Amazing Moves Played By Female Chess Stars

Amazing Moves Played By Female Chess Stars

| 57 | Amazing Games

The 2021 FIDE Women's Speed Chess Championship is nearing a dramatic conclusion, with the semifinal and finals coming later this week (July 1-3). Back in February, we shared a list of the five Best Female Chess Players Of All Time, and today we want to continue our celebration of women's chess by looking at some of the fantastic moves and combinations played by incredible female players.

GM Judit Polgar, 33.Qg7+!!

GM Judit Polgar, the player who broke Bobby Fischer's record to become the youngest grandmaster of all time, and the only woman to achieve a 2700 FIDE rating or a top-10 world ranking to date, unsurprisingly has many fantastic moves to consider. She's played multiple queen-sacrifice checkmating combinations, including this pretty finish.

33.Qh7+ accomplishes the same result, but 33.Qg7+ looks more dazzling. Still, White's soon-to-be doubled rooks combined with the bishop controlling f8 are so powerful that the queen has options, and two moves are easier to find than one—although I'm not saying I'd find one of them myself, mind you!

Polgar played this move in 1989 when she was 13 years old.

Judit Polgar, Sofia Polgar
Judit, left, with her sister Sofia at the 1988 Olympiad in Greece. Photo: Gerhard Hund/Wikimedia, CC.

Polgar played fantastic moves against all levels of opposition, and they only got deeper as time went on. Another noteworthy move among Polgar's numerous greatest hits came against GM Alexei Shirov in 1994.

Or see her 20.Rd6 while tearing future world champion GM Viswanathan Anand to shreds in 1999 for another devastating example. Both that move and the move against Shirov are covered further in this video.

GM Nona Gaprindashvili, 17.Qf6!!

Before Polgar—before any other woman had the title, in fact—there was GM Nona Gaprindashvili. She earned the grandmaster title at Lone Pine 1977. Check out this miniature from 1974 against Germany's Rudolf Servaty.

The 17th move simply stops the f-pawn, keeping the defense out of the seventh rank, to prepare 18.Bh6 and 19.Qg7#. Given how slow this might seem, there is surprisingly little that Black can do except give up his queen. Or resign, which is what Servaty did.

Gaprindashvili's 15th move, Qd4, is arguably even more impressive. If you give this game to Stockfish for the first time, it doesn't see fit to recommend 15.Qd4 until it reaches a depth of about 30 (15 moves per side). Before that point, it gives Black a slight edge in the position. So it's hard to blame Servaty for finding himself in the spot that he did.

Nona Gaprindashvili
Gaprindashvili in 1975, playing moves even modern computers need some time to see. Photo: Hans Peters / Dutch National Archives, CC.

Also, keep in mind the move 15.Qd4, introducing the double-rook sacrifice, makes sense only if Gaprindashvili already saw 17.Qf6.

GM Maia Chiburdanidze, 26.Bb5!!

As an observer, how do you determine the star move in a sequence when they are all mutually dependent in a winning combination? Maybe it's the aesthetics. GM Maia Chiburdanidze played a double-exchange sacrifice in this game, but most striking is the quiet finishing touch that induced resignation.

In the final position, the queen is doomed by its commitment to the f7-square. It's either die or let the king be beheaded instead. In some contexts, perhaps "Off with his head!" is the preferred course of action, but this is chess.

Like Servaty against Gaprindashvili, Malaniuk had a third option. He took that one and resigned.

And like Gaprindashvili's 17.Qf6, 26.Bb5!! is a move you have to see when starting the series of sacrifices. Especially in a classical time control, grandmasters don't just go into the moves and figure it out at the end—they leave that to untitled blitz players like myself!

Maia Chiburdanidze
Chiburdanidze was the reigning women's world champion in 1986. Photo: Bart Molendijk / Dutch National Archives, CC.

After we see a game like this, it does become hard to miss "removing the guard" tactics. All three key moves in the sequence are powerful demonstrations of the motif. The first exchange sac removed the defender of c4 to allow the bishop to occupy that square and the second one took out the first defender of f7. When the black queen dared try to defend that square herself, the sac of the bishop took care of that.

GM Hou Yifan, 15...Nxd5!!

Not only a stellar chess player, GM Hou Yifan is also a 2018 Rhodes Scholar and a professor—she is also one of the strongest women ever to play chess.

Hou Yifan
2018 Rhodes Scholar GM Professor Hou Yifan. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In this game, she had two options on move 15. The cautious 15.Nc5 would have sufficed to defend against 15...Ne6 and led to a fairly equal position. Hou decided to go bold instead of cautious, showing off the GM Mikhail Tal-like quality of playing the most complicated good move in a position, with the confidence that she would handle the consequences better than her opponent.

Unlike other players in this article, Hou did not make this move to play for a checkmate or large amounts of material—just constant pressure. That pressure eventually did lead to large amounts of material, of course. By the time Ider resigned, Hou had a rook, two bishops, and a pawn for the queen. That's a 12-9 advantage by points, if not more given the strength of having two bishops.

OK, there is also mate in three on the board at the end, which also helps end the game.

Vera Menchik, 21.Rd7!!

If Vera Menchik had survived World War II, she would have had the chance to become the first female grandmaster, a couple of decades ahead of Gaprindashvili. Nonetheless, FIDE did not award titles posthumously, even to the world champions including Alexander Alekhine. Alekhine himself thought highly of Menchik, and with games and moves like the following, we can see why.

On move 21, what White really wants to play is Qxh5, threatening Qxh7#. Taking the queen doesn't help Black because it would open the b1-h7 diagonal for Bh7 mate. However, the immediate 21.Qxh5 doesn't work for anything more than a small advantage after 21...Qxh2+.

What 21.Rd7!! does is not just deflect the queen from that check on h2. It also attacks the bishops (one by x-ray), so now 21...Qxh2 doesn't work because Black loses an extra piece. And of course, 21...Qxd7 turns the mating idea into a forced sequence.

Menchik's opponent, Sonja Graf-Stevenson, reacted the same way as most unfortunate victims in this article have, by admitting defeat and moving on to the next game. "Never resign" is a good rallying cry for fast games below a certain level, but when you're a master playing a slow game, sometimes you have better things to do than suffer.


Obviously, you don't have to be one of the five best players ever to play great moves.

WGM Sabina Foisor is absolutely winning on move 26, but only one move mates. Her dramatic final round victory made her the 2017 U.S. Women's Chess Champion.

GM Valentina Gunina's last move in this excellent attack gives up the rook to open the seventh rank for her queen to play 31.Qd7#. 

WIM Ann Chumpitaz's !!16.Nxe6, 17.Qd5+!!, 19.Rae1!, and 20.Bh6+! are all amazing moves. Black is losing after 16.Nxe6!! but only gets mated after capturing with 16...Kxe6. The final combination is so overwhelming that the bishop on g2 isn't even needed after move 20. If it got swiped off the board during 20.Bh6+, White wouldn't even have to put it back on g2 to complete the checkmate on move 22.

IM Ana Matnadze toppled a grandmaster with a pretty checkmating queen sac on move 30.

What's better than one queen sac like above? Two. GM Mariya Muzychuk offers to give up her queen twice here, on moves 26 and 29, against GM Humpy Koneru

There are of course, many other incredible combinations we weren't able to cover. What are some of your favorite moves or combinations from women chess players?

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