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TRAILBLAZER

Google honors the female chess player who sparked 40 years of Soviet dominance

By Edmund Heaphy

Lyudmila Rudenko was only the second person ever to claim the title of Women’s World Chess Champion—and she helped spark more than 40 years of Soviet dominance of the competition. Today (July 27), on what would have been her 114th birthday, she has been honored with a Google Doodle.

“We can never forget the struggle—the lack of opportunity, support, information, as well as having to withstand sexism and discrimination—that women had to endure in the male-dominated field of chess,” said Susan Polgar, the chess Grandmaster, to Quartz.

Though Rudenko spent decades studying chess theory, she was never a professional player. Instead, she worked as an economic planner for the Soviet Union, cramming in practice and trying to raise her son at the same time. “That is to me quite remarkable,” Polgar said.

During the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, Rudenko organized the evacuation of the children of factory workers—something she considered to be her life’s most important accomplishment. But by 1953, around a decade later, she was a three-time Women’s World Chess Champion, and had devoted herself almost entirely to the game.

The field has changed significantly since then. Though Rudenko was taught how to play chess by her father when she was 10, she did not hit her prime until her mid-to-late 40s. Nowadays, many female players reach their peak when they are not yet even adults, Polgar noted.

An avid reader, she devoured books about painting in her later life—and her last trip out of her home was to see an exhibition of Russian painter-emigrant Saveliy Sorin. She died in 1986, when she was 81. In 2015, she was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Her life has important lessons. “It is important to learn from history,” Polgar noted, “to find ways to make things better for female players of future generations.”