Women in Chess: A Few Tales
Lubomir Kavalek
International Chess Grandmaster

Lurking in the background, hiding their identity, they seem mysterious, magical, beautiful. At first, they observed the game from a distance, but as centuries went by, women were drawn closer to the chessboard. Still, for ages they could not play chess in public and it took some courage and determination to break into the male-dominated game. Let’s have a look at some who paved the way.

Three Sisters

Women have come a long way since 1555 when the Italian painter Sofonisba Anguissola finished her famous painting “The Chess Game.” Did Anguissola play chess? Her patron was the Spanish King Philip II, who also supported Ruy Lopez de Segura, the priest who gave us the Spanish Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5). Lopez wrote the chess manual Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juago del Axedrez in 1561, six years after Anguissola finished the painting of the three sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa. Did they meet? Did they discuss chess?

We can observe that the chessboard is set up wrong, with the dark square in the right corner – a common occurrence in today’s TV commercials. The youngest Anguissola sister is looking at the misfortune of the one to her left, perhaps already aware that one day she would beat them all. But for the time being, the oldest is the best and she looks to the audience as if waiting for applause. They could be the 16th century answer to the Polgar sisters.

And that brings us to the Polgar sisters. When they were very young, they had to choose: mathematics or chess. They made the right choice. Competing mostly against men, they progressed rapidly and won many titles. Zsuzsa became the women’s world champion.

Without a doubt, Judit is the all-time best woman chessplayer. During her career she defeated many strong male players and world champions such as Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Vishy Anand. In 2005, she was rated number eight in the world with her FIDE peak rating of 2735.

In January, Judit Polgar and Hou Yifan met in Gibraltar. Just another game, said some. A historical contest between the Queen and the Princess, thought others. Hou won. She is climbing all alone. Can she reach Judit’s heights so far unattainable to other women?


Champions come and go and we wish them well. But before they say the final goodbye, we demand another masterpiece. At the 2004 olympiad in Calvia, Spain, Zsuzsa Polgar and Maya Chiburdanidze obliged. Their tactical skills did not diminish with age and they gave us a memorable performance. And again, the square f7 played a major role in Zsuzsa’s combination.

Polgar,Zsuzsa – Chiburdanidze,Maya
36th Olympiad w Calvia ESP (6), 20.10.2004

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0-0 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 c5 7.b4 b6 8.Bb2 d6 9.g4!
(A vintage Polgar! Where others look to increase a small positional advantage, the Polgar sisters go after the king.)

9…Bb7 10.g5 Nh5 11.Rg1 e5 12.Bh3 Nf4 13.Bf5

(Provoking the next mistake.)

(The weakening of the long diagonal allows a beautiful combination. The queen on c3, supported by the bishop on b2, can now “see” as far as the square h8. Developing the knight 13…Nc6 gives black a good game.)


14.Nxe5! Nxe2

(A good idea, but the wrong move-order. Black should have played: 14…Qe7 15.Be4 dxe5 (15…Bxe4 16.Nc6 Nd3+ 17.Kf1+-) 16.Bxb7 and only now 16…Nxe2! 17.Kxe2 Qxb7 18.Qxe5 f6 19.Qe6+ Rf7 20.gxf6 and although white is clearly better, black can still fight.;
After 14…dxe5? 15.Qxe5 f6 16.Qxf4 wins.)


(Creating mating threats. Wrong would be 15.Kxe2 dxe5 16.Qxe5? Re8.)


(After 15…Kxf7 16.Qg7+ Ke8 17.Bf6 white wins; and on 15…Rxf7 16.Qh8 mates.)

16.Nh6+ Kg7 17.Bxc3+ Rf6 18.Bxf6+ Qxf6 19.gxf6+ Kxh6 20.Be6?!

(This wins slowly. Interestingly, Polgar who was drilled in mating finales, missed to swing her rook from a1 to h3, for example: 20.Rb1! gxf5 [20…Bf3 21.Rb3 Bh5 22.Be4 wins; 20…Nc6 21.Rb3 and the rook goes to mate on h3; 20…Nd7 21.Bxd7 wins.] 21.Rb3 and black gets mated.)

20…Nc6 21.Bd5 (The pin.) 21…Rf8 22.f7 Nd8 23.Bxb7 Nxb7 24.Rg3 Rxf7 25.Re3 (The rook made it to the open file.) 25…Nd8 26.b5 (Taking away the square c6.) 26…Rf4 27.d3 d5 28.Re7! (The rook on the 7th rank limits the knight.) 28…dxc4 29.dxc4 Nf7 (After 29…Rxc4 30.Rd1 Rd4 31.Rxd4 cxd4 32.Rxa7 the b6-pawn falls shortly.) 30.Rd1 Ng5 31.Rxa7 Rxc4 32.Ra6 Rc2 33.Rxb6 c4 34.a4 Ra2 35.Ra6 Nf3+ 36.Kf1 Nd2+ 37.Rxd2! (Simplifying into a clearly won rook endgame.) 37…Rxd2 38.Rc6 Rc2 39.b6 Black resigned.

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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