Chess billboard in South Africa (Photo by Jennifer Shahade)
Outside the tournament hall, chess pros in America live in relative obscurity. The average American probably could not tell you the name of a top player aside from Bobby Fischer (who retired from chess a decade and half ago and now lives in exile in Iceland) and Garry Kasparov (who stopped playing professional chess in 2005 and is now one of the leading anti-Putin voices in Russia).
Grandmaster Susan Polgar, the oldest of the three Hungarian chess prodigy sisters and the only one of the trio to reside in the United States, has done an admirable job of making a name for herself among the general public. For instance, she showed up ahead of Picasso on Parade Magazine’s list of the Top 50 Smartest People in the World. But, compared to female rock stars and tennis players, Polgar’s name recognition is still low. Our TV culture unfortunately does not value mental gladiators who have mastered the sixty-four squares.
So imagine how surprised and tickled two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade was when she traveled to Johannesburg to be a guest at the South Africa Ladies Open and was greeted outside the tournament hall by her own face looking out from a large billboard. How cool is that!
I profile her in my forthcoming book, King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.