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In chess, a checkmate happens when a player’s king is threatened with capture and the game ends. It has also been symbolic of the West Virginia University Chess Club since 2015, when Anna Schles became its first known female president. The only kings are on the board. And there is no patriarchy.

Though Schles, BA ’18, History, English, doesn’t view herself as doing anything out of the ordinary. She just likes to play what many might consider a male-dominated game. 

“Our adviser said he isn’t sure, but thinks I’ve been the only female president of the club,” said Schles, currently a graduate student majoring in literary and cultural studies. “For whatever reason, it’s a more male-dominated activity. But in the last few years, more girls have joined. 

“It’s not something our club members pay attention to. They’re not, ‘Oh no, a girl’s the president!’ Though someone walked by us playing one time and asked me, ‘You ever beat any of the guys?’

“I should not be representing that totality of female chess players, though. There’s a lot who are better than me.”

Schles, of Charleston, W.Va., learned to play chess in middle school, playing casually up until college. When she arrived at WVU in 2014, she pored over the list of student organizations on campus and thought she’d give the Chess Club a shot. She became club vice president her freshman year before serving as president from 2015 to now. 

“When I got here, I knew how the pieces moved, but nothing about the strategy of the game,” Schles said. 

Her fellow club members helped her improve her skills and gave her tips, which dissolves yet another misconception about the game of chess: These players aren’t viciously competitive. 

“People think that you have to be really good at chess to play it,” Schles said. “There’s the stereotype that you have to be a genius who can set up five boards and go back and forth and play them all at the same time. As I’ve observed, it’s still a competitive game, but it’s more collaborative.”

The Chess Club meets every Monday night in the Mountainlair food court to play and talk chess. Sometimes they’ll have a movie night and watch chess-related films like “Pawn Sacrifice.” 

“Playing online can be fun, but there’s something to be said about playing in person,” Schles said. “There’s a community aspect to it. People across different majors, and even community members, will show up at our meetings.”