ALEXANDRA BOTEZ IS among Canada’s best female chess players, speaks five languages, attends Stanford, and on top of all that she’s trending on Reddit, 9GAG, Imgur, and Tumblr. It also seems like no other “Alexandra Botez” exists in the world, because sixteen search pages later the headlines still read “Botez, Canada’s Best, Most Accomplished, Most Beautiful, Most Amazingly Talented Chess Players.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
Alexandra grew up in a close-knit Romanian community in Vancouver, Canada, where chess was a big part of her culture and family. She began playing chess when her dad dared her to beat her mom. Unassumingly, she beat her mom at age six, won Canadian Nationals at age eight, went on to Worlds, has since competed in 2 Olympiads, and is now preparing for her 3rd Olympiad this summer. She lectures at a local school on chess, mentors various chess clubs in the area, and works on projects to develop chess as an educational tool for children. Her drive to succeed and tenacious attitude earned her a full ride at the University of Texas when she was just fifteen years old. At the time, U of T had the best chess team on any American campus, offering her opportunities to train, travel, and compete. But she ultimately decided to attend her childhood top choice: Stanford.
Alexandra’s average chess game runs between four and six hours. The time commitment to study and prepare for tournaments is comparable to that of a varsity athlete. Before coming to Stanford, Alexandra considered taking a gap year to focus solely on chess.
”You get completely lost in the game; You don’t realize time is passing.”
This kind of focus has bred a mental endurance and toughness that proved to be tremendously helpful with her work ethic when she first came to Stanford. This way, she can use her skills from playing chess to pursue what she considers more meaningful work. Alexandra values the sense of optimism and abundance of opportunity at Stanford that inspires her to make a global impact and solve world problems in the future.
Her myriad of impressive qualities have gained significant attention on social media. In addition, her femininity shines through her style and demeanor, contrasting the typical laid-back crowd competing in chess tournaments. These factors have earned her a strong following in online forums and put her under a microscope by the public eye. Humble about her accomplishments, Alexandra believes that the most important thing to get out of the online comments are the questions raised about the division of gender roles in chess tournaments.
“I like to think of it as the affirmative action of the chess world,”
says Alexandra. Technical pursuits tend to denigrate women, and chess is no exception. Chess has very few girl competitors who are given less opportunity and less incentive to keep playing. Alexandra recounts that in her personal experience, she became immune to the game’s recurring sexism after being subject to it for so long. As the best highschool player in Oregon, gender notwithstanding, her peers were almost entirely male. Alexandra explains that the environment does not bode well for young female chess players. “The amount of men over forty hitting on underage girls at chess tournaments in creepy, outward manners is overwhelming,” she says. She also notes that woman are often viewed as inherently worse than men at chess, and this stereotype continues to exist.
While separation of genders in a non-physical sport raises some controversy, women's’ tournaments provide a safe environment for girls to pursue their interests, while others are hopefully learning why the phrase “she’s good, for a girl” is demeaning.
After gaining too much unwanted attention on social media, Alexandra disabled her Facebook page, which she used to recruit students and receive tournament invitations. She expressed that while her page was meant to be an educational tool, at the time she was trending on 9GAG and Reddit, the vast majority of her messages read something along the lines of “hey pretty baby, I hear you play chess.” Her appearance and her chess ability were no longer mutually exclusive.
Botez, however, deals with such matters gracefully, preferring to focus on what’s important to her: family, friends, and ambitions. And her talent for chess is indisputable, having gained the title of Chess Master along with her various other accolades. As an international relations major and a world traveller, she wants to use her analytical and interpersonal skills to make the world a better place. In the meantime, she values her time here at Stanford, believing that the people you surround yourself with have the biggest impact on who you become. According to her, “learning from and being inspired by the people I have been lucky enough to meet here is more meaningful than winning any chess tournament.”
By: Katherine Eisenbrand