Procopius: Chessgames.com, the following was published in the New York Times some time ago, and I quote it in full here:
January 18, 1998
Mona May Karff, 86, Women's Chess Champion
By ROBERT McG. THOMAS Jr.
NEW YORK -- Mona May Karff, who won the U.S. women's chess championship seven times, died Jan. 10 at her home on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. She was 86 and had been among the first four Americans to attain the rank of international woman master.
The cause was heart failure, friends said.
From the time she won her first national title at the second women's championship in 1938 until she clinched her seventh national championship in 1974, Miss Karff was in the forefront of women's chess in the United States. She and a handful of other players, among them the late Sonja Graf Stevenson, the late Mary Bain and 92-year-old Gisela Kahn Gresser, a nine-time titleholder, dominated tournament competition.
For all her victories and the wide recognition she won in American chess circles, Miss Karff, who also won four straight U.S. Open titles, was something of a mystery.
A refined, elegant woman who loved opera, collected art, spoke eight languages fluently, traveled the world with confident ease and made millions in the stock market, she was an intensely private person of such shadowy origins that the U.S. Chess Federation lists her birthplace simply as Europe, and until recently her best friend had no idea she had once been married.
In fact, according to relatives in Israel, Miss Karff, whose maiden name was Ratner, was born in the Russian province of Bessarabia, moved to Palestine when she was a teen-ager and came to the United States in the 1930s, settling first in Boston, where she had a brief marriage to a cousin, Abe Karff, a lawyer who died several years ago.
"I knew she had a cousin in Boston," her friend, Bea Lacativa, said, recalling that it was not until she called the cousin's telephone number when Miss Karff was hospitalized last year that she learned that the cousin had also been her husband.
By her own account, Miss Karff was 9 when she learned chess from her father, Aviv Ratner, a Zionist who acquired a vast amount of property in Tel Aviv and later became one of the richest men in Israel.
Although she was soon defeating her father and others with ease, Miss Karff was at first so diffident about her skills that friends had to coax her to enter her first tournament. When she won handily, the diffidence was replaced by something akin to a full-blown obsession.
For all her success in the United States, Miss Karff, who was forever sailing off to Europe or South America for tournaments, fared less well in top international competition. Representing Palestine in the 1937 women's world championships in Stockholm, she placed sixth. Playing for the United States at the 1939 World Championships in Buenos Aires, she came in fifth.
The winner both times was Vera Menchik, who held the women's world title from 1927 until her death in 1944 and was one of only two women, along with Judit Polgar, a current international grandmaster, to hold their own against men in the highest levels of the game.