Don't snigger at the sexy logo - chess really can be a mating game, says Britain's top female player

British Women’s Chess Champion Jovanka Houska -  
British Women’s Chess Champion Jovanka Houska -

Jovanka Houska is an International Master of chess and is the British Women’s Chess Champion, a title she has won a record seven times.

Urban myth holds that the world’s sexiest game is Twister, devised in the 1960s to get party-goers entwined with each other on a plastic mat.

Twister sold three million copies in 1967, and is still selling today. But is it really the world’s sexiest game? In my view - and this is an opinion shared by millions of adherents of my sport around the world - the world’s sexiest game is, in fact… chess.

This week saw the launch, to considerable public outcry both from chess-players and those not of that ilk, of a new logo for the World Chess Championship.

This featured two players of unspecified gender locked in a seated embrace that is, to say the least, intimate.

At first sight, the logo might seem a not very subtle try to make chess - which many non chess-players vaguely imagine is played by elderly men in musty club rooms - appear sexy.

The logo for the next World Chess Championship in London - Credit: WORLD CHESS
The logo for the next World Chess Championship in London Credit: WORLD CHESS

But please believe me: chess is sexy. Most of the world’s best chess- players nowadays are under thirty, and many thousands of them are beautiful, bold, gung-ho women attracted to the challenge of proving themselves as good as men, and better, at a game that until quite recently has been seen as a male preserve.

Major international chess tournaments feature heady and hot-blooded après-chess amorous activities where the idea of sleeping alone in your own hotel bedroom often seems a kind of crime against nature.

Besides, how many other sports allow you to spend several hours sitting a few feet from your opponent and if you’re attracted to them, exchanging eye contact while you try to mate them?

As a woman chess-player, I see nothing at all unethical about making myself look as nice as I can before a crucial game against a male player; if I can distract him and stop him finding the best move, well, that’s all part of the competitive battle. If you can’t stand the heat, stay away from the chess-board.

If you do think chess is sexy you’re in good company; Shakespeare in The Tempest (1611) has Miranda and Ferdinand playing chess together: the Bard tacitly acknowledges that in the Middle Ages and later, playing chess together was often the only way an affectionate young couple could spend intimate time together away from killjoy chaperones.

In our novel The Mating Game, which is all about a beautiful young bisexual lady chess-player called Ivana (Vanny) Jones, my co-author James Essinger and I have aimed to depict what are the fundamental sexy realities of chess tournaments.

In this scene, Vanny plays against a handsome Norwegian player, Sven Olsen, and enjoys mastering him on the board…

Our game starts to intensify. Now I’m completely in concentration mode, though I’m still totally aware of Sven’s lovely face, minty smell, and gorgeous physical presence. A few times, as the game continues, we accidentally touch shoes underneath the table. Each time, this feels utterly electric, at least to me.

Sven and I play on, launching attacks on opposite wings: mine on Sven’s queenside, Sven on my kingside. It’s all a question of whose attack will force checkmate first. nI’m so excited I can feel my heartbeat throbbing in my ears. My mouth’s dry. I glance at Sven. He doesn’t meet my glance; I suppose he’s much too worried about his position.

I see tiny beads of sweat on his forehead. And then... suddenly I know Sven’s mine, or rather... his king is. I see a forced checkmate in just two moves. There’s no defence. I can checkmate him by sacrificing not another pawn, but my queen. I play the move I’ve spotted: queen takes rook check. I draw a breath.

Sven looks at his position in dismay. There’s not a trace of self-confidence in his expression now. I feel I’ve sucked all his manly strength from him. Sven takes my queen with his knight: he has no choice. I’m Ivana the queen, and I’ve won. I play rook takes knight, checkmate. Game over.

Applause crackles out from some of the spectators. That’s frowned on, forbidden really, but just for once the tournament controller, who’s nearby, doesn’t shoosh the audience. Sven holds his hand out in my direction to indicate his resignation. I stretch my own right hand across the table. Sven’s hand feels clammier than it did just before our game started. I glance at our clocks. He’s consumed twenty minutes, but I’ve only used twelve. The whole game took only just over half an hour, yet it was so exciting it only seemed to last about five minutes. It was a quickie.

Manny Rayner, a strong chess-player who is also an avid book-reviewer on Goodreads, remarks of Vanny: ‘A lot of young chess players are like her. They are intelligent without being intellectual.

Vanny never seems to read anything except chess books; she doesn’t ever seem to have come across a Shakespearian sonnet, and she has only the vaguest idea who Wittgenstein and Rilke were.

They are cheerfully promiscuous. I’m not quite sure why, but there’s something very sexy about chess. The book plays up that aspect, and I can see that some people find it exploitative, but it isn’t. It’s just a side of chess that for some reason has received little attention.’

The new logo for the World Chess Championship may be heralding a day when the sexiness of chess makes the average game of Twister seem perfectly platonic.

The Mating Game (The Conrad Press: 2016) is available on amazon or direct from The Conrad Press.