For many years Shernaz Kennedy has been a leading American chess teacher and one of the most accomplished of all Indian female players. To be sure, it was Shernaz who in adolescence spearheaded the development of women’s chess throughout her native India. At first, organizers did their best to discourage and even thwart her participation in what had been traditionally viewed as a male game. But her true aptitude and love for chess drew large support from serious male players and the “mere school girl” was allowed to play against the men, with stellar triumph.
Continuing her academic life in London Shernaz began to taste acclaim and chessboard conquest right from the start. Among her notable achievements were winning the Orleans School Chess Championship and simultaneously captaining the Orleans all-boys chess team, which captured first place. Even with her glorious victories, Shernaz still remembers the chauvinistic words of a nearby male competitor at a British event who made his biased feelings loudly evident by exclaiming: “Blimey, she’s a girl!”
Desiring to make serious changes on and off the chessboard, while helping her female compatriots surmount the male sexism so predominant in her homeland, Shernaz moved back to Bandra, known for its champions in various sports and for being the center of the Bollywood film industry. Amid all the luminaries Shernaz forged her own destiny, marshalling the forces and resources necessary for instituting major chess championships for women. It led to her permanent place in the lore of Indian chess, not just as an organizer, but also as a competitor, with Shernaz emerging as a successful participant in five of those prestigious women’s national chess championships.
It was in 1971 while in Beirut that Shernaz first drew the attention of Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player of all time. Impressed by her intellect and zeal, Fischer invited Shernaz to become his student. Under the tutelage of the great Fischer, Shernaz would eventually play in ten U.S. Women’s Championships with admirable performance. After her involvement in one such event in Utah Fischer wrote: “I find your games most interesting.” In that cherished letter, which Shernaz rightfully prizes, Fischer went on to write: “You are the most talented girl on U.S. soil.” Fischer would remain her guide and inspiration for more than thirty years, until his untimely death in 2008. Impelled by Bobby’s support and spirited guidance, Shernaz was able to transition seamlessly from the culture and mindset of playing chess to that of teaching it.
Beginning in 1983, step by step, Shernaz emerged as one of America’s most outstanding chess instructors. Her first courses were given at the Little Red School House, the Browning School, and the Trinity School, where she teamed up with famed chess coach Bruce Pandolfini to earn her “doctorate of chess education.” In the thirty years she’s logged instilling the game’s principles, Shernaz has brought many scholastic groups to the top rank of competition. In addition to the three schools already cited, Shernaz has had award-winning programs at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the Central Park Conservancy, the Manhattan Chess Club (when it was in Carnegie Hall), the Special Music School of America, St. Anne’s School, Rodeph Shalom, Buckley, and Churchill. The latter two schools have had the benefit of her overview for the past 26 years. Town school has now gained momentum and has representation at the City, State and Nationals, Stephen Gaynor, a Special Ed school, has joined in the competition as has Dwight, and this year St Bernards and Nightingale have begun intense competitive programs in their schools.
Shernaz was also an integral part of the vanguard of chess teachers who fashioned New York City’s Chess-in-the-schools back in the 1980s. That award winning program has provided excellent chess instruction to kids numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Not surprisingly, her track record can claim many rewarding moments. Without doubt, some of America’s most capable and original players have emerged from Shernaz’s classes, camps, and tournaments. One such paladin is grandmaster Robert Hess, who Shernaz first taught when he was only six years old.
A true pathfinder in the teaching arts, Shernaz Kennedy was certainly one of the very first educators to realize the importance of chess as a means to assist students with autism and ADHD. Most assuredly, her distinctive exercises, as implemented at the Churchill School for example, are renowned for their power to instill focus, improve concentration, sharpen memory, and generally empower students to assume greater self-reliance.
Recently, beyond all her teaching achievements, she has augmented her resume by completing a memoir on the fascinating relationship she had with Bobby Fischer. In the upcoming book Shernaz will share her personal insights on the greatest chess player of all time.
To this day, Shernaz Kennedy remains one of our most esteemed educators – to the chess community, a veritable institution. We invite you to stay in tune with this website as it’s regularly updated to find out more about Shernaz’s special programs and to hear the buzz on new developments throughout the world of chess.