Mary Rudge


July 5, 2022

Mary Rudge (February 6, 1842 in Leominster – November 22, 1919 in London) was the leading chess player in England in the last quarter of the 19th century. After her superior victory at the first international chess tournament for women in London in 1897, she was counted among the strongest players in the world. The British Chess Magazine named her the first female chess champion after this success - 30 years before the first official competition for the women's chess crown.


Mary Rudge was born on February 6, 1842, the youngest of seven children of the doctor Henry and his wife Eliza Rudge in Leominster, a small town in south-west England, where she grew up and lived for 32 years. After her father's death in 1874, Mary left her native town and moved further south-west to Bristol with her older sister Caroline, both of whom were unmarried. There they lived with their brother Henry, a bachelor who had been curate in the port city since 1870.

Beginning of chess career in Bristol

Mary Rudge learned chess from her two sisters Emily († 1873) and Caroline († 1900), who in turn were taught it by their father Henry. In 1864, she and her sister Emily participated in a correspondence chess tournament organized by Cassell's Illustrated Family Newspaper, using the pseudonyms Snowdon and Vesuvius. Her first recorded games date back to 1872, when she took part in a Gentleman's Journal correspondence chess tournament. Rudge's move to Bristol was conducive to her chess development, as she probably did not have a serious opportunity to compete in close-up chess at Leominster. Mary Rudge found a place at the Bristol Chess Club, the oldest chess club founded outside London (1829 or 1830), which had decided to admit women as recently as 1872. Rudge first appeared by name in Bristol in 1875 when she played against the English master Joseph Henry Blackburne, who visited the Bristol Chess Club for three days in February and held a ten-board simultaneous blindfold event. Mary Rudge lost the game after 27 moves. In October of the following year, the Pole Johannes Hermann Zukertort stayed in Bristol at the invitation of the club to also compete blindfolded against several opponents at the same time, this time on twelve boards. The course and result of his game against Mary Rudge are not known, Zukertort won five games, drew three and lost one match; the remaining three were not finished. In the 1870s Rudge played a few matches against the strong amateur Edmund Thorold (1833-1899), where she received handicaps Head of Luccombe House Preparatory School, Bristol, where it is believed that his two sisters were teachers at the school. When Henry gave up the administration in 1885 and moved to take up a new post as vicar in Southport on the west-central coast of England, Mary Rudge remained in Bristol. At the age of 45, under the influence of the chess club, Rudge improved her chess game and was used in the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club team against foreign clubs. Two matches are recorded in 1887 and 1888 in which Mary won once and drew once against male opponents on the sixth board. In 1888 she played another simultaneous against Blackburne, this time drawing, and the following year won the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club Challenge Cup. After her brother left Bristol – Henry eventually died in 1891 – Mary Rudge, who had no stable income of her own, came