- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

BREAKING NEWS:

The chess world championship will be coming back to the United States for the first time in more than two decades. Officials of the international chess federation FIDE announced Tuesday that Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title in a 12-game match to be played in New York City from Nov. 11 to Nov. 30.

The last title match played in this country saw Garry Kasparov successfully defend his title against Indian challenger Viswanathan Anand on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center in 1995.

Mr. Carlsen’s challenger will be determined in the candidates tournament that starts later this month in Moscow. Two Americans — GMs Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura — are among the favorites in eight-player field.

“Miss Menchik is undoubtedly the most placid of all the masters. She sits stolidly, surveying the scene and shunning the spectators. Her rival Sonja Graf is her exact opposite, being extremely masculine in action as well as in dress. She rocks sideways, taps nervously with a pencil or a cigarette, glances hastily from side to side.”

— “Mannerisms of the Masters,” Chess Life, October 1937

The World Chess Hall of Fame, based in St. Louis, just announced its three inductees for 2016. Two of them — 19th-century English great Howard Staunton and Soviet grandmaster and author David Bronstein — need no introduction for serious chess players. The third, German-born U.S. star Sonja Graf-Stevenson, is a different story, although she may have lived the most colorful life of them all.

Born in Munich in 1908, she was a protegee of the great German master Siegbert Tarrasch, lost two matches to women’s world champion Vera Menchik and, as an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler’s regime, refused to return to Nazi Germany after the fabled 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires. She relocated again to the United States after marrying a merchant mariner in 1947.

In the U.S., she quickly became one of the strongest female players in the country, winning the U.S. women’s championship twice, the second time in 1964 just a year before her death in New York City at the age of 56.

Like her mentor Tarrasch, who lost two title matches to Emanuel Lasker in his prime, Graf-Stevenson was probably the world’s second-best women’s player of the 1930s and 1940s but could never get past the imperturbable Menchik, perhaps the strongest female player ever before the arrival of the Polgar sisters.

Graf-Stevenson’s most painful loss to her great rival came at the women’s world championship tournament in Argentina in 1939. A win in their individual encounter would meant a tie for first, but as Graf-Stevenson later told The New Yorker in a 1964 profile, “I had a won game, but I found three of the stupidest moves you could think of, and I lost.”

As is often the case, Graf won her very first game against her great rival in their first title match in 1934, only to drop the next three games and the match. Using her mentor’s QGD Tarrasch Defense, Graf as Black is preparing to defend a classic hanging pawns center when the champ misses a nice tactical shot.

Black wins a decisive pawn after 12. Rd1 Ne5 13. Ba6? (White should have played this a move earlier; Menchik’s desire to trade off the strong bishop on b7 is understandable, but there’s just one problem.) Nxf3+ 14. gxf3 Bxh2+! 15. Kxh2 Qd6+, and the double attack picks off the unfortunate White bishop on a6.

With her king so exposed, White is all but forced to trade queens to head off a mating attack, and the champ’s efforts to pick off the Black d-pawn only lead to grief.

Graf accurately brings home the point after 26. b5 Nxf4+! 27. Kg4 (Bxf4 Rxd4 28. Be3 Bc8+ 29. Kg3 Rd8 wins another pawn) Ne2 28. Rxd3 Bxb5 29. Nxb5 Rxd3 30. Kf3 Nc3, and the knight escapes. Down the exchange and two pawns in a hopeless ending, Menchik resigned.

We don’t know the site or even the first name of the opponent of the game from today’s diagram, taken from a 1935 edition of the Deutsche Schachzeitung, but it shows off Graf-Stevenson’s combinational flair. White has already badly misplayed this Three Knights’ Opening, with her queenside undeveloped and her king still in the center. White’s last move, 15. b2-b4, is an effort to drive back at least one of her opponent’s pieces, but Black is in no mood to retreat.

There followed 5…Be5! 16. Ra2 Nc3 17. Nxc3 (forced to avoid instant material loss, but now Graf-Stevenson mobilizes her bishops to powerful effect) Bxc3+ 18. Kf1 Be6! 19. bxa5 (hoping to limit the loss to an exchange, but Black has bigger game) Bc4!! 20. Ne1 (Qxc4 Qd1+ 21. Ne1 Qxe1 mate) Qd1!, and mate is inevitable. White resigned.

“Eine schreckliche Niederlage,” noted the German annotator. A terrible defeat indeed.

Menchik — Graf-Stevenson, Game 1 Women’s World Title Match, Rotterdam, 1934

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. e3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. a3 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O b6 9. Qe2 Bb7 10. cxd5 exd5 11. dxc5 bxc5 12. Rd1 Ne5 13. Ba6 Nxf3+ 14. gxf3 Bxh2+ 15. Kxh2 Qd6+ 16. f4 Bxa6 17. Qf3 Bb7 18. Bd2 Qd7 19. Qh3 Qxh3+ 20. Kxh3 d4 21. exd4 cxd4 22. Nb5 d3 23. Be3 Rfd8 24. Nd4 Ba6 25. b4 Nd5 26. b5 Nxf4+ 27. Kg4 Ne2 28. Rxd3 Bxb5 29. Nxb5 Rxd3 30. Kf3 Nc3 White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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