Celebrating One of the Great Women’s World Champions
ByDennis MonokroussosMar 03 — 5:00 PM
Image by Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989
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. f4c52. Nf3g63. e3Bg74. d3e65. Be2Ne76. O-ONbc67. e4d68. c3O-O9. Be3Rb810. d4f511. e5cxd412. cxd4Nd513. Bc1Bh614. g3dxe515. dxe5b516. Nc3Qb6+17. Kg2White'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... Nxc318. bxc3Rd8/-/+ )
18. Nxd5Rxd519. Qb3Bf8?
( 19... Bb7 )
20. Be3Bc5?!21. Bxc5Qxc522. Rfd1Ne723. Rac1Qb624. Rxd5Nxd525. 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... Qxb526. Bxb5Bb7is 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... Kg727. Rc2!Qe428. Bd1Ne3+29. Kh3!Nxc230. Qe7+Kg831. Qd8+Kg732. Qc7+Kg833. Qxb8Qb734. Qxb7Bxb735. Bxc2Bxf336. b4 )
26... Qxe2+27. Kh3Kg7!!
( 27... Nxf4+?28. Kh4!Ng2+29. Kg5Qe3+30. Kf6Qxc131. Qxa7!The only move for White, but it
forces a speedy mate. 31... Qh632. Qf7+Kh833. Qe8+Qf8+34. Qxf8# )
( 28. Qxc8?Nxf4+29. Kh4g5+30. Kxg5h6+31. Kh4Ng6+32. Kh3This 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. Kh4Ng6+ )
28... Kh629. Qa3!Playing for the win, and against every move but one White would
( 29. Rc3!Nxc330. Ng5!Qg4+31. Kg2Qe2+ )
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#.
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. Rg1The only move to maintain
equality. 30... g5!!The immediate ...31. fxg5Ba6Threatening ...
Qf1+ with mate next move. 32. g4+One of two saving moves. ...fxg4+33. Rxg4Qf234. Rh4+Kg635. Rh6+Kg736. Qxa6Qxf3+37. Kh4Qf4+ )
30... Qf2Black 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. Qd3Securing the f1 square forever, or so
it seems. White will play Rf1 next, winning--or would, were it not for 31... Ba6!!32. Qd1The bishop is immune to a tactic we've already seen more than once:
( 32. Qxa6Nxf4+!33. gxf4Qxf3# )
( 32. Rf1loses immediately to the x-ray
tactic 32... Qxf1+33. Qxf1Bxf1# )
32... Ne3Winning the battle for f1, and
winning the game.
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 ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.