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On Chess: Hall of Fame exhibit focuses on the power of the queen

Jennifer Shahade plays with her new Man Ray chess set.
Daniel Meriom

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2013: “You may want to try a more subdued red,” the hairstylist told me. “It will work better for the office.” Obviously I never went to that salon again.

Luckily I don’t need toned down style to edit articles for uschess.org/clo, arrange wacky photo and video shoots, play poker tournaments, or do commentary for the Sinquefield Cup. To the contrary, fire engine red pops very well on camera. As my brother IM Greg Shahade wrote recently in his blog, the life of a chess player affords an unusual degree of freedom.

I feel fortunate that I am able to express my personal style beyond the confines of business casual.

And though you may not immediately think of fashion or personal style when you think of chess, the opening of “A Queen Within: Adorned Archeytypes, Fashion and Chess” in St. Louis will change your mind.

Curator Sofia Hedman uses fashion and storytelling to present nine archetypes of the queen, from the enchantress to mother earth. Featured designers include the late Alexander McQueen, whose “Savage Beauty” was one of the most popular shows in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A personal favorite from the “A Queen Within” is the Iris Van Herpen “snake” dress. I would love nothing more than to play a game of chess in that. How could I lose?

The chess queen began as the weakest piece on the board but in the 16th century, as European queens commanded more power, the queen of the board became more potent than any other two pieces combined. In my own books, Chess Bitch and Play Like A Girl, I use the metaphor of the queen as the ultimate female power archetype, and a way to encourage more girls into the game.

The opening weekend of “A Queen Within” events includes a sold out “Queen’s Gala” on Friday, October 18. Some chess luminaries will be joining the fashionistas: GM Maurice Ashley and GM-elect Irina Krush will attend, along with Jean Hoffman, who takes the position of USCF executive director on Nov. 1.

On Saturday, I will be playing chess at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but with a twist. Instead of just one queen, we’ll each have seven queens, a king and eight pawns. Later that day, I head to the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts for a panel moderated by Deborah Roberts of ABC and with Sofia Hedman, fashion historian Cameron Silver, Valerie Steele, the director of the museum at FIT and photographer Anne Deniau, whose work can be seen at the Philip Slein Gallery.

When I begin my stint as GM-in-residence on Oct. 20, I signed on to also lead “Queen Power” workshops and Thursday night Ladies Chess classes at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

But this week, the question is not Black or White but Red or Blue? Find out what everyone ends up wearing and more details on the program at the WCHOF facebook, website and my own twitter feed @jenshahade

Jennifer Shahade is a Philadelphia-based writer, gamesplayer, author and commentator. She is a two-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion and editor of Chess Life Online at uschess.org/clo. Shahade is on the board of directors of the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis and was a commentator and organizer for the 2009-2013 U.S. Chess Championships.

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