Devanshi Kothari, 16, is empowering young girls through chess with her nonprofit, fittingly called The Chess Queens.
The Neuqua High School junior found her passion for the game when she was in elementary school, competing in her first tournament in the 2nd grade.
Kothari said during her years playing chess she began to notice a steady decline of the number of girls competing. By the time she was in middle school, she was the only girl on her team.
At the start of high school, Kothari took a break from playing chess competitively. But she rediscovered her love of the game while playing with her dad over quarantine.
“I realized one of the reasons I stopped playing was the lack of community,” Kothari said.
So at the start of this year, Kothari launched The Chess Queens as a way to build a community for girls and fight the belief that chess is a men’s-only game.
The Chess Queens meet virtually every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. and each Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. The Wednesday meetings are for girls in 4th through 8th grade, while Saturdays are for younger girls in grades kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Classes start out with an ice breaker because Kothari wants the group to be about forming connections with peers, then they begin a review of chess basics.
One recent Saturday, two girls, Niha and Angela, attended the meeting with their boards in front of them, eager to start playing.
They are in the process of learning what each piece is called, how they move and how pieces are captured. Using lichess, a free online chess server, Kothari shares her screen via Zoom with the girls to review the basics with them while they took turns answering questions about the game.
“Teaching chess to young kids has really shown me how passionate I am about chess,” said Kothari, who played her last chess tournament about two years ago.
She says once she’s finished with her college applications, she plans on playing competitively again.
“The memories you make are so much more important than the number of trophies you have or the numbers of games you won. It’s about the experience.”
Founded less than a year ago, the group may soon go international. Its partner, the Chicago Chess Foundation, reached out to Kothari for help with their partners in Ghana.
A Ghananian girls chess team recently won a 16 and younger championship. Despite their big win, the girls are losing interest because chess is still male-dominated.
Kothari hopes to connect with the girls in West Africa as a way to start The Chess Queens’ international presence and expand her audience to girls around the world who share similar struggles.
“I want to empower young girls and encourage them to continue playing chess so it’s not labeled as nerdy or a guy’s activity,” said Kothari. “Girls are fully capable of playing chess, and they should continue to do so.”
Visit The Chess Queens website to get involved as a volunteer or to participate.