GM Nona Gaprindashvili

Full name
Nona Gaprindashvili
Born
May 3, 1941 (age 79)‎
Place of birth
Zugdidi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Federation
Georgia
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Nona Gaprindashvili was the fifth women’s world champion, winning the title in 1962 and holding it for 16 years. Equally if not more notably, she was the first woman to become a grandmaster, doing so in 1978.

Becoming Champion

Nona Gaprindashvili was born in Zugdidi in western present-day Georgia, near the Black Sea. She spent the 1950s playing chess within Georgia and by 1961 was strong enough that she won the women’s Candidates tournament for the right to play IM Elisaveta Bykova.

At age 48, Bykova was 27 years older than Gaprindashvili and had been champion since 1953 except for a two-year period when she had been dethroned by WIM Olga Rubtsova. Gaprindashvili easily defeated Bykova, winning seven of the 11 games in the match without losing a single one.

As Champion

Gaprindashvili successfully defended her title four times, the first three defenses coming against WGM Alla Kushnir. They were only three months apart by age, and their last match was a close 12-11 affair. Three years after that, Gaprindashvili defeated Nana Alexandria, 9-4.

Gaprindashvili often played in open tournaments as well, scoring perhaps her best-known win in 1974 against Rudolf Servaty (below). Although she never beat them, she did play against three world champions: GMs Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, and Viswanathan Anand (draw in 1988). Tal, in his autobiography, tells a story of their game in Reykjavik in 1964. Not wishing to win on time in his winning endgame, Tal would occasionally not press his clock after moving. Gaprindashvili caught onto him and confirmed her sporting nature by telling him she would resign immediately if he continued to go easy on her.

Perhaps the greatest success of Gaprindashvili’s career came in an open event in 1977, while she was still the women’s champion. That year she tied for a share of first place at Lone Pine in California, winning the most games with six while scoring 6.5/9 after a final-round win over IM John Peters. The tournament featured several grandmasters including Oscar Panno, Pal Benko, Walter Browne and Samuel Reshevsky, and future GM Yasser Seirawan. Also a future GM was Gaprindashvili, as the tournament served as her final norm to achieve the title. 

In 1978, Gaprindashvili, 37, faced 17-year-old Maia Chiburdanidze for the women’s world title, a reversal of the situation in 1962: Gaprindashvili was now the much older reigning champion facing a youthful challenger. She won the seventh and 11th games, but lost in games 4, 5, 9, and 13, and thus Chiburdanidze became champion.

After Champion

After she was dislodged from the world championship, GM Gaprindashvili more than doubled her national championship count. Having won the Soviet women’s championship in 1964 and 1973, she won it again in 1981, ’83, and ’85. Additionally, she continued to represent the USSR at the Chess Olympiad throughout the 1980s, as well as Georgia in their 1992 win after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nona Gaprindashvili, 1982
Gaprindashvili in 1982. Photo: Wikipedia/Gerard Hund.

Gaprindashvili also played in Candidates tournaments to attempt to regain the women’s world championship but never got to another title match. She retired from the women’s championship cycle after first-round eliminations in the 2000 and 2001 knockout tournaments but remained active on the senior circuit.

Recent Years

Gaprindashvili has participated in the World and European Senior Championships deep into her 70s. During 2014-19, she won the women’s over-65 world championship every year except 2017. Before 2014, when the event wasn’t split by age group, she won in 1995 and 2009, becoming the only women’s world and senior champion (while GM Vasily Smyslov is the only man to win both open titles).

Nona Gaprindashvili, 2015
Gaprindashvili in Tbilisi in 2015. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gaprindashvili was recognized for her outstanding career in her home country in 2015, receiving Georgia’s Presidential Order of Excellence, and by FIDE with a special trophy in 2016. She will always have a well-earned place in history as a groundbreaking talent.

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