Thursday, 12 April 2007

Greatest woman chess player of all time?

Zsofia Polgar beautiful chess player

One of the good things about Google Analytics is that you can see the search queries people used to get to Chess Tales. My first post was based on one of these queries and so is today's: Who is the greatest woman chess player of all time?

Unlike the men's game this is a ratings 'no-brainer', in which Judit Polgar stands head, shoulders and probably upper torso above the chasing pack. But, that's not to say there aren't other women players who in their day have dominated the game and deserve special mention.

In the pre-war years, Vera Menchik was unstoppable, and perhaps in terms of achievement deserves to be called the greatest; She won the Women's world Title in 1927 and successfully defended it on 6 further occasions. Her career included victories over Samuel Reshevsky, Jacques Mieses and Dr. Max Euwe. Tragically, she was killed in 1944, at just 38 years of age, by a V-2 bomb.

Georgian, Nona Gaprindashvili, was the first woman to be awarded the Grandmaster title. She won the world crown in 1962 and was champion for the next 16 years. Her tournament victories included the Hasting Challengers 1963/64 and the Lone Pine Open in 1997.

Gaprindashvili was succeeded by another Georgian, 17 year old Maia Chiburdanidze who held the world title until the arrival of a number of great chinese players, including Xie Jun who took her title in 1991.

Since then though, it has been the era of the Polgar's. Eldest sister Susan won the world title, middle sister Sofia became an International Master and scored one of the best Open tournament victories of all time when just 14 years of age (8.5 out of 9 at Rome in 1989), whilst youngest sister Judit is simply phenomenal: famed for her attacking chess, she has broken the 2700 FIDE boundary, reached the top 10 in the world, and includes Garry Kasparov amongst her scalps:

Very few other women hold the Grandmaster title: Pia Cramling of Sweden has been strong for many years, Alexander Kosteniuk who continues to improve, Zhu Chen from China, Antoneata Stefanova from Bulgaria, and Humpy Koneru from India.

One to keep an eye on for the future is the remarkable You Hifan, only 12 years old, but rated over 2500.

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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.