Iowa City West High School freshman starts chess club for young girls

Organized and run by Iowa City West High School freshman Anjali Lodh, The Chess Butterflies is a club that teaches elementary-aged girls how to play chess.


Larry Phan

A chess board is shown on Wednesday, Mar. 9th, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

Anjali Lodh started playing chess at five years old. Sitting with her dad while waiting for her brother to get done with chess club at the Iowa City Public Library, Lodh’s father would teach her how to play.

Over years of playing, Lodh noticed a glaring issue in competitive chess representation. Whether it be in clubs, at practices, camps, or competitions, Lodh said she’s seen far more men than women involved in the sport.

Nine years after her first chess matches with her father, Lodh created The Chess Butterflies in 2019, a chess club exclusively for elementary-aged girls who want to learn how to play. The club just recently picked up again after a brief hiatus during the pandemic and meets every Sunday at the Coralville Public Library.

 Lodh said that the disparity between men and women in chess can cause women to feel unwelcome.

“It’s really important because girls drop out because they don’t have people to play with,” Lodh said. “It’s just not super encouraging to face rude remarks and sexism in chess.”

Lodh said that while a single group like the Chess Butterflies can’t fix the entire gender gap issue in chess, she hopes the group forms a community of players who can support one another.

“There’s a lot of factors contributing to [the gender gap in chess], so we decided if we could raise the new generation of chess kids, they could keep going with each other,” Lodh said.

Lodh runs the group entirely on her own. She noted that teaching girls how to play chess feels far different than playing chess but learning how to do both has been rewarding.

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“They’re always asking questions and it’s really overwhelming sometimes to try and handle all the little kids, but it’s definitely very rewarding, seeing them play chess and have fun with each other,” she said.

Lodh said her experiences learning chess have not always been positive. When she had joined a chess club in elementary school, she was sat through long, “droning” lectures and lessons that she said were not catered to young people.

The Chess Butterflies focuses on improving how chess is taught. Featuring lessons specifically tailored to kids, Lodh hopes to keep the players engaged and interested in learning.

“I know I was just like these kids, so I try and keep it as fun and engaging as possible and take craft breaks or snacks so they don’t get overwhelmed or burnt out,” she said.

While the Chess Butterflies is organized and carried out by Lodh, her family helps her out. Her father, Romy Lodh, helps set up and clean up boards and materials, and coaches some of the kids individually.

“My favorite part of the club is to see Anjali doing an excellent job of imparting chess knowledge via a mix of chess lessons and fun activities,” Romy wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Many of the kids tell their parents that The Chess Butterflies is their favorite activity of the week.”

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