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Mona May Karff
M Karff 
Number of games in database: 48
Years covered: 1937 to 1974

Overall record: +22 -21 =4 (51.1%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games in the database. 1 exhibition game, blitz/rapid, odds game, etc. is excluded from this statistic.

With the White pieces:
 King's Indian (4) 
    E80 E62 E60 E81
With the Black pieces:
 Sicilian (5) 
    B54 B74 B23 B50 B76
 King's Indian Attack (4) 
Repertoire Explorer

NOTABLE GAMES: [what is this?]
   W Henschell vs M Karff, 1946 0-1
   A Rivero vs M Karff, 1938 0-1
   Capablanca vs M Karff, 1941 0-1
   M Karff vs R Hermanowa, 1950 1-0
   M Karff vs G Gresser, 1950 1-0

GAME COLLECTIONS: [what is this?]
   1939 World (women) chess championship by gauer

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(born Oct-20-1914, died Jan-10-1998, 83 years old) United States of America

[what is this?]
Mona May Karff was awarded the WIM title in 1950. She was Women's World Championship Challenger in 1937, 1939 and 1949-50. She held seven U.S. Women's Chess Champion titles and four consecutive U.S. Open titles. Her roots reportedly stem from the region of what was then known as Bessarabia and she passed away in Manhattan, New York in 1998.

Wikipedia article: Mona May Karff

 page 1 of 2; games 1-25 of 48  PGN Download
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. M Lauberte vs M Karff  1-0731937World championship (Women)E12 Queen's Indian
2. A Rivero vs M Karff 0-1381938US Women's ChampionshipA90 Dutch
3. R Bloch Nakkerud vs M Karff  0-1351939World Championship (Women)D02 Queen's Pawn Game
4. S Reischer vs M Karff  0-1601939World Championship (Women)D37 Queen's Gambit Declined
5. M T Mora Iturralde vs M Karff  0-1531939World Championship (Women)B54 Sicilian
6. M Karff vs M Berea de Montero  0-1391939World Championship (Women)A04 Reti Opening
7. M Karff vs D Trepat de Navarro  1-0631939World Championship (Women)A15 English
8. I Larsen vs M Karff  0-1491939World Championship (Women)A28 English
9. M Karff vs P Schwartzmann  1-0401939World Championship (Women)A09 Reti Opening
10. M Karff vs M Stoffels  1-0311939World Championship (Women)A45 Queen's Pawn Game
11. M A de Vigil vs M Karff  0-1351939World Championship (Women)A07 King's Indian Attack
12. M Karff vs B Carrasco Araya  0-1551939World Championship (Women)E81 King's Indian, Samisch
13. E Rinder vs M Karff  1-0411939World Championship (Women)A07 King's Indian Attack
14. M Karff vs B Janeckova  ½-½971939World Championship (Women)B13 Caro-Kann, Exchange
15. M Karff vs Menchik  0-1471939World Championship (Women)E60 King's Indian Defense
16. M Lauberte vs M Karff  0-1391939World Championship (Women)A47 Queen's Indian
17. C Roodzant vs M Karff  ½-½441939World Championship (Women)A52 Budapest Gambit
18. M Karff vs A Lougheed-Freedman  1-0341939World Championship (Women)D00 Queen's Pawn Game
19. E Raclauskiene vs M Karff  0-1211939World Championship (Women)A45 Queen's Pawn Game
20. M Karff vs Graf-Stevenson 1-0781939World Championship (Women)D12 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
21. M Karff vs I Andersson  1-0391939World Championship (Women)A14 English
22. Capablanca vs M Karff 0-1251941Simul, 22bA07 King's Indian Attack
23. W Henschell vs M Karff 0-1161946New YorkA47 Queen's Indian
24. M Karff vs I Larsen  1-0631949Moscow, WCH Woman RUSA13 English
25. F Heemskerk vs M Karff  ½-½541949Moscow, WCH Woman RUSE40 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3
 page 1 of 2; games 1-25 of 48  PGN Download
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | Karff wins | Karff loses  

Kibitzer's Corner
Apr-16-05  Procopius:, 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

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.

Apr-16-05  Procopius: Like almost every other woman in chess, Miss Karff limited herself to women's tournaments, qualifying as an international woman master when the International Chess Federation created the title in 1950 to encourage women's competition.

After women's world championship competition resumed in 1950, Miss Karff represented the United States in several tournaments, always finishing well back in the field.

By then, the woman who had styled herself "N. May Karff," typically without explaining what the "N" stood for, had moved to New York and emerged as Mona May Karff, a name she used when she made a tour of Europe in 1948 for the One World movement.

In New York, she became a fixture at the Marshall Chess Club on West 10th Street and began a long romance with Dr. Edward Lasker, a five-time winner of the U.S. Chess Open. Lasker was 25 years older than she, but friends recall them as a perfectly matched couple.

After Lasker died in 1981 at 95, Miss Karff continued to play regularly at the Marshall, where she was cherished both for her own achievements and as a bridge to American chess history through her association with Dr. Lasker, who won his first open in 1916 and later played a famous match with Frank J. Marshall, a longtime champion who founded the club.

She is survived by a niece, Miriam Reik, and two grandnephews, Dani and Aviv Reik, all of Tel Aviv.

Aug-08-06  dakgootje: Well maybe its finally time to update the bio?
Dec-06-06  Karpova: I found a game of hers on User: SBC 's website (

[Event "US Women's Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1938.??.??"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Adele Rivero"]
[Black "Mona Karff"]
[Result "0-1"]

1. d4 f5 2. g3 e6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. c4 c6 5. Nc3 d5 6. Nf3 Bd6 7. Ne5 O-O 8. O-O Nbd7 9. f4 Ne4 10. Nxe4 fxe4 11. Qb3 Qe8 12. cxd5 cxd5 13. Bd2 Bxe5 14. fxe5 a5 15. Rxf8+ Qxf8 16. Rf1 Qe7 17. Qb5 b6 18. Qc6 Rb8 19. Qc7 Ba6 20. Rf2 Rc8 21. Qa7 Bb5 22. Qb7 Qe8 23. Bh3 Rc6 24. b3 Qb8 25. Qxb8+ Nxb8 26. Bg5 h6 27. Be7 Kh7 28. Bd6 Rc1+ 29. Kg2 e3 30. Rf1 Rc2 31. Bxe6 Rxe2+ 32. Kf3 Nc6 33. Bf5+ g6 34. Bc8 Nxd4+ 35. Kg4 Rf2 36. Rc1 h5+ 37. Kh3 Bf1+ 38. Kh4 Nf3# 0-1

This one will also be submitted.

Dec-06-06  Dobbs: What a silly player. She has 17 games in the database, but only won 4. Also, she restricted herself to only women's tournaments.
Dec-06-06  Karpova: <Dobbs> please elaborate: What's so <silly> about her? The fact that the database is not complete and contains only 17 games which can only be her fault, of course? Maybe the fact that she just played against women in the during her career in the first half of the 20th century?
Dec-06-06  SBC:


Something to think about:

this silly player was the US women's champion both in 1938 AND in 1974.

(as well as in 1941, 1942, 1946, 1948 [shared] and 1953)

Dec-06-06  thatsmate: What is she wearing in her necklace? Is that a clock?
Premium Chessgames Member
  collodi: What an interesting life! Her life would make a great biography or movie! Are there any other articles, game collections, or references to this remarkable woman and pioneer of women's chess?
Aug-24-07  Karpova: Another picture of Mona May Karff (from Edward Winter's page):
Jul-25-08  Granny O Doul: She won that game in the Fireside Book of Chess with the intro "the war between the sexes ends in an airplane checkmate!"

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Qg4 f5 5.Qg3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.Be2 cd 8.Nd4 Nd4 9.Bh5+ Ke7 10.Qa3#

I might have moves transposed somewhere and I don't remember Black's name. It was also a "chess movie" in one of Chernev's beginner books.

Oct-20-08  brankat: A very talented Chess master, Mona May!

Three times the Women's World Championship Challenger!

R.I.P. Mona May Karff.

Oct-20-09  Birthday Boy: Happy Birthday!!!Mona May Karff!!!
Premium Chessgames Member
  GrahamClayton: Here is a photo of Karff giving a simultaneous exhibition in Winnipeg in 1940:

Dec-06-10  JG27Pyth: OH WOW! The second rated game I ever played in my life was against an elderly woman at the Marshall Chess Club -- this would be around 1987... Her name was Karff! She kicked my butt, too.
Dec-06-10  BIDMONFA: Mona May Karff

KARFF, Mona M.

Jan-15-12  SBC: In 1938 N. May Karff won the first universally accepted US women's chess championship (Mary Bain placed 2nd and Adele Rivero came in 3rd). In 1939, there was a 3-way tie with Mary Bain, N. May Karff and Dr. Helen Weissenstein sharing first place. While there was supposed to be a play-off, I've not been able to find anything to indicate one ever occurred. Adele Rivero did not participate that year. But in 1940, Rivero returned to the fray and won the championship by a wide margin, winning all but one of her games. The promoters seemed taken by the idea of staging a match for the 1941 championship and N. May Karff was selected (how this came about is unclear) to be Adele Rivero's challenger.

The story and games of this match can be read here:

Oct-20-12  brankat: R.I.P. Mrs.Karff.
Premium Chessgames Member
  whiteshark: <Granny O Doul> / <SBC>'s link to the game

<7.Be2!> TN Great move! It let me wonder why they played 7.Bd3 all the time?

<Berlin 1937> ? May I express my general reservations on this with regard to her bio.

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