Girl Power In Chess

Girl Power In Chess

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At of this writing, GM Hou Yifan is the sole leader of the super tournament in Baden Baden. Her play in this tournament so far is simply unbelievable and each game is a textbook example of good chess.

Photo: Georgios Souleidis.

Here is the classical positional squeeze vs. the world number-three:

And the following game she finished with a direct attack. Test your tactical skills in the next puzzle.

Even the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, was glad to escape for a draw considering the grim position he had in the middlegame.


Photo: Eric van Reem.

The progress of women's chess is amazing if you consider the quality of the following game played in the women's world championship less than 80 years ago:

It is probably games like this prompted Bobby Fischer to make his famous claim that he would beat any female player while giving her knight odds.

In this article we already discussed how GM Nona Gaprindashvili completely changed this stereotype. Today I want to talk about another defining moment of women's chess.

The open tournament in Rome, which was later nicknamed "The Sack of Rome," took place in February 1989 and was supposed to be just another proof of the Soviet chess hegemony. The quartet of very experienced Soviet grandmasters (Dolmatov, Razuvaev, Chernin and Palatnik) was the clear favorite to win the tournament. No one could imagine that a little girl from Hungary was going to completely steal the show.

Part One: The Fearless Girl.

In the first rounds the opponents of the 14 year-old Sofia Polgar probably treated her as just a cute little kid. They were due for a rude awakening! Just like the famous sculpture on Wall Street (a little girl looking defiantly at the charging bull), Sofia had no fear!


Photo: Wikipedia. 

I am sure that had Adam Rabczewski played an adult he would have been very suspicious why White played 29. Bd4 and allowed an obvious fork. Unfortunately, in the first round he didn't know yet who he was facing!


Photo: Wikipedia.

The second round was a very close call for Sofia, but at the end she managed to outsmart her opponent:

In the third round Sofia beat her first grandmaster in his favorite opening!

Part Two: Rosie the Riveter.

After the win over a very experienced Soviet grandmaster, people realized that the little girl is actually a very strong chess player and started treating her very seriously. Yet Sofia kept winning regardless if it was a long endgame...

...or a sharp, tactical middlegame...

...or a tough defense.

Part Three. Superwoman!

GM Taimanov remembered that during his match vs. Fischer the same treacherous thought crossed his mind on many occasions: "Is this Fischer invulnerable, is he somehow bewitched?" I am sure towards the end of the tournament in Rome many of Sofia Polgar's opponents thought the same way. I don't see any other explanation why a very strong grandmaster, who at some point was a candidate for the world title, didn't seriously try to win in the all-important last round:

As the result, Sofia Polgar finished the tournament with the historic result 8.5 out of 9 and a rating performance close to 2900! 

For a long time no woman could come close to this unbelievable result, until last December GM Valentina Gunina scored 9 out of 10 in London Classic Super Rapid with a rating performance of 2831! I feel that we are going to see more results like this in the near future. There are numerous reasons for my hunch. First of all it is the computer's influence. Rephrasing the famous quote, we can say that God created chess players and computers made them equal.

From the other side, the new generation of female players is very ambitious and when the ladies really want to achieve their goals, as the rule they succeed! 

I have many female students and I can see firsthand how goal-oriented they are! Not only do they win the national and international titles, they also want to make a difference. One of them has created a website to encourage girls to play chess.

There she nails the problem: "Girls are taught a subtle and less aggressive style of chess playing, primarily to conform chess to preconceived notions of women in society. As a consequence, girls get intimidated when they encounter overly aggressive play from boys, starting in middle school. In order for girls to succeed in chess, they need to be taught a bolder form of chess style".

I am happy that the new generation prefers to identify the problem and fix it rather than hide behind a fig leaf of political correctness.

The big change is coming!

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