Across the Hudson River in New York City, there are places – Union Square and Washington Square Park being two of them – where lone men will sit at park tables outfitted with chess boards. These men will carefully set up their chess pieces and wait for a random stranger to come along and play the game. On warm days the wait generally isn’t too long.
Rarely, if ever, does one see pairs on women doing the same thing.
The anecdote is familiar to businesswoman and author Wendy Oliveras, a New York native turned Jersey City resident who learned to play chess at the age of 14 from her father.
“Statistically, only three percent of people who compete [professionally] worldwide are women. That’s an extremely low percentage,” said Oliveras.
And even among casual chess players, like the guys in the park, the number of female players remains low.
‘Statistically, only 3 percent of people who compete [professionally] worldwide are women.’ – Wendy Oliveras
As a longtime chess player, Oliveras is now on a mission to encourage more girls and women to learn the game themselves. The author of the self-published book “Let’s Play Shess” (with a “she” instead of “che”), Oliveras said chess can help women develop such skills as memorization, analytical reasoning, critical thinking, spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and the ability to anticipate your opponent’s next move.
“Those skill sets are really important,” said Oliveras, who has now been playing the game for 35 years. “All of that can be applied to how you deal with life when you are confronted with a problem. The way that I think, they way that I solve my problems, the way that I analyze my life and my business and challenges is relative to me being a chess player. So the book was written to inspire women and shake up women, to tell them to learn something new and develop your intellectual weaponry.”
A the founder and CEO of the Jersey City-based Oliveras & Co., a search firm that specializes in the recruitment and placement of intellectual property attorneys, Oliveras has become a mentor to other female entrepreneurs and emerging businesswomen. As such, she often leads motivational workshops and business development seminars for businesswomen. It eventually occurred to her that many female entrepreneurs could sharpen their business acumen simply by learning the game of chess.
To this end she has not only written the book “Let’s Play Shess,” but has also founded the Shess Global Alliance LLC, through which she is trying to encourage girls to begin learning the game of chess. The Global Alliance already includes a Shess for Success Training Program and Oliveras eventually plans to publish a series of children’s books that she hopes will help teens and young women transfer their chess-playing skills into real life challenges off the board.
Thus far, the businesswomen who Oliveras has introduced to chess have relished the challenge of learning something new.
“Chess is actually really fun to play, and a lot of women like having that chance to learn something new,” she said.
In one of the testimonies Oliveras includes on her web site, www.PlayShess.com, businesswoman Michele Pope, founder and CEO of Map Sign Design, wrote that “‘Let’s Play Shess’ is an inspiration to women of all ages and all walks of life. It is a must have for those who are thinking about starting a new business or deciding on a new life path. ‘Shess’ has helped me recognize when I am stuck and how to use my everyday strengths, potential, and desire to get unstuck so I can continue to create and make strategic moves towards development in my life, business, and family.”
Interestingly, Oliveras insists the attraction to chess isn’t about winning or losing as much as how one plays the game.
“I’ve lost more games than I’ve won,” she noted. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not getting some value from those games that I’ve played. You can win and learn something, but you can also lose and learn as well.”
“Let’s Play Shess” can be ordered through Amazon.com for $24.99 for the paperback edition. There is also a Kindle version available for $9.99. The book includes a foreword by Ruth I. Haring, president of the U.S. Chess Federation.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.