Mona May Karff


United States—Inducted 2013

Born in Bessarabia, Romania, Mona May Karff began playing in chess tournaments after her family moved to Palestine.  She represented Palestine in the 1937 Women’s World Championship tournament, where she finished in seventh place. Karff soon moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and quickly began representing the United States in chess tournaments. She played for the United States in the 1939 Women’s World Championship, where she placed fifth. Karff, along with Gisela Gresser, would go on to dominate women’s chess in the United States from the late 1930s to the 1960s. She was victorious in the U.S. Women’s Open four times between 1938 and 1950, and the U.S. Women’s Championship seven times between 1938 and 1974. FIDE recognized her excellence in chess in 1950, when she was one of the first four recipients of the organization’s newly created Women’s International Master title.

Karff was very passionate about chess, once telling a friend, “I was born with chess in my blood.” She moved to New York City by the 1940s, and was a regular at the Marshall Chess Club. Karff was respected for her intelligence and sophistication, as well as her skill at chess. She knew six languages, loved to travel, and amassed an impressive collection of art. She also held a degree in international affairs.