Always a Logger: Alexey Rudolph Root ’83
As former U.S. women’s chess champion Alexey Rudolph Root ’83 contemplated the subject of her eighth book about the game, her grown son, William, came up with a suggestion. The limited series The Queen’s Gambit, about a fictional female chess champion named Beth Harmon, had become a huge hit for Netflix—so why not chronicle the real-life Beth Harmons of the world in a sport that has long been difficult and inhospitable for women to break into?
Root is one of those women: She won the U.S. women’s title back in 1989, and, for two decades, has been teaching online courses for The University of Texas at Dallas that help educators incorporate chess into their curricula. She also writes about chess and works directly with young chess players. She took her son’s advice, and her book, United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, is set to be published by McFarland in August.
Chess tends to have bursts of mainstream popularity, and it happened again in the wake of The Queen’s Gambit and amid the pandemic, as life turned increasingly online. But issues with cheating have plagued the game and made many serious players less trusting of online tournaments.
At the same time, Root says, the dearth of women in chess remains noticeable. “It’s too early to tell if the proportion of girls and women will increase at tournaments,” Root says. “I’m still the only woman playing in the open section of tournaments at the Texas Chess Center”—the closest venue to her home in Denton.
In the meantime, Root (a history major as an undergrad) has taken on another job: She’s chief science officer for Chessable, a website that uses science-backed learning techniques to help players retain memory of key positions during games. Chessable’s co-founder, John Bartholomew, was a student in Root’s online courses at UT Dallas, “so it was a full-circle moment for me,” she says.