The queen may be the strongest piece in chess, but it sometimes feels like few women besides the fictional Beth Harmon of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ seem to play the game. In Pakistan, for example, only a handful of female chess players exist and only one woman is part of the Pakistan Chess Federation (PCF).
In the world of chess, where strategy and intellect reign supreme, a group of remarkable individuals shatter the stereotype that chess is solely a man’s game. Enter the realm of female chess players, where grace meets brilliance and strategic prowess knows no gender boundaries. With unwavering determination and remarkable talent, these extraordinary women navigate the intricate chessboard, making bold moves and leaving a lasting impact on the global chess stage. From breaking societal barriers to redefining the boundaries of possibility, these trailblazers showcase the power of mind and the indomitable spirit of women in the realm of intellectual competition. They challenge not only their opponents across the chessboard but also the deeply ingrained prejudices and preconceptions that still linger in the chess community.
This week, on the occasion of International Chess Day, which falls on the 20th of July every year, we unravel the captivating stories of these female chess warriors, who inspire, defy expectations, and make their mark in a world that reverberates with the clashing of chess pieces and the resounding echoes of triumph….
The very best female players have always been of unambiguously high calibre. You! has rounded up some of the female chess players in Pakistan. All of them played in open events consisting of men and/or women. When they did play in women’s events, they often lapped the field. Not only their accomplishments, but their stride to be able to make a name for themselves in an industry saturated by men, makes them legendary icons of the game.
Woman International Master (WIM) Laila Masood, who is the first Pakistani woman to earn the WIM title and has represented Pakistan in several international tournaments. Woman FIDE Master (WFM) Ghazal Hakimyar is a twotime National Women’s Chess Champion of Pakistan and has represented Pakistan in several international tournaments. WIM Saba Aziz has won several national and international chess tournaments and has represented Pakistan in the Women’s Chess Olympiad. Nusha Ali, a highly skilled chess player from Pakistan, has participated in various national and international chess tournaments, including the Chess Olympiad. She has represented Pakistan in multiple Olympiads and has contributed to the growth of chess in the country. Amina Wafa, a talented chess player has represented Pakistan in national and international chess events. She has participated in the Chess Olympiad, which is a prestigious team chess tournament held every two years. Amina’s contributions to chess in Pakistan have helped raise the profile of female players in the country. Other notable names whose contributions have made an impact for female chess players in the field are mentioned below:
Mehak Gul is a young and promising Pakistani chess player. She has achieved success in various national chess tournaments, particularly in different age categories. She earned the FIDE title of Woman Candidate Master (WCM) at the 42nd Chess Olympiad. She is the youngest Pakistani to achieve this title.
She also holds the world record for arranging a chessboard in 45 seconds. At the age of six, Mehak learnt to play chess. She secured third and fifth position at the Punjab Chess Championship in June 2012 and National Chess Championship respectively. Coached by her father, she first participated in international chess event at the age of twelve, when she represented Pakistan at 40th Chess Olympiad held at Istanbul. She participated in the 42nd Chess Olympiad held at Baku, Azerbaijan. Mehak won six of the eleven matches she played and was titled Woman Candidate Master.
She represented her school at Little Master Chess Tournament in November 2016 and earned the third spot. Mehak has consistently showcased her skills and dedication to the game, making her one of the notable female chess players in Pakistan’s chess community.
Noor Fatima Rashid: Noor Fatima Rashid is part of the Pakistan National Chess Team since 2020. She has represented Pakistan in World Chess Olympiads. She was awarded the Title of National Chess Master in Nationals of 2022. Recently, she represented Pakistan in Oman in Asian level chess championship where she won against India.
Previously, she was also a part of Webster University Chess Team which is the best university chess team around the world and has won 5 Panam tournaments in a row. In 2016, she was in the first and only batch to represent Pakistan in World Geography Olympiad. She is also running an initiative since 2016 ‘Quwat e Uraan’, to raise awareness of child abuse and women’s rights
Nida Mishraz: Nida was only 11 years old when she saw chess as an interesting pastime. Then, once she got a knack for it, she took part in a girls’ school chess event and stood sixth in it. Seeing her interest in the game, her father took her to Iran to participate in the Asian Junior Chess Championship where Nida, who was 12 years old at the time, finished sixth.
This was followed by the first National Women Championship, also in the year 2000, where she finished fourth. In 2008, she received a call from the Sindh Chess Association, which was in the throes of forming a women’s team for the World Chess Olympiad in Germany, where she participated and got the highest score in the team. She was then invited to play in several countries including Thailand, Bangladesh and Lebanon. Playing in these back-to-back events helped Nida become the first Pakistani woman to get an international FIDE rating. She bagged the bronze medal in the Asian Amateur Championship in Beirut, Lebanon. Later, she won the championship to be crowned the women’s chess champion of Pakistan after beating the then reigning champion, Zenobia Qadir.
Female chess players in Pakistan, like in many other countries, face various obstacles and challenges. They struggle to receive adequate support and recognition for their achievements. This can include insufficient financial support, sponsorships, training facilities, and coaching opportunities. Traditional gender roles, conservative attitudes, and societal expectations may discourage girls and women from pursuing chess seriously or engaging in tournaments.
The lack of recognition and visibility may also affect their motivation and ability to pursue chess at a high level and their achievements may be undervalued or overshadowed by their male counterparts. When Noor Fatima Rashid started playing at national chess clubs, only a handful of girls were playing chess at that time. She observed the gender disparity that existed in the sport in Pakistan. “That was the time I decided to fill this gap and bring more female players to this sport,” she says. “I started by participating in the national championships and then internationally,” she adds. In some cases, the infrastructure for chess, including training facilities, clubs, and tournaments, may be limited or inaccessible for female players. This can hinder their development and make it difficult to compete at higher levels. The Pakistan Chess Federation has been actively playing its role for the pro-motion of the game. They have been making developments in the infrastructure and creating more opportunities for male and female players to take part in local and international competitions. In 2022, under a new management, the PCF held a National Championship of Open and Women categories combined.
In Pakistan, there are various opportunities available for women to play chess and engage in the chess community. Numerous individuals and organisations are working towards the promotion of chess in Pakistan. The Pakistan Chess Federation, for example, has been instrumental in organising tournaments and providing coaching to aspiring players. There are specific chess tournaments organised exclusively for women in Pakistan. These tournaments offer a platform for female players to compete against each other and showcase their skills. They include national championships, regional events, and club-level tournaments. The PCF, along with some of the key chess players, are trying to break gender stereotypes and bring more female players to this game. The PCF also organises national championships for both men and women, and female players are also selected to represent Pakistan in the Women’s Chess Olympiad and other international events Chess clubs and associations often welcome women players and provide them with a supportive environment to play and improve their skills. These organisations organise regular chess events, training sessions, and friendly matches, allowing women to network, learn from experienced players, and participate in a vibrant chess community. Several chess academies and training programmes exist in Pakistan that offer coaching and training for women players. These academies provide professional guidance and mentorship to help female players enhance their chess abilities and reach their full potential.
The Chess Olympiad, a prestigious international team chess tournament, provides an opportunity for women players in Pakistan to represent their country on a global stage. Women players who meet the qualification criteria can be selected to be part of the national team and compete against other countries. With the rise of online chess platforms, women in Pakistan can participate in chess tournaments, matches, and training sessions from the comfort of their homes. Online chess communities also provide opportunities for female players to connect with other players, learn from experts, and participate in online competitions. Some organisations and initiatives focus on promoting chess among women and girls in Pakistan. They conduct workshops, training camps, and awareness programmes to encourage female participation in the sport and provide equal opportunities for skill development.
Future of female chess
Despite the many hurdles and challenges, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. Pakistan holds promising potential for growth and development. While some progress has been made, there are still several areas that can contribute to the advancement of women in chess in the country. Providing more support and resources to female chess players is crucial for their development. This includes establishing training programmes, organising women’s tournaments, and creating accessible playing venues. By improving infrastructure and offering equal opportunities, the growth of female chess players can be fostered. Raising awareness about female chess players and promoting their achievements can help inspire more girls and women to take up the sport.
Encouraging media coverage, highlighting success stories, and organising promotional events can contribute to a greater interest in chess among women and the recognition of their talents. Initiating chess programmes and workshops in schools and communities can help introduce more girls to the game at an early age. By making chess accessible and providing quality coaching, young talents can be nurtured, fostering a strong foundation for female chess players in Pakistan. Having successful female chess players as role models can significantly impact aspiring players. Establishing mentorship programmes where experienced players guide and support young talents can provide valuable guidance, encouragement, and inspiration.
As more girls and women embrace the game and receive the necessary support, Pakistan can expect to see a rise in talented female chess players and their achievements both domestically and internationally.