Just the word is enough to signify immense strength and love! Over the years, women have achieved incredible feats in diverse fields and the game of Chess is one such area too!
Did you know that women weren’t welcome to play chess till as late as the late 19th century? And to put things in perspective, Chess is estimated to be invented in the 8th century. After 11 centuries of waiting, women finally got a chance to play in the 1880s in a club in Turin, Italy. This decision was applauded by the then world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz.
Thus began the wonderful journey of Women in Chess!
Notable Events For Women in Chess
||Who did it?
||First sponsored women’s chess tournament in 1880s
||Sussex Chess Association
||Winner of first international tournament for Women in 1897
||Winner of first Women’s World Chess Championship in 1927
||First female International Master in 1950
||Winner of first Women’s Chess Olympiad in 1957
||First female to compete in National Men’s Championship in 1976
||First female Grandmaster in 1978
||First female to be ranked in the top 10 of all chess players in 1996
Legends of Women’s Chess
Nona Gaprindashvili – The First Women Grandmaster
Providing the necessary beacon light for women in chess, Grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili became the first woman to receive the title of Grandmaster from FIDE in 1978.
This Georgian (then Soviet) chess player is the only female to win both the World Chess Championship and the World Senior Championship! She has represented her country at the Chess Olympiads numerous times and has won many team and individual medals in the same. In fact, she had even achieved the unimaginable feat of winning all the games that she played in the Dubai Olympiad in 1986.
Gaprindashvili gave immense hope and inspiration to young girls who wanted to excel in the game of Chess. Her contribution to the field is immeasurable and priceless!
Judit Polgar – Only Women To Be Ranked In The World’s Top 10
Generally considered as the greatest female chess player of all time, Judit Polgar is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with.
When many other female chess players were eyeing the Women World Chess Championship title, Grandmaster Judit Polgar played exclusively in the open section! She is the only woman to have crossed the 2700 Elo mark and was the highest rated female chess player from January 1989 to her retirement in August 2014.
She is the only female chess player to have played the men’s candidates tournament – an unthinkable feat, especially back in 2005 – and was a serious contestant for the World Chess Championship. She is the only woman to have scored wins against numerous world no. 1 players such as Grandmasters Magnus Carlsen, Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Anand, and Vladamir Kramnik, amongst many others.
It is because of Judit that girls aspired to get stronger at chess and compete neck to neck with male chess players.
Hou Yifan – Youngest To Ever Win The Women’s World Chess Championship
The second highest female chess player of all time, Hou Yifan is the youngest winner of the Women’s World Chess Championship at the age of 16!
She was the youngest player to participate in the Women’s World Chess Championship and the Olympiad at the age of 12. She is the no.1 ranked woman chess player from September 2015 till the present day. She has won the World Championship title 4 times!
Widely considered as a prodigy, former World Champion GM Vladimir Kramnik had once famously said, “If she wants to stay the best female player, she can probably do nothing!”.
Such is the strength of GM Hou that even her competitors are known to give her credit for playing tremendously well even with little preparation!
Women’s Chess Titles
At present, there are four women-only titles created by FIDE (World Chess Federation) – Woman Grandmaster (WGM), Woman International Master (WIM), Woman Fide Master (WFM) and Woman Candidate Master (WCM).
However, the general titles of Grandmaster (GM), International Master (IM), Fide Master (FM) and Candidate Master (CM) are available to both men and women (and not just reserved for men).
So why is it that FIDE has created separate titles for women chess players?
One possible reason could be to encourage female chess players to play more tournaments and achieve these titles. As title holders often get financial perks at tournaments, achieving them is an attractive goal – both from the economic and general viewpoint.
Another possible reason could be to promote the game amongst the females and encourage more girls and women to take up chess professionally. Historically, lesser females have taken up chess as a sport so this could be a way in which FIDE wants to reduce the disparity between the numbers.
To promote chess among women even further, FIDE has declared the year 2022 as the “Year of Women in Chess”.
Open Tournaments and Women-only Tournaments
As the name suggests, women-only tournaments are meant only for the female chess players. However, both men and women can participate in the open tournaments. There are no men-only separate tournaments as of yet.
Why is this distinction made? It is most likely due to the same reasons mentioned above.
Statistically, lesser females have taken up chess or pursued it professionally as compared to males. To boost their engagement with the game and to also give them a fair chance (since men have had resources since before women had access to them), women-only tournaments are an excellent way to pump the morale of female players.
What is it like to play Chess competitively as a female?
Your author has been lucky enough to play chess at a time when there are infinite resources that aren’t limited to a specific gender. Federations of almost all countries actively support their women chess players.
In fact, due to there being less women titled players, there is a higher chance for a WGM or WIM to get financial perks or invitations for certain tournaments. Though not completely 1:1 in ratio with the males, more and more women are taking part in tournaments, working hard on their games and achieving higher goals. We can see so many young girls achieve the titles of IM and GM and that is truly inspiring!
However, I’m sure women must have faced many struggles earlier. With tournaments in general being scarce and women not being allowed to play in them for many years, the advent of females in chess started relatively late. It is only in the 20th century that women slowly started to show incredible performances and they haven’t stopped ever since.
Some fantastic moments from games of female chess players
Before we conclude, let’s take a look at some breathtaking moments from games of women chess players!
1. Gaprindashvili – Servaty, May 1974
Though materially down, White is in an excellent attacking position. And GM Nona finishes it off in style! The stunning 17. Qf6!! with the idea of Bh6 followed by Qg7# is just too beautiful! And what’s worse for Black is that despite having material advantage, there’s nothing he can do to stop the mate!
2. Chiburdanidze – Malaniuk, 1982
Seeing that her pieces are perfectly ready for attack, GM Maia Chiburdanidze goes in for the kill with 24. Re6!! Black is forced to retake with 24… fxe6 to which White plays 25. Qf4 threatening Qf7#. Black tries one last attempt to save the position with 25… Qd7 but White is ready with the final push – 26.Bb5!! and that seals the game.
3. Hou – Sebag, July 2011
With Black’s king perfectly exposed, White’s pieces are ready for the final showdown. Hou proceeds with the stunning 30.Qxh6+!! Black has to retake with 30… Bxh6. White follows it with 31. Rh6+ and 31…Kg7 is the only move possible. White finishes the game with 32. f8=Q+ with the idea of Rh8# after 32… Kxf8. Beautiful, isn’t it?
4. Polgar – Karpov, October 2003
Known for her fiercely attacking play, GM Polgar never missed a single chance to finish the game with a stunning combination. Here too, she plays the marvellous 25.Bh7+. Black takes 25… Kh7 (if 25…Kh8 26. Qh5 simply wins) and White continues the attack with 26. Qh5+! Black resigned as he saw the inevitable mate after 26…Kg8 27. Bxg7 Kxg7 (if 27…f5 then 28. Qg6) 28. Rg3 Kf6 29. Qg5#.
Over the years, women have really cemented their position as strong players in the field of chess. With every passing day, more and more females are taking up chess and scaling new heights.
However, there is still a lot to be achieved. As compared to male GMs, the number of which are in hundreds, there are presently only 39 women who are grandmasters.
However, I’m sure that with time, that too shall change.