This Women’s History Month, it was our honor to sit down with Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade to ask her about her life in chess, what the game means to her, and her advice for kids who want to play competitively. In addition to being a two-time U.S. Women’s Champion, GM Shahade is a powerful advocate for girls and women in chess, the author of several books, a respected chess commentator, co-host of the Ladies Knight podcast, and a world-class poker player. We hope you find the following moments from our interview as insightful and inspiring as we do!
STC: When did you know you wanted to pursue chess professionally?
JS: I knew I wanted to be a chess champion when I went to my first international chess tournament in Brazil. It was a combination of a few factors that drew me deeper into the game and its culture. I saw that beautiful chess moves are like creating a work of art—it wasn’t just about winning. I also saw that chess could be a vehicle to meet people from other cultures, make friends, and explore the world.
STC: How has the world of competitive chess changed for women over time?
JS: The chess world has become more inclusive to women and gender minorities, but there’s still so much work to be done. Every girl who decides to pick up chess is helping show the world that chess is not just a game for boys. And every parent who encourages their girls to play chess just as much as their boys is also helping. My new book, Chess Queens, showcases the top female players of all time, and also some women who used chess to make their lives more fulfilling and exciting. I notice that, compared to the past, there is a lot more interest in my work—whether it’s Chess Queens, or my work at US Chess Women—and the interest is coming from all genders. People are realizing across the board how much more fun chess is when it’s more inclusive.
STC: Do other activities strengthen your skills as a chess player? Things like physical exercise, reading, or meditation, for example?
JS: YES! Physical exercise is a big one. Chess is very draining and requires a lot of confidence and stamina. I find that exercise can really help, especially for long games. My favorites are weight lifting and CrossFit-style workouts.
STC: Do you have any game day traditions, routines, or superstitions?
JS: I love it when I can find a good walk before and after the game. That’s why I prefer events in the city. My two US Championship victories were in the heart of Seattle and New York City.
STC: What is your favorite moment in a chess game?
JS: My favorite moment in a game is when I’m so wrapped up in the game, I forget about everything else. They often call this a “flow” experience, and I credit chess to introducing me to such experiences so early in life.
STC: How do you think Story Time Chess might benefit early childhood chess students?
JS: I’ve used Story Time Chess with my son Fabian, who is now five years old. When he was three, he was really attracted to the [characters’] costumes and wanted me to read him the storybook again and again. I also gifted a copy of Story Time Chess to his preschool and the kids adored it. It’s a great way to show kids at an early age that chess is about learning, but also about fun and story. People think of chess as something for those who are good at math and science, but the truth is it’s just as good for creative types.
STC: What piece of advice would you give a child who dreams of playing competitive chess?
JS: I’d say to fall in love with the process, not the results. Figure out what you love about the game; is it the history, watching the top players, or the most beautiful checkmates? Chess is not just a game but a culture and a way to connect with people, past and present, who may seem so different from us on the surface. The more expansive you are in your attitude toward chess, the more likely you [are] to connect with it through your whole scholastic career, and even beyond.