Mona May Karff (1914 – 1998) was a chess player.
She was born Mona May Ratner in Bessarabi], a province in Tsarist Russia, on October 20, 1914. Sometime after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, her family moved to Tel-Aviv, in what was then Palestine. Her father, Aviv Ratner, a wealthy Jewish land-owner, had taught her to play chess when she was 9 years old. Because of her natural ability, she started playing in tournaments in Tel-Aviv and developed into strong competitor.
In the 1930s she moved to Boston. There she met and married her cousin, an attorney named Abe Karff. The marriage didn´t last very long and, though she never remarried, her long-time romantic relationship with Edward Lasker (a five-time U.S. Chess Open Champion) was never a secret.
She played in three Women´s World Chess Championships: 1937 Stockholm, playing for Palestine and placing sixth (won by Vera Menchik); 1939 Buenos Aires, playing for the U.S. and placing 5th (also won by Vera Menchik); 1949 Moscow, playing for the U.S.(won by Ludmila Rudenko). When FIDE established titles in 1950, Mona May Karff was one of four American women to receive the title of International Woman Master.
While her international success was mediocre, she, along with Gisela Kahn Gresser and Mary Bain, dominated U.S. women´s chess in the 1940s and early 1950s. Mona May Karff won her first U.S. Women´s Chess Champion title against Adele Rivero in 1938. She competed and won the title six more times, in 1941, 1943, 1946, 1948 (sharing it with Gresser), 1953 and astonishingly in 1974 (at age 60). She also won four consecutive U.S. Open titles.
Mona May Karff was a private person; besides being a driving force in women´s chess, was a shrewed stock investor who was worth a small fortune. She spoke eight languages fluently and traveled extensively. As a lover of the arts, she spent a good portion of her fortune on modern art. She died in Manhattan on January 10, 1998, at age 86.
See also U.S. Women´s Chess Championship