Unlike the wildly popular Netflix chess-themed series The Queen’s Gambit, female players have struggled to climb to the top of the real-life chess world. Just 37 of the more than 1,600 international chess grandmasters are women. The current top-rated female, Hou Yifan, is ranked 89th in the world, while the reigning women’s world champion Ju Wenjun is 404th.
Why? There are certainly fewer female chess players to begin with, but it appears unlikely participation can explain the whole story. As 2020 saw us all fall in love with chess, thanks to The Queen’s Gambit, we are convinced that 2021 is set to be the year of women in chess, with the launch of Juga di Prima´s new project “Chess Divas”, a musical tribute to female chess legends which will be released on International Women’s Day in multiple countries, including national TV in Moscow. Juga di Prima is not only chess player from Chile but she is also a talented composer/songwriter based in Budapest.
Chess Divas is an extravagant musical and audio-visual tribute to women chess champions throughout history. Singing whilst on a chessboard, she replays some of the most brilliant tactics and combinations by women World Chess Champions across the ages.
Juga´s passion and commitment for supporting and promoting women chess players at all levels has seen her playing and performing at chess events around the world, where she was featured widely across the media, including Sky News, BBC World Radio and The Guardian, to Norway, Cuba, Greece, Germany and many other countries.
She also founded Chile´s National Women Chess Championship back in 2007 and was recognised as Goodwill Ambassador for artistic values of Chess, an award that was also given to Yoko Ono.
Juga di Prima, tells her journey of becoming a strong female player, shares her thoughts on “battle of the sexes” and why she’s determined to combine her ambitions as a composer and chess player.
Can a woman become world champion in the future?
Yes, I am convinced it is possible! To achieve that, educational systems, Chess coaches and mostly parents would have to consider Chess as a professional option for girls from a much earlier age, and set the same goals and training systems for girls as for boys.
That means a huge energy investment, giving priority to Chess training hours, financing Chess coach training and traveling to international competitions, as well as dealing with the psychological demands of an extremely competitive sport.
What inspired you to start playing chess, and what was it about this game that was so alluring to you?
The mysterious beauty of the Chess pieces and the solemnity around a Chess game. I learnt when I was 9 years old, while watching my father play against his friends, they were staring at the chessboard so serious and in total concentration for hours and hours…
What do they see in it, that keeps them so entertained yet struggling against their own minds? I asked myself. As a teenager, I understood the role Chess can have in society as an educational tool and an empowering asset for anyone who practices it. I have been involved with several Chess foundations around the world, promoting and supporting Chess.
Tell us about your projects.
I am working on ‘Chess Divas’, my musical tribute to female Chess legends. In the Chess Divas videos, I perform along with Hungarian pianist Lakatos Laszlo, vintage songs in several languages such as Russian / Hungarian / Spanish / French (with English subtitles).
While I sing, I’m moving the pieces on a Chessboard in a kind of choreography, showing selected Tactical combinations from Chess female legends. The first song of this video cycle was released on International Women’s Day. ‘Polya Chornye’ is based a famous Russian melody, the lyrics were adapted to a Chess story by champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk also known as ‘Chess Queen’ This song was performed and filmed live by Juga as a tribute to Vera Menchik, first female World Chess Champion 1927-1944.
‘Chess Divas’ aims to bring awareness and visibility to Women Chess legends from all over the world, historically and nowadays. This musical tribute honours the effort and courage of pioneer women Chess Champions. Also, it is really fulfilling for me to collaborate artistically with Chess stars whom I admire, I love to help them discover and channel their poetic approach to Chess by writing a song lyric!
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
To make the Avant premiere of my chess songs ‘Oh Capablanca‘ and ‘Tactical‘ at Altibox Norway Chess (in 2018 and 2019), as a special gift to the World Top 10 players. I was invited to perform my Chess songs at the World Chess Championship in London, at Batumi Chess Olympiad, at the European Golden Pawn in Montecarlo and at the Global Chess Festival. To perform and present my Chess art for legends such as World Champion Magus Carlsen, Judit Polgar, Vishy Anand, Garry Kasparov, Nona Gaprindashvili,
Fabiano Caruana watching in the front row has been a dream come true and a real honour. I received the Goodwill Ambassador Award for Artistic Values of Chess, an award given also to artist Yoko Ono.
But one of the things I feel most proud of is that back in 2007 I founded the National Women Chess Tournament in my home country Chile. Ever since, I collaborate with several Chess Foundations in the World.
Besides being a volunteer, I became ambassador of Make-A-Wish Foundation in Chile, so I made a special Chess song dedicated to the foundation’s 40th anniversary on its international celebration. I’m convinced Chess is a mirror of life and that it can bring us together, no matter the age, gender, origin or faith.
Do you think Queen’s Gambit series has changed the history of chess for everyone? Or at least for women?
Yes, for sure! It has brought more than 62 million households to become interested in Chess and to learn a little about how competitive Chess works. More and more people are practicing chess as a hobby or joining an online Chess site (Chess.com or Chess24.com for example) which connects you immediately to play with an opponent of your same level, also providing top level interactive lessons for a very affordable price.
This is thanks to the series but also thanks to Twitch streamers. Since the Lockdown started, Chess became a massive E-sport, with more and more gamers competing in tournaments, taking Live stream lessons with charismatic Chess stars such as Hikaru Nakamura, Alexandra Botez, Anna Rudolf…
This has brought young gamers’ communities to learn and practice Chess, teenagers from all over the world, girls and boys alike, and that is fantastic!
What do you say to people who are interested in taking up chess?
First of all: Chess does not reflect your level of intelligence, please forget that misconception! Enjoy the practice, don’t be afraid of losing, because to get better you will have to lose hundreds of games! Chess can be enjoyed at so many levels, from just casually playing against a friend or online, to the highest.
What are the do’s and don’t when starting?
Search for opponents of a level alike yours. But if you really want to improve, try to play with people who will surely beat you! Focus mainly on solving tactics and combinations, and some elementary endgame theory.
Don’t get obsessed with studying opening theory, just learn the basic principles of piece development.
Do you think The Queen’s Gambit was an accurate representation of women in chess?
Not really, since it’s a fascinating yet fictional character. The substance abuse is impossible at such a top Chess level, for men and women. I really loved the series, it made me laugh and cry, the realization its just fantastic!
But the discrimination Chess pioneers experienced back in those days is not really portrayed, opponents and organizers were not that respectful and kind to women top players at all, back in those days… But Beth Harmon’s passion for Chess and competitive drive is very accurate!
Through hard times, what has kept you going?
My family and close friends, my connection with nature and my passion for art. Also in the last few years, therapy has really helped me to overcome difficulties.
How do you feel music and chess relate to each other?
Chess as well as music is a universal language, both require abstract thinking and appreciation, they have a mathematical side which goes hand in hand with creativity. I used to develop my passion for Chess and Music separately, but since three years ago I found a way to mash them up!
With my songs I explore and expose the restraint emotions we experience while playing a Chess Tournament, based on my own experience competing in tournaments and also by talking with many Chess Masters.