|Sonja (Susanna) Graf (Stevenson) (December 16 1908–March 6 1965) was a professional chess player and two time winner of the U.S. Women´s Chess Championship. She also authored two books: Asi Juega Una Mujer (This Is How A Woman Plays), which tells of her experiences as a chess player, and Yo soy Susann (I am Susann), which recounts the physical and psychological abuse of her traumatic childhood.|
Graf was born December 16 1908 in Munich, Germany.
Despite the suffering she endured at the hands of her father, originally a priest in Russia but who moved to Munich to pursue a life as a painter, she was grateful that he taught her the game of chess when she was still quite young.
Chess became her means of escape both mentally and physically and she started spending all her time in the Munich chess cafés. Her fame as a coffeehouse player grew and she was introduced to the great German player, Siegbert Tarrasch. She became his protégéé and her chess reached greater heights whereas by age seventeen she was the female champion of Munich, had beaten Rudolf Spielmann twice in simultaneous competition and turned chess professional. She began traveling throughout Europe, following the chess circuit both for the experience and to distance herself from what she considered the ominous Nazi rule that was based at that time in Munich.
During the early 20th century female chess players were a rarity and Graf basked in the popularity and attention her sudden fame brought her as much as she exploited the freedom and independence of her new itinerant lifestyle.
She played against Vera Menchik in an unofficial match in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1934 and in an Official World Champion match in Semmering, Austria in 1937. She lost both matches. She was invited, along with Vera Menchik, to participate in what would normally have been an exclusive male tournament in Prague in 1937. While she didn´t score too highly, she was able to draw with the Estonian master, Paul Keres.
In 1939 Graf went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to play on the German team for the 8th Chess Olympiad. Because of her outspoken defiance to the Nazi regime, she was taken off the list of German participants. She therefore played under the international flag, "Liberty." During the tournament, Germany invaded Poland causing unprecedented confusion. Some teams withdrew, other refused to play teams from certain countries. Both Graf and Menchik played the entire tournament. Graf won 16 games and lost 3. In her game against Menchik, Graf lost after achieving a winning position, something she always regretted ("Against Menchik, when she was world champion, I had a won game, but I found the three stupidest moves you could think of and lost."—New Yorker, September 19 1964). Like some of the others, including George Koltanowski, Gideon Stahlberg and Miguel Najdorf, Graf decided to stay in Argentina after the tournament rather than return to war-torn Europe. She quickly learned the language and assimilated herself in the culture. In Argentina she wrote her two books and met merchant mariner, Vernon Stevenson, whom she 1947 married.
They moved to Hollywood, California and Graf started playing under the name Sonja Graf-Stevenson. She retired from chess for a period during which she bore her son, Alexander, but returned to co-win the 1957 U.S. Women´s Chess Championship (with Gisela Kahn Gresser). She and her family moved to Greenwich Village, New York where she gave chess lessons at Lisa Lane´s Queen´s Pawn Chess Emporium. In 1964 she won the U.S. Women´s Chess Championship for a second time. But she had already developed a liver ailment that would kill her the very next year.
Sonja Graf died in New York on March 6 1965.