Women’s chess is no longer a poor cousin to men’s chess.

MANY years ago, I was asked in a casual conversation my opinion about women’s chess. Can women really play chess as well as men, this friend of mine wanted to know. I was about to answer him but I hesitated.

It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable to give him an immediate answer but somehow, a wild thought raced through my head. Was it Bobby Fischer who once said that he could give a knight handicap in a game against any woman chess player and still win?

Fifty or 60 years ago, many people could very well have laughed with Fischer.

But not today. Anyone who dares to give even a pawn handicap against the top women chess players will be asking for a lot of unnecessary trouble.

You see, women’s chess is no longer a poor cousin to men’s chess. After all, chess as played by men or women is still the same game. Chess still uses the same grey matter “up there” for thinking and evaluation.

Besides, since the days of Pia Cramling and Judit Polgar, who started the trend of women competing in men’s or open tournaments and playing successfully in them, the myth has well been exploded.

To a large extent, the World Chess Federation has made sure that there should no longer be discrimination. A long time ago at the Chess Olympiads, women’s chess teams consisted of only two players and one reserve. Today, there are four players and either one or two reserve players, same as the men’s teams.

Where chess titles are concerned, women chess players have as many opportunities to earn the full chess grandmaster title.

In the past, the highest title they could hope to attain was the woman grandmaster title which today, is about at the same level as an international master.

There’s also the women’s equivalent of the (men’s) world chess championship and since about a week ago, the latest women’s world chess championship is currently going on in Antakya, Turkey.

But unlike the latest men’s world chess championship which was played as a match, the present women’s world chess championship is still run as a knock-out.

The event started off with a 64-player field in the first round and since then, the number of players are halved with each progressive round.

Today is the start of the third round, so there will only be 16 players left. Each of these knock-out rounds are played as a mini-match of two games at normal regulation time control and should tie-break games be required, these are played with rapid chess rules. The sixth round will pit the two final survivors together and they will then play four games to decide the new women’s world chess champion.

I know there are people who favour this type of knock-out event as they feel that it creates more excitement and the defending champion shouldn’t get a free ride to the final round but personally, I would prefer an official challenger to emerge from this knock-out event who would then go on to challenge the defending champion for the title. It makes for more prestige.

Nevertheless, these are the regulations already agreed for this current championship. Perhaps we’ll see a change for the next cycle.

As it stands, there’s always the chance that we may not have Russia’s Alexandra Kosteniuk advancing all the way to the final round.

Kosteniuk is the defending women’s world champion and is the top seed. She got through the first round but there are no results yet for the second round as I write this.

So far, except for the elimination of the eighth seed, Pia Cramling, in the first round, there have been no other surprises among the top seeds.

Also going through to the second round were notable players like India’s Humpy Koneru, China’s Hou Yifan (who lost the final to Kosteniuk in 2008), Bulgaria’s Antoaneta Stefanova (women’s world champion from 2004 to 2006), Ukraine’s Kateryna Lahno, Georgia’s Maya Chiburdanidze (women’s world champion from 1978 to 1991) and Qatar’s Zhu Chen (formerly from China and women’s world champion from 2001 to 2004).

Humpy is the second seed in the championship and Hou is the third seed.

If they proceed through successfully round after round, they should be meeting in the fifth round and one of them will be eliminated.

Want to know more about this women’s world chess championship? You can view the live games at http://wwcc2010.tsf.org.tr/ from 9pm (local time here).

Up next

National junior

The Malaysian Chess Federation will organise the third national junior chess championship at the Hotel Olympic, Jalan Davidson, Kuala Lumpur on Dec 15-19.

There will be two categories: the boys under-20 and girls under-20 events. This will be a FIDE-rated event over nine rounds and full time control.

Entry fees are RM50 (existing FIDE-rated players) and RM80 (non-rated players).

For more information, contact Gregory Lau (012-902 0123, msianchess2010@gmail.com), Zuraihah Wazir (017-283 7808) or Haslindah Ruslan (019-206 9605).

Sarawak open

The Lanang Chess Association and Sarawak Chess Association will jointly organise the Universal Chinese Sports Sarawak open chess championship at the Premier Hotel in Jalan Kampung Nyabor, Sibu, Sarawak on Dec 17-19.

This will be a FIDE-rated event with a RM2,500 first prize. Eight rounds, full time control.

Entry fees are RM50 (adults) and RM25 (ladies and players below 18 years old).

Contact Joseph Ting (016-889 3185, fax: 084-331 451) or Lim Kian Hwa (016-860 3180, lkhwa@tm.net.my) for more details.

Christmas tournament

The Royal Selangor Club in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur will organise a Christmas chess tournament for veterans above 45 years old and children below 12 years old on Dec 19.

Five rounds, 25-minute time control. Entry fees are RM20 (children), RM40 (veterans 45 to 49 years old) and RM30 (veterans (above 50 years old).

More information from Wahid Karim (013-363 8815, awkarim@gmail.com) or Joseph Toh (016-678 4648, joetohcl@hotmail.com).