Welcome to the SHESS Revolution! This is the first of many inspirational interviews I will be conducting with accomplished women chess players throughout the world! Each woman offers a unique perspective on culture, struggles, sacrifices, as well as opinions on how chess has played a significant part in their intellectual and/or professional development. I hope that while reading these interviews you get motivated to learn to play chess and start taking advantage of the invaluable rewards and benefits chess offers. What is fascinating is these women have diverse backgrounds, yet share a similar fate — regardless of external obstacles, their love of chess prevails, and chess has changed their lives for the better. As an avid chess player myself, I certainly can relate to this.
Carla Heredia Serrano, WGM 2012, WIM 2008, Bachiller 2008
Carla: I started playing chess at eight years old by chance. My parents decided to put me in two different extracurricular activities at school, gymnastics and chess. My family does not play chess. Neither my father nor my brother can barely move the pieces. My father wanted me to play two different sports and that’s how I ended up in chess and gymnastics. The same year I started to play chess, I won my first rookie tournament, and this was my first big motivation. Who knew that by chance, starting to play chess was the beginning of my 14 year chess career, and now I have reached Grand Master. It’s almost unbelievable.
Wendy: What was that experience like for you learning to play chess and realizing you were good at it?
Carla: Well, I used to assist in my chess classes while attending school and then I started assisting in the Concentración Deportiva de Pichincha, which had the best players in my city. There I made friends for life and have retained an excellent relationship with them. As a child, I had won many national tournaments, but unfortunately I went to two Pan American competitions, but did not compete in the world chess competition for lack of support. That disappointed me because I wanted to represent my country and prove my knowledge to the world.
Wendy: What barriers or obstacles did you generally face in your efforts to become a Woman Grand Master in general? What lessons have you learned from those obstacles to succeed?
Carla: When you are a girl and you are told you can’t compete in a world chess competition because there is no support, it is totally discouraging. In those years of my childhood, I learned that without my parents, I would not have gone ahead because they supported me to go to various tournaments and were emotionally with me when I cried so many times because I could not go and compete in a world chess competition. My parents and I appreciate many people who gave me the encouragement to continue when I wanted to retire from chess because of the injustices.
But the opportunities that I did not have as a child came to me when I became older. At age 15, I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I did not go to school. I studied on my own subjects, and I was given monthly exams so that I had more time for chess. In 2009, I competed and won and obtained my South American Champion International Master title, and my city began to support me in my dream of becoming the first Grand Master of Quito and the second in history. Currently, the Ministry of Sports Ecuadorian is supporting me.
Wendy: Can you describe what it personally means to be a Latina Woman Grand Master in such a male-dominated chess arena, and can you describe how chess has affected your life and why women should also learn to play? As you know my book “Let’s Play SHESS” empowers girls and women through the game of chess. Please share with the rest of the world why it is so important for a woman to learn to play chess and what rewards and benefits you have gained from playing.
Carla: I am convinced that feminism should reach all areas of society, including sports. Chess is one of the few sports where men and women compete in tournaments, but it is also true that the vast majority of entries in tournaments, as well as teachers are men. Women are a minority in chess. But you have to give a “check” to equality and continue to create opportunities for more girls to reach chess, offer equal awards, and create the right conditions for women so they do not withdraw from chess.
As a Latina and Ecuadorian, I feel proud of my origins. I identify with my people who fought for their sovereignty and independence. As a woman, both on the chessboard and as in life, I stand for equality and respect. Women can achieve what they set out to accomplish.
Chess is a sport that can transform lives and minds. When children interact and share through chess, they learn to respect each other, namely that children are capable of what we propose. Chess creates beings who reflect and think before they act and, therefore, can contribute to the formation of a better society. I hope more women learn to play chess because it will create more visibility in sports science, and chess gives us tools for life such as patience, planning, visualization, and decision-making responsibility.
Wendy: So, what is next for Carla Heredia Serrano, WGM?
Carla: In sports, I would like to reach the top 100 in the world and become an International Master Absolute. I also dream of getting an Olympic medal for my country, Ecuador. I know this is difficult, but I have to dream big and work hard to accomplish this. Yes we can! Beyond sports, social causes move me and that’s why I conduct chess simulations and give motivational talks at schools. In August 2013, I organized the Hotel Quito International Workshop which focused on chess, values, communication, and psychology lectures.
But I want to keep doing more. I am convinced that chess can change people for the better. My idea is to use chess as a tool to promote equality between women and men, respect, and promote nonviolence. Chess is inclusive and that is why I love to work hand-in-hand with chess foundations to reach more people.
Well, there you have it. A true SHESS-timony on how chess is so important in a woman’s life regardless of her age or background. Thank you Carla for your great feedback and best of luck in all your future endeavors! – Author Wendy Oliveras