Rc6 18.Qf5 Rfc8? [18...g6] 19.Qxc8+! [19...Rxc8 19.Rxc8+ leads to mate] 1-0

Goglidze - V. Menchik, Moscow 1935 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 Be7 6.Nf3 O-O 7.Rc1 b6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Qa4 Bb7 10.Ba6 Bxa6 11.Qxa6 c5 12.O-O h6 13.Bh4 Qc8 14.Qxc8 Raxc8 15.Ne5 g5 [15...Rfd8] 16.Nxd7 Nxd7 17.Nxd5 Bd6 [17...Bd8] 18.Bg3 Rc6 [18...Bxg3 19.Ne7+ and 20.Nxc8] 19.Nb4 1-0