Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

Congratulations to 9 Queens Co-Founder Jean Hoffman! via Chess Life Online

Congratulations to 9 Queens Co-Founder Jean Hoffman on her new position as Executive Director of USCF!  

The US Chess Scoop goes to Parsippany for the 2014 US Amateur Team East, also known as the World Amateur team. Among the interviewees were new Executive Director Jean Hoffman, young SM Joshua Colas & Elizabeth Spiegel of Brooklyn Castle.

Kristi’s Kids Making Movings on the Chess Board


Kristi’s Kids Making Moves on the Chessboard.

Chess has been on board for over a thousand years. Jean Hoffman co-founded 9 QUEENS, right here in Tucson, about 4 years ago.

“And our goal was to create a chess program that was…made chess fun, exciting and accessible to everyone.”

Kristi’s Kids was there for one of the chess tournaments 9 QUEENS put into play at the Himmel Park Library on a Saturday morning. There is more to this game than just moving pieces around the board. Click here to watch the story.

GEEK DAD: Your Chance to Play Like a Girl

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By Dave Banks  |  January 10, 2012  |  6:30 am  |

For beginners, chess is a game that centers around preserving a decidedly female (and all-powerful) piece. Still, the world of chess has long been dominated by males. But, in case you had missed it, there is a movement afoot to increase the number of women in chess. A group called 9Queens has been working the past few years to increase participation of at-risk youth and, especially, girls in the sport. It’s an admirable commitment and one that has shown promise.

Now, one of the founders of 9Queens, Jennifer Shahade, has written a book targeted specifically at girls. Play Like a Girl is a collection of tactics that young women and others can use as they develop their chess skills. Shahade, a Women’s Grandmaster, believes that women play more aggressively than men and points to Judit Polgár as example of women who attack relentlessly.

In Play Like a Girl, Shahade provides bios and brief examinations of favorite combinations and tactics of more than a dozen important women players in history, from Vera Menchik to Hou Yifan. Each tactic is followed by a number of puzzles that players can try to solve, using the tactic outlined in the player bio. (Answers are in the back if you’re stumped.) Beginner players are sure to pick up a move or two – or at least know what to look for when setting a defense.

If you have a daughter interested in chess or any kid who wants to learn more about an exciting style of play, check out Play Like a Girl — it’s both an inspiring and challenging group of puzzles. Plus, all royalties from the sale of this book are directed back to the 9Queens project to help girls and inner city youth discover and thrive in chess

Chess takes over Hotel Congress

Annual event puts spotlight on the game and it’s many benefits

by Inger Sandal
Originally in Arizona Daily Star

KELLY PRESNELL / ARIZONA DAILY STAR 2009 Alexandra Kosteniuk, a former world champion, will be facing up to 40 players of all ages and experience levels in a simultaneous exhibition at the Chess Fest on Saturday.

In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board.

A player starts with one, but each of the eight pawns has the potential -if it gets across the board – to turn into a queen.

9 Queens is a local nonprofit started five years ago to promote chess and its benefits, particularly among girls and at-risk youth.

“It’s a utopian vision for everyone reaching their potential. It doesn’t happen a lot in chess but it’s our metaphor,” said Jean Hoffman, the nonprofit’s co-founder and executive director.

The nonprofit has helped start chess programs in a number of schools, in addition to hosting games and activities throughout the community.

Chess Fest at Hotel Congress is the group’s largest and most diverse event, growing from 250 attendees the first year to more than 1,000.

Hoffman expects this weekend’s festival will be the biggest and most exciting to date as 9 Queens celebrates its fifth anniversary on Cinco de Mayo.

“We’re really trying to celebrate the urban nature of the game. It’s exciting to see hundreds of people playing chess,” she said.

Forty players of all ages and experience levels will have the chance to challenge former world chess champion Alexandra Kosteniuk in a simultaneous exhibition. “It’s basically first-come, first-serve,” Hoffman said, explaining how players will be selected. “We’ll start taking people’s names right at 2 p.m.”

There will also be a host of other pickup games, face painting, a taco cart and a DJ.

Hoffman credits David Slutes, the hotel’s entertainment booker, with the idea of transforming the hotel’s parking lot into a life-size chessboard with human chess pieces – which has become a tradition. “He was really creative,” she said.

“It’s been a blast – the whole event,” said Slutes, who is also an avid chess player.

The event draws a range of demographics. It’s not uncommon, for example, to see a 7-year-old matching moves with a 50-year-old.

This year there will be more visual arts as Chess Fest pays homage to Marcel Duchamp, an artist known for using ordinary objects to create “ready-made” pieces of art. Attendees will be invited to decorate “ready-made” chess sets they can take home. An avid chess player, Duchamp is also known for saying “that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

Festival-goers can also watch Tucson-based artist Joe Pagac paint a chess-themed canvas mural. Pagac’s talents have also transformed the walls at the Rialto Theatre.

Hoffman said the passport station is the part of the festival that’s nearest and dearest to her heart.

Each participant gets a booklet that has a page designated for each piece on the chessboard. To get it stamped, it must be taken to an instructor who explains how the piece moves and then leads an activity in it.

“We make it really friendly. It’s not threatening. You can learn one piece and then be done or you can learn them through all the stations,” she said. Others use it as a refresher.

“Some people as young as 3 come and learn a piece and then move on to do arts,” Hoffman said.

At the end of the festival, Kosteniuk will be presented with the 9 Queens Award for being an “inspirational role model to thousands of women and girls throughout the world.”

This will be the second time Kosteniuk has taken part in a 9 Queens event in Tucson.

A lot of people don’t know the Tucson area has an incredibly strong scholastic chess community, with some of the best instructors and teams in the nation, said Hoffman, who learned to play chess as a first-grader at Sam Hughes Elementary School.

She played in tournaments until the eighth grade when she was on the St. Gregory Middle School team that won the national chess championship. Then she told her parents she was retiring. “I figured I would go out on a high note,” she joked.

She returned to chess while she was living in New York preparing for law school. She learned about a nonprofit that made chess part of the curriculum at low-income schools and they needed instructors.

“I thought that would be a fun and easy job while I was studying for the LSAT. It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Hoffman, who discovered she loved teaching. She returned to school and earned a master’s degree in eduction and eventually returned to Tucson. “I love teaching chess.”

Traditional chess events and tournaments aren’t necessarily inclusive, she said, noting that usually fees are attached.

Free events also tend to be less intimidating.

While the idea behind 9 Queens was to bring chess to underserved and underrepresented populations, the bulk of the nonprofit’s programming is open to everyone.

Chess has lasting payoffs, Hoffman said, noting that research shows it improves math scores, cognitive ability and reading.

“I think the most powerful and beneficial thing about chess is that it makes thinking fun and it instills a sense of self-confidence as a thinker,” she said.

“You face problems all the time as a chess player and you need to come up with a plan … having that faith in your own ability to tackle problems is really helpful off the board as well as on the board.”

Those benefits have also helped guide the growth of 9 Queens.

“Luckily, we’re at the point now where we have an incredibly active and dedicated board of directors,” said Hoffman, explaining that she is glad the organization has grown from her individual vision to become more representative of the Tucson community.

If you go
• What: Fifth Annual Chess Fest presented by 9 Queens, featuring chess-themed activities and art. Alexandra Kosteniuk, former winner of the Women’s World Chess Championship, will play up to 40 players in an exhibition.

• When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

• Cost: Free.

More chess
9 Queens and Bookmans offer free family chess nights that include pickup games and puzzles for chess players of all ages each month at two of the stores. The next one is May Family Chess Night at Bookmans Ina, 3733 W. Ina Road, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 17.

In Tucson, Women and Girls Find a Place at the Chessboard

by Dylan McClain Loeb,
The New York Times.

Joshua Lott for The New York Times Margo Burwell pondering her next move in a weekly match at the Coffee X Change in Tucson.

Becca Kinsey, a 39-year-old stage manager in Tucson, has three children, a husband and very little free time. But nearly every Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to noon, she goes to the Coffee X Change at Grant Road and Campbell Avenue to meet a group of women and play chess.

“I never had an interest,” Mrs. Kinsey said of the game. “It always gave me headaches.”

That changed a few months ago, when she finally learned to play.

Now, she said, “people will say, ‘Come do this,’ and I’ll say: ‘I can’t go to that. I am going to chess on Wednesdays.’ ”

Mrs. Kinsey’s chess group has 16 members, all of them women and most of them beginners. They all share an enthusiasm for chess that borders on obsession.

The group is an outgrowth of a nonprofit organization in Tucson called 9 Queens, started in 2007 by Jean Hoffman, 29, and Jennifer Shahade, 28, a two-time United States women’s chess champion. The group’s name comes from the maximum number of queens that one player can have on the board. (While theoretically possible, it has never been known to happen.)

Ms. Hoffman, who lives in Tucson, said the goal of 9 Queens was to encourage more girls and women, as well as students from low-income families, to take up chess.

Girls make up a small fraction of the children who play in chess tournaments, and women competitors are even rarer. Bill Hall, executive director of the United States Chess Federation, estimated that fewer than 5 percent of the federation’s members are women over 21.

“My dad, my grandfather, my brother played,” Mrs. Kinsey said, “and it was something that the girls never did.”

To help achieve its goal, 9 Queens began holding monthly workshops limited to girls and women to create a more nurturing environment. “In the chess clubs that I have that are coed, the boys will be screaming out the right answer, and they will be fighting,” Ms. Hoffman said. The instructors are, with one exception, also women.

In her effort to publicize the workshops, Ms. Hoffman asked Margo Burwell, 60, a retired college art instructor, to design a poster.

Ms. Burwell used a picture of Marcel Duchamp, the Dada artist who was a passionate chess player, and a quotation from him: “I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art — and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.”

After she was done, Ms. Burwell, whose son played chess but who did not play herself, decided to go to a workshop. “It was good enough for Marcel, so perhaps it was good for me,” she said.

At the first workshop Ms. Burwell attended, girls and women were taught the rules and then paired up to play. Ms. Burwell found herself opposite a 5-year-old girl.

“At one point, she captured my queen, and she laughed and laughed, and I thought, ‘I better buckle down,’ ” Ms. Burwell said. After 45 minutes, she won.

Ms. Burwell found that playing every month was not enough. She asked some women if they would be interested in meeting once a week.

The women have different reasons for joining.

Mrs. Kinsey wanted to be able to play with her 8-year-old daughter, Angela, who competes in chess tournaments. “I wanted to learn myself so I can be more of a support system for her,” she said. “I wanted to actually be able to play a game with her and actually be competitive.”

Mrs. Kinsey said the Wednesday group had not just helped her improve her game. “I really like the ladies,” she said. “Some of the ladies have kids that play tournaments, and we’ll talk about how hard do you push them. It’s sort of like a support group.”

Martha Underwood, 47, an assistant professor of education at theUniversity of Arizona, said that even her children, Aiya, 11, and Zack, 9, who compete in scholastic chess tournaments, are startled by their mother’s newfound zeal for the game.

“They are kind of annoyed with me because they are like, ‘That is all you do,’ ” Ms. Underwood said.

She said that she and the rest of the group hoped that playing chess would have benefits. “We all talk about how we want to do this to stave off Alzheimer’s, instead of The New York Times crossword puzzle,” she said.

While the women are collegial, they are also competitive. Ms. Underwood has played in two tournaments, including one run by 9 Queens. Ann Price, an architect newly laid off from her firm, said she had been a black belt in tae kwon do, but had to give it up after injuring her back five years ago. Chess, she said, was a good substitute.

“One of the things that I missed about tae kwon do was the strategic way of thinking,” Ms. Price said. “The problem-solving is something that I did in my profession.”

Sometimes, men at the Coffee X Change ask to play chess with the women and are welcomed. But there are no plans to make them a formal part of the group.

Some members of the group say that learning chess with women who have become friends has given them a confidence that seems to spill over into the rest of their lives. “I tend to be talkative,” Ms. Underwood said. “I’m trying to be more thoughtful instead.”

9 Queens: Empowerment through Chess

9 Queens is dedicated to empowering individuals and communities through chess by making the game fun, exciting, and accessible.

Player Spotlight


Varga Luna

(playing for 4 years)

“I became interested in chess when I was about four. I like chess bc you get to have fun and learn some things. You get to be more patient. You get to focus and concentrate. ”