SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
The 2010 Women’s World Championship, organized by the Turkish Chess Federation, took place December 2-25 in Antakya, Hatay, Turkey. The format was a knock-out competition with five rounds of matches, comprising two games per round, with the winners progressing to the next round.
Lufei (left) against Yifan
The final match up was against 2 chinese players, 16 year old prodigy Huo Yifan and 23 year old ‘veteran’ Ruan Lufei. Everything went down to the tie-break games and Yifan emerged victorious. She becomes the youngest ever female World Champion. Congrats!
Perhaps she is currently the strongest female player in the world after Judit Polgar (who refuses to participate in all-female tournaments on principle) and her January ELO should be over 2600 by virtue of her stellar performance in this event.
Yifan is something of a star in China. Hou Yifan was born February 27, 1994, in Xinghua, Taizhou, Jiangsu, China In 2008, she became the youngest ever female in history (at the age of 14 years 6 months) to qualify for the title of Grandmaster. In June 2007, she became China’s youngest ever National Women’s Champion, and in September 2008 she became the youngest ever finalist for the Women’s World Championship title.
At the age of 12, she became and still holds the record for being the youngest ever player to participate at the FIDE Women’s World Championship (Yekaterinburg 2006), and at the Chess Olympiad (Torino 2006).
As we can see from Yifan’s rating progress chart (above) , she jumped very quickly to the 2500 level and after 4 years of playing in mostly male tournaments she reached the 2600 level. Considering her age (sweet 16) , it seems reasonable for her to set her next goal on the absolute world title!
In my lifetime the profile of chess amongst the fairer sex has undergone great changes. I remember when it was common that most Montreal open tournaments would rarely have more than 1 or 2 female participants. I don’t think I was even paired against a woman for the first 5 or 6 years of my chess playing adventure.
But FIDE –especially in the 70’s and 80’s– slowly but vigorously promoted female chess by regularly organizing world championships and female content at the Olympiad. The first women’s Olympiad was in Colombia in 1974, and Canada had several participants (Marie Bernard, Claire Demers and Smilja Vusojevic).
The high profile of the Polgar sisters was a big boost for female chess. But I think the biggest factor in pushing female chess forward was FIDE’s promotion of chess amongst youngsters, especially with the organization of the sub-8, sub-10 etc championships.
Today we have dozens of female grandmasters, most of them under 25 years of age. The number of female championships (including a grand-prix) has increased significantly, and some tournaments offer special conditions and special prizes to attract female players.
For instance, the Gibraltar Chess Festival will give 25,000 pounds in prizes to the top female finishers in the main tournament, regardless of their overall finish!
Many criticize such special treatment (based only on sex) but there is no doubt that it goes a long way to promote female chess. Whether this is good for chess or not is a question of opinion. For instance, a 2450 rated female player would receive better conditions than a 2650 rated player.
When I spoke to one of the Gibraltar organizers a number of years ago, I was told that he would prefer to have Elizabeth Paetz participate from Germany than any of the other 20 to 30 higher rated male GMs from Germany!
I respect such enthusiasm! Attracting female participation also attracts media attention…but what message does it send to corporate sponsors?
Canada also has seen stellar growth in female chess participation in the past decade, not just from immigration but also from home grown talent such as Hazel Smith, amongst others.
Regardless of your take on the chess world, there is no doubt that female chess is thriving. There are many critics and some women’s groups oppose such discrimination, and even the best female player (Judit Polgar) won’t support female chess, but in the world of sports we can see a great diversity and it does not hurt their respective sports. So.. vive la difference!
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS