Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quah Seng Sun Hits a Grand Slam on Female Chessplayers

Thank you, Quah Seng Sun, for saying in this article what needs to be said, something long overdue.  You are a brave man!

From The Star Online, Malaysia:

Friday December 10, 2010
Women and chess
By Quah Seng Sun

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 from 9pm (local time here).
Given the level of play of today's top female players, there is no excuse for FIDE to continue to run the Women's World Chess Championship as a knock-out event, which has since been discarded as FIDE's preferred option for the Men's World Chess Championship. As has been shown over and over again, anything can - and does - happen over the course of two games plus rapid and blitz play-offs.  That does not necessarily mean that the best players finish at the top and compete against each other for the title.  It's time that FIDE recognize that the Women's title is just as important as the "Open" - that is, the Men's - title, and put them on an equal footing.


Anonymous said...

I think Quah Seng Sun is not well informed / documented or extremely biased:

Chess Olympiad teams can take 4 players + 1 reserve, not 2 reserves. Before, women's teams had 3 players + 1 reserve, never 2 players. I think the journalist got facts mixed.

GM & IM titles have always been available for both men and women as long as they fulfilled the requirements. WGM has never been the top title a woman could achieve. Nevertheless, WGM & IM are not "about at the same level", neither in terms of minimal rating nor in title results requirements.

Kosteniuk is the top seed just because FIDE gave it as a privilege for the current champions. In a pure elo order she wouldn't even be in the top 10. Any serious analysis of the competition must consider Hou Yifan and Humpy Koneru as top seeds.

Above all, there's NO such thing as a men's championship. Tagging championships or titles as "men's", implying women are out, IS what diminishes women's chess, not the knock-out system or Fischer's drivels.

A cheesplayer

Jan said...

I think the point of Quah Seng Sun's article was about the level of chess played byh the top female players today, not how many women it takes to make up an Olympiad team. I agree with him entirely that the format for deciding a women's chess champion is ridiculous.

Obviously GM Kosteniuk is not the highest rated player in Turkey. That honor belongs to GM Koneru Humpy who has worked very hard to get her ELO above 2600. That ELO may not stand her in good stead, however, in the current knock-out format where, as I said, anything can and usually does happen. Playing two games and some blitz playoffs does not measure the true quality of play of anyone. That being said, I would not count Alexandra Kosteniuk out of this championship based on her rating. She embodies the meaning of the words fierce competitor.

I disagree with you that there is no such thing as a men's championship. De facto if not de jure, that is what the "world chess championship" is all about - male players, with the exception of Judit Polgar who has played in some of the candidates' tournaments but has not made it to the big dance. The men's championship is set up as a match between two players - let's see, when was the last time one of those players was a female? What? Never? That's right - never. So two chess dudes fight it out over the 64 squares over many games, not just two games, in a true test of chess acumen, strategy, and nerve for several million dollars, while the women's championship title is decided by as much luck of the draw as skill on the board and the ladies play for a small fraction of what the men's championship goes for. I am not the one demeaning female chessplayers - FIDE is doing that just fine all by itself.

Anonymous said...

Well, my point is that Quah Seng Sun states wrong facts (and not just the number of players in the Olympiads), so the arguments cannot be taken seriously.

Judit Polgar has not only played the candidates, but also World Championships. True, not World Championship matches, but both the tournament of San Luis and the KO in Vegas were FIDE official and produced a World Champion (Khalifman and Topalov). Maybe she played also in Tripoli and Moscow but memory fails me and anyway, I see you're not really concerned with accuracy but with opinions.
The prize gap is absolutely normal. You don't expect the same amount of interest, quality and rewards for 2700-2800 players as for 2400-2500 players. If those women want to play for higher prizes, they should raise their rating and play stronger fields. Anyway, I don't know many 2400-2500 players who can even dream of getting such prizes as they offer in Turkey.

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