The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
While the king may be the most valuable piece in chess, Ashley Lynn Priore focuses her attention on the queen.
Priore’s chess career began when she was 4. After watching her father teach her older brothers, she not only picked up the game by watching, but she beat her dad in several moves on her first try.
The male-dominated “atmosphere of competitions just makes girls not want to play,” Priore told Ms. “People treat you differently like you just don’t know anything. If my sister and I didn’t really push through [with our parents] and try to learn it, I’m not sure if we would have.”
In a survey conducted by psychology professors Hank Rothgerber and Katie Wolsiefer, girls ages six to 11 were aware of the stereotype that boys are better at chess than girls. They also concluded that girls are less likely to achieve an expected win if playing against a boy. It is issues like these that Priore works hard to stop.
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After a few years of teaching classes on her own, Priore created a program that could serve more girls locally, and, hopefully eventually around the country. Now a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, Priore runs the free program while balancing her class-load and competitive chess schedule. To date, Queen’s Gambit has reached over 500 girls in the Pittsburgh area.
“It’s been really exciting to see it grow because its name is the Queen’s Gambit, which is a move in chess where the Queen gives something up in the opening to get something greater later on, and that was something I saw myself doing,” Priore said to Ms.
Queen’s Gambit programs serve over 100 girls weekly. During the coronavirus pandemic, classes are being held virtually via Zoom. Several of her students plan on competing in a national U.S. Chess Federation tournament in September.
To make connections between chess and the girls’ lives, she, with the support of an eight-person board and six-person staff, works with outside groups to design programs around life, goal mapping and the importance of equity.
“The skills that chess provides: critical thinking, strategy, concentration, problem-solving and how to adapt quickly to situations, it’s all going to help,” Priore told Ms., “We really see chess as a small part in making more opportunities for women and helping women feel more empowered.
“The more women that feel empowered, the more women start organizations, run for office and that is how we start to create a change.”
Priore’s efforts are part of a larger movement by the U.S. Chess Federation to amplify female voices.
“We have more female students in chess than we have ever had,” said Jennifer Shahade, women’s program director at the U.S. Chess Federation. “Even though it is still low, with approximately 15 percent of our membership as female, when I was playing 15 years ago it was about half of that, so it is a big difference already.”
For both Shahade and Priore, chess is more than just a game.
“It’s the point of connection,” Priore said, “There are so many things that come off of it and if we can help people impact their life in some way, then we’ve really done our job.”