Vera Menchik's steamroller chess
Vera Menchik and the English national team at 1939 Chess Olympiad, Buenos Aires

Vera Menchik's steamroller chess

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Tigran Petrosian once compared Mikhail Botvinnik to a bulldozer, ruthlessly sweeping away everything in its path, and I often recalled this metaphor whilst playing through the games of Vera Menchik.

Of course, this is not to say that Vera Menchik's playing strength was close to that of the sixth World Champion - Botvinnik was much stronger already in his youth. However, stylistically Botvinnik and Menchik have quite a bit in common. Perhaps Menchik was not quite a bulldozer, as her play was less powerful and more preoccupied with the safety of her position. However, her best games do make an impression of a steamroller, which slowly but surely pushes up the board until the opponent is wiped off it. 

We have already seen one Menchik game that followed this scenario, in the game that concluded the previous article in this series, Menchik-Richter. It was, in fact, a great bridge between the previous topic, attacking games, and the kind of games that we will be looking into here. 

Perhaps the most graphical example of this "steamroller" approach is a game that Vera Menchik played in 1931 Women's World Championship tournament. In women's competition Menchik was completely invincible, because she simply outclassed her opponents. Her advantage over the rivals was so large that she won close to 90 games in Women's World Championships, while losing only three.

The difference in class is clearly visible in the game that follows. In the early middlegame Menchik is allowed to seize the center, and does not hesitate in building an impressive pawn phalanx - one does not see a pawn center that stretches from d4 to g4 very often! After that Menchik starts a pawn storm on the kingside and simply crushes the opponent's defense. 

We should make a note about Menchik's opponent in this game. Agnes Stevenson was a 4-time British Ladies Champion, winning the last of her titles just a year earlier (Menchik did not play because she was not a British citizen, and by late 1920s she was too strong for that competition anyway). 

A few years later, in 1935, Agnes Stevenson would die in a macabre incident. She was on her way to another Women's World Championship, but after she cleared customs at Poznan airport, she walked straight into a moving propeller of the aircraft and was killed on the spot. 

However, these were not the only connections between Menchik and Stevenson. Two years later Menchik married Rufus H.S. Stevenson, a prominent British chess organizer, whose was widowed after the death of her first wife... Agnes Stevenson.

A cartoon depicting participants of 1930 Women's World Championship, which took place in Hamburg. Agnes Stevenson on the left, Vera Menchik on the right

But let's return to chess. The next game was also played in 1931, but a few months earlier. Menchik's opponent was Sir George Thomas, one of the leading British chess players at the time, and the player with whom she most often crossed the swords in the official tournaments. In the first article in this series we already saw a couple of examples, in which Sir Thomas profited from Menchik's tactical blunders. However, in most games between these two players (and they played almost 30!), it was Menchik who dictated the terms, and the final score of their personal matchup, +10-6=13, reflects that.

The following game is a good representative of how the games between Menchik and Thomas usually went - even to the point of featuring a case of mutual tactical blindness!

Despite a couple of missed tactical opportunities, Menchik was in control throughout the game. White always had a small but nagging positional pressure and towards the time control Black lost the grip.

This scenario is quite typical for Menchik's victories. Her moves could be not the most aggressive and direct, her approach rather slow, but she always kept on pushing and her opponents often cracked under pressure. It is difficult to find 40 good moves even in 2.5 hours, as was the usual pace in those days, but it is even harder to do in an inferior position!

The following game is perhaps the most famous of all Vera Menchik's victories, for reasons that have nothing to do with chess. I discuss the origins and the unfortunate connotations of "Vera Menchik Club" concept in more details in my article in "CHESS", but here I would prefer to focus on the game itself, because it is a true positional masterpiece!

What a great game, from start to finish!

The participants of Podebrady 1936 tournament. Next to Vera Menchik are Salo Flohr and his wife

I will conclude this article with a game that was played in Podebrady 1936 tournament. It is somewhat similar to both Menchik-Thomas and Menchik-Becker games. It is not as "clean" as the other two, but in my opinion, it only makes it more representative of Menchik's style. Last but not least, make sure to check the neat tactical idea that White uncorked on 34th move!

Vera Menchik had many more victories like this, so I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to play through her games. Studying her victories would surely help one's positional understanding, and studying her losses would probably help you to put your own tactical blunders in perspective. 

When Vera Menchik emerged from the opening with a solid pawn center and a slight space advantage, she could be unstoppable. There is a lot to be learned from her methodical, steamroller chess!

All articles in this series:

  1. Vera Menchik and tactics
  2. Vera Menchik attacks!
  3. Vera Menchik's steamroller chess