The girls’ chess organization Unruly Queens held its first in-person event last Sunday in Washington Square Park, after a long period of remote work and online-only activities.
Unruly Queens, founded by several teenage chess players during the pandemic, has been working to promote women in chess since then. Their first in-person event was well attended, with girls of various ages coming to practice and hone their skills.
Founders Ellen Wang, 15, and Yassi Ehsani, 18, along with their other two co-founders who are now in college, ran a day of chess tournaments for girls in the park. The day included a blitz tournament (a high-speed chess match), a simul (another type of competition), a puzzle contest and finally awards for the winners.
Wang and Ehsani both got their own start in chess early.
“I started chess the summer before I went to kindergarten,” says Ehsani, who is a senior at the Brearley School. “My dad taught me when I was about five.” Wang, a sophomore at Horace Mann, had a similar experience; her dad, a fan of board games like Chinese chess and Go, encouraged her to get involved in chess from a young age.
The group’s name stems from a desire to prove that girls can learn, and succeed at, the same chess moves and styles of play as boys.
“I think Yassi’s dad proposed [the name Unruly Queens] but once we heard it we thought it was perfect. There’s also a stereotype that girls who play chess are kind of quiet or timid, but the name Unruly Queens kind of shows that girls can play very attacking chess, and be more aggressive,” says Wang. “We don’t have to always play very safe moves, we can go for a big attack and succeed in doing so.”
The two are passionate about increasing female representation in chess.
“I think as we’ve all been growing up we’ve kind of noticed that the amount of girls playing chess compared to the amount of boys is really really small,” says Wang. “The data suggests that one in 12 chess players is a girl. Which is obviously a really really stark ratio, so because of that we felt it was important to promote chess among girls.”
“With so few girls playing chess there’s a lack of community, and we felt it was important that girls can see their friends playing,” she continues. “It can encourage them to play more.”
As to the choice of holding their event in Washington Square Park, the founders said via email: “Washington Square Park Chess Plaza has the long-standing tradition of attracting chess players and chess fans. It is close to the elite Marshall Chess Club, where all of us have been playing since [we were] young. In between our rounds at a tournament in Marshall, we very often stroll around in the park for some fresh air. Moreover, the park has been very active in promoting women’s events (here we want to thank the park administrator William Morrison!).”
The Unruly Queens have plenty of plans for the future as well. Wang and Ehsani say they currently host free weekly online lessons every Tuesday night and plan to continue doing so into the new year.
“We also hope to continue holding in-person events, because I feel that makes the community even stronger,” adds Wang.
“With so few girls playing chess there’s a lack of community, and we felt it was important that girls can see their friends playing.” Ellen Wang, co-founder of Unruly Queens