Nona Gaprindashvili was the first great women champion of post-World War II, holding the title for 17 years.

Tan Zhongyi of China became the Women’s World Champion on Friday, beating Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine in the final.

Tan is the 13th titleholder in the last 26 years. Despite such rapid turnover, the identity of the top woman player in the world has been clear for more than half a century. At the moment, it’s clearly Hou Yifan, Tan’s compatriot, even if Hou never again plays in any more Women’s Championships. (She did not play in the current one in protest of the knockout format.)

Before Hou, and for more than a quarter of a century, the top women’s player, by far, was Judit Polgar of Hungary. She never bothered to compete for the women’s crown, and there was no reason to do so.

Before Polgar, the dominant player in women’s chess was Maia Chiburdanidze, who was the Women’s World Champion from 1978 to 1991, and before her was the first dynast of the post-WW II era: Nona Gaprindashvili, who was the titleholder from 1962 to 1978.

Gaprindashvili (born in Georgia, which then part of the Soviet Union, in 1941) not only excelled against her fellow women, but enjoyed success in open events, too, becoming the first woman to earn the full grandmaster title. Her rich career is full of highlights: Women’s World Champion for 16 years, 11 team gold medals and 9 individual gold medals in Women’s Olympiads, five women’s Soviet Championship titles, five Women’s World Senior Championship titles, a tie for first in the Lone Pine tournament in 1977, equal third in Dortmund in 1974, and equal second in 1978 (both times just half a point out of first), and so on.

She continues to compete well. In 2016, she played in the European Championship for players over 65 – women and men – and finished tied for 4th-10th, going undefeated and scoring just half a point less than the winning trio. Along the way, she drew four grandmasters.

In 1961, Gaprindashvili won the Women’s Candidates tournament by two points, finishing with an undefeated score of 13/16. That qualified her to play for the title match against Elizaveta Bykova, a Soviet player who was then champion. Gaprindashvili crushed Bykova 9-2 in the title match without losing a single game.

The following game is Gaprindashvili’s win in the Candidates against Milunka Lazarevic (then of Yugoslavia, now of Serbia and Montenegro). Both players found brilliant tactical resources, but Gaprindashvili found more of them.

Lazarevic, Milunka vs. Gaprindashvili, Nona
Vrnjacka Banja ct (Women) | Vrnjacka Banja | Round 10 | 1961.??.?? | ECO: A02 | 0-1
1. f4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. e3 Bg7 4. d3 e6 5. Be2 Ne7 6. O-O Nbc6 7. e4 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. Be3 Rb8 10. d4 f5 11. e5 cxd4 12. cxd4 Nd5 13. Bc1 Bh6 14. g3 dxe5 15. dxe5 b5 16. Nc3 Qb6+ 17. Kg2 White's slow opening wasn't especially good, landing her in a poor version of a Closed Sicilian. But now Black starts to drift, and White soon enjoys a serious edge.
17... Rd8
17... Nxc3 18. bxc3 Rd8 /-/+  )
18. Nxd5 Rxd5 19. Qb3 Bf8?
19... Bb7  )
20. Be3 Bc5?! 21. Bxc5 Qxc5 22. Rfd1 Ne7 23. Rac1 Qb6 24. Rxd5 Nxd5 25. Qxb5! Qe3? It seems a shame to give this brilliant move a question mark - maybe '?!!' is the appropriate punctuation instead. White can refute Black's deep idea, but it's not at all easy and a single misstep will give Black equality - or more.
25... Qxb5 26. Bxb5 Bb7 is objectively better, when Black's strong minor pieces give her some compensation for the pawn - but not enough.  )
26. Qxb8! Rightly brave.
26. Qe8+ This is also good for an advantage, though it's not as clear-cut.
26... Kg7 27. Rc2! Qe4 28. Bd1 Ne3+ 29. Kh3! Nxc2 30. Qe7+ Kg8 31. Qd8+ Kg7 32. Qc7+ Kg8 33. Qxb8 Qb7 34. Qxb7 Bxb7 35. Bxc2 Bxf3 36. b4  )
26... Qxe2+ 27. Kh3 Kg7!!
27... Nxf4+? 28. Kh4! Ng2+ 29. Kg5 Qe3+ 30. Kf6 Qxc1 31. Qxa7! The only move for White, but it forces a speedy mate.
31... Qh6 32. Qf7+ Kh8 33. Qe8+ Qf8+ 34. Qxf8#  )
27... Qxf3? 28. Rxc8+ Kg7 29. Rg8+ Kh6 Almost winning...but not quite.
30. Rxg6+!! Kxg6 31. Qg8+ Kh6 32. Qg5#  )
28. Qxa7+?
28. Qb3! The only winning move.
28... Ne3 29. Rc7+ Kh6 30. Qxe3 Qxe3 31. Ng5 mates. If Black's g-pawn were gone, then she would be immune from mate and winning the game.  )
28. Rxc8?? Nxf4+ 29. Kh4 g5+! 30. Kxg5 h6+ 31. Kh4 Ng6+ 32. Kh5 Qxf3+ 33. g4 Qxg4#  )
28. Qxc8? Nxf4+ 29. Kh4 g5+ 30. Kxg5 h6+ 31. Kh4 Ng6+ 32. Kh3 This time, unlike the 28.Rxc8 line, Black can't (sensibly) play 32...Qf1+, which was mate in that case. So Black must settle on the draw:
32... Nf4+ 33. Kh4 Ng6+  )
28. Rc3? is another draw:
28... Nxc3 29. Qc7+! Kh6 30. Ng5 Qg4+ 31. Kg2 Qe2+  )
28... Kh6 29. Qa3! Playing for the win, and against every move but one White would succeed.
29. Rc3! Nxc3 30. Ng5! Qg4+ 31. Kg2 Qe2+  )
29... Kh5!! A great move! Black avoids any problems associated with Qf8+ (which would be mate if White first played Kh4), and now boxes in White's king. Threats abound, most notably ...Ba6 followed by ...Qf1+! and ...Ne3 intending ...Qg2#.
29... Ne3? 30. Re1 Qxf3 31. Rxe3 Qf1+ 32. Kh4 Qd1 33. Qf8#  )
30. Re1? This is a sensible move; indeed, against just about every Black try except for 29...Kh5 it wins the game. But not here.
30. Rg1 The only move to maintain equality.
30... g5!! The immediate
...  31. fxg5 Ba6 Threatening ... Qf1+ with mate next move.
32. g4+ One of two saving moves.
...  fxg4+ 33. Rxg4 Qf2 34. Rh4+ Kg6 35. Rh6+ Kg7 36. Qxa6 Qxf3+ 37. Kh4 Qf4+  )
30... Qf2 Black has no one-move threat, but White correctly recognizes that the f1 square is key. If White can keep control over it and then oust Black's queen, she'll win thanks to her big material advantage.
31. Qd3 Securing the f1 square forever, or so it seems. White will play Rf1 next, winning--or would, were it not for
31... Ba6!! 32. Qd1 The bishop is immune to a tactic we've already seen more than once:
32. Qxa6 Nxf4+! 33. gxf4 Qxf3#  )
32. Rf1 loses immediately to the x-ray tactic
32... Qxf1+ 33. Qxf1 Bxf1#  )
32... Ne3 Winning the battle for f1, and winning the game.
32... Ne3 33. Rxe3 Qf1+ or
...  34. Qxf1 Bxf1#  )


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.