According to chess.com, an internet chess server, only 14.6% of US Chess Federation (USCF) members eligible to participate in national USCF rated events are female. Sophomore Annapoorni Meiyappan observed this same gender gap at her local chess tournaments and clubs and was inspired to co-found FEMchess to increase female representation in chess.
FEMchess is a youth-led nonprofit organization whose mission statement is to “bridge the chess gender gap by teaching young females about the game in an empowering and competitive environment.” To date, FEMchess has received around 50 student sign-ups and has recruited national-level coaches from MSJ, Washington High School, Notre Dame San Jose High School, Dublin High School, and more.
The FEMchess logo.
However, the road to founding FEMchess wasn’t easy. Meiyappan and her fellow co-founders Dublin High School Junior Kavya Sasikumar and BASIS Independent Fremont eighth grader Allyson Wong started the organization in August 2020, and they faced a time crunch to recruit enough coaches for their classes to begin by 2021.
FEMchess began their first session on January 4. “There are 10 classes in one session, and this one session goes on for 10 weeks. And on the 10th week of every session, there is a test that the students would have to take that would determine if they move on to the next level or not,” Meiyappan said. “Levels are more based on information and lessons rather than ranking. So students who are complete beginners would be Level 1 and learn the basics. Students who are about to play their first tournament and learn tournament rules would be in Level 2. And so on.”
Meiyappan has played chess competitively for more than nine years and was one of eight-to-twelve people selected to play in the World Youth Chess Championship, which she attended in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019 to play in the Under-8, Under-10, Under-12, and Under-14 divisions. In sixth grade, she won first place at a continent-wide tournament and earned the title of Woman FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) Master. She quickly developed a deep appreciation for chess. “It always surprises me how much forward thinking a chess player can use and it’s what caused me to just keep on moving in my chess career,” Meiyappan said.
Through FEMchess, she wanted to create a space where female chess players could feel a sense of belonging, encouraged and supported by their peers. “There are all these other girls here that want to learn chess, just like I do. And it just boosts your confidence. I never had that. And I wanted to bring that to the kids,” Meiyappan said.
In addition to having regularly-scheduled session classes, Meiyappan plans on hosting intra-club tournaments where FEMchess students would compete with each other for prize money or other rewards. She also hopes to bring in guest speakers, such as chess FIDE Masters and Grandmasters, the highest title awarded in chess by FIDE, to discuss their personal experiences with the sport.
In the future, FEMchess aims to compete in team, state, and national level tournaments with the goal of winning awards and gaining more experience for their members.
Cover image by Staff Writer Nishi Bhagat