Another look at women in chess

APRIL 9 — The FIDE (World Chess Federation) World Women's Chess Championship just ended and 23-year-old Mariya Muzychuk is now the the 15th Women's World Chess Champion.

It is hard to find anything to say that has not already been written and all the facts have been given, largely at the official website as well as on my favourite chess news website for this kind of coverage.

First, it should be noted that Mariya is the younger of two Muzychuk sisters and is the current world No. 12 and ranked No. 2 in Ukraine behind her older sister Anna who had started in the competition as one of the big favourites. Mariya is also ahead of third-ranked Ukrainian Anna Ushenina who won the previous championship in this format.

With the games starting at 8pm (Malaysia local time) it has not been too difficult to keep an eye on the event as play progressed even if there was not a lot to be excited about and more so with several top players, including the defending champion Hou Yifan, opting out.

In Yifan's case it was particularly hilarious as she preferred an exhibition event in Hawaii (talk about getting one's priorities right!) but notably absent was Katernya Lahno who was Ukraine's No. 1. She switched to Russia just before the Tromso Olympiad last year while Anna, who had been playing for Slovenia, returned home!

Reading the newspapers, it is clear that Russia and Ukraine are at serious odds -- if not actual war -- with each other but none of the Ukraine women players seem to have any problems playing in Sochi where they are being treated as if they are Russian players! Something for politicians to think about perhaps?

Looking back at the event, Mariya was clearly a deserving winner; playing well and to her strength. It is also becoming clear that from the start she had absolute belief that in this field and with the format of play, she could win the tournament!

I like very much that she always "went for it" in every game while some of her more seemingly illustrious opponents hesitated at key moments or avoided the most critical continuations knowing that a single mistake could end their hopes. 

Mariya Muzychuk is the 15th Women's World Chess Champion. — File pic
Mariya Muzychuk is the 15th Women's World Chess Champion. — File pic

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Mariya lost the very first game in Round One against Yuanling Yuan of Canada and this was the first upset of the tournament but she recovered from this hiccup to tie the mini match (two games each per round and four games in the final) and comfortably took the tiebreaker. 

In Round Two, however, despite also winning again on tiebreaks she was already looking good when beating Monica Socko of Poland. And by Round Three she easily bested another former world champion through this knock-out format in Bulgaria's Antoaneta Stefanova,

Then at the quarterfinals stage she became a serious contender by ending the hopes of the ratings favourite Koneru Humpry of India in a tense match and in the semi-finals also accounted for the No. 2 Indian Harika Dronavali who collapsed in the final tiebreaks after playing solid chess throughout. 

Russia's Natalia Pogonina in the other half of the draw had also in her own way been defying the odds to make her way to the final; her ability to recover from a first game loss to win the second to tie her matches and then go on to win on tiebreaks often grabbing the headlines.

But in the finals it was clear that Mariya was just the stronger player, Natalia's enterprise and clever moves not making any real impression on an even better tactical player, and in the end it was a very comfortable win even if the close score of 2.5-1.5 might suggest otherwise.

Now of course is the question of whether Yifan would want to try and take back her title in the Women's World Championship match supposedly to be held this year (a look a the FIDE calendar has a listing at the very top but no dates or venue) and apparently it is again up for bid!

Mariya, when asked about the possible match with her predecessor, would only say that she hoped it would be a close fight and it would certainly suit her very well if there was no contest this year but even more so should Yifan again decline to play.

The typical reaction of the participants of this event is to support having such a tournament every year and this is the same reaction from those participating in the Women's Grand Prix.

I am even more convinced now that the women in chess, with very few exceptions, accept that they cannot compete with men and like having their own events and to play amongst each other, all the more so when they are also the centre of attention!

FIDE often justifies its actions with the excuse of doing so to necessarily promote women's chess and complicit in its actions is its so-called Commission for Women's Chess but wouldn't that be better served with having separate competitions for men and women together with the attendant titles and rating or ranking system? 

So to lean in or to lean out? It is really up to the women to decide as we do know that society as it is today is not only male-dominated but sexist and it is no different in chess. But as I have said before they can't really have it both ways!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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